Preparing local professionals for the opioid epidemic

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Opioid abuse is rampant throughout the country, but it has not yet had the same impact in Spencer as it has had in other areas of the state.

The Iowa Pharmacy Association's community discussion, "The Opioid Epidemic" Tuesday night at the Spencer Hospital, allowed co-director of the Alliance of Coalitions for Change Angie Asa-Lovstad and Cedar Rapids Police Officer and coordinator for the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative Al Fear, to proactively address how the opioid epidemic is just getting started in northwest Iowa.

"I am going to give you an idea of what is coming this way. I don't mean to be doom and gloom and scare a bunch of people, but I want you to be aware of what is happening on the other side of the state," Fear said. "The heroin epidemic is not scheduled to peak for another three to five years. Whatever you are seeing currently times that by two for next year and by another two for the year after."

Approximately 70 people representing pharmacy, medicine, law enforcement, chiropractic and prevention professions attended the presentation.

Fear said that statistics show opioid abuse cuts across social groups.

"Unfortunately, addiction to heroin does not discriminate. It is not a white drug, not a black drug, not a rich or poor drug. Anyone can fall victim to addiction. The Midwest is leading the pack for deaths by region for heroin," Fear said.

Once addicted to opioids or heroin, recovery is a difficult road.

"With the heroin cycle there are really two outcomes. The person is going to recovery or the person is going to die," Fear said. "That sounds pretty morbid, but it is the truth. If they happen to recover there is a 95 percent relapse rate. It is a life long battle and a constant struggle."

The community discussion was divided into two sections: Fear's informational presentation and Asa-Lovstad's group discussion.

"It is one thing to go and hear someone talk. We might hear a whole bunch of information that you may not have known," Asa-Lovstad said. "By having small group discussions like we had tonight, it deepens the understanding and brings it home, brings it closer, so hopefully they will know it better because they had a discussion."

The small group process yielded eight suggestions for dealing with the opioid crisis: Educate on substance use; engage strategic planning with all sectors to increase funding; maximize Prescription Monitoring Programs potential; make sure comprehensive and affordable treatment programs are available; increase ease, access and availability of disposal options; recommend prescribing guidelines; increase the understanding and availability of Narcan; and increase use and education of alternative pain management.

Narcan is a medication used to block the effects of opioids, especially in cases of overdose. Multiple doses of the drug may be required because the duration of effects of most opioids is greater than that of Narcan.

Asa-Lovestad pointed out that there are many resources already in place to battle addiction issues in Spencer.

"I think it is important to know that you have some really strong partners here and a history with Positively Spencer Youth doing a lot of things in this area," Asa-Lovestad said. "They have really spearheaded this collaboration to increase the partnerships that are there. Compass Pointe has done a lot of prevention programs across your area and they are a really good partner as well. I am really excited to see medical and pharmacy people here, but also law enforcement as well. It is encouraging to see all these people talking in one room."

Currently, every county in Iowa has a prescription drug take back location. The closest local location is at the Spencer Police Department.

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