Views from across Iowa
Des Moines Register, September 2
Iowa must act quickly to stop heroin’s spread
The heroin epidemic rages around us. Can Iowa act quickly enough as the threat spreads here?
This summer’s headlines chronicle the tragic toll: Milwaukee records 20 overdose deaths in two weeks. Doctors see a surge in newborns addicted to opiates. Emergency responders treat increasing numbers of overdose victims in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
Driven by opioid abuse, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. And most signs point to it getting worse.
The good news: As the crisis hits other parts of the nation first and more severely, Iowa has time to prepare. But the epidemic’s speed threatens to overrun government’s ability to react.
Take the bill signed by President Barack Obama in July to address the crisis. Congress authorized $181 million in new spending, far less than Obama said was adequate. Lawmakers still must pass a budget and administrators must still write rules before states can apply for funding.
We’re not sure how much and how quickly it will get here,” said Dale Woolery, associate director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy. Plus, the competition will be fierce. “Other states have larger numbers (of overdoses and users), and they might qualify before us.”
The heroin crisis has caught policymakers by surprise. It can be traced in part to a surge in sales of prescription opiates and increased addiction, and then a resulting tightening of restrictions on the pills.
Mexican drug cartels saw an opportunity. They flooded the market with high-purity heroin that was much cheaper than Oxycontin and other prescription opioids, according to author Don Winslow, who has chronicled the drug wars for years. Pill addicts and heroin users alike weren’t ready for the potency of the drug, leading to an increase in overdoses.
An added danger: Heroin is being laced with synthetic opioids like fentanyl — which killed the musician Prince — and tranquilizers used in elephants and other large animals.
“The synthetics can be 100 times more potent than heroin on its own,” said Lt. Tony Sposeto, with the Des Moines Fire Department’s emergency medical services team.
Sposeto measures the problem locally by how often Des Moines emergency responders have administered naloxone, better known as Narcan, a medicine that reverses an overdose. Through Wednesday, Des Moines medics have administered Narcan 125 times — 20 percent more than the same period last year. Almost all of the overdoses were caused by heroin, he said.
If only there were a quick antidote to the crisis. Iowa needs a comprehensive approach to address opioid abuse. This must include:
Awareness: In a crisis, Iowans need up-to-date information. But the Iowa Department of Public Health only has preliminary numbers on overdoses and treatment admissions from 2015, for example. “We need to get more timely information out,” Woolery said.
Addiction prevention: Other states have passed requirements that health care professionals check online prescription registries before prescribing addictive drugs to patients. Doctors’ groups have resisted such requirements. In July, Gov. Terry Branstad said the state should take another look at passing a requirement. He also said the state should strengthen education requirements for health care professionals.
Overdose antidotes: The governor signed a bill this year allowing civilians, police and other first responders to obtain naloxone with a prescription. More access to the medicine can save lives. Sposeto said that in a couple of recent cases, a friend or family member used a naloxone injector pen to revive an overdose victim before responders arrived.
But the new law may also increase the demand for Narcan. Prices of a dose of Narcan have risen from $14 early last year to $36 now, Sposeto said. Cities and states may need more assistance to handle the increased cost.
One piece of good news is that fatal overdoses seem to have leveled off in Iowa. Heroin deaths hit a high of 20 in 2013 and dropped to 15 last year, according to preliminary numbers from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Deaths from other opioids reached a high of 45 in 2011 and fell to 22 last year.
Treatment: Admissions to treatment for heroin or other opioids increased 18 percent in 2015, according to preliminary numbers from the health department. State officials must prepare for that to grow. This month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services changed a rule intended to allow greater access to buprenorphine, a drug used to treat addiction to opioids. The rule nearly triples the number patients that can be treated with buprenorphine by a physician. It should help rural areas where few doctors are certified to prescribe the drug.
Enforcement: Law enforcement needs more intelligence tools to fight trafficking and get ahead of the cartels. Despite lots of rhetoric about secure borders, however, experts say the heroin will get through as long as demand exists. We also need a president who will foster strong relations with Mexico.
While policymakers address the crisis, Iowans should be vigilant for signs of opioid abuse among friends and family. Users frequently don’t fit the profile of a stereotypical junkie. Sposeto said many overdose victims are first-time heroin users who turned to the drug after an injury and an addiction to pain medication.
“We’ve seen it across the board. People who seem like they’re fairly well put together, squared away,” he said. “We’ve seen it from the extremely wealthy to the extremely poor.”
That means we all should have motivation to act quickly.
– – –
Quad City Times, September 2
Davenport council stepped up, citizens should follow
Davenport City Council is getting it right. Now, it’s up to the citizenry to show up and help direct the future of Davenport’s riverfront.
Last week, City Council members verbally struck down Mayor Frank Klipsch’s proposal that would have seen private organizations head redevelopment efforts of the former Rhythm City Casino site on River Drive. The process should be transparent, open and fully accessible to the public, council members rightly argued. Vetting should be left to the council, they correctly determined.
The city, after all, controls the land surrounding the privately owned barge at the center of the redevelopment discussions. It also determines docking rights. There’s no denying the public interest in a development that could shape Davenport’s downtown for generations. Even private groups, including the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, worried about the fallout that would follow selecting a development outside of public view.
The council didn’t lay out a specific process for would-be developers. It simply determined that one should exist and directed city staff to draft the guidelines. What’s clear is that developers will be asked for proposals. Public hearings will be held.
The council stepped up and, for the most part, did its job. If only it weighed in on whether it actually supports development at or on the former barge, which would have provided clarity for interested developers. Such a policy statement should be considered in the weeks to come.
RiverVision, a city guidance revised in 2014, will sit squarely at the center of the debate to come. Many of those closest to RiverVision’s 2004 writing and later revision already are fracturing into camps, particularly about the barge, now owned by Scott County Casino, which owns Rhythm City Casino. RiverVision was premised on the barge’s removal.
But, Klipsch says, the facts on the ground may have changed. Scott County Casino hasn’t found a buyer and might be interested in gifting it to a riverfront developer.
The key here is to recognize what RiverVision is not — it’s not a zoning document. It’s not even an official set of planning rules. It’s planning guidance, written in ink, not stone.
Document literalists are citing the plan’s focus on a private venue a few hundred yards from where the barge sits. They’re unwelcoming to discussions that deviate from the plan. And, in the process, they’re erecting barriers that are likely to spook developers mulling a bid.
Closed minds could, essentially, make for a less robust bidding process. Maybe the results are something directly in-line with RiverVision as drafted. Maybe it’s something close. And, just maybe, there are yet-to-be considered preferable options running through the head of some site planner or architect. Klipsch’s desire to pass the redevelopment onto the private sector might be wholly upside-down. But that doesn’t mean his vision for incorporating the barge is without merit.
Davenport City Council looks to have gotten it right this past week. It asserted its authority and, correctly, placed control over the future of Davenport’s riverfront back where it belongs. The move basically assures robust public input, debate and the protection of public access.
Davenport City Council flexed its muscle and set about providing structure to a haphazard process. Now it’s up to the public to show up and take advantage.
– – –
The Sioux City Journal, September 1
Cone Park dream moves closer to reality
Thirty-five years after her death, Ruth Cone’s dream of a new park in Sioux City is under construction.
Last week, ground was broken on the largely winter-themed Cone Park, which will be created on 10 acres of land near the IBP Ice Center and Lewis and Clark Park. In the beginning, amenities will include a day lodge, tubing hill, ice-skating pond (this will be converted to a splash pad for use in summer months) and snow-making equipment. A trail will connect Cone Park to Sertoma Park.
Matt Salvatore, the city’s parks and recreation director, told us the tubing hill should be finished by next summer, the ice skating rink/splash pad by fall of 2017 and the lodge just before the park opens in December 2017.
The projected cost to open Cone Park is $4 million. As we have said before, we suggest the city look for ways to reduce the $750,000 price tag for the lodge. Simply put, the cost strikes us as exorbitant.
Still, our position on the lodge cost doesn’t dampen our enthusiasm for the project as a whole. The park represents a wonderful, unique addition to our community and we have full confidence it will be a popular draw for both residents and visitors.
We look forward to additional quality-of-life progress in this part of our community. The general area, for example, is under consideration for construction of an aquatic center. Also, we believe potential exists for tying the trail within this area to the city’s growing overall trail system. One day, we hope, all trails within Sioux City will connect.
Again today, we commend the city and its Cone Park Design and Construction Advisory Committee for a deliberate, diligent process of study on a new park conducted over 10 years since Cone’s gift of money was released to the city of Sioux City. Cone, who died in 1981, willed $200,000 to the city with the stipulation the money be used to build a new park.
Through investment, Cone’s original gift has grown to more than $2.5 million.
As our community watches the park bearing her name begin to take shape, we should remember to give thanks for Cone’s vision, generosity and civic spirit.
Burlington Hawk Eye. September 1, 2016
Bullish on tourism.
If you haven’t yet seen downtown Burlington’s lighted steeples, you owe yourself a treat and should plan a visit soon — especially if you have company visiting this weekend.
While downtown, stop at the Dairy Queen or visit one of the area’s growing number of restaurants.
In a tiny way, you’re helping boost Iowa’s tourism economy.
Mount Pleasant’s Old Thresher’s Reunion and Fort Madison’s Tri-States Rodeo are bigger draws, but collectively, each help contribute to an $8 billion sector.
Visitors may come from the other side of town or from either coast, yet they help support 67,400 jobs, comprising 4.2 percent of the state’s non-farm employment. Travel-related sales tax receipts totaled $466.7 million last year, according to information released Wednesday from the Iowa Economic Development Agency. It’s an impressive 25 percent increase over the previous year.
Officials attribute the increase to fuel prices.
“Lower gas prices in 2015 helped draw in more travelers who significantly increased their spending on lodging, restaurants, shopping and entertainment,” said Shawna Lode, manager of the Iowa Tourism Office.
Tourism represents a broad category. It can include weekend getaways to state parks and resorts, trips to the Iowa State Fair and even softball tournaments at places like the Burlington Regional RecPlex.
Lode, who formerly worked for the Burlington Convention and Tourism Bureau, said requests for state travel guides also increased 20 percent. It shows a close correlation to the 25 percent growth in tourism spending.
Manufacturing remains the backbone — be it building backhoes, turbines or switchgears — to the state’s economy, contributing $31 billion each year. But tourism is gaining. Compare it to agriculture’s $12 billion GDP.
It’s nothing to belittle.
Be it by bits and drabs like taking in the lightscape — or attending big events, like a day, weekend or week at Threshers.
Twenty-five percent growth is 25 percent growth.