Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in Central Iowa

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Opioid addiction is a very real and very serious problem that affects many Iowans and their loved ones. The Substance Abuse Services counselors at Employee & Family Resources (EFR) share how you can do your part to prevent an opioid overdose, how to know when you or your loved one may need help, and where to seek treatment.

Opioid abuse is one of the fastest growing forms of substance abuse in Iowa. According to KCCI’s “State of Addiction” special, opioid overdose was the cause of death for 67 Iowans in 2016 – double the number of overdose deaths from 2005. Opioids are a class of drugs that include the legal prescription pain relievers oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl and others, as well as the illicit drug heroin.

People addicted to opioids often don’t fit the stereotype of what many think an addict would be. Those addicted to opioids look a lot like your neighbor, like the high school student who babysits your children, or even the mom you enjoy chatting with at the grocery store. No one begins taking an opioid pain medication prescribed by their doctor with the intention of becoming addicted. Most of the time, they are prescribed by their health care provider for managing symptoms of severe pain after a surgical procedure.

There are many forms of abuse opioid abuse. Opioid abuse could mean an individual takes more than prescribed, takes the medicine more frequently than prescribed, or asks for refills before the refill date. Abuse can also mean an individual is taking the medication without a prescription, uses the medicine for other purposes than what the drug was intended for, or shares their prescriptions with others.

In 2014, there were 1,555 Opioid-related emergency room visits in Iowa. Unfortunately, this number has increased over the recent years. Tony Sposeto with the Des Moines Fire Department said he and his team are responding to more and more heroin and opioid overdoses each month – over 50% more cases so far in 2017 than they saw in all of 2016. To put that into perspective, that’s about one call every day.

One of the most dangerous opioids is heroin. An estimated 23% of people who use heroin develop a dependence. According to a recent study conducted by the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, heroin overdose rates in Iowa have increased more than nine-fold in the past 15 years. Prescription painkillers are frequently a gateway drug to heroin.

How Central Iowans can help prevent abuse, addiction, or an overdose:

    1. Clean out your medicine cabinet: It is not uncommon to find medicine cabinets that are overflowing with unused medicine. While many don’t think to dispose of old pain pills from a previous illness or surgery, this could be supplying an addict with the drugs they crave to abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 54.2% of abused prescription drugs are obtained from friends’ and relatives’ medicine cabinets.

      To dispose of your unused medication, look into your town’s Drug Take Back Day, or simply take the unused pills back to your pharmacy. You can also drop the drugs off with local law enforcement. Do not flush the pills down the toilet or throw them in the trash.


    1. Know the signs of prescription drug abuse: There are many indicators of prescription drug abuse, including changes in behavior, physical health and appearance, and the use of drug-related paraphernalia.

      “Opioids create a short-lived euphoria from an overflow of dopamine, which is the body’s natural reward system,” state’s EFR’s CEO Tammy Hoyman. “Behavioral symptoms of an opioid addiction include noticeable elation, marked with sedation and drowsiness.”

      Other behavioral signs include deterioration in friendships, forgetfulness, deterioration in personal appearance and changes in habits.

      Physical signs of prescription drug abuse include bloodshot and/or watery eyes, runny and/or irritated nose, changes in speech patterns, poor coordination, large or small pupils and weight gain or loss. Paraphernalia indicators include hypodermic needles, short straws, glass pipes, foil wrappers, razor blades, smoking pipes, capsules, vials, and cigarette lighters if they are a non-smoker.


    1. Know where to turn to for help: Last year, legislators passed a law easing restrictions on the opioid antidote medication, Naloxone. Many first responders and police officers carry Naloxone as a lifesaving tool to use in cases of a heroin or prescription drug overdose. Many local pharmacies also carry the antidote, available without a prescription.

      Medication-Assisted Treatment helps individuals struggling with an opioid addiction. This type of treatment often combines counseling and behavioral therapies to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorder. Research shows that the combination of medication and therapy can successfully treat these disorders, and for many people struggling with addiction, recovery is sustainable.


Since 1980, EFR’s Substance Abuse Services have provided substance abuse assessment and referral services to help people to access needed treatment programs. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, EFR offers private confidential assessments by certified substance abuse counselors. Most fees are based on a sliding fee scale and an individual’s ability to pay.

For more information on opioid abuse or to schedule an assessment, visit or call 515-243-4200.