July 25, 2014

State wins grant to continue substance abuse recovery program

The Iowa Department of Public Health has won a three-year grant of nearly $8 million for a program to help people overcome substance abuse. Kevin Gabbert is the project director for what’s called Access to Recovery or ATR. “Because every person in the recovery is different, a key component to our program is choice,” Gabbert explains. “And so with ATR, the individual receiving the service chooses what services they want to be involved in from a variety of our providers.”

Gabbert says providing support services to those in recovery can be key to helping them succeed. “Basic things like transportation — so gas cards and bus passes. Child care so an individual can go to treatment services in the evening or go to a 12-step meeting. Some of those basic things that might have been barriers otherwise if they had not had access to ATR,” Gabbert says.

The program has been running since 2010, but its grant money was running out. “There was a new grant application process that was initiated in 2014. We applied and were one of six grantees out of 30 applicants,” Gabbert says. Gabbert says they’ve seen success with the percentage of individuals not using alcohol or drugs six months after admission increasing from over 73.3 percent to 82.3 percent from 2010 to this year.

He says they expect to serve 7,000 people with the new grant. “Individuals can come to us from a variety of different referral sources. It could be from the Department of Corrections, it could be from a primary care provider, it could be from the Department of Human Services, the list just goes on and on,” Gabbert says. “Individuals can just walk into one of our care coordination providers which we have across the state.”

For more information about Access to Recovery, visit the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website.



Partnership for Drug Free Iowa leader says limit kid’s summer screen time

The president of the Partnership for a Drug Free Iowa says summer should be a time for kids to play at the park, ride bikes and learn how to paddle a canoe, not to while away the hours on Facebook, and parents should limit a teen’s access to social media, internet and TV during summer vacation.

Peter Komendowski says too much screen time can raise the risk of alcohol and substance abuse. “Children are not happy if they spend an excessive amount of time on Facebook,” Komendowski says. “We’ve even heard children say things like, ‘I OD’d on Facebook.’ They start sensing that there’s a problem with how much involvement there is and what we forget as parents is they count on us to lead them and to give them guidance as to what to do.”

Social media can be a very antisocial experience, he says, when it reduces the actual time spent in activities with friends and family members. Komendowski says, “Studies are showing that the more time children spend on the media as a basis of how many hours a week they spend doing things, the more difficult time they have structuring decisions when it comes to high-risk behavior.”

Too much social media and screen time can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression, which he says is setting the stage for substance abuse and other high risk behavior. Smart phones aren’t evil, he says, but they need to be used properly. “If you use your cell phone to make a date with somebody to meet at the ball field to play ball or to go to a movie, that’s a great tool,” Komendowski says. “But if you’re spending all of your time just interacting on the media, the risks in terms of how children feel, their psychological strength, their behavioral sort of aptitude, those things begin to get diminished.”

He says parental involvement in youth-focused media improves a children’s physical health, sleep, school performance and social behaviors. The average American teen spends 35 hours a week in the classroom and more than 55 hours a week engaged in social media, video games, television and internet activities.


Fort Dodge man faces years in prison on drug charge conviction

A  Fort Dodge man is found guilty in federal court on drug charges. A jury deliberated about 50 minutes before finding 41-year-old Joseph Tyler McDonald guilty of one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and one count of possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Evidence at the trial showed that McDonald was receiving packages containing meth shipped from California that he then distributed in the Fort Dodge area. Law officers intercepted one package that contained half a pound of ice methamphetamine, and McDonald admitted to having received eight ounces of methamphetamine and eight ounces of cocaine by mail.

McDonald was previously convicted of conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine within 1,000 feet of a school and possession with intent to distribute cocaine base. McDonald faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a possible maximum life sentence.


Iowa DOT will dispense cards for those cleared to use cannabis oil for epilepsy treatment

Iowans with an Iowa neurologist’s clearance to take cannabis oil to treat chronic epilepsy will go to the Iowa DOT to get a card which will shield them from drug possession charges in Iowa.

The Iowa Department of Public Health has unveiled its proposed rules for implementing the new state law passed by legislators and the governor this spring. Deborah Thompson, the legislative liason for the department, says while her agency will process the paperwork and determine who is eligible, the DOT will hand out the cards because there’s a DOT licensing outlet in each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“To bring people that have this debilitating disease to Des Moines may cause more headaches than it’s worth,” Thompson says. “They have a system also that enables them to connect with law enforcement and the law enforcement folks can, the way they would with any of our IDs, drivers licenses, they have a connection to the DOT’s system that allows them to see more details than a card provides for.”

The cards can be issued to adults who have an Iowa neurologist’s recommendation to use cannabis oil to treat their “intractable” epilepsy. The parents or guardians of children with the condition can also apply for the card. Thompson says the new law was fairly specific about what hoops were required to qualify for the cards and her agency’s proposed rules follow those guidelines, including a requirement that other treatment options have been tried first before opting for cannabis oil.

“The neurologist will then send the completed application, including the written recommendation, directly to the Department of Public,” Thompson says. “We thought this would marginalize the opportunity for fraudulent behaviors if we got it directly from the neurologist’s office.”

Staff in the Iowa Department of Public Health will review the applicant, then notify the DOT if it has been approved and a card may be issued. There is no Iowa site that dispenses the cannabis oil, so caregivers will have to go out of state to get the product.

The rules were discussed during Wednesday’s Iowa Board of Health meeting in Iowa City. The board will vote on the rules at its September meeting. A legislative committee will also have a chance to review the rules before they take effect.

Last member of central Iowa meth ring sentenced

The final member of a 10-person group from central Iowa involved in a drug trafficking ring is sentenced. The judge sentenced Andy Gomez the third of Altoona to four years in prison for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. Court information shows Gomez was part of the group that distributed a highly pure form of meth in the Des Moines area from 2009 to 2012.

The group received shipments of meth from Mexico and shipped large quantities of money there. Drug agents seized over four pounds of meth, more than $117,000 in drug money and 17 guns at the Des Moines home of the leader of the group, 33-year-old Juan Gonzalez. The other nine in the group received sentences ranging from time served up to 25 years for Gonzalez.

Here are the names of the others in the group and their sentences: 36-year-old Miguel Bazan Cardenas of Des Moines, sentenced to 90 months in prison; 60-year-old Bertoldo Zuniga of Des Moines was sentenced to 48 months in prison; 31-year-old Azael Bernal Balderas of Des Moines was sentenced to five years; 46-year-old Ubaldo Carrasco Alcantar of Des Moines was sentenced to 30 months; 34-year-old Josue Castaneira Cruz of Des Moines was sentenced to 27 months; 32-year-old Gabriel Carrasco of Des Moines was sentenced to time served; 61-year-old Beverly Ann Hickcox of Des Moines was sentenced to 18 months; 54-year-old Danny Lee Iseminger of Newton was sentenced to 104 months in prison. Each was also ordered to pay a special assessment to the crime victim’s fund.

Missouri Valley man sentenced on drug charge

A Missouri Valley man will spend nine years in prison for dealing drugs. Fifty-two-year-old Arthur Hulett pled guilty to possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine in February of this year.

An investigation found that Hulett was transporting meth from Harrison County into other western Iowa counties and eastern Nebraska for distribution. He was sentenced to 108 months in federal prison and six years of probation when he is released.


Evansdale woman found guilty of selling synthetic drugs

A woman who sold cellular phones and makeup in eastern Iowa has been convicted of also selling synthetic drugs. Fifty-two-year-old Mary Ramos of Evansdale was convicted of distributing and possessing with intent to distribute two types of synthetic drugs.

The jury found Ramos sold the a drug called XLR-11 under the names “Mr. Nice Guy,” “Mr. Happy,” “Diablo” and “Insane.”  They are a synthetic form of marijuana, but were labeled as incense or potpourri.

She also sold the drug Alpha-PVP, which is similar to meth or cocaine. Court records show Ramos sold the drug labeled as “Blue” for $50 a jar — claiming it was a scouring powder — although it is not a cleaner.

Ramos faces maximum sentences of 80 years in prison and four million dollars in fines when she is sentenced.