Summit to deal with heroin
By Ali Snider
The campus will soon welcome an event to combat heroin and prescription opioid abuse throughout Iowa.
Between 2001 and 2013, deaths related to heroin and prescription opioid pain relievers in the United States increased three-fold. Since 2013, Iowa has seen a twenty-fold increase of overdoses and deaths due to heroin and opioids — or from one person to 20.
To address the issue, the University of Iowa will be hosting a summit Thursday titled “Heroin and Opioids: A Community Crisis.” The event will be from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the UI College of Public Health Building.
In Cedar Rapids, there have been 44 overdoses related to heroin in the first five months of 2015 alone.
John Lundell, deputy director of the Injury Prevention Research Center at the UI and one of the organizers of the summit, said he believes that the increase in prescription pain medicine abuse is a big issue that needs to be tackled.
“It’s very evident that the use of prescription pain killing drugs and the transition into heroin is growing at a high rate,” he said. “People start out being prescribed oxycodone and OxyContin, then changeover to cheaper more available drugs, such as heroin.”
The keynote speaker at the event will be Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of American’s Opiate Epidemic. His book offers insight to the sweep of prescription painkillers that is been seen across the nation.
The purpose of the event is to bring law enforcement, health-care professionals, and educators together to talk about the matter. Individuals will be able to exchange information and ideas on how to deal with the increase of heroin and prescription pain medicine abuse in eastern Iowa.
The summit will cover topics such as threat heroin poses nationwide and opioid-based deaths in Iowa. Another main topic will be how heroin has changed over the years.
Steve Young, assistant US attorney, said the event would bring a large group of individuals together to seek solutions for the issue at hand.
“People on painkillers — once they get off, need a fix, and then transition to other drugs,” he said. “For the event, we are bringing in federal and state partners to look at the medical, state, and law perspective.”
There will be more than 200 people at the summit. At the end of the event, there will be a call to action on how to address what is happening not only nationwide but in people’s own backyards.
It is hoped attendees will leave with materials and knowledge on how to combat opioid abuse, along will how to improve the education and prevention campaigns within the community.
Caroline Owens, a resident and student at the UI, said that the topic affects people now more than ever.
“Issues with heroin and prescription drug overdoses never really affected me in high school, but I hear about it more as time goes on,” she said. “I think the problem is the underlying problem, that there isn’t enough talk about the issue, and if there was it would be a completely different story.”
Heroin is labeled as a Scheduled 1 controlled substance. Overtime, the drug can lead to collapsed veins, liver disease, infectious diseases, and a wide array of other side effects.
Young said he hopes this event would serve as a call to action for people who attend.
“What we are dealing with in the past several years is the increase of opiate and heroin overdoses and deaths,” Young said. “With a call to action, we can educate people on what is happening and allow for an exchange of ideas on the best approach to the problem.”