October 25, 2014

Town hall meetings on substance abuse planned in every county

Two state anti-drug groups are launching a series of town hall meetings that will be held in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties. The focus is on how each of the counties is addressing substance abuse.

Peter Komendowski is president and CEO of the Partnership for a Drug Free Iowa, which is working with the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy on the statewide effort. “One of the reasons we do it is that the governor’s office and our legislators actually like hearing what we find,” Komendowski says. “They’re interested in what’s going on in Iowa because at some point, the voters will speak out in the polls but the elected officials need to know what’s going on so they can be proactive while they’re in office. It’s not just about getting elected. It’s about doing a good job.”

These town hall meetings are an opportunity for Iowans to speak their minds, he says, and to have their concerns transmitted directly to the state leaders who may be able to make a difference. Komendowski says, “Knowing that these concerns are there and the community can rally together to work on these issues I think empowers them to put into play the kind of legislation it’s going to take to have strong and effective drug policy that gives the coalitions, the drug treatment people and law enforcement the tools that they need to keep our communities safe.”

The project, he says, is a blueprint for healthy communities for the state. The goal is to tour all 99 counties by the end of next year and present the information to state lawmakers in early 2016. Town hall meetings have already been held in Webster City and Jewell, with more scheduled in the coming weeks in Clinton, Shenandoah and Iowa City. Learn more at the website: www.drugfreeiowa.org

(Reporting by Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City)


Tons of prescription meds turned in during September ‘Take Back Day’

The spokesman for the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy says Iowans brought in more than four tons of unused drugs during the September 27th “Drug Take Back Day.” Dale Woolery says 80 locations in the state collected the prescription drugs. “A lot of that the controlled medications, which means they have the potential for abuse,” Woolery says. “So to get those out of medicine cabinets and out of homes and safely disposed of — it’s true public safety. You have to wonder, if not for the take back program and efforts like it, where would those pills be?”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration oversaw the disposal of the drugs. “Those medications, because they contain controlled prescription drugs are incinerated at an EPA approved facility,” Woolery explains. The Take Back days have yielded a total of more than 25 tons of prescription drugs in the four years they’ve been held in Iowa.

Woolery says the September program was the last of the Take Backs to be overseen by the DEA as he says the program will evolve into something else that will be determined after the DEA passed rules, that in theory, are designed to make it easier and safer to dispose of the prescription drugs.

He says there could several ways to get rid of unneeded drugs with the new plan. “Taking medications back to pharmacies or mailing them back, but the Iowa Pharmacy Board still needs to review the federal law. And even though the federal law has changed, it would still be voluntary, so for others to participate and to make the take back opportunities more accessible will require the involvement of others,” according to Woolery.

Until the new systems is approved, there are still places where you can get rid of the pills you don’t need. He says some local law enforcement agencies have permanent collection boxes and there are pharmacies that are taking back unused nonprescriptive drugs. Woolery advises you to do some checking with your local police department or pharmacy to see if there is a take back opportunity in your community. He says if you have no take back options you can mix old unidentifiable medicines with used coffee grounds or kitty litter to toss in the weekly trash.

The DEA reported more than 52,000 pounds of prescription drugs were brought into collection areas in the six-state Midwest division that includes Iowa during the September event.


Database details fees drug companies pay to doctors

A database is being made public today that’s designed to shed light on payments doctors get from drug companies. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley co-authored the bill, which was enacted in 2010, but it’s taken years for the legislation to work through the system.

Grassley says the law requires drug companies to disclose payments they make to doctors for speaking fees, research grants, trips and other items of value. “I co-wrote this legislation after it became clear how little information is available to the public in this area,” Grassley says. “Drug and medical device makers give billions of dollars to doctors but most of that happens behind the scenes.”

Grassley, a Republican, says his continued investigations and oversight have exposed several examples of how money is not disclosed in many cases where it should be. “There are doctors taking drug company money to study a drug, or taking federal grant money to study the same area,” Grassley says. “One doctor took drug company money to study a powerful anti-psychotic and recommended that drug more than it might seem scientifically-reasonable to do so.”

The patient who is prescribed a drug that might be beneficial yet risky will be able to learn whether the prescribing doctor accepted drug company money to study the risks. The information might not change the outcome, but it’s something a patient might like to know.

Doctors who take money from drug companies aren’t necessarily going to be negatively influenced, Grassley says, but this new database will shine a brighter spotlight on the situation through the Physician Payments Sunshine Act. “Doctors explain their reasoning and how their actions benefit patients,” Grassley says. “Transparency shouldn’t stop doctors from receiving the payments if they want to, but it should empower consumers to learn whether their doctors take payments, and if so, why, and whether that matters to the patient.”

Eventually, he says, the database will become a valuable resource for everyone with a stake in the country’s health care system. The information is being included in a public database maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The address is: www.cms.gov/openpayments

More tests find nothing illegal in pills at Rockwell City prison

Hundreds of pills found inside the walls of an Iowa prison facility have come back negative for any controlled substances. The 300 to 400 unknown capsules were discovered earlier this month during a routine inspection by staff at the North Central Correctional Facility in Rockwell City.

Initial testing at the prison found the pills might contain cocaine and the prescription pain reliever Demerol. But, Iowa Department of Corrections spokesperson Fred Scaletta says the DCI crime lab has completed more thorough testing. “It was determined the pills were not illegal drugs,” Scaletta says. “The Department of Corrections does consider them to be contraband and we will continue our investigation into those matters.”

The minimum security facility in Calhoun County houses around 490 inmates who are classified as “low risk” offenders. It remains unclear how the pills slipped through security and exact content of the pills. “I haven’t got that confirmation yet, but I know they were over-the-counter drugs that were purchased at a pharmacy,” Scaletta said.

A news release from AFSCME Iowa Council 61 last week claimed, since the discovery of the pills, “numerous inmates at the North Central Correctional Facility have tested positive for marijuana.” Scaletta said he’s not heard anything about inmates using marijuana at the Rockwell City prison.


Burlington man sentenced on drug distribution charge

A Burlington man will serve five years in federal prison on a drug charge. Thirty-four-year-old Christopher Ryan Walz was sentenced for conspiracy to distribute 11 pounds or more of cocaine.

Court records show from during or about 2009 and continuing until on or about April 24, 2013, Walz conspired with others to purchase and distribute the cocaine in the Burlington area.

Law officers conducted a search of Walz’ Burlington residence and seized cocaine, marijuana, digital scales, packaging material, and drug paraphernalia.


Le Mars man given prison time for distributing meth

A man who conspired to distribute methamphetamine in central and northwest Iowa will spend more than eleven years in federal prison. Thirty-year-old Jason Moore of LeMars pled guilty in April to conspiring to distribute methamphetamine.

Moore admitted to his involvement in a conspiracy that distributed more than 500 grams of pure methamphetamine from about June of 2012 through March 2013. Moore lived in northwest Iowa and sold meth to various customers there and he also traveled to Des Moines, one or two times each week to obtain methamphetamine for resale in central and northwest Iowa.

Moore was sentenced to 162 months in prison with credit for 19 months previously served for a current sentence of 143 months.


Report estimates Iowa’s take in taxes if pot is legalized

A new report puts a price tag on what Iowa might reap in tax revenues every year if the state legalized marijuana. The financial website NerdWallet.com took the data from an anonymous health survey that found about 4-percent of Iowans over age 25 said they’d smoked pot in the past month.

Based on Iowa’s population, that’s about 84,000 users. From there, the report’s writers mirrored what Colorado has done and figured in a 15-percent excise tax on all marijuana sales. The final tally exceeded $24 million which the website claims Iowa could generate in taxes each year by making pot legal.

Nationwide, the figure exceeds $3 billion.