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Addiction is widespread throughout the United States, and substance use rates are on the rise across the country. However, according to the 2018 Iowa Drug Control Strategy released by the governor’s office, the state of Iowa has the second-lowest reported rate of illegal drug usage.

While this statistic is encouraging, addiction still exists in Iowa. Known clinically as a substance use disorder, addiction affects Iowa residents across genders, age levels, socioeconomic levels and racial backgrounds. Substance use destroys lives and illuminates the need for effective addiction treatment.

Substance Use Rates In Iowa


Alcohol continues to be the most widely used substance in Iowa:

  • 45 percent of people admitted into addiction treatment in Iowa in 2017 cited alcohol as the reason.
  • 21.2 percent of adult Iowa residents can be classified as binge drinkers. The national average is 16.9 percent.
  • Heavy-drinking rates in Iowa (6.9 percent) surpass the national average (6.5 percent).


Marijuana follows as the second-most used substance in Iowa. More than 25 percent of adult and juvenile Iowa residents cite marijuana as their primary drug, making it the most common illegal drug—a position marijuana has maintained in Iowa for many years. Aside from alcohol, marijuana and meth also ranked highest for drug-related traffic fatalities and drug-impaired driving.

Marijuana potency in Iowa has also gotten stronger, due in part to the increased availability of concentrates, such as oils, hash, wax, and edibles from states where marijuana has been legalized.


Close on the heels of marijuana use rates is the use of methamphetamines, the drug responsible for approximately 19 percent of the adult and youth population admitted to treatment. Methamphetamine also accounts for an overwhelming majority of drug-related prison admissions at 93 percent.

Meth use rates had decreased significantly in recent years. This drop was due to a crackdown on in-state meth labs and new legislation limiting the availability of pseudoephedrine, an essential ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine. However, meth use is climbing again as a result of the increasing availability of high-grade meth from out-of-state sources.

Heroin And Other Opioids

Similar to trends seen around America, the state of Iowa has experienced the effects of the opioid epidemic. Approximately 2.5 percent of those admitted into substance use disorder treatment in 2017 listed heroin as their primary substance. This rate may seem low, but it represents a number that has tripled in the last six years.

The rate of heroin use is linked to increased control of prescription opioid painkillers. The number of opioid prescriptions written in Iowa dropped by nearly 7.2 percent between 2013 and 2015. As a result, when people who are physically dependent on prescription opioids have trouble getting them, they turn to heroin, which is cheaper and now easier to acquire.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this trend is seen nationwide. Three out of four new heroin users reporting previous use of prescription opioids.

Between 2003 and 2013, heroin overdose deaths in Iowa grew exponentially, from one death to 20. Overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids rose by 1,333 percent, from six deaths to 86.

Cocaine/Crack Cocaine

The fifth-most common drug in Iowa is cocaine, responsible for 1.5 percent of addiction treatment admissions in 2017. While cocaine remains a problem, there are positive statistics associated with the overall decline of its use in Iowa: the number of cocaine-related prison admissions is at an all-time low, falling to 7 percent.

Impact of Addiction in Iowa

Substance use disorders don’t just affect the person who is abusing the drug. These disorders also affect that individual’s family, friends, workplace, community and the state as a whole. The economic cost of addiction includes a wide range of factors, such as increased workforce absences, traffic accidents, healthcare and treatment costs and legal proceedings, as well as decreased workforce productivity and economic losses that result from incarceration.

Iowa’s Addiction Response Plan

The state of Iowa is working diligently to address the problem of substance use disorders. The Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy is implementing a multi-faceted strategy to break the cycle of drug use and help Iowa residents find healing.

This strategy includes programs designed to:

  • Reduce the number of alcohol- and drug-related traffic fatalities by implementing intervention training for servers in restaurants and bars, enforcing drunk and drugged driving laws and developing educational and diversion programs for minors in possession
  • Increase the number of treatment clients who are employed and abstinent six months post-treatment by promoting mid- and long-term substance use treatment programs and expanding the roles of drug courts
  • Decrease drug-related crime and associated prison admissions by promoting second-chance reentry programs for offenders and investing in early intervention programs for at-risk youth

Among the most ambitious of Iowa’s goals is the prevention and reduction of the use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs among 11th graders. The state’s strategy is to accomplish this primarily through school-based and statewide educational and prevention programs. If the plan is successful, fewer Iowa residents will fall victim to substance use disorders in the future.

Addiction Treatment Programs in Iowa

Substance use disorders are a chronic and progressive disease of the brain. There is always hope, however; through high-quality therapy incorporating some or all of the following levels of care, addiction can be treated and sent into remission.

The Iowa Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Use oversees every level of substance use treatment and prevention services in Iowa. Here are some of the types of treatment programs available in Iowa to address substance use disorders.

Drug And Alcohol Detox

The first step toward recovery for many people is drug and alcohol detox. This process allows all traces of drugs and alcohol to leave a person’s system. If a person is physically dependent on a substance, withholding it will trigger withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can range from mildly unpleasant to life-threatening, depending on the substance and the duration of the addiction. Professional detox programs offer round-the-clock support to ensure each client is safe and as comfortable as possible during this process.

Iowa Inpatient Drug Rehab

One of the most effective addiction treatment programs in Iowa is inpatient drug rehab, where clients attend therapy and support groups each day and live on-site for the duration of treatment. This intensive level of care can last from 28 days to six months or longer and involves working with counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in both individual and group settings.

Outpatient Addiction Treatment In Iowa

Outpatient addiction treatment programs are typically less intensive than residential drug rehab but may also offer individual and group counseling. Outpatient programs are designed to provide continued education, support, and relapse-prevention skill development for people who seek to maintain recovery from addiction, most often as a follow-up to inpatient care. Some outpatient programs offer intensive day-treatment services that are comparable to inpatient treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

As part of the Opioid State Targeted Response initiative, Iowa is participating in a special program known as Medication Assisted Treatment for Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction. This program provides best-practice found to be effective in combating the nationwide opioid epidemic. MAT Medication-assisted treatment programs provide medications such as acamprosate (Campral), buprenorphine (Suboxone), disulfiram (Antuse), methadone, and naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol). Naltrexone, in particular, is an opioid overdose rescue drug dispensed by pharmacies that can temporarily reverse potentially fatal opioid overdoses.

Treatment For Co-Occurring Disorders

Also known as a dual diagnosis, the term “co-occurring” refers to the presence of both a substance use disorder and a psychiatric disorder. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 7.9 million adults in the U.S. fit the criteria for co-occurring disorders in 2014. Both outpatient and Iowa inpatient drug rehab programs strive to offer evidence-based treatment services that address comorbid disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Culturally Competent Substance Use Treatment

The state of Iowa is also committed to seeing to the unique cultural needs of its citizens who struggle with addiction. Culturally competent substance use treatment focuses on delivering high-quality, relevant and personalized services based on an individual’s racial or ethnic group.

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Paying for Addiction Treatment in Iowa

Access to Recovery is a grant initiative funded by SAMHSA that helps people get the substance use disorder treatment they need. Access to Recovery supplies people with payment vouchers so they can obtain recovery services. The objective is to make sure people with lower income levels are able to receive quality addiction treatment.

Finding Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Iowa

A person suffering from a substance use disorder may choose from a wide range of available treatment options in Iowa, including inpatient, residential, outpatient and medication-assisted treatment. The state of Iowa is dedicated to delivering a variety of programs and initiatives designed to break the cycle of addiction and better the lives of Iowa residents.

However, when considering where to seek treatment, remember that the best treatment program for a person’s unique needs might not be right around the corner. The benefits of being willing to travel for treatment include:

  • Access to higher-quality treatment programs
  • Improved privacy
  • Removal from distracting environments and local triggers

Vertava Health offers effective, compassionate treatment in several states across the country, and we can help people find the care they need—wherever they are.