Experts Say Iowa Laws Hinder Fentanyl Treatments | national news

As Iowa grapples with a dramatic increase in overdose deaths involving fentanyl, some experts and activists say the best solutions are currently criminalized in the state.

Proponents of harm reduction — a set of strategies aimed at reducing the negative effects of continued drug use — say Iowa’s laws are counterproductive to the goal of reducing overdose deaths and to get people with substance use disorders into treatment.

Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller made his voice heard in the discussion last month when he called on the Legislature to legalize fentanyl test strips, which test drugs for fentanyl, and expand access to naloxone, a drug that can reduce the effects of a drug overdose.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used in medical settings, often for the treatment of severe pain. It can be up to 100 times stronger than morphine, which means it takes a much smaller amount to cause an overdose. The presence of illicit fentanyl and its involvement in opioid overdoses has exploded in Iowa in recent years, leading officials to seek solutions to this trend.

Allowing testing would be a welcome policy change, according to Andrea Weber, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa. Weber said legalizing test strips is a “low hanging fruit” and would allow addicts who aren’t trying to take fentanyl to avoid consuming lethal amounts.

Fentanyl test strips are currently classified as paraphernalia under Iowa law, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $855 and 30 days in jail.

Debra Krause, director of the Iowa Harm Reduction Coalition, said test strips weren’t enough to solve the crisis. She wants to see a wider rollout of naloxone, a more robust Good Samaritan law and needle service programs.

“I will always be for legalizing fentanyl test strips, it just won’t solve the opioid crisis,” she said. “We’ve talked to the Attorney General and (the Iowa Department of Public Health) for literally five years, and we have the science. Harm reduction has science and evidence-based research.

Needle service programs, also known as needle exchanges, are programs that provide clean needles to intravenous drug users to prevent the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C. According to the Foundation for AIDS research, needle service programs are legal under state or local law. in 39 states. They are illegal in Iowa.

Weber said the programs provide more than just clean syringes to drug addicts. They often offer counseling, assessments for drug treatment, and testing for common blood-borne infections.

Audible alarms

Authorities are sounding the alarm now, in part because the state has seen a dramatic increase in overdose deaths involving fentanyl and fentanyl seizures by law enforcement.

Iowa has one of the lowest drug overdose rates in the nation, but the rate has been rising, mostly due to opioids — deaths rose 34% between 2019 and 2021, according to the governor’s office. Fentanyl was implicated in 83% of the state’s 258 opioid deaths last year, and drug overdose deaths have increased 120% among Iowa’s under-25s in the past two years.

Fentanyl is often found in illicit pills sold on the black market and disguised as real pharmaceutical drugs like OxyContin and Xanax, officials said. It is also mixed with what is sold as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Fentanyl-containing pills are not sourced from legitimate pharmacies, but are pressed by criminal organizations to look like pharmaceutical drugs. The fentanyl found in illicit pills and substances is made in clandestine labs, Weber said, which means potency and purity can vary widely.

According to data provided by the Iowa Department of Public Safety, authorities seized more than seven kilograms of fentanyl alone in 127 cases last year. In hundreds of other cases, authorities have found fentanyl in mixtures with heroin or other drugs. This is an extraordinary increase from 2018, when the weight of fentanyl alone found by law enforcement was only around 10 grams in 34 different cases.

Legislative landscape

Legislation has been proposed in previous years to implement needle exchanges similar to those in other states, but none has garnered enough support to get a floor vote.

A Senate bill sponsored by 10 Democrats was proposed last year, but it did not reach a subcommittee meeting. A similar bill creating a pilot program in the House last year was not referred to a subcommittee.

In an emailed statement, Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, said legalizing fentanyl test kits was worth considering, but he did not offer support. He noted that needle exchanges have not received enough support to move forward.

Iowa House Republican spokeswoman Melissa Deatsch said the caucus is using the time between sessions to learn more about what can be done to curb rising overdose rates in Iowa.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ spokesman Alex Murphy did not say whether Reynolds would support moves to legalize test strips or introduce needle service programs, but he pointed to his work raising awareness of death as well as his signing of a 2016 law that allowed pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription.

Reynolds also asked the Department of Health and Human Services to include information about fentanyl in an educational ad campaign targeting young people.

Murphy and Whitver also blamed the Biden administration’s policies around the southern border which they said allowed the influx of drugs imported from Mexico.

“A lot of this is due to the failure of the Biden administration’s policies of not securing our southern borders,” Murphy said.

Comments are closed.