November 22, 2014

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:


Des Moines woman charged in young daughter’s death

Tionne Bloodshaw

Tionne Bloodshaw

The mother of a 5-year-old girl who died last month in Des Moines is now behind bars. Des Moines Police Department spokesman Sergeant Jason Halifax says investigators had been waiting for the results of several tests. “The medical examiner completed an autopsy and the resulted indicated the child had lethal amounts of morphine in her system,” Halifax said.

Jayda Canada died on October 7. The child’s mother, 24-year-old Tionne Bloodshaw, is now facing a long list of charges. “She’s charged with child endangerment resulting in death and neglect of a dependent person. That was for another child who was home at the time and was exposed to narcotics,” Halifax said.

Police found cocaine, seven morphine pills, 81 ecstasy tablets, counterfeit bills and digital scales in the home. Bloodshaw is also facing eight drug charges. A man who Halifax referred to a Bloodshaw’s boyfriend is facing similar charges. He’s identified as Deshaun Trombone. “Bloodshaw had a no contact order against Trombone, however, she was allowing him into the house,” Halifax said. “He is not in custody right now. He is wanted for these charges and we are looking for him.”

Trombone was already on the Des Moines Police Department’s “most wanted list” before this incident. In addition to child endangerment and neglect charges, Trombone is facing charges for being a felon in possession of ammunition and for violating a no contact order.


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:

(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: