December 21, 2014

Group will push legislature for medical marijuana law

Sally Gaer (file photo)

Sally Gaer (file photo)

A group of Iowans announced a campaign Tuesday at the state capitol dedicated to promoting regulated access to medical marijuana for patients suffering from a variety of medical conditions. Lawmakers passed, and the governor signed a very limited bill into law that allows the use of cannabis oil for patients with chronic epilepsy.

Sally Gaer is the mother of a child with the form of epilepsy and now is a member of the group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. “We have more folks who would like access to cannabis as medicine to use for their medical conditions…they’ve been in contact with us and so we decided to form this group, and it encompasses more than intractable epilepsy,” Gaer explains.

Founding members of the group include Easter Seals of Iowa, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Iowa Chapter; Epilepsy Foundation of North Central Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska; Epilepsy Families for Medical Cannabis.

Gaer says one of their objectives is to change the classification of marijuana from a schedule 1 designation. “Schedule 1 says that marijuana has no medicinal value, which is quite untrue and inaccurate,” Gaer says. The also want to create a Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee within the Department of Public Health. “That are physicians and pharmacists and scientists and law enforcement and drug enforcement, so everybody is on the same page,” Gaer explains. “And they would make the decisions as far as processing, growing and dispensing the cannabis medicine in the state so that the legislature is not making every little minuscule decision.”

One of the arguments against approving medical marijuana is that critics say that will then lead to approving recreational use of the drug. “None of us are really for recreational marijuana in any way, shape or form,” Gaer says. “My story has been all along, they already get it. They can walk outside and in five minutes get their hands on illegal recreational marijuana, to their detriment. I still don’t have access to medicine for my daughter.”

Gaer says even with the law allowing Iowans with intractable epilepsy to treat their conditions legally with medical cannabis oil, Iowans still cannot safely, affordably, and legally get medical cannabis in other states. She says part of the problem is that the state-issued medical cannabis “cards” needed are still not available. And although 23 states have legalized the sale of medicinal cannabis, it’s sold almost exclusively to in-state residents. “Drug abusers still get it, and the people that need it still can’t,” she says.

Gaer says the extra support could help get something more done in the upcoming legislative session, and that’s why they are making their support know now. “I think there are some legislators working and figuring out what this should look like, and if we can get a bill introduce right away this session and get work going on it, so we are further ahead than we were last year,” Gaer says.

Last year’s legislature was working with the knowledge that many members would be on the ballot in the fall, and she hopes with the election over, there’s more chance of getting the issue moving. “You know, that was what we heard from the get go last year, well this is an election year, this probably won’t happen. And our thought was exactly it’s an election year this should happen,” Gaer says. “So, hopefully we won’t have that oh my gosh what will this do to the election in the fall if I do anything about this, hopefully it will more about helping people.”

Gaer says medicinal marijuana is widely supported by most Iowans, as a 2014 Des Moines Register poll found that 59 percent of Iowans support its use. A follow-up poll by Quinnipiac found that 81 percent of Iowa voters support legal access to medical cannabis under a doctor’s treatment plan.


Drug charge against ISU player dropped

Bryce Dejean-Jones

Bryce Dejean-Jones

A Story County judge ruled today that Ames police did not have probable cause to arrest Iowa State basketball player Bryce Dejean-Jones on a drug-related charge. Dejean-Jones had been charged with keeping a residence where a substance believed to be marijuana was discovered.

Dejean-Jones, a UNLV transfer was also charged with hosting a loud gathering and breaking the city’s noise ordinance. The drug charge was dropped during his appearing in Story County District Court in Nevada today.


Illegal marijuana hash oil showing up in Iowa

ODCPIowa’s drug czar says a new marijuana derivative is showing up on the streets in Iowa. Steve Lukan leads the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) and says marijuana is reduced to a product known as hash oil or wax. He says it has a high percentage of the psychoactive compound known as THC.

“That then is used in the electronic cigarette, much like you might add a flavored nicotine product, instead they’d be adding the high-potency oil,” according to Lukan. Lukan says the hash oil is likely arriving in Iowa from states which have liberalized their marijuana laws:

“If you’re in states like Colorado there’s been an explosion of products with very little regulation, oil, food products, candies,” Lukan says. Iowa has approved the use of a low THC cannabis oil for limited medical use, but the more potent oil is illegal in the state. Hash oil is produced by boiling down marijuana leaves. Lukan says some of the product is showing up in Iowa schools. He recently made his comments to the governor’s budget panel.


State official urges continued discussion on dangers of meth

ODCPThe director of the Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) is hoping adults will continue talking to kids about the dangers of methamphetamine. This week has been designated as “National Meth Awareness Week”, and ODCP director Steve Lukan, says the amount of meth that’s made in Iowa has gone down, but the problem hasn’t gone away.

“Even experimenting once with this drug can really lead to some disastrous consequences, and that’s actually one of the main themes, ‘don’t even try it, not even once.’ There is a nice on-line toolkit available that I think would be really helpful in many classrooms, that’s available on our website,” Lukan says.

The number of meth labs found in the state is at its lowest point in 17 years, but meth is still available from other sources. “One of the main challenges we face is the amount and the purity that is trafficked through Iowa and into Iowa,” Lukan says. “We hear from a lot of our law enforcement partners and others just how strong this drug is that is showing up on the streets. The potency again is extremely high, so the challenge has evolved and the challenge has not gone away entirely.”

Lukan says the impact of meth can still be seen as substance abuse treatment admissions for meth last year comprised an all-time high of 14.8-percent of all publicly-funded treatment entries. Also, meth reportedly was involved in more than half of Iowa’s drug-related prison admissions last year. Lukan says something else that is important to note about the fight against meth is that people have been able to be treated and beat their dependence on meth. “Maybe 10 years ago, I think a lot of the public assumed that once you were hooked you were never going to get clean, and that really isn’t the case today. While it is an extremely addictive and extremely dangerous drug, there are people who are coming out of treatment and going on to lead productive lives,” according to Lukan.

When it comes to stopping the meth from coming into Iowa, state figures show law officers have seized 64-thousand grams or more than two pounds of meth this year — the most in nine years.

“I think our law enforcement community has really done some good things with technology, and I think some of the investigations are yielding better results. So that’s I think another area of hope, law enforcement and treatment really working together in the prevention side as well,” Lukan says.

He says its important to maintain awareness of the problem to prevent it becoming bigger. “While this problem has not gone away, I think we have good tools at our disposal to help fight it,” Lukan Meth Awareness Week is sponsored by the national Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and runs through Saturday December 6th. For more information on meth, including how to get help, go to www.Iowa.Gov/ODCP.


Pharmacy Board delays decision on medical marijuana

Pharmacy-BoardThe Iowa Board of Pharmacy today tabled a recommendation that the Iowa Legislature reclassify marijuana. A three-member subcommittee had recommended the full board urge state lawmakers to make marijuana a “Schedule Two” substance, meaning it could be used for medical purposes.

Board Chairman Ed Maier is a pharmacist from Monona County. “I believe we decided to table it to have a little more time to think about it, primarily because of the fact that federal law and state law would be in conflict,” Maier said. Federal law classifies marijuana as Schedule One, which bans most uses of the drug.

Medical marijuana advocate Sally Gaer of West Des Moines said she doesn’t understand the decision to delay a decision, especially since the pharmacy board previously recommended reclassifying marijuana back in 2010. “I’m really disappointed,” Gaer said. “I don’t understand why they need another discussion on all of it. I’m just really frustrated.”

The board will return to the issue at its meeting on January 3. Gaer has a 24-year-old daughter who suffers from intractable epilepsy and is currently taking four different anticonvulsant drugs, including one that’s imported from France and isn’t approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration. “So, FDA approval doesn’t mean a ton to me at this point,” Gaer said. “All of her meds she’s been on have not been approved for use in children and she started on them as a child. We’re out of options for medications to try with her, so we would like to try the cannabidiol oil and whatever else might help her.”

Gaer helped lead the lobbying effort earlier this year that resulted in Governor Branstad signing a bill decriminalizing possession of cannabis oil as treatment for chronic epilepsy. But, Gaer notes most states where cannabis oil can be legally purchased also restrict sales to residents of that state. In addition, the ID cards that will protect epileptic patients in Iowa from prosecution if they’re caught with cannabis oil won’t be issued until January 30.

“I’m frustrated with the bill because in the final hours, everything was kind of sliced and diced out of it,” Gaer said. “The reciprocity for hurting Iowans who are refugees in Colorado…they can’t bring their loved ones home (to Iowa) to see their family and bring their medication with their children. That’s frustrating to me too.” Gaer and other parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy have been asking state lawmakers to allow marijuana to be grown here, so cannabis oil can be produced and purchased in Iowa.

Dale Woolery, Associate Director of the Iowa Office of Drug Control Policy, praised the cautious approach of the pharmacy board. “It’s not an easy thing. It tells us how difficult this issue really is,” Woolery said. “We don’t believe moving marijuana out of Schedule One is required to do some of the things that are being talked about, (such as) research and CBD (cannabidiol) access. It’s been demonstrated that can happen with marijuana as a Schedule One.”

While the pharmacy board recommended in 2010 that lawmakers reclassify marijuana, the legislature has not taken any action on the matter.


Methamphetamine problem improved in Iowa, but not gone

Plastic bottle used for "shake and bake" methamphetamine making.

Plastic bottle used for “shake and bake” methamphetamine making.

The state drug czar says great progress has been made in getting control of the methamphetamine problem in the state, but the drug hasn’t disappeared.

Steve Lukan, the director of the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP), says the number of meth labs reported by Iowa law enforcement in 2014 is on a pace to total 172, which would be their lowest number found in 17 years.

“We certainly think that there’s been some real success with the pseudoephedrine tracking system, I think that that as well as law enforcement working a lot of the intelligence side of things have really helped disrupt a lot of the manufacturing that been going on here in Iowa,” Lukan says. Pseudoephedrine is an ingredient in cold medications that is also a key ingredient in making meth.

Lukan says those making the illegal drug in Iowa have had to move to smaller operations. “These labs, while they are a lot smaller, they are just as dangerous and something that we definitely have to keep our foot on the gas as well,” Lukan says. While the Iowa-made meth has decreased, the amounts, potency and use of meth smuggled into Iowa are increasing.

Law officers have seized 64,000 grams of meth so far this year, which is the largest volume seized in nine years. “Because of our location there is a major networking that happens across the county with meth coming up from Mexico. So, one of the reasons you maybe see some higher numbers, is because there’s been some better work done to try to catch that,” according to Lukan.

The continued impact of meth on Iowa is seen in the meth-related prison admissions, which hit 475 last year — more than half of all Iowa drug-related prison admissions. Meth treatment admissions last year made up nearly 15-percent of all publicly-funded treatment entries, an all-time high percentage involving meth.


Prescription drugs, heroin are top worries for state drug czar

ODCP-logoThe annual strategy report from the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy (ODCP) shows Iowa continues to have one of the nation’s lowest rates of illegal drug use. The director of the office Steve Lukan says one of the growing concerns is the improper use of drugs that started out being legally prescribed.

“Unfortunately we have seen a significant rise in the number of Iowans who have overdosed as a result of prescription pain reliever and heroin abuse. So that will be an area of attention moving forward,” Lukan says. Lukan says those who treat substance abuse are finding more people who start using pain killers legitimately and than become addicted. Others are using them because they are readily available.

“The main things are first education, certainly I think a lot of Iowans don’t know that many young people actually start experimenting with prescription drugs that they find inside the home. Nationwide about 70-percent of actually take them from medicine cabinets of close friends and family,” Lukan says. “We think that is a big piece of this, educating Iowans to keep close tabs on those medications.”

He’d also like to see more use of the Prescription Monitoring Program. “It’s actually a tool for doctors and prescribers to look at. It’s a voluntary program that they can actually use to look at somebody’s prescription history and make sure that people are not seeing too many doctors or trying to abuse the system and trying to obtain prescription drugs illegally,” Lukan explains. “We think there are a lot of positives that could happen if more and more subscribers would check that and use it.” Less than one third of prescribers are registered with the program.

The increase is abuse of prescription drugs has also led to an increase in heroin use and deaths. Figures show 11 people died from an overdose of prescription pain relievers in 2003 and that number jumped to 77 in 2013. There was just one death from a heroin overdose reported in 2003 and 20 in 2013. “Often times as people perhaps are seeking bigger highs — the prescription pain relievers aren’t doing it for them any more — they may actually turn to something heavier and harder like heroin. The other thing that can also happen is the prescription pain relievers sometimes get too expensive and they look to heroin as a cheaper alternative,” Lukan says. He says most of the heroin in Iowa comes from the Chicago area.

Synthetic drugs caught the attention of his office in recent years too after deaths related to their use. “We’ve had some success I think in recent years, the DEA in particular has made some efforts nationwide as well as in Iowa, in actually shutting down retailers who’ve been selling these products. The Attorney General as well here in Iowa also a while back made a new focus on this area using existing consumer protection laws,” Lukan says.

Lukan says there are some good things to show for those who work to stop drug abuse. “We have fewer people going into prison because of drug issues, I think we have actually more people working as well once they leave drug treatment. And actually, the rates of underage drinking and tobacco use among our young have also declined. So, we thing those are all positive trends,” according to Lukan.

The 2015 Iowa Drug Control Strategy outlines a the ODCP’s plan for prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts aimed at reducing illegal drug use and promoting healthy and safe communities. You can see the report at: