SIOUX CITY -- Based on a rising number of drug users seeking treatment, methamphetamine use in Iowa is increasing, state public health officials announced recently.
Law enforcement officers say use of the highly addictive drug has remained high since the 1990s, when news stories about users cooking meth in their bathtubs and stealing anhydrous ammonia from cornfields seemed to be the subject of nightly news documentaries. Making matters worse, they say, meth users nowadays are getting a higher-quality product.
"I don't think this area's appetite for meth has ever decreased," Woodbury County Sheriff Dave Drew said. "It just seems that there's an uptick in meth again."
Iowa Department of Public Health statistics show a 38 percent increase in meth treatment admissions from 2014-17. From 2011-17, annual meth-related deaths in the state rose from 12 to 96.
The increasing treatment trend is mirrored locally.
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, but also use meth.
"It's cheap, it's available, and it seems that addiction in general is going up," said Dr. David Paulsrud, Jackson Recovery's medical director.
Iowa's meth-related death rate is probably higher than reported, Paulsrud said, because some victims' causes of death may be listed as a stroke or some other medical condition caused by drug use.
"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."
The addiction statistics are no surprise to law enforcement officials.
"In our area, it's pretty much stayed steady the last five to 10 years," said Sgt. Troy Hansen, a member of the Sioux City Police Department's street level drug unit and a former Tri-State Drug Task Force member.
Meth use in the area remains at epidemic levels, a federal agent said.
"It's very prevalent here. It's highly abused. I would say it's still an epidemic," said Mark Minten, acting resident in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration office in Sioux City and a member of Tri-State Drug Task Force.
What's changed is the purity level of the drug. Ten years ago, Minten said, the purity of meth seized was often around 20 percent. Now it's usually 90 percent or higher.
"Potency is definitely higher," he said.
The low-purity meth of a decade ago tended to be locally produced. State laws that restrict the purchase of the cold medicine pseudoephedrine, one of the main ingredients in meth, has reduced meth manufacturing in the area.
Much of the drug now found in the area, Minten said, comes from labs in Mexico, most of it smuggled into the United States in rail cars, vehicles and trucks that cross at border checkpoints or sent via mail and parcel services.
That higher purity affects addiction levels in more ways than one, said Polly Carver-Kimm, Iowa Department of Public Health communications director.
The increased purity may make the drug more addictive, she said, but the frequency of use and amount used usually is a bigger culprit. Meth has become cheaper, so users can afford to buy and use more of the drug.
"The fact that potency has increased means a person's money goes even further, which can support more frequent use," Carver-Kimm said.
The increased purity is likely a factor in the increase of meth-related deaths, she said, 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.
Those changes in the fight against meth have gotten less public attention than they would have in the 1990s. Since then, the public discussion about meth has died down, though it remains as serious a problem for law enforcement.
"I don't know if people just got used to it and don't pay attention anymore," Hansen said.
Law enforcement and the treatment community continue to pay attention to it. Drew said eliminating meth trafficking and use will continue to be a challenge, likely for a long time.
"Will it ever be taken care of? No," he said.
SIOUX CITY -- City officials propose increasing spending for operations by $7.2 million, or 3.51 percent, in the next fiscal year, but they maintain that a proposed hike in property taxes is the result of statewide tax policy.
The higher city expenses are primarily a result of employee wage and benefit increases. Employee compensation accounts for 48 percent of the proposed budget.
The City Council met Saturday for another 2020 budget review session. The council will have more meetings in coming weeks, and they will vote on the budget in March.
The proposed $214 million operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 calls for no change in the city's current property tax levy of $16.07 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which is unchanged from the fiscal year 2019 approved levy amount.
Residential property taxes will increase $21, to $837 per $100,000 of assessed valuation due to changes in the state mandated roll-back factor. Commercial and industrial property taxes will remain at $1,446 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
The city expects to generate $748,000 more in property taxes in fiscal year 2020 due to the tax base rising by 1.2 percent. The bulk of property taxes will fund public safety, 58 percent, while 17 percent will be used for debt service payments.
During the meeting, in which department heads made their budget case before the council, city councilman Dan Moore made a point of asking each department head whether there was anything that could be cut from their budget.
Most department heads maintained that little could be cut from their budgets without cutting services, and said their departments are lean as it is.
City finance director Donna Forker said sewer rate adjustments will be discussed at a future meeting.
"We have to have a sewer rate increase," she said.
Moore said he was skeptical of any proposed sewer rate hikes.
"Can I just be real transparent about this and tell you that I don't have an appetite for an increase. Just to let you know," Moore said. Forker said the sewer rates haven't been increased in years, and rates need to increase due to debts and the loss of balances that the city previously carried.
"We've been eating balances, eating balances, eating balances," Forker said. "I don't have balances there now to carry the debt. And we have to issue debt for equipment, for plant modifications."
The council briefly discussed a not-yet-formed regional tourism board, which councilman Alex Watters is involved with. Communities outside Sioux City have expressed interest in such an organization, as have firms like Wells Enterprises Inc. of Le Mars, Watters said.
Other council members expressed a degree of skepticism. Mayor Bob Scott said it would be nice to get hotels and restaurants to chip in for such a tourism venture via a hospitality tax -- but he suspects state lawmakers would resist such a proposal.
He pointed to a similar tax in place in Omaha as a model for the proposed tourism board.
"Nebraska is so far ahead of the state of Iowa when it comes to urban issues, and they're a more rural state by far than we are," Scott said. "Our legislators ought to take a look at what success is in other areas, and say, 'You know what, maybe a tax isn't bad if it's properly used to expand things.'"
Scott expressed his dissatisfaction with Spectra Venture Management, the Philadelphia-based firm that took over management of the Tyson and Orpheum Theatre on Jan. 1, 2018. Spectra did not meet its budgetary goals -- the company told the city it would reduce the city's subsidy of the Tyson by $270,000 in its first year, but the promised savings failed to materialize.
"I know Dave Bernstein will be calling me, saying 'Why are you picking on them?'" Scott said to Enzo Carannante, the interim general manager of the Tyson Events Center. "I'm not picking on you -- you haven't met your goals. You sold a deal to the city, and it's incumbent that that becomes reality."
Meanwhile, during it's first year of running Sioux City's paramedic services, Sioux City Fire Captain Tom Everett estimated the department saw an estimated adjusted net loss of $560,000, which was somewhat less than was previously expected.
In August 2017, longtime nonprofit ambulance service Siouxland Paramedics Inc. informed local cities it would no longer provide emergency medical services after the year's end. Leadership said such service was unsustainable in the face of rising numbers of uninsured patients, declining reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare and increased personnel costs.
Sioux City Fire Rescue's EMS division had to step up to fill the void left by Siouxland Paramedics. The EMS service operates at a loss, due in part to a huge number of uncollectible accounts.