News Release - Iowa Drug Control Report: Life-Changing Progress Amid Evolving Threats


For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Dale Woolery​

The 2020 Iowa Drug Control Strategy states Iowa has one of the nation’s lowest rates of total illicit drug use, and that progress continues on a variety of fronts to address the opioid epidemic and prevent youth substance abuse.

At the same time, the newly released report points to high levels of alcohol-related deaths and binge drinking in Iowa, as well a surge in vaping by youth and methamphetamine use by adults.  The annual update on Iowa drug trends also cites increasingly stronger forms of several addictive substances used by Iowans.

“Opioid misuse and vaping get a lot of attention right now, and for good reason, but alcohol and meth negatively impact even more Iowa families,” said Dale Woolery, Director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP).  “One concerning trend is the increasing potency of a growing number of alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, opioid, meth and other products with addiction potential.”

According to the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Iowa has the fourth lowest rate of current illicit drug use, and the Iowa Youth Survey shows a continued drop in youth substance abuse, especially regarding alcohol and traditional tobacco products.  And, for the first time in several years, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) reports a significant reduction in opioid-related overdose deaths in 2018 from the year before.

At the same time, IDPH says alcohol related deaths in Iowa remain high, and the rate of binge drinking in Iowa far exceeds the national average.  In addition, larger quantities of purer meth smuggled into Iowa coincides with record levels of psychostimulant-related deaths, meth use disorder treatment admissions, and meth-related prison admissions.  Vaping devices add another dimension, because of the more highly concentrated forms of nicotine and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) consumed in them, and the recent outbreak of severe lung illnesses, including 44 cases reported to date in Iowa.

Among the many findings cited in the report:


  • Iowa ranks 47th among all U.S. states in the rate of overall illicit drug use and 46th in drug overdose deaths.
  • Iowans binge drink at a rate above the national average, and use tobacco and meth at relatively high levels.


  • Alcohol-related mortality in Iowa remains high (616 deaths in 2018).
  • Iowa’s rate of binge drinking significantly exceeds the U.S. average (22.6% vs. 16.2%).
  • Alcohol use among Iowa 11th graders continues to decline (44% in 2002 vs. 20% in 2018).


  • Over 10,200 Iowans were treated for meth use disorders in 2019, an all-time high. Among adults entering substance use disorder treatment last year, more cited meth as their primary drug than marijuana (24% vs. 22%).
  • The amount of meth seized by law enforcement and submitted to the Iowa crime lab in 2018 exceeds each of the previous 6 years and meth purity remains at an all-time high of 97%. 
  • Psychostimulant-related deaths in Iowa, primarily involving meth, remained at their highest point in recent history for a second straight year (91 in 2018).


  • After rising steadily for over a decade, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths reported in Iowa fell by 32% to 136 in 2018. This happened as more Iowans accessed expanded services (including 107 Medication Assisted Treatment prescribers working with those addicted to opioids in 2019 and 1,872 doses of naloxone administered by EMS personnel to reverse overdoses in 2018).
  • Prescription Monitoring Program utilization queries by Iowa health care providers, for identifying patients at risk of opioid addiction or overdose, nearly quadrupled in one year (1,669,992 in 2018).
  • The number of illicit opioid cases (e.g., heroin, non-pharmaceutical fentanyl and mixtures) submitted to Iowa’s crime lab continues to reach new heights (579 in 2018).


  • Iowa recorded the lowest number of cocaine-related prison admissions in at least 15 years in 2019 (50), and for the first time in recent history powder cocaine prison admission cases slightly outnumbered crack cocaine cases (26 vs. 24).


  • Marijuana remains one of the most commonly used illicit drugs in Iowa, accounting for 25.4% of all substance use disorder treatment admissions last year. 
  • Iowa marijuana-related hospital emergency department visits rose 28% in two years (5,260 in 2018).
  • A significant number of Iowa crime lab cases (3,295 so far this year) involve more potent marijuana “concentrates,” including THC-filled vaping cartridges.
  • 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 report using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
  • E-cigarette use by Iowa 11th graders (23%) surpassed both alcohol (20%) and other drug use (15%) rates in 2018.

“Most of what we know about the potential for addiction, impairment and in some cases overdose is based largely on older and lower-strength versions of substances,” said Woolery.   “These are not the drugs of the 70’s, 80’s or even 90’s, and their increasing potency warrants more understanding and caution.”

Iowa’s comprehensive Drug Control Strategy identifies trends and prioritizes responses, including promising approaches for reducing substance abuse in Iowa.  The report outlines five broad goals as indicators of future progress. (1) Reduce the number of drug-related deaths involving Iowans; (2) Reduce the number of drug-related injuries involving Iowans, including those involving electronic smoking/vaping; (3) Reduce the number of Iowa youth who are current users of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs; (4) Increase the number of Iowans who are employed post substance use disorder treatment; and (5) Reduce the number of Iowans incarcerated for drug-related offenses.

The 2020 Iowa Drug Control Strategy was developed by ODCP 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 July 05, 2020 at 8:22pm.