Iowa sees 20% increase in drug overdoses in 2020

By: - July 16, 2021 8:48 am

Iowa has seen a 20% increase in drug overdose deaths, according to CDC data. (Photo by Michael Longmire via Unsplash)

Iowa saw a nearly 20% increase in drug overdose deaths in the past year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistic System reported 419 cases of drug overdoses in the state in 2020, compared to 350 reported in 2019. In the United States overall, there was a 29.6% increase. 

Midwestern states saw up to 36% increases in overdose deaths, with North Dakota reporting the highest increase. South Dakota and New Hampshire were the only two states to report fewer cases in 2020 than the year before. 

The data is based on the National Center for Health Statistics’ death records from each state throughout 2020. The country saw more than 93,000 overdose deaths.

Director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy Dale Woolery said the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the opioid epidemic’s impact on Iowa, which was a factor in this new data.

“Social isolation contributed to the statistics from the CDC,” he said. “Some of the effects of isolation have been the exacerbation of mental health issues and substance abuse disorders.”

He said the lack of access to family, friends, and mental health services likely added to drug overdoses in the state. 

Earlier this year, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported an increase in opioid-related deaths between 2019 and 2020 by 56 cases. The largest increase was in the 24 and below age group, with a 19 case increase. 25 to 34 and 35 to 44-year-olds also saw increases in deaths involving opioids. 

The vast majority of these reported deaths were white, non-Hispanic Iowans. Males were also more likely to die of an opioid overdose than females. 

Prior to May 1, the department reported 73 deaths involving opioids this year.

Woolery said he is optimistic that the CDC’s data is a “one-time blip on the radar” and Iowa can decrease the number of overdoses in 2021. 

“2020 was so challenging,” he said. “… Now we have more ability to monitor, to intervene, engage, stay in contact, help people struggling with substance use. This isn’t an easy thing, but we have telehealth and more resources now. We need to work harder and smarter and maintain those connections so people wanting help can get it.” 

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Eleanor Hildebrandt
Eleanor Hildebrandt

Eleanor Hildebrandt is a third-year student at the University of Iowa where she studies journalism and mass communication and global health studies. She worked as a news reporter covering shared governance and higher education and a digital producer for The Daily Iowan since her freshman year. In the fall, she will return to the paper as a news editor. As a second-year, she hosted and co-produced "On The Record", the DI's news podcast that was named Best Podcast by the Iowa Newspaper Association.