News Release - 2023 Iowa Drug Control Strategy Released

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, November 16, 2022

Contact: Susie Sher 515-725-0308

Iowa Report Cites Progress Amid Growing Threats from Mutating Illicit Drugs

Iowa’s 2023 Drug Control Strategy, released by the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP), is a comprehensive statewide blueprint that flags drug-related trends, assesses current and emerging needs, and prioritizes approaches for responding to those needs.

“When it comes to reducing risky substance use in Iowa, we continue to see a mix of success and challenge,” said ODCP Director Dale Woolery.  “Complicating matters is the growing variety of increasingly potent substances and combinations, such as illicit synthetic opioids.  Among other needs, the fast-changing landscape of intoxicating and addictive substances requires more robust prevention efforts and greater access to substance use disorder treatment.”

According to recent federal studies, Iowans binge drink alcohol and use tobacco/nicotine products at levels above the national average.  At the same time, Iowans use illicit drugs and succumb to drug overdose deaths at rates below most other states, and youth substance use rates are declining or holding steady.  However, substance-related deaths have risen over the last two years, from 2019-2021 (alcohol-related deaths +38%, opioid overdose deaths +64%, stimulant overdose deaths +20%, and total drug overdose deaths among young Iowans under 25 years of age +120%...driven largely by opioids).

“The pandemic added fuel to the fire of behavioral health disorders, including addiction, and now mutating drug supplies add a more devious dimension,” said Woolery.  “Simply put, those who sell powerful or altered drugs capable of killing unsuspecting users are trying to profit from poison, with products that include fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills.”

Key findings of the 2023 Iowa Drug Control Strategy, broken out by substance type, follow:


The rate of binge drinking in Iowa continues at a relatively high level, compared to most other states, as alcohol sales have nearly doubled over the last decade.  In 2021, alcohol-related deaths (e.g., poisonings, accidents, and chronic disease) claimed the lives of a record 827 Iowans, up 38% compared to 2019.


Iowans’ use of tobacco/nicotine products remains slightly higher than most other states.  Meanwhile, among young Iowans, 13% of 11th grade students reported vaping in 2021, down from a spike of 23% in 2018.


Marijuana-related hospital emergency department visits increased in Iowa to 6,503 in 2021, up over 58% from five years ago, amid rising drug potency (THC concentrations) and associated health risks.  On the other hand, 8% of 11th graders said they used marijuana in the past 30 days during 2021, the lowest level in nearly 20 years.


Only 11 methamphetamine (meth) labs were found in Iowa in 2021.  However, during the same year, amounts of highly-pure meth reportedly smuggled into Iowa remained at or near record high levels.  Also, in 2021, psychostimulant-related deaths (e.g. meth overdoses) in Iowa reached an all-time high of 196, up 20% compared with 2019.


Some indicators point to a possible resurgence in psychostimulant activity involving cocaine.  While far less prevalent than meth, Iowa law enforcement seized more cocaine in 2021.  Meantime, Iowa prison admissions for powder (14) and crack (9) cocaine increased slightly last year from the year before, but remained near their lowest levels in over 15 years.


Opioid-related deaths in Iowa reached a record high 258 in 2021, up 64% compared with 2019, with the largest increase occurring among young Iowans (up 290% among those under the age of 25).  Illicit fentanyl was implicated in 83% of the most recent deaths, reflecting how widespread powerful synthetic opioids have become in a short amount of time, including as an adulterant in other substances—such as counterfeit pills—for unsuspecting users.

Polysubstance Use

First-time substance use disorder treatment data confirm reports about many Iowans taking two or more substances together, or within a short time period (e.g., using fentanyl-laced pills or marijuana after meth).  Nearly four of every 10 Iowans (39.6%) treated at state-licensed substance use disorder treatment centers last year reported polysubstance use.


New drugs continue to be developed, with shorter seed-to-sale or chemist-to-consumer timelines.  A growing share of these new substances are synthetic (e.g., nitazenes), though new organic compounds like cannabinoids are still being discovered in places such as the cannabis plant (e.g., THCV, THCP, CBG-A, CBN and HHC).

Within the 2023 Iowa Drug Control Strategy is a new Iowa Drug Overdose Action Plan that outlines a series of steps in four areas to: (1) prevent short and long-term drug use, and associated dangers; (2) strengthen emergency response and intervention tactics; (3) enhance substance use disorder treatment access and capacity; and (4) interrupt illicit drug trafficking.

The comprehensive Strategy also highlights proven and promising approaches for reducing all forms of substance misuse, and sets forth these broad goals:

·Reduce substance-related injuries and deaths.

·Reduce youth use of alcohol, nicotine and marijuana (THC).

·Increase timely access to substance use disorder services.

·Increase employment and quality of life for those in or completing substance use disorder treatment.

·Increase accountable alternatives to incarceration for eligible drug-related offenses, and reduce the disproportionate number of minorities referred to the justice system. 

“Effectively addressing these important issues requires a nimble strategy involving virtually all Iowans, and evolving to the changing needs of today and tomorrow,” said Woolery.  “The refinement of additional telehealth tools, more emphasis on collaborative crisis response and intervention, online help via, and the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline are a few examples of meeting Iowans where they are with timely services.”

In satisfaction of Iowa Code 80E, requiring an Annual Report by the Drug Policy Coordinator, the 2023 Iowa Drug Control Strategy has been submitted to Governor Kim Reynolds and members of the Iowa Legislature.  The full report is available at