May 22, 2015

Special investigation details misuse of funds at Des Moines drug treatment center

Auditor-logoA special investigation by the State Auditor’s office has documented the misuse of money by the manager of a drug treatment program located in Des Moines. The Center for Behavioral Health receives state and federal funding through the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide services to those trying to overcome drug addiction.

State Auditor Mary Mosiman, says they were called in to audit the CBH books. “The owner of CBH notified the Iowa Department of Public Health of the suspected misuse of funds at the Des Moines treatment center. And he confronted the executive director — Miss Mindy Williams — who admitted to using CBH funds for personal use, and falsifying documentation,” Mosiman says. The center provides services such as transportation, drug screenings, sobriety incentives, wellness assistance, and meetings with counselors.

Mosiman says Williams used vouchers for things like gas cards and gift cards that were supposed to have gone to clients, but the audit found a lack of documentation.

She says there were $108,639 dollars of reimbursements where no receipt could be located, and $21,917 of unsupported reimbursements where the receipts had been altered or had no amount on the receipt.

Mosiman says they cross-checked the names of clients with the receipts and found man that weren’t legitimate. “For numerous reimbursements, there was no client receipt, and therefore no client,” Mosiman explains. She says this was a case where CBH should have been able to catch the issues before they got out of hand.

“Oversight procedures were in place, they just didn’t follow them,” Mosiman says. “Miss Williams was able to carry this out over a period several years and the monies that should have been used for services or products for people going through substance abuse and the treatment of substance abuse, she was able to use those monies for her own personal use,” according to Mosiman.

The audit covered the period from January 2011 through May of 2013 when Williams resigned her position. The special report has been turned over to the Des Moines Police Department, the Division of Criminal Investigation, the Polk County Attorney’s Office, and the Attorney General’s Office.


University of Iowa student group offers ‘pot brownies’

The student group Young Americans for Liberty raised some eyebrows on the University of Iowa campus today as it announced it was handing out “pot brownies” to raise awareness about reforming marijuana laws. Group spokesman, Michael Corrie, says the “pot” part of the brownies is a play on words. “They are just cosmic brownies in a big clay pot, so pot brownies,” Corrie explains.

Today is April 20th, or 420, which is a code for smoking or consuming marijuana. Corrie says the goal was to get noticed. “We thought it would grab people’s attention and it actually seems to be working out very well,” Corrie says. He says they overall goal is to bring attention to what he says is the country’s “failed war on drugs.”

“I believe all it is doing is really draining money from our economy, it’s locking up massive amounts of people who are non-violent drug offenders, who’re disproportionately African-American or Latino, even though ever race uses drugs on the same rate,” according to Corrie.

Corrie says the group advocates making marijuana legal for personal use in Iowa. Critics say legalizing marijuana wouldn’t solve everything and would create more problems of its own. “Well you know, I’m not saying it would be a problem free process — but compared to what we’re doing now — anything is better,” Corrie says.

Corrie, a student from Soiux City, says the state will likely have to first make medical marijuana legal before the state could move on to make recreation use legal. He says the group has roughly 20 members and the pot brownie promotion was also a chance to sign up more people.

Senate passes medical marijuana bill with one Republican vote

Charles Schneider

Charles Schneider

The Iowa Senate passed a bill legalizing marijuana for medical use today by one vote, 26-19. Republican Senator Brad Zaun of Urbandale joined 25 Democrats in voting for the bill, while one Democrat, Tod Bowman of Maquoketa, voted against it. The bill’s future in the Republican-controlled House is uncertain.

Senator Charles Schneider, a Republican from West Des Moines, had offered an amendment to reclassify marijuana to would allow doctors to prescribe it as a treatment and allow medical research. That amendment failed and he said he can’t support the bill.

“Some day I may be comfortable with a state program, but until some of these other issues are addressed, until we know that we can address them through a state program, then I think we ought to go through the same process that any other prescription medication does so we can treat this like a prescription drug,” according to Schneider.

Mark Chelgren

Mark Chelgren

Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, credited Democrats for listening and working to make changes to the bill, but he also said he still has concerns that marijuana hasn’t gone through the FDA process for medical use.

“The bill doesn’t define anything with regards to the qualifications. The bill doesn’t define anything with regards to the liability, the bonding side of it. And quite honestly, large pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to be doing this,” Chelgren said. “I think that there will be quite a few people who will step up and say ‘I want to grow or I want to dispense,’ but I’m not sure any of those companies will actually have the financial wherewithal to take care of our citizens if something goes wrong.”

Chelgren said the bill does not address any of those concerns and has gone away from being a bipartisan compromise.”This is a political bill that is simply to say to the House, ‘shame on you if you don’t do it our way.’ That’s really disappointing, because that is not what this should have been about,” Chelgren said.

Matt McCoy

Matt McCoy

Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, responded in support of the bill. “And I strongly disagree with the previous speaker who indicated that he believed that this was a political bill — I do not believe that,” McCoy said. “I believe that the courage demonstrated by the families that have been here for really the last two sessions pleading their case to this legislature is about courage. Their courage to come here day-after-day and to plead their case on behalf of their children.”

McCoy said approving the bill will keep the issue moving forward. “I believe that sick Iowans deserve this treatment. I believe that this measure, when it goes to the House, will be a strong indication to the state of Iowa and all those Iowans who so strongly support this measure, that it will move the House,” according to McCoy.

Bill Dotzler

Bill Dotzler

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said senators are elected to do the will of the people. “And this is the first issue in my 19 years that I’ve ever seen the public so affirmed about why we should pass a piece of legislation. Never has it reached this type of support on any issue,” Dotzler said.

Dotzler said the legislature has to move the issue forward for those who are in need of the help that medical marijuana will provide. “And if we wait and say ‘okay federal government we want you to do it,’ Iowans won’t have the same opportunity to get the health care they need like 23 other states do, and over a million Americans have these medical marijuana cards. And we’re saying our surrounding states are okay, but we’re afraid here and we want to put it off,” Dotzler said.

Republican House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha has said he has no plans to consider medical marijuana in this session.


GOP leader says FDA, not state legislators, should make medical marijuana decision

Medical-marijuanaA key Republican lawmaker says the federal agency in charge of approving prescription drugs for the marketplace should make the decision about medical marijuana.

Senators may debate a bill next week that would allow marijuana to be grown, processed and sold in Iowa as treatment for a list of medical conditions that cause severe pain, nausea and seizures. House Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake makes decisions on which bills get considered in the House and she’s not inclined to bring that bill up for debate.

“If this is a legitimate medication…I really think the FDA needs to weigh in on this issue,” Upmeyer said this morning during Republican legislative leaders’ weekly news conference. “That’s the way we do other medications. I think that makes sense.”

The Food and Drug Administration’s website expresses support for clinical studies of marijuana’s use as a medical treatment, but the “FDA has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any” medical condition.

Last year Iowa legislators and the governor approved a bill that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of chronic epilepsy, but the parents of children who suffer from intractible epilepsy say they can’t get it here or buy it elsewhere and bring it home.

About four dozen march at statehouse for medical marijuana law

Cassie Helland, (left), and Maggie Adams lobby legislators.

Cassie Helland, (left), and Maggie Adams lobby legislators.

About 50 people marched around the statehouse over the noon-hour Tuesday and then met with legislators to lobby for a new state law that would allow marijuana to be grown and dispensed in Iowa — as treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.

Maggie Adams of Mason City has transverse myelitis and, while she’s no longer paralyzed, she’d prefer to use cannabis to control her pain rather than take the prescription drugs.

“The medication — I hate it,” Adams said. “I get to (where) I can’t think and talking wise, I get tongue-tied.”

Adams was at the statehouse Tuesday with her daughter and two grandchildren — one of whom suffers from chronic epilepsy. Adams and her daughter, Cassie Helland of Mason City, were wearing t-shirts that read: “Team Caleb: Stop the Seizures.” That’s because Helland’s 10-year-old son, Caleb, has frequent seizures and none of the prescription drugs are working.

“The meds are at the max dose, so now we’re just kind of, ‘What do we do?'” Cassie Helland said. “And we just want them to see a face to our stories and, you know, hopefully they’ll pass this so we can have it. I mean, we can legally own it, but there’s no way for us to get it.”

The Iowa legislature last year passed a bill that decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of chronic epilepsy, but it’s not legal to sell it here and Helland said she cannot go out-of-state to get cannabis oil and bring it back.

A bill ready for debate in the Iowa Senate would allow up to four marijuana growing operations in Iowa and allow up to a dozen separate businesses that could dispense the drug for treatment of a long list of conditions that cause chronic pain, nausea and seizures. On Tuesday morning, Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, delivered a 20-minute speech on the Senate floor to describe how he understands marijuana may help certain patients.

“Let’s do what we’ve been sent here to do,” Dotzler said. “Let’s pass something that’s going to help Iowans.”

And Dotzler criticized those who favor a go-slow approach.

“These patients can’t necessarily wait,” Dotzler said. “…They have chronic diseases that can take their lives and they’re slowly dying.”

Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, said he’s “on the fence” about the bill until he finds “documentation” somewhere that confirms cannabis is a medicine.

“Because I am struggling with this,” Chelgren said. “I can tell you up front I have not made a decision on this bill.”

Senator Dennis Guth, a Republican from Klemme, said he’s been trying to do the same kind of research.

“But I’m not so sure this is a place that legislators should be making the decision,” Guth said. “I’m thinking we want to have someone with a medical degree doing this.”

After the half-hour-long discussion among the three senators concluded Tuesday morning, Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs quipped: “If we’re done debating the bill, maybe we should just vote on it.”

It’s unclear when senators may take up the bill. Key senators say they’re working on amendments that would make change in the bill and it’s taking a while to work through all the details.

Illinois man charged in Quad Cities drug death

Crime Scene TapeA suspected heroin dealer from the Quad Cities is jailed in connection with a death in Davenport, likely due to drugs. Emergency responders were summoned on Wednesday to a possible drug overdose in a Davenport home. They found one person dead. The individual was taken to a Davenport hospital, where an autopsy is pending.

The person’s identity has not been released pending notification of relatives. Based on an investigation by detectives, 49-year-old Anthony Johnson of Rock Island, Illinois, is being charged with involuntary manslaughter, possession with intent to deliver heroin and delivery of heroin. He remains in the Scott County Jail.

(Reporting by Phil Roberts, Davenport)


Senate committee votes 9-5 in favor of medical marijuana bill

Medical-marijuanaA bill that would legalize the use of marijuana as treatment for certain medical conditions that cause seizures, chronic pain and nausea has cleared a Senate Committee on a 9-5 vote this afternoon, but faces key opposition in the Iowa House. Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, has patterned the bill after laws in other states.

“To give Iowans legal access to medicines that most Americans already have,” Bolkcom said.

An Iowa law that took effect July 1 decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of chronic epilepsy, but the parents who lobbied legislators to pass that law say they can’t get the drug for their kids here and can’t travel elsewhere to get cannabis oil and bring it back to Iowa. The bill that cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee today calls for establishing up to four marijuana production facilities in Iowa as well as up to a dozen separate businesses that would dispense the marijuana.

Iowans with one of the medical conditions listed in the bill or chronic and severe pain caused by an underlying medical diagnosis would have to get a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana as treatment. They would pay $100 for a state-issued Medical Marijuana License and then they’ve be able to buy a series of products made from the marijuana plant. However, smoking marijuana would still be illegal. Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was a “very reluctant” supporter of the bill.

“But because of the…extensive safeguards that are built in at every step of the process, including the safeguard that smoking of marijuana is expressly prohibited under this legislation, I plan on voting for it today,” Hogg said. “…For people who are truly sick, facing debilitating conditions that I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live with, they ought to have the opportunity if they’re working with their medical provider and they think this is an option that they should pursue.”

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said marijuana can’t cure “debilitating diseases,” but it can reduce symptoms like seizures, nausea and chronic pain.

“People’s lives, I believe, are at stake,” Dotzler said, “and their health and well-being is at stake.”

Senator Michael Breitbach of Strawberry Point was among the five Republicans on the committee who voted against the bill.

“I’m not ready to vote for it yet, but I think we’re moving in the correct direction,” Breitbach said.

However, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, the top Republican in the legislature, sees a dim future for the bill.

“I don’t believe that the General Assembly will do anything with medical marijuana this year,” Paulsen told reporters late this morning.

Several Iowans with chronic medical conditions are hoping their stories change the minds of legislators like Paulsen. Forty-four-year-old Madena Burman of De Soto has a rare genetic disease that causes colon cancer. There is no cure and she has read research that suggests cannabis can reduce the number of cancer cells produced by hereditary cancers like hers.

“I guess if their life was on the line, they might have a different opinion,” Burman told reporters after today’s committee meeting. “…I have a problem with someone else’s fear overriding my choice for my life and my body.”

Burman sat through today’s senate committee meeting and plans to return to the statehouse to lobby for the bill. Fifty-year-old Shannon Peterson of Des Moines is another Iowan with chronic pain who has been lobbying for passage of this bill and plans to keep at it.

“Show up as often as I can even when it’s hard for me to get up and get going. I’ve had Crone’s Disease for 34 years,” Peterson said after attending today’s meeting. “…It’s just very painful. It’s worse than giving birth.”

She said marijuana could help control her pain and she has considered moving to Denver where she can legally get it.