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dialysis-300x198Diabetics and those with failing kidneys may have gotten a glimmer of relief from the staggering costs of caring for their conditions, as Big Pharma relented a tad with news it will put out a less-costly insulin product and federal officials suggesting Uncle Sam soon may be upsetting the flush profits of the dialysis industry.

DaVita Inc. and Fresenius Medical Care AG run more than 5,000 U.S. dialysis clinics and control around 70 percent of the market, Reuters news service reported in a story describing how Alex Azar, the powerful head of the federal Health and Human Services department, wants “a new payment approach for treating kidney disease that favors lower cost care at home and transplants.”

Why? As Reuters explains, “The goal is to reduce the $114 billion paid by the U.S. government each year to treat chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease, a top area of spending.”

allenplaque-240x300Truth can be stranger than fiction, and for an investigative journalist covering the outrages of health care costs, ProPublica reporter Marshall Allen had a dream medical story call him on his phone: A well-known New York company reached out and told him he had been “honored” as one of the nation’s Top Doctors.

Not bad for a guy with an English degree from the University of Colorado and zero medical credentials, he reported in a recent, wry article.

He tried to explain to a saleswoman for the company how unqualified he was. But after a chat and after negotiating a “nominal fee” for his accolade — down to $99 from $289 — he bought a plaque and the right to promote himself as a specialist in “investigations” and a Top Doctor.

fentanylA steady flow of news reports shows how our nation’s opioid crisis can be fairly blamed on just about every actor in the medical field that should have known better: Big Pharma, doctors, hospitals, and regulators. It’s been a toxic mix of incompetence, indifference and out-and-out  deceptive conduct that produced the epidemic that now claims tens of thousands of American lives each year.

Take, for instance, the drug fentanyl, a lab-created painkiller 100 times more powerful than morphine. How did it escape the confines of legitimate prescription pain control to become a killer street drug? The Washington Post reports, based on research from Johns Hopkins experts, on how doctors, hospitals, and the federal Food and Drug Administration bungled a plan to safeguard the administration of this highly potent drug that had obvious abuse potential from the day it came onto the market.

Meantime, two other news organizations — the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative website Pro Publica and the online health site Stat — have pried loose disturbing, sealed court testimony, showing how a wealthy, philanthropic family approved a lethal deceit about the potency of OxyContin, a billion-dollar opioid pushed relentlessly by Purdue, the Big Pharma firm they owned.

vamps-300x169Funny the mischief that can happen with a little blood and spit. Seemingly unrelated medical stories last week brought home the lesson of the law of unintended consequences. Those consequences abound everywhere, in health care most especially. So with blood, we’re learning about a bizarre new fountain-of-youth treatment, with echoes of vampires, for seniors who ought to know better.   And with spit, we’re learning how seemingly harmless genetic tests can raise from the dead some disturbing revelations about our deceased family members.

Bunk about blood transfusions

The federal Food and Drug Administration has warned older Americans about a new kind of anti-aging bunk flying out of the Silicon Valley: blood transfusions. Companies, dancing on a fine legal line, have hinted that seniors could benefit by getting transfusions of young people’s blood and blood products.

fdachiefgottlieb-300x300Punked, dunked, and owned — if you’re young enough, that’s how you say your team has crushed a competitor. The lingo might well describe, too, the situation for now between e-cigarette maker Juul and Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the federal Food and Drug Administration.

He has talked tougher and tougher with Juul as part of the FDA’s crackdown on vaping and e-cigarettes, a craze among the young that is eroding decades of efforts by health advocates to reduce Americans exposure to and abuse of nicotine and cancer-causing cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Gottlieb has told Juul officials he may summon them to his offices in the nation’s capital for more scoldings, this after the agency has chased and chastised vendors across the country, including Walgreen’s and Circle K stores, about keeping vaping products, e-cigarettes, and tobacco out of minors’ hands.

mdepressionRoughly 1 in 7 moms, who, during or after pregnancy, suffer debilitating depression — losses of energy or concentration, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, feelings of worthlessness or suicidal thoughts — now may get counseling that has proven helpful to women and their babies.

Preventive health experts have called on medical providers to guide women to this specialized care that could benefit 180,000 to 800,000 mothers each year. Because this treatment has been put forward this way, women also can get help affording it. As the New York Times reported, the recommendation for maternal depression counseling, by the United States Preventive Services Task Force, means insurers must cover the services — with no co-payments — under the Affordable Care Act.

Experts told the newspaper the USPSTF action was an important step on perinatal depression, noting:

noop-300x158Seniors and their friends and companions should consider reality versus magical thinking about the power of pills. The blunt truth: Over-the-counter dietary supplements can’t cure diseases. Not  Alzheimer’s, not cancer, not diabetes, not any known disease. They don’t extend your lifespan either.

Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the federal Food and Drug Administration, not only has warned a dozen companies to stop making reckless health claims about supplements, he also told Congress his agency needs greater authority to regulate what the New York Times reported has become a “$40 billion industry, which sells as many as 80,000 kinds of powders and pills with little federal scrutiny. These products range from benign substances like vitamin C or fish oil to more risky mineral, herbal and botanical concoctions that can be fatal.”

Gottlieb told the newspaper that regulators have been reluctant to rein in the wildfire spread of supplements and their wilder claims. But the public health is at such risk now that Congress must step in.

brady-281x300If you’re such a die-hard fan you slogged through that pro football championship that was perfect for the new Year of the Boar, please don’t be so sheepish in your celebrity adoration as to get gulled by quarterback Tom Brady’s health and diet bunk.

His oddball theories well might go into a flaming dumpster, along with  notions about special drinks and excess hydration, and yet more broadcast goop from that princess of health woo, Gwyneth Paltrow.

Sure, Brady’s Superbowl LIII win may have made him the goat (greatest of all time) in National Football League history with six rings. He got there, and may stay there, not only with rare individual gifts, hard work, and special talents, but also with peculiar practices, as Vox, an online news site reported:

puffdad-265x300The federal Food and Drug Administration failed to protect the nation’s young against Big Tobacco’s harms with slow-poke responses to the rise of e-cigarettes, as well as tardy regulation of flavorings for combustible cigarettes and liquids used in “smokeless” vaping, health advocates say.

The American Lung Association, in its annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, ripped FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and his agency for postponing oversight of e-cigarettes and vaping — a hard-won crackdown approved in the Obama Administration — to further study the harms of the devices and practices.

While the agency dawdled, e-cigarette makers, notably the firm behind the small Juul device, stormed the youth market, luring American teens to a raging, e-cigarette fad. Many became addicted to vaping and harmful nicotine, as a result. As the lung association describes it:

cbpbust-300x200If  anyone around doubts still the threat that the opioid crisis poses to the nation, a drug bust involving a vegetable truck in Arizona should provide powerful persuasion: Federal agents, suspicious about the vehicle’s floor, loosed a drug-sniffing dog, resulting in the seizure of not just 395 pounds of methamphetamines but also 254 pounds of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, a lab-created super drug that experts say is 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It packs a wallop for users in tiny grains or flecks.

The record-setting seizure at the Arizona border stop amounted to 144 or so kilograms of fentanyl, with drug enforcement officials estimating that just 1 kilogram of fentanyl can produce 1 million fatal doses. That means just this one bust had the potential to cause 144 million deaths.

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