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Column: Actualities of addiction take hold

When the Jasper County Substance Abuse Coalition hosted a community conversation last week it was an accomplishment in many ways. In its first year, the coalition has collaborated with key players like service providers in the county, law enforcement, businesses and schools — in total about 50 people from these groups and others meet monthly in an attempt to tackle one of our communities’ most harrowing issues. That in itself is an achievement.

The coalition teamed up to showcase a powerful presentation which included overviews of local services, video testimonials from recovering addicts and a deeper look at the heroin epidemic from the officer who heads up the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative.

Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess spoke about substance abuse and its direct correlation to crime in Jasper County and its burden on jails. He pointed toward one of the most frustrating realities of crime and substance abuse — getting people the help they need.

Alcohol was identified as the No. 1 issue locally and nationally. About 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year and alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. In Jasper County, Employee Family & Resources is armed with grant to provide binge drinking and underage drinking education and programming.

Much time was spent discussing the wave of heroin use that is already in Jasper County but not to the epidemic levels that have hit cities like Cedar Rapids. Officer Al Fear, who heads up the heroin initiative in eastern Iowa, applauded Jasper County for its efforts in collaboration and work to create transparency about substance abuse-related issues.

Fear didn’t mince words about the heroin epidemic and its terrifying movement westward. In Linn County, it has meant more than doubling hospital admissions for heroin overdoses in one year. Heroin claimed the lives of 27 people in the eastern county alone last year.

What’s even more alarming is its undoubted approach and penetration into Jasper County. Moreover, the looming insight that the peak of the epidemic won’t come to realization in Iowa for another three to five years.

For many heroin addicts, Fear said it begins with a legitimate injury which requires pain medication. About 80 percent of heroin use originates from addiction to pills, he said.

While there’s little to do to entirely prevent heroin’s infiltration into Jasper County, there are already strong efforts being made to prepare for it. In addition to its grant to address alcohol consumption, Employee & Family Resources has a significant grant to tackle opioid use for the next three years.

Fear is also hopeful legislators will take action to improve Iowa’s Prescription Monitoring Program which doesn’t make mandatory the use of the program by authorized prescribers. Fully utilizing the PMP program would mean the elimination of “doctor shopping” for pain meds, he said. Meanwhile, he urged talking to your doctor about whether they use PMP.

Events like this are hard to measure in success. You never know when a mom makes a decision to talk her kids about drugs because something during the presentation struck a chord. A neighbor might not speak openly about grabbing some brochures for the family next door who is clearly in the perils of addiction. A person struggling with pills or alcohol may not make a decision to seek help immediately but perhaps the seed has been planted.

Chief Burdess addressed the audience as people who care about their community but also made note of the lackluster crowd size in the Newton High School auditorium. He tasked those in attendance to help spread the word about the coalition and its work and the impact of substance abuse in Jasper County.

For more information find Jasper County Substance Abuse Coalition on Facebook or contact NPD Chief Rob Burdess at the Newton Police Department.

Contact Abigail Pelzer

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