Data: Iowa Department of Public Health; Chart: Axios Visuals
There was a sharp increase in the number of opioid-related deaths last year, according to preliminary local, state and federal counts.
Why it matters: The data reflects what drug-policy advocates have been warning about. Powerful synthetic drugs — fentanyl can be 100 times more potent than morphine — are becoming more common.
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By the numbers: There were 212 opioid overdoses in Iowa in 2020, an increase of 35% from 2019, according to preliminary data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
The previous record was 206 in 2017.
Zoom in: Polk County medical examiner Joshua Akers told supervisors earlier this month that he is particularly concerned about a spike in the number of deaths linked with illegally-manufactured fentanyl.
There were 62 such deaths reported to Akers’ office last year, an increase of more than 70% from 2019.
The big picture: Overdose deaths nationally spiked after the start of the pandemic, driven by wider use of synthetic opioids, per The Commonwealth Fund.
Between the lines: The pandemic overshadowed and may have contributed to our opioid epidemic, Dale Woolery, director of the Iowa Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy told Axios.
Isolation meant fewer people were around to intervene in overdoses, and fentanyl is cheaper than heroin.
What’s next: More focus is needed to help interdict and reduce illegal opioid supplies, an effort that goes beyond Iowa’s borders, Woolery said.
We all can help by properly disposing of unused prescription medications, especially opioids.
National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, and there are hundreds of Iowa drop-off sites.
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