Articles Posted in Communication

ecigopposticker-300x300San Francisco voters, upholding their elected leaders’ enlightened lawmaking, bashed Big Tobacco and its interests, providing a potent primary election message to public health officials nationwide to curb the growing menace to young people posed by e-cigarettes and vaping.

By a 2-to-1 margin, Bay Area residents supported their Board of Supervisors’ tough ban — which may be the most stringent in the nation — on sales of flavored tobacco products, including vaping liquids packaged as candies and juice boxes, and menthol cigarettes.

Specialized liquids, peddled in flavors like bubble gum, chicken and waffles, and unicorn milk, are key to the youth craze for vaping, in which teens use small devices about the size of a computer flash drive to get a nicotine-fueled boost. They can, with standard hits from liquids in devices like the trendy Juul, regularly consume as much nicotine as is found in a pack of cigarettes.

sessions-300x200As voters make up their minds about this fall’s mid-term races, they may wish to burn into their memories how the Trump Administration has dealt, so far, and especially in recent days, with government social programs that have huge effects on Americans’ health and lives.

Take, for example, the late-week, late night announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice that it will decline to defend yet another part of the Affordable Care Act, as 19 states, most red and led by Texas, attack Obamacare in the courts. The legal aspects of this decision will keep lots of law degree holders and their kindred men and women in black robes arguing, heatedly, for a while. There also may be huge political smoke clouds.

But keep in mind this basic fact from the actions by the Justice Department led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions: The nation’s crack legal team is asserting that it is unconstitutional for the ACA to bar insurers from declining coverage due to preexisting conditions.

cdc-3suicide-300x117Uncle Sam’s sobering new report about suicide rates rising in all but one state between 1999 and 2016, with fatal increases across age, gender, race and ethnicity, became even more somber and urgent with the shock and grief expressed widely over the self-inflicted deaths of chef-raconteur Anthony Bourdain in France and fashion designer-entrepreneur Kate Spade in Manhattan.

Suicide no longer should be viewed solely as a personal mental health problem but also now as a public health crisis, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned.  Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, told the Washington Post: “The data are disturbing. The widespread nature of the [suicide rate] increase, in every state but one, really suggests that this is a national problem hitting most communities.”

The suicides of Bourdain, 61, and Spade, 55, hit many hard, as was reflected in the extensive media coverage and social media reactions. Both Bourdain and Spade rose from modest circumstances, with abundant hard work, talent, personality, and ambition, to lead lives in the spotlight, and with an economic comfort that others would envy and consider glamorous. They were “successes.”

Airemergency-196x300With tens of millions hopping on jets to get to summer vacation destinations, it’s worth noting that medical emergencies aloft aren’t as rare as many travelers might imagine — and it may be beneficial if a doctor happens to be aboard when the need arises.

The nation’s top doctor, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, of course, may have spotlighted sky-high medical care, when he answered flight attendants’ emergency page to all those aboard a Delta flight from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta. Details are a bit sketchy. But a passenger on the early May trip apparently passed out, and worried crew needed medical assistance and an evaluation of potential next steps.

Adams said he was pleased to step up and assist the crew as the flight, which was on the tarmac, returned to the airport gate, where a crew member took the ailing passenger off for care, while the Delta plane resumed its planned trip.

mentalnyt-300x142Although Americans keep making progress toward ending the stigma associated with mental disorders, including trying to put public funding for the diseases’ treatment on a more even footing, patients with serious mental illness suffer unfairly and harshly still due to their conditions.

Dhruv Khullar, a doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and a researcher at the Weill Cornell Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, has written a painful piece for the “Upshot,” an evidence-based column for the New York Times. His article, “The Largest Health Disparity We Don’t Talk About,” reports that:

Americans with depression, bipolar disorder or other serious mental illnesses die 15 to 30 years younger than those without mental illness — a disparity larger than for race, ethnicity, geography or socioeconomic status. It’s a gap, unlike many others, that has been growing, but it receives considerably less academic study or public attention. The extraordinary life expectancy gains of the past half-century [for most in this country] have left these patients behind, with the result that Americans with serious mental illness live shorter lives than those in many of the world’s poorest countries.

salty-200x300If you’ve got a shaker of salt, you may want to empty it on recent news coverage of the American Cancer Society’s announcement about its new guidelines on the age to start colorectal screening. That’s because the organization’s advisory and more than a few health journalists show a shaky grasp of basic disease statistical math.

Cancer specialists, correctly, are concerned because they say they are seeing the disease in younger people, with more colon and rectum cancers detected in patients in their 20s and even in their teens. They’re unsure what’s causing this. But just how many diagnosed cases have there been — and do the numbers mean there’s enough hard science to support a new recommendation that patients get colorectal screening five years earlier than they do now, at age 45 instead of 50?

As Kevin Lomangino, managing editor of Healthnewsreview.org, a health news watchdog site, points out, too many reporters became too accepting of experts’ fuzzy math when describing a screening change that could result in patient harms. The society, and specialists contacted by many reporters, spoke often of “doubled risks,” or impressive seeming percentage increases in colorectal cancer diagnoses — but without providing actual numbers of cases.

MarijuanaOpioids-300x150There’s been a deadly side to the nation’s opioid drug abuse crisis and increasing number of states’ legalization of marijuana: A leading safety group says the number of drugged drivers killed in car crashes is rising dramatically.

The Governors Highway Safety Association reported that 44 percent of fatally injured drivers tested for drugs had positive results in 2016, which is up more than 50 percent compared with a decade ago, according to a blog post by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Pew Trusts, which added that, “more than half the drivers tested positive for marijuana, opioids or a combination of the two.”

As Pew reported, the District of Columbia and nine states “allow marijuana to be sold for recreational and medical use, and 21 others allow it to be sold for medical use. Opioid addiction and overdoses have become a national crisis, with an estimated 115 deaths a day. States are struggling to get a handle on drugged driving. Traffic safety experts say that while it’s easy for police to test drivers for alcohol impairment using a breathalyzer, it’s much harder to detect and screen them for drug impairment. There is no nationally accepted method for testing drivers, and the number of drugs to test for is large. Different drugs also have different effects on drivers. And there is no definitive data linking drugged driving to crashes.”

Kevin_Love-215x300DeMar_DeRozan_Nov_2016_cropped-163x300With all the excesses, abuses, and nonsense that pro athletes and pop stars can get into these days, it’s gotten rarer that commentators can point to positive actions these influential personalities can take. But a growing number of them deserve credit for publicly discussing their struggles with mental health issues, helping to reduce widespread stigma about them and to better the lives of their young fans.

The list of outspoken and helpful athletes and performers includes:  Olympic legend Michael Phelps, National Basketball Association All-Star DeMar DeRozan of the Toronto Raptors, and NBA Cleveland Cavaliers superstar Kevin Love, as well as five-time Grammy winner Mariah Carey and actresses Catherine Zeta-Jones and Demi Lovato, and the late Hollywood icon Carrie Fisher.

Phelps and DeRozan bravely have discussed their problems with depression, which affects an estimated 16 million Americans annually and may be one of the most common mental health disorders negatively affecting the nation.

alzheimers-300x168As many as five million Americans already have Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related conditions, and their resulting loss of cognitive capacity and personal control rank among the top causes for health dread among those 55 and older, polls show.  So it’s worth noting that new studies are showing that seniors 65 and older get on average a dozen years of good cognitive health ── and that span is expanding.

Further, the onset of problems typically may occur in relatively mild fashion, with the most serious cognitive decline occurring in a short but late period of 18 months or so, Judith Graham reported for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service.

In her story for the KHNS feature “Navigating Aging,” Graham looks at an array of the latest and reliable research on seniors and cognitive decline, finding glimmers of optimism in what has been increasingly gloomy, evidence-based studies on how huge a challenge may be posed for our fast-graying nation by dementia, Alzheimer’s and their care.

catheterablation-300x193It’s one thing when modern medicine becomes so hidebound that it struggles over shedding a bit of traditional doctors’ garb. But new information emerging about cardiology’s entrenched reliance on maverick surgeons and evidence-light therapies in treating heart problems raises real questions: Exactly what’s going on in this costly area of care?

Haider Warraich ── a cardiology fellow at Duke and author of “Modern Death,” a book exploring how technology and modern mores are changing patients’ end-of-life experiences ── deserves praise for raising major concerns about the too easy acceptance by doctors and surgeons of existing, device-based treatments for heart conditions. The headline on his Op-Ed in the New York Times summarizes well his tough point: Don’t Put That in My Heart Until You’re Sure It Really Works.

He, of course, points to recent challenges about the effectiveness of cardiac stents. They have been commonly used for years now ── in hundreds of thousands of surgeries ── supposedly to relieve blockages in patients with stable chest pain. But recent research has started to show they provide no benefit over drugs, and it was only after further study showed that a new kind of dissolving stent contributed to increased heart attack risks that the device maker pulled the already in-use product, Warrich notes.

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