Costing Iowans millions

To the editor:

As a Fort Dodge native, I am disappointed in the Iowa Legislature’s failure to pass S.F. 2294 during the 2018 legislative session. Our state is in the midst of a budget crisis and an opioid epidemic, which could have both been addressed through S.F. 2294 — a bill that would legalize syringe exchange programs. In 36 other states, syringe exchange programs, or syringe service programs (SSPs) prevent the spread of infectious disease among people who use methamphetamine and opioids, reducing short and long-term costs to taxpayers. HIV, hepatitis C (HCV), and endocarditis (a deadly infection of the heart valves) related to IV drug use are currently costing Iowa Medicaid millions of dollars, annually. The costs are preventable, but due to the lack of legislative response, Iowans will pay the price for years to come.

In Iowa, between 2009 and 2016, HCV infections among people under the age of 30 increased by 375 percent. The Iowa Department of Public Health believes this is largely due to an increase in injection drug use — in particular, heroin and other opioids. A University of Iowa study found that over 50 percent of HCV patients were Iowa Medicaid beneficiaries, meaning that taxpayers foot the bill for treating these infections. Not to mention, HCV infections are often a warning sign for future HIV outbreaks.

SSPs prevent the spread of these infections by distributing new syringes in exchange for used ones; however, they do so much more than this. SSPs offer many healthcare and social services to meet the needs of people who use drugs, such as overdose prevention education and naloxone distribution, linkage into housing, connections to drug treatment, and HIV and HCV testing.

What’s at stake if the legislature fails to take action in 2019? Iowans can expect to see the state’s budget crisis worsen and Medicaid spending accelerate. HCV is the leading cause of liver transplantation in the U.S. The estimated U.S. average cost per liver transplant is $739,100. In 2017 alone, 48 HCV related liver transplants were performed in Iowa, which estimates to $35,477,000 in a single year.

Furthermore, the lifetime cost of treating a single person living with HIV is thought to exceed half of a million dollars.

In order to save the lives of thousands of Iowans and millions of state Medicaid dollars, Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink and Rep. Helen Miller should work to legalize syringe service programs in the 2019 legislative session.

Krista Thompson

Iowa City