Dubuque Officials Take on Opioid Crisis

DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- People fighting the opioid epidemic in Dubuque say they've come a long way, but there's still plenty more to be done.

Rod Blum hosts an opioid conference at NICC Town Clock Center in Dubuque on Monday, July 9, 2018. (Allison Wong, KCRG-TV9)

Monday night they discussed the issue at an opioid conference hosted by Representative Rod Blum at the Northeast Iowa Community College Town Clock Center.

Many people in attendance were from the medical community. Mercy Medical Center Director of Psychiatric Services Joyce McDermott said their medication assisted program, which started in December of 2015 thanks to a federal grant, has worked for many patients.

"They come in very, very ill and are very successful," she said.

The program uses Suboxone which can treat addiction to narcotic pain relievers.

McDermott said sustainability is the program's biggest issue. $300,000 from Dubuque County is helping them sustain the program this year, but McDermott said insurance providers need to step up.

"We need insurance companies to begin to pay for the Suboxone," she said. "Without that it becomes very, very expensive for the hospital.”

Lori Peter is a nurse at the Cedar Valley Recovery Services new methadone clinic in Dubuque. Methadone is similar to Suboxone in that it can treat narcotic pain reliever addiction.

Peter believes Dubuque needs an in-patient clinic. "Where someone can go detox and then stay in-patient for treatment," she explained.

McDermott agrees. She said, "locally we could use a residential care facility for substance abuse treatment. We have to send our patients out of the county for that kind of treatment."

Sheriff Joe Kennedy said law enforcement work hard to get prescription pills and heroin off the streets, but it's difficult to keep up.

"It seems like no matter who you get rid of or how much of the product you get rid of, there’s always more that’s willing to back fill, someone else that’s willing step up and take that person’s place," he explained.

He said he would like to see more funding for this type of work.

"Our people that have their boots on the ground here are really keys to that, they develop their informants, they’re able to get into these guys’ with undercover," Kennedy said. "If they were able to give us more funding we could possibly get more officers involved in that program like that and create a greater effect on it."

Another solution many suggest to solving the opioid problem is by monitoring prescription pills and cutting users off. Dubuque resident Carolyn (Sue) Busko said that approach worries her.

She has Peripheral Neuropathy and suffers severe nerve pain. She said she tried every pill and remedy out there.

“I told my doctor, give me anything. I’ll try anything. Well we did, I might as well have eaten M&Ms. That’s how much good it did me," she said.

The only thing that helps her pain are opioids. She feels her current doctor is worried about prescribing them to her.

"How far am I gonna have to go," she asked. "A normal pain day for me is six (out of 10). That’s a good day. Is it gonna get to seven, eight and nobody is going to give me anymore medicine?”

People might have differing ideas about the solutions to this problem, but almost everyone agrees there needs to be more action.

"It’s still just not enough. It’s definitely not enough," Peter said.