There was a time when stories about users cooking methamphetamine in bathtubs and mobile labs in the back of vehicles, reports of the theft of anhydrous ammonia from tanks in farm fields and police searches and arrests after residents reported obnoxious smells from neighboring homes were an almost daily staple for Midwest media outlets.
The approval of state laws eliminating over-the-counter purchase of cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients in the illicit manufacture of meth, drastically reduced the manufacture of meth in the area.
But the gradual reduction in the availability of locally manufactured, low-quality meth has not ended methamphetamine addiction in Iowa. If anything, figures from the Iowa Department of Public Health suggest the problem has worsened in the state.
Those statistics show a 38 percent increase in meth treatment admissions from 2014-2017. From 2011-2017, the number of annual meth-related deaths in the state rose from 12 to 96.
The Sioux City Journal reported the Jackson Recovery Centers in Sioux City reported that from 2015 to 2018, the number of patients reporting methamphetamine as their drug of choice has risen from 618 to 917. Those numbers do not include users who listed a different substance as their drug of choice while also using meth.
“It’s cheap, it’s available, and it seems that addiction in general is going up,” Dr. David Paulsrud, Jackson Recovery’s medical director, told the Sioux City Journal.
Equally as concerning, Paulsrud said Iowa’s meth-related death rate is probably higher than reported because some victims’ cause of death may be listed as a stroke or some other medical condition caused by drug use.
A federal agent working in the Sioux City area, Mark Minten, acting resident in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s office in Sioux City, told the newspaper that meth use in the area remains at “epidemic levels.”
The real change, Minten said, is the purity level of the meth available now. He said the purity of meth seized a decade ago was around 20 percent. Today’s meth is normally 90 percent pure or higher.
Minten said most of the meth found in the area today comes from labs in Mexico, most of it smuggled into the U.S. in rail cars, vehicles and trucks that cross at border checkpoints or sent by mail and parcel services.
Polly Carver-Kimm, Iowa Department of Public Health communications director, said the higher purity affects addiction levels in more ways than one. The increased purity may make the drug more addictive, but the frequency of use and the amount used is usually a bigger culprit. Meth has become cheaper, allowing users to buy and use more of the drug.
Carver-Kimm said the increased purity is likely a factor in the increase of meth-related deaths as users accustomed to taking lower-quality meth take the same quantity of the drug that, unknown to them, is more pure, potent and, potentially, dangerous.
“I don’t think this area’s appetite for meth has ever decreased,” Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew said. “Will it ever be taken care of? No.”
“Methamphetamine is vicious,” Paulsrud said. “It’s just the ugliest thing there ever was. We have a number of people successfully treating for opioid addiction, but they can’t stay away from meth.”