June 27, 2016

IowaWatch Connection: Iowa Communities Fighting Opioid Addiction As It Continues To Claim Lives

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Annually, opioid overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle or firearms deaths.
Opioid abuse, in the form of prescription painkillers and heroin, has contributed to a growing number of Iowa emergency room visits and overdose deaths in the past decade. The emergency entrance of St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids is shown January 8.

Lauren Mills/IowaWatch

Annually, opioid overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle or firearms deaths. Opioid abuse, in the form of prescription painkillers and heroin, has contributed to a growing number of Iowa emergency room visits and overdose deaths in the past decade. The emergency entrance of St. Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids is shown January 8.

Forty-four people die everyday in the U.S. from overdose of prescription pain killers, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Attorney’s office. Annually those overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle or firearms deaths.

“These folks who are not only using opiates but are suffering from overdoses are mothers, fathers, neighbors; they are medical professionals; they are virtually anyone that you could cross paths with in the grocery store could be struggling with that addiction. It’s that pervasive and it’s that easy to mask,” said Lee Hermiston, a reporter with The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, which has recently published a series of stories about heroin and opiate addiction.

During a June 8 town hall meeting in Waterloo, one mother shared the story of her son, who died following an overdose. Lori Peter’s carried both a framed picture of her son, Kelly, as well as an urn holding his ashes.

“His opiate abuse started by him and his friends taking prescription pills out of medicine cabinets and it was probably mine,” she said.

She described a six-year roller coaster of addiction and recovery and then the call in August 2015 that he had overdosed.

“I want him back. I would rather live the roller coaster, and the chaotic life of loving an addict that live this hell. Now it’s my anger that’s my strength.”

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