State and federal policymakers this morning lauded a new West Des Moines specialty clinic aimed at helping patients avoid addiction to prescription painkillers, which is the newest and fastest-growing form of substance abuse in Iowa and nationwide. 

Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley each spoke during a press conference at Harbor View Medical, 1300 37th St., Suite 1, which officially begins taking patients tomorrow. The clinic will use a medical model focused on avoiding or treating drug dependence through a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to medication compliance and management.

The potential for physical dependence upon prescription painkillers is nearly 100 percent after as little as three days of use, said Dr. Brad Archer, the clinic's chief medical officer. "That's why we've developed the Comprehensive Cognitive Health Evaluation to provide a brief intervention for the patient to validate the need to continue any potentially abusive prescription medication," he said.

Michael Vasquez, the clinic's CEO and co-founder, in 2006 founded St. Gregory Retreat Center, a Central Iowa detoxification and addiction treatment facility that has gained a national clientele. Harbor View initially will have a staff of three physicians and a nurse practitioner and will draw on counselors and other resources from St. Gregory, Archer said. The majority of its patients will likely come through physician referrals, he said.

Hydrocodone is the most commonly abused controlled substance in the United States, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency data. In Iowa, 72 million doses of the painkiller hydrocodone were prescribed in 2010, making it the most-prescribed drug in the state.   

"The challenge for all of us - the medical community, government regulatory agencies and families - is very significant," Grassley said. "How do you balance the need to treat severe chronic pain with (drugs that have) a high potential for abuse?"

The toll from abuse points to the need for such a facility in Iowa, Branstad said. In 2000, the state had four deaths from prescription drug overdoses. In 2010, that number had grown to 39 deaths.

"Increasing the quality of outcomes for patients takes coordination between many health-care professionals," Branstad said. "The need for Harbor View to do this work is undeniable. I think we're really fortunate to have this pioneer effort go on here."

For more information about the clinic, visit