October 6, 2015

Koster criticizes ‘assault’ on Missouri stem cell research, group says it’s misrepresented

A contentious issue from 2006 has re-emerged in Missouri, ahead of next year’s election. Republicans and Democrats are looking for ways to drive more voters to the polls, and one way could be to put embryonic stem cell research on the ballot.

Missouri voters passed a ballot measure in 2006 to protect any stem cell research, stem cell therapies or cures.

Attorney General Chris Koster/AG office

Attorney General Chris Koster/AG office

Attorney General Chris Koster is speaking out against what he’s calling renewed attempts to prevent Missouri institutions from conducting stem cell research. He cited a story by the Columbia Daily Tribune reporting that Missouri Right to Life is preparing to “launch an assault” on groundbreaking work.

“Republicans are again going back and fighting the stem cell wars that were settled back in 2005 and 2006. We had major fights during those years. Republicans were trying to criminalize this life-saving research,” said Koster. “What we want to make sure is that these researchers are protected in our state and that medical research is given the opportunity to progress freely without the religious wars of Jefferson City.”

Susan Klein with Missouri Right to Life, a pro-life organization, accuses Koster of misleading the public about what the group stands for.

“He’s trying to classify and put Missouri Right to Life in a category where we oppose all research and that’s just not true,” said Klein. “If and when there was ever any kind of an initiative that came from the pro-life side of this issue, it would absolutely not be to criminalize or to change research for adult stem cell research. It would be to clarify that you can not do embryonic stem cell research or human cloning and especially you can’t do it with our tax dollars.”

Klein said she’s unsure if an effort to end embryonic stem cell research in Missouri will be on the ballot in 2016, but says it’s an issue that’s always discussed. She said Missouri Right to Life is, however, working on legislation to introduce during the 2016 legislative session. She said it’s still early, but the group’s priorities would be to expand abortion clinic inspections and implement a ban on abortions that involve dismemberment.

Annual USDA report on hunger gives Missouri a poor ranking

The US Department of Agriculture says Missouri has the second highest percentage in the nation of households without enough food to eat. USDA’s Household Food Security in the United States report finds that almost 8% of Missourians fall into the “very low food supply” category, which ranks only behind Arkansas. Missouri has an overall food insecurity rate of nearly 17%, which is tied for seventh highest in the nation.


Food bank donations

Feeding Missouri state director Scott Baker said Missouri has had similar rankings before in the USDA’s annual report on hunger. He says hunger will continue to be prevalent in Missouri until its existence is recognized and deliberate, coordinated steps are taken to address it.

“Many people just cannot understand that hunger is real in Missouri. Going hungry is not something you are going to talk about with your neighbors. It’s something that you are going to hide. It’s not something you are going to be bragging about,” said Baker. “We really think the first step in solving hunger is just the acknowledgement that it exists. It exists in every county in the state of Missouri. There are a lot of misconceptions about what hunger looks like and where it might be.”

Baker says there’s as much of a hunger problem in rural Missouri as there is in urban communities.

He says food banks in Missouri continue to be stretched in their response to the hunger problem. According to the most recent “Hunger in America” report for Missouri, nearly 60% of partner food programs in the state reported an increase in the volume of clients being served. Last year, Missouri’s food banks distributed over 122 million pounds of food to a network of nearly 1,500 pantries, shelters, and kitchens.

Bill meant to prevent shock-drowning in Missouri to be back in 2016

A bill that sought to make the Lake of the Ozarks safer for swimmers saw little attention in the 2015 legislative session, but will come up again next year.

Caleb Jones floor

Representative Caleb Jones (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Thirteen year-old Alexandra Anderson and her eight-year-old brother Brayden of Ashland drowned after they were electrocuted while swimming near a dock at the Lake of the Ozarks, July 4, 2012. Columbia representative Caleb Jones sponsored an act named for them would require owners of bodies of water in Missouri to require docks and marinas on those bodies to have ground fault interrupters, that would shut off electricity to those structures in the case of a short.

Jones says he will offer that bill again in 2016.

“I feel like we, as a legislature, should try to make sure that no family has to go through what the Anderson family went through,” Jones told Missourinet.

The bill would also require defibrillators on water patrol division boats, prohibition of swimming in and around docks and marinas, and would set fines and jail time for failure to comply.

Alexandra and Brayden’s mother, Angela, said having defibrillators on water patrol division boats would be important because of many types of medical emergencies those can be needed for, that can happen on or near water. She also remembers emergency responders wanting them when her children died.

“We had two nurses that were helping us, one each with Alexandra and Brayden, and I very specifically remember one of the nurses yelling [to incoming water patrol boats], ‘Where’s your defibrillator? Where’s your defibrillator? These kids need defibrillators!'”

Anderson knows the prohibition of swimming around docks and marinas won’t be popular, but she says it would save lives.

“If I hadn’t lived through this I certainly would be like, ‘There’s no way. Of course we want to go and we want to swim off our dock,'” said Anderson.

Anderson says she doesn’t consider her children’s deaths to have been accidental.

“I believed [they were accidents] all the way up until the point when I started reading and educating myself, and then I came to realize this was not an accident. This was a tragedy waiting to happen,” she said.

She said the bill contains some of the reforms she believes are needed to prevent more people drowning on the Lake, but wants it to go further.

“We need certified electricians in the State of Missouri. Missouri is only one of four states that does not have a certification process,” said Anderson.

The Andersons filed a lawsuit against the owner of the Lake, Ameren Missouri, saying the company was liable by not inspecting the family’s dock, nor requiring ground fault interrupters on it, but the case was dismissed. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld that dismissal in June.

In the week after that dismissal, a man died and a woman was injured when they were shocked while in the Lake of the Ozarks.


Proposed Missouri ban of powdered alcohol will be back in 2016

The effort to ban powdered alcohol in Missouri has not ended.

Jason Grellner testifies for the Missouri Narcotics Association at a hearing on April 13, 2015 for Representative Patricia Pike's (right) bill proposing a ban of powdered alcohol in Missouri.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Jason Grellner testifies for the Missouri Narcotics Association at a hearing on April 13, 2015 for Representative Patricia Pike’s (right) bill proposing a ban of powdered alcohol in Missouri. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Word last year that a company was prepared to market powered alcohol sparked numerous state legislative efforts throughout the country to ban its sale. 89 bills were offered in 40 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The latest state to enact a ban was Illinois, where no lawmakers voted against it.

A bill to ban it in Missouri didn’t advance out of the committee process, but its sponsor, Representative Patricia Pike (R-Adrian), says she’ll try again in the 2016 session.

“I do feel there are still concerns,” Pike told Missourinet. “We did hear from pediatricians, the Missouri Narcotics [Officers’] Association, Children’s Mercy Hospital Network and Cardinal Glennon poison centers.”

Julie Weber with the Poison Center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center told a House Committee in April she was concerned with how much powdered alcohol might look like candy.

“We receive 54-thousand calls a year and of those, traditional alcohol products comprise over 1,300 of our calls,” said Weber. “59-percent of our calls come in on pediatric patients, and you think about the accessibility in-home, and the majority of these calls happen because of look-alikes, like candy, looks like medicine sometimes. With this, if you look at the powdered alcohol, it looks like fun dip, and they can have a good taste.”

Jason Grellner with the Missouri Narcotics Officers’ Association said the product’s original website promoted sneaking it into concert venues or sporting events to avoid high drink prices or last calls.

“This is purely being marketed for abuse. This is just an easy way to conceal alcohol and continue the disease of alcohol abuse,” said Grellner.

The website for Palcohol, maker of powdered alcohol whose website Grellner saw a previous version of, has since revamped that website and said the language he saw was “experimenting with some humorous and edgy verbiage about Palcohol. It was not meant to be our final presentation of Palcohol.”

It now decries its earlier statement about sneaking its product into venues, which it said also included a disclaimer elsewhere on the page about using it in a responsible and legal manner. It’s page now includes this argument: “Powdered alcohol will make it easier to sneak into venues. Not true. A shot of liquid alcohol is 1/4 the volume of a shot of powdered alcohol so it’s much easier to sneak liquid alcohol into venues.”

The site also presents the argument that banning the product will increase demand for it and make it easier for children to access it. It concludes a series of rebuttals with the statement, “all of the criticisms are just hyperbole created by people who have no knowledge of the product.”

A request for an interview with Palcohol maker Mark Phillips was unanswered by the time this story was written.

Outgoing, incoming directors on mental health in Missouri (VIDEO)

The Missouri Department of Mental Health has a new director this month.

Keith Schafer retired at the end of June after about 16 years as the Director of the Department of Mental Health, first from 1986 to 1994 and returning in 2007. The new Director is Mark Stringer, who has worked in the department the past 16 years.

Schafer says as he leaves, the Department will continue work to reach people who need help earlier in life.

“If you are mentally ill you will tend not to understand your illness at first as a young adult, you will tend to fight your illness and fight the medications that are being prescribed for you because they are very, very powerful medications with a lot of side effects, and so you simply don’t hit our system until you’re in your late 30s, early 40s,” said Schaefer. “What Mark has got to do in the next few years is he’s got to move that baton back and make absolutely sure that he can reach people when they’re 20, 22, 23 years old, because if we can do that we can certainly minimize the impact on those young adults.”

The Department is aiming to improve in that area while working within the Medicaid program, with legislative support.

“[The legislature] recommended that we seek a waiver, a Medicaid waiver, in which we can start reaching out to 18 to 35-year-old young adults,” said Schafer. “If Mark can do that … it’ll reshape the landscape for mental health.”

Stringer told Missourinet he has some very smart people working on that waiver.

“We have a pretty aggressive timetable. If we can pull this off, we would actually like to implement this waiver July 1 of next year,” said Stringer.

Stringer also wants to improve how Missouri works with people who suffer from both mental illness and developmental disability.

“Those are the people that really fall through the cracks, or they’ll languish in jails or hospitals for weeks or months or in some cases even years, when they should be in the community somewhere,” said Stringer. “We’ve got to find a better way to serve those people.”

Schafer also reminds people as he retires that very few people who suffer from mental illness are dangerous.

“The vast majority of people who are mentally ill are victims or people who are suffering very badly. There are a few people who are extremely troubled with paranoia and other issues, and they can be dangerous to society.”

Both men say the beginning of work to replace Fulton State Mental Hospital, portions of which date back to 1937, is a major achievement that both have worked toward for years.

“That was really cool,” said Schafer. “We’ve actually been talking about replacing Fulton State Hospital even in 1986 … we simply couldn’t afford to take on Fulton State Hospital at the time.”

Schafer doesn’t know what his long-term future holds, but right now he’s spending some time learning French.

“I have a little granddaughter who’s coming over from France. She’s going to be five years old when she’s here,” said Schafer. “I’m going to spend the month of July into early August trying to learn French and trying to keep up with her.”

Schafer said he also writes some and expects to stay somewhat involved in issues related to mental health.