August 4, 2015

Employees at casinos get training during Responsible Gaming Education Week

Slot machines at the Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City.

Slot machines at the Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City.

The state’s 19 state-regulated casinos are holding events for Responsible Gaming Education Week. Iowa Gaming Association president, Wes Ehrecke says it is a cooperative effort.

“A theme that we have this year is partnering with a treatment provider. Most of the people who can go to a casino — probably well over 98 percent — can go for the fun and entertainment that it is intended to be,” Ehercke says. “But for those who might be experiencing compulsive behavior or problem gambling –we want to heighten awareness and know where they can go for help.”

He says workers in the casinos learn how to handle problem gambling issues. “Staff will have training from the treatment providers to know what the warning signs are and the intervention skills to use to speak with a person if they might be experiencing problems,” Ehrecke says. Ehrecke says people can sometimes try to use gambling to try and escape other issues in their lives and that’s something the treatment providers are teaching casino workers.

“We want to be able to recognize that to be able to get them to help. We don’t want folks who are experiencing problems to come to our casino, that’s not what it is intended to be,” according to Ehrecke. He says while the initiatives to heighten awareness will take place at the casino properties throughout the week, the casinos try to promote responsible gaming throughout the year. “We want people to come to the casino for the fun and entertainment that it is intended to be, to bet with their head, not over it. To have a budget, to be responsible, not (to spend) their dollars earmarked for food, clothing, shelter and the like, but really their discretionary dollars earmarked for entertainment,” Ehrecke says.

Ehrecke says the state has great treatment programs and the casinos will do the best they can to help those who need their services to get help.


State drug czar applauds reinstatement of federal take back program

PillsThe director of the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy is applauding a recent decision by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to reinstate its National Prescription Drug Take Back program. Steve Lukan says prescription drug abuse remains a fast growing problem in Iowa and a safe and environmentally sound method to dispose of unused medicines is key to keeping those drugs from being misused.

“I think we certainly, as a state, need to pay attention to the strong drugs that are out there in our medicine cabinets,” Lukan said. “We do have a lot of prescription pain killers that are often times very powerful and unfortunately, sometimes end up in the wrong hands.” The next special collection of old, unwanted prescription drugs is scheduled for Saturday, September 26.

“It’s certainly a good opportunity to have conversations inside your home about proper use of medications and also just really trying to reinforce making healthy choices and avoiding drug use,” Lukan said. During the first four years of the DEA’s Take Back program with local law enforcement, pharmacies and community groups, nearly 26 tons of unused prescription drugs were collected in Iowa.

According to Lukan, there are also nearly 50 local law enforcement agencies and pharmacies that have established permanent drop-off sites to collect controlled prescription medicines in Iowa.

The Iowa Department of Public Health reports overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers, such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, have been rising in Iowa – with 77 such deaths in 2014.



Petition drive for remaining MHIs in Cherokee, Independence

A half dozen people delivered more than 5,000 petition signatures to the governor’s office Thursday afternoon, urging Governor Terry Branstad to keep the two remaining state-run Mental Health Institutes open. Branstad closed the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant this year and Aubreeanna Dolan of West Des Moines organized the online petition drive.

“The resources are not out there for these individuals that are in these homes,” she says.

Legislators passed a bipartisan compromise that would have temporarily restored services at the Clarinda Mental Health Institute for frail elderly patients who are mentally ill. The plan also called for reopening the Mount Pleasant facility for treatment of patients with the dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse. Branstad vetoed those proposals and has not ruled out closing the remaining two Mental Health Institutes. Dolan says the mental health care system cannot stand the loss.

“I know several individuals that have gotten services from these institutions and it’s saved their lives,” Dolan says.

Dolan points to a recent Pew Charitable Trust report which ranked Iowa 47th among the states for the percentage of the state budget spent on mental health services. The state president of the AFSCME union and 20 state legislators have filed a lawsuit challenging Governor Branstad’s closure of the Mental Health Institutes in Clarinda and Mount Pleasant. Fewer than 200 mentally ill patients are cared for in the state hospitals in Cherokee and Independence.

Advocates say candidates should focus more on education, kid’s health

Child-and-Family-policy-cenIowa voters want the presidential candidates to talk more about on how their proposed policies would impact children, according to a public opinion poll released today. Charles Bruner, director of the Child and Family Policy Center, is hoping the results of the survey will also direct the media to focus more attention on kids’ health and education.

“In 2012, when we did analysis of the presidential debates, we found although kids are 24-percent of the population and 100-percent of our future, less than 2-percent of questions were asked around child policy issues,” Bruner said. The poll involved 501 Iowans who voted in either the 2012 or 2014 elections.

Bruner said the results should push the candidates to speak up on child policy issues. “Overall, when we asked around 11 policy questions, 77-percent said that kids were a very important issue to address, second only to jobs and the economy,” Bruner said. “When asked about what are the one or two most important issues, kids actually ranked at the top.”

Brian Ahlberg is director of the Every Child Matters Education Fund. “The broad conclusion that we reached from this is something that we already felt and thought we knew, which is that Iowa voters clearly want presidential hopefuls to speak directly to how their policy stances will affect children,” Ahlberg said. “They want campaign debates, overall, to focus on which investments are needed to assure the best opportunities for our kids’ success.”

ISU researcher finds link between insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s

Auriel Willette

Auriel Willette

A researcher at Iowa State University finds a link between the insulin that regulates blood sugar in our bodies and Alzheimer’s disease. ISU’s Auriel Willette conducted the study with a researcher from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute.

“In certain brain regions that are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, they show that these neurons are using less and less blood sugar. And so, these problems with using blood sugar were also selectively related to — in these same people — to having problems with memory,” Willette says. People who are obese tend to become insulin resistant, which could lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Willette says the link between the insulin resistance and memory issues was apparent. “Immediate memory over the course of a couple of minutes, all the way down to 20 minutes later,” Willette says. He says this study may be enough warning for people to think more about losing weight now, to prevent the possible onset of memory issues later.

Willette wants to do more work on the impact of blood sugar levels on the brain. “Some subsequent work that I want to do is trying to see…if you are overweight or if you are obese, if you do engage in moderate exercise, could that have an affect on the brain where we don’t see the relationship we’re seeing here?,” Willette says.

Willette says having less sugar means the brain has less energy to relay information and function, but there’s a lot that isn’t known. “We as brain scientists know very little about the dynamics of how this works,” according to Willette. “We are just now kind of beginning to understand this as to how we perceive food and things along those lines.” He says this new link involving brain sugar and insulin raises more questions.

“In relation to how insulin might give us that extra jolt of energy to be able to figure something out or to remember something or to make a new memory — things along those lines — we really don’t understand much of how that works at all. It’s just a really, really new field, and so know we are just trying to puzzle out what it all means,” Willette explains.

Willette’s findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Neurology.

Report finds success in state gambling treatment program

The 1-800 Betts Off website has information to help problem gamblers.

The 1-800 Betts Off website has information to help problem gamblers.

The Iowa Department of Public Health’s annual report on problem gambling treatment is showing continued success. Eric Preuss is the program manager for the Office of Problem Gambling Treatment and Prevention.

“What we’re finding of those folks who are being involved in treatment and successfully completed treatment, they are seeing a reduction in the number of days gambled over the past 30, and we’re also seeing better employment rates,” Preuss says.

The report and analysis, which were compiled by the University of Northern Iowa Center for Social and Behavioral Research, found 92 percent of those treated reported reduced signs of problem gambling.

You can all the 1-800-BETTSOFF if you think you may have a gambling problem. Preuss says they create a treatment program for each individual. “It’s really based on where they are at when they come into the program,” Preuss explains.”Each program conducts an assessment that looks over six different areas of their life. Each of those areas are assessed, as far as behaviors, living arrangements, what might be going on in their work environment, what might be going on at home, if there is any mental health disorders or substance abuse disorders that might be going on.”

All of the services are outpatient, but he says they have a number of ways to work with individuals. “Whether it would be the use of e-therapy services or distance-treatment services. Where an individual might for example, be commuting across the state or have a job that takes them away from their home environment for a period of time. Where they can connect to groups and to individual appointments via phone or via other secure technology,” according to Preuss.

Preuss says there trying to educate people more about the resources available. “Ninety-percent of Iowans are very familiar with BETTS OFF, they know it is available, they know help is available through BETTS OFF, but 44 percent of Iowans did not know that the department offered assistance for individuals within the state of Iowa to actually get treatment,” Preuss says. He says they want people to know that treatment is successful.

“By getting the report out we’re hoping that number one — that they can see that we’re having a lot of folks who are having a lot of success with gambling treatment. That they are meting their recovery goals and they are able to live their lives in a way that’s not burdened by the gambling behavior,” Preuss says.

You can see the gambling treatment report on the Iowa Department of Public Health website at: To learn about treatment options or to speak with someone about problem gambling concerns, visit or call 1-800-BETS-OFF.

Iowa given top rank for health of children in Kids Count survey

Kids-CountIowa’s quest to become the healthiest state in the nation is getting a boost. The latest “Kids Count” survey, which ranks all 50 states for the well-being of children, places Iowa near the very top.

Laura Speer, a spokeswoman for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, says they look at 16 key criteria, including: education, health, economic well-being, and family and community conditions.

“Iowa was ranked 4th overall in terms of the well-being of its children,” Speer says. “Where Iowa is really a shining star is in the area of health. The state is ranked #1 best in the country in terms of the physical health of children.” Minnesota ranked first overall on this year’s Kids Count report, followed by New Hampshire and Massachusetts, with Iowa a close fourth.

Speer says Iowa is a clear leader of all states in several categories. “We looked at things like the percent of low birthweight babies, the percent of children who lack health insurance, the child and teen death rates and the percent of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs,” Speer says. “In those four measures, Iowa is ranked the best in the country.”

In last year’s report, Iowa ranked third in the nation overall, so the state’s fourth-place showing this year represents a slight drop. Iowa’s lost a little ground in one category in particular, according to Speer. “One of the areas that is most disconcerting is the percent of children living in poverty in the state,” Speer says. “It’s about 16% of all children in Iowa who are living below the poverty line in 2013. That’s actually higher than in was in 2008 when it was 14%.”

Iowa’s child poverty level is fairly low compared to many other states but Speer says it was still unfortunate to see that figure rise. The lowest-ranked states on the list are: Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi. See the full report at the Annie E. Casey Foundation website: