News Release - 2021 Iowa Drug Control Strategy Released

For Immediate Release
Thursday, November 12, 2020

Contact: Susie Sher 515-725-0308

Iowa Drug Control Report Notes Evolving Threats, Responses and Progress Amid Global Pandemic

The 2021 Iowa Drug Control Strategy highlights a mix of challenges and improvement in reducing the damaging health and safety effects of substance use and related activities.  Iowa ranks 41st in the nation in the rate of total illicit drug use, and progress continues on a variety of fronts to address the opioid epidemic and prevent youth substance abuse.

At the same time in Iowa, the newly released report points to increasing alcohol-related deaths, a continued rise in adult methamphetamine use, and a growing number of drug overdose deaths involving more potent substances.  The annual update on Iowa drug trends also cites increases in alcohol sales and consumption since the start of the global coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s too soon to know precisely all of the correlations between the pandemic and Iowa substance use or mental health disorders, but a study published by the CDC suggests a nearly four-fold increase in anxiety disorders since last year,” said Dale Woolery, Director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy.  “We do know the pandemic has changed how we respond to service needs related to substance abuse prevention, substance use and mental health treatment, and public safety.”

Examples of changes in Iowa involving addictive substances since March 2020:

  • Alcohol sales have surged at times since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Overall alcohol related and drug overdose deaths in Iowa, as of the mid-point of 2020, were on pace to increase 17% and 18% respectively vs. 2019, and opioid OD deaths were up 36%. 
  • Drug enforcement officials in Iowa and other states reported a reduction in illegal methamphetamine smuggling from Mexico during the early stages of the pandemic, but more recently say meth supplies appear to be back to high-volume levels seen before the pandemic.
  • About 80% of Iowa substance use disorder (SUD) treatment providers shifted to tele-treatment services to comply with social distancing guidance, reportedly resulting in improved program access and participation.  The effectiveness and future role of tele-treatment remains to be seen.
  • As Iowa’s prison population was reduced by 13% or nearly 1,100 by the summer of 2020 to meet social distancing needs, remote supervision was used more often for community monitoring of offenders

“The pandemic and other current events, notably the social justice movement, help us look at challenges through a different lens,” said Woolery.  “We must apply lessons learned with an eye toward a better future that includes ending racial disparity through the pursuit of health, safety and justice for all Iowans.”

The 2021 Iowa Drug Control Strategy highlights several findings, including:


  • Iowa ranks 41st among all U.S. states in the rate of overall illicit drug use, but residents binge drink at rates above the national average, and use tobacco and meth at relatively high levels.


  • Alcohol-related mortality has been climbing steadily and is headed for a record high of more than 700 in 2020, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH).
  • Iowa’s rate of binge drinking significantly exceeds the U.S. average (21.6% vs. 16.8%).
  • Alcohol use among Iowa 11th graders continues to decline (44% in 2002 vs. 20% in 2018).


  • Nearly 10,200 Iowans were treated for meth use disorders in fiscal year 2020, more than for marijuana (23.8% vs. 23.2%) for the first time in recorded history.
  • Meth purity remains at an all-time high of 97%. 
  • Psychostimulant-related deaths in Iowa, primarily involving meth, climbed to an all-time high of 157 in 2019, and are projected to rise again in 2020.


  • The number of deaths involving opioids rose again in 2019 to 156, according to IDPH, and are on pace to increase about 36% in 2020.
  • Use of naloxone by Iowa EMS personnel to reverse opioid overdoses rose to a record high 2,413 doses in 2019.


  • Iowa recorded the lowest number of cocaine-related prison admissions in at least 15 years in fiscal year 2020 (48), and for the second time, powder cocaine prison admission cases outnumbered crack cocaine cases (36 vs. 12).


  • Marijuana remains one of the most commonly used illicit drugs in Iowa, accounting for 23.2% of all substance use disorder treatment admissions last year. Of Iowa youth admitted to treatment, 75% report marijuana as their primary substance.  
  • Iowa marijuana-related emergency department visits have risen 34% in two years (5,501 in 2019).
  • A significant number of crime lab cases involve more potent marijuana “concentrates,” including vaping cartridges filled with THC (psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol).
  • The average THC potency of marijuana is on the rise. Plant material is commonly in excess of 16% THC and “concentrates: (e.g., edibles) average over 60% THC.
  • 23% of Iowa 11th graders and 15% of 6th graders see no risk smoking marijuana once or more a week.


  • As the number of Iowa youth using tobacco has steadily decreased over the last decade, the 2018 Iowa Youth Survey says 23% of Iowa 11th graders now use e-cigarettes.
  • The vast majority (83%) of youth who report any cigarette or e-cigarette use started with e-cigarettes.
  • E-cigarette use by Iowa 11th graders (23%) surpassed both alcohol (20%) and other drug use (15%) rates in 2018.

Iowa’s comprehensive Drug Control Strategy identifies trends and prioritizes responses, including promising approaches for reducing substance misuse in Iowa.  The report sets several broad goals as indicators of future progress:

  • Reduce the number of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug-related deaths involving Iowans;
  • Reduce the number of drug-related injuries involving Iowans, including those involving electronic smoking/vaping;
  • Reduce the number of Iowa youth who are current users of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs;
  • Increase access to substance use disorder (SUD) services;
  • Increase the number of Iowans who find employment during or after substance use disorder treatment; and
  • Reduce the number of Iowans incarcerated for drug-related offenses, and the disproportionate number of minorities referred to the justice system.

“Going forward, Iowa’s drug control strategy must evolve to meet changing needs,” said Woolery.  “Flexible plans are required to address the use of more accessible and powerful substances, including polysubstance use, while supporting accelerated scientific research to make informed decisions about emerging issues.”

The 2021 Iowa Drug Control Strategy was developed in cooperation with Iowa’s Drug Policy Advisory Council and others.  The full report is available at


Printed from the Governor's Office of Drug Control Policy website on October 24, 2021 at 10:29am.