Tony Leys, Des Moines Register Published 5:58 p.m. CT March 2, 2019
Opioid use and mental health concerns lead a list of Iowans’ worries, a new Iowa Poll finds.
The Iowa Poll, sponsored by the Des Moines Register and Mediacom, finds that 74 percent of Iowa adults see opioid use as a crisis or big problem in the state. Sixty-five percent see mental health as a crisis or big problem.
The two issues were among 11 areas of potential concern that poll participants were asked about. Others included college student loan debt, the Iowa Medicaid program and the state’s education system.
The poll of 803 Iowa adults was conducted Feb. 10-13 by Selzer & Co. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Iowans concerned about opioid use
Opioids are addictive drugs that include prescription painkillers plus illicit narcotics, such as heroin. Their abuse has led to a national wave of overdose deaths in the past decade. Iowa hasn’t been hit as hard as some other states, such as Ohio and West Virginia. But opioid-related deaths here more than tripled from 2005 to 2017 before apparently starting to fall in 2018, state officials say.
Iowa Poll participant Kenneth Von Ruden, 67, said he’s concerned about reports of drug abuse around his northeast Iowa town of New Albin.
“It’s out of control,” said Von Ruden, who sees the situation as a crisis.
Von Ruden said painkilling pills can be a starting point for people who wind up abusing other drugs, including heroin. Some people begin using the pills for medical purposes, while others probably abuse them right from the start, he said. Either way, he said, prescriptions for the pills should be reined in.
“Hospitals and doctors need to cut back on what they’re handing out,” he said.
Leaders of the state’s medical system say they’re making progress on limiting abuse of painkilling pills. One step has been the increased use of a statewide database that tracks every sale of addictive prescription drugs, which helps doctors and pharmacists see if a patient is obtaining the pills from multiple places.
But medical leaders also know that people who are addicted to pills can easily switch to heroin or fentanyl, which are widely available on the street and can be even more dangerous.
Dale Woolery, director of the Iowa Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said the Iowa Poll results confirm Iowans see the danger of opioid drugs.
“It concerns a lot of people, because they see that it could potentially affect anyone,” he said.
Woolery said broader access to overdose-reversal drugs, such as Narcan, has helped reduce deaths. So has the increased use of addiction treatment assisted by opioid replacement therapies, such as buprenorphine, he said. But the state’s residents will continue to wrestle with addictions to opioids, as well as more widespread abuse of alcohol, methamphetamine and marijuana, he said.
Mental health services seen as problem
The Iowa Poll shows that 65 percent of Iowa adults see mental health services as a crisis or a big problem in the state.
State leaders have been making high-profile efforts to improve the mental health system. Those include the passage of a bill last year to expand services for adults with mental illness, and the introduction this year of bills to provide more mental health help for children.
Iowa Poll participant Gloria Miles, 81, of Pella believes the state’s mental health system continues to be in crisis. She wants to see results from the reform efforts of state legislators and the governor.
“They’re giving it a lot of lip service, but it doesn’t seem like they’re really doing much about it,” Miles said.
She was angered when former Gov. Terry Branstad ordered two state mental hospitals closed in 2015, and she sees no easy answer to Iowa’s chronic shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. State leaders must take concrete action, she said.
“If they’re not going to provide any money to pay for it, there won’t be any new providers or facilities,” she said.
The last time the Iowa Poll asked this question, in February 2018, 73 percent of Iowans saw mental health as a crisis or big problem in the state. The current level of 65 percent shows some improvement, but indicates many Iowans want more action.
Peggy Huppert, Iowa executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said Iowans are correct in believing problems remain in the mental health system. Huppert is optimistic that the state’s increased standards will bring new mental health services throughout Iowa.
“But it’s going to take a while,” she said. “There’s a pretty long lead time between when they pass a bill and when it impacts people’s lives.”
Huppert said she’s seeing some progress already, including moves by regional mental-health authorities to establish “crisis centers.” Those new programs are designed to offer an alternative for Iowans who need immediate help but don’t need to be placed in hospitals’ psychiatric units, which are routinely full.
Student debt, Medicaid cause for concern
The Iowa Poll also asked Iowans their views on a range of other issues.
The cost of college is a big concern for many Iowans, the poll shows. Sixty percent think student loan debt for Iowa college graduates is a crisis or big problem, and 54 percent feel that way about state university tuition.
Fifty percent think Iowa’s Medicaid program, which has been roiled by controversy over privatization, is a crisis or big problem. The program’s performance was a major issue in last fall’s gubernatorial race. Gov. Kim Reynolds has promised vigilance in ensuring system improvements and on-time payments to providers.
Forty-four percent of Iowa adults think kindergarten through high school education is a crisis or big problem, 38 percent feel that way about affordable housing and 37 percent about the availability of a skilled workforce.
Just 30 percent of Iowans see water quality as a crisis or big problem, the poll shows. Only 19 percent feel that way about access to broadband internet and just 16 percent about funding for the state’s court system.
About this poll
The Iowa Poll, conducted February 10-13 for The Des Moines Register and Mediacom by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines, is based on telephone interviews with 803 Iowans ages 18 or older. Interviewers with Quantel Research contacted households with randomly selected landline and cell phone numbers supplied by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were administered in English. Responses were adjusted by age, sex, and congressional district to reflect the general population based on recent census data.
Questions based on the sample of 803 Iowa adults have a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. This means that if this survey were repeated using the same questions and the same methodology, 19 times out of 20, the findings would not vary from the true population value by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. Results based on smaller samples of respondents — such as by gender or age— have a larger margin of error.
Republishing the copyright Iowa Poll without credit to The Des Moines Register and Mediacom is prohibited.