Iowa County Sees Spike in Heroin Overdose Deaths

Dubuque County’s spike in heroin activity and overdoses mirrors a national trend, according to local law enforcement.

Dubuque County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Gary Pape said he was not surprised by a report last week from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency identifying an increase in heroin availability, use and overdoses across the country.

“We’re seeing the same thing here,” said Pape, who coordinates the Dubuque Drug Task Force.

The Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2015 drug threat assessment specifically targeted heroin and prescription painkillers as a problem. The report states drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury deaths in the nation, ahead of deaths caused by vehicle crashes and firearms. In 2013, more than half of the overdose deaths in the U.S. were related to painkillers and heroin, according to the DEA report.

The report also notes prescription drugs cause more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined. Prescription painkiller fentanyl was highlighted as having caused more than 700 deaths in the U.S. between late 2013 and early 2015.

Pape said the supply and use of heroin in the Dubuque area continues to spike, as does the number of overdoses.

“We’re seeing this year a sharp increase in heroin-related overdose deaths,” Pape said.

Dubuque Drug Task Force statistics show six deaths so far in 2015 that are believed to be related to heroin or other opioid drugs, up from one death each in 2014 and 2013, zero in 2012 and two in 2011. Total overdoses for 2015 so far are at 16, compared to 19 for both 2014 and 2013, 23 in 2012 and 5 in 2011.

Pape said several of the cases involve people who have overdosed multiple times. He agreed with the report’s assessment that overdoses can be tied to higher-purity batches that users aren’t used to, as well as added substances like fentanyl.

Pape said prescription-related overdoses are difficult to pin down, and they don’t seem to be as prevalent locally. He noted that prescription painkiller abuse can lead to heroin use, since heroin is cheaper and more readily available.

In Delaware County, Iowa, Sheriff John LeClere said the last heroin- related overdose that authorities have on record was from about two years ago.

“We’ve not had a whole lot of heroin cases or possession here,” LeClere said.

LeClere said there occasionally are people who illegally carry prescription drugs, but most of the drug activity the office sees involves marijuana and methamphetamine.

Manchester, Iowa, Police Chief James Hauschild said the same is true for the city.

“We have not seen (heroin issues) in Manchester yet,” Hauschild said. “Hopefully we don’t.”

Jo Daviess County, Ill., Sheriff Kevin Turner also said his department has not seen a big increase in heroin use or prescription drug abuse. He said the county’s most prominent drug activity involves marijuana, along with a recent spate of synthetic drugs like bath salts and spice. He said some people have been hospitalized due to synthetic drugs.

“Synthetic was on a rise. In the last couple of months, we haven’t seen too much,” Turner said.

Grant County, Wis. Sheriff Nate Dreckman said his department has seen nearly an 80 percent decrease in heroin cases from 2013 to the end of 2014, and the numbers have stayed low since. When numbers were high, Dreckman said his department held multiple educational meetings for both kids and adults, including talks by former addicts.

Dreckman highlighted the prescription drug statistics found in the Drug Enforcement Agency report.

“I think a lot of people do not grasp onto how big a problem that is,” Dreckman said. “I know it’s in schools, unfortunately. There’s probably pills being sold and given to other kids.”

Pape said if areas surrounding Dubuque County have not seen a heroin spike so far, they’ll likely see it soon.

“I don’t see the river as that big of a barrier,” he said.

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