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paxil-300x300Psychiatric medications, which doctors have prescribed freely and patients have taken dutifully, not only may have demonstrated risks for the young but also under-considered problems for adults older than 40 — 1 in 7 of whom has filled a script, for example, for an antidepressant.

The New York Times has done a service by bringing to the fore some lesser known issues of psych meds by reporting on a successful lawsuit involving a 57-year-old Chicago lawyer. He apparently suffered from severe physical and mental agitation after he started taking paroxetine, the generic form of the brand-name drug Paxil. His anxiety became so acute, a jury found, the lawyer threw himself fatally in front of an oncoming train.

Antidepressants, including Paxil, long have been controversial for the young, especially after reports cropped up describing serious issues with their use. All such meds have carried a “black box” warning label, reviewed and approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration, warning that they increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children, teens, and those younger than 25.

flanursinghome-300x190Although Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have stormed off into the record books, their harms, particularly to health, persist for Texans, Floridians, and residents of the Caribbean. Recovery and return to normalcy will take the ravaged areas longer than many Americans realize, experts say. And they already are uncovering systemic woes, some fatal, with which planners and lawmakers will need to reckon with to better prepare for the next storm.

In Florida, for example, while hospitals, generally speaking, had adapted and rode out Irma maybe better than might be expected, nursing homes did not. They’re under new scrutiny, notably after eight residents died in an already troubled and roasting Hollywood, Fla., nursing home.

That incident refocused official attention on a sizable and particularly storm-afflicted population in the Sunshine State: its senior citizens. Whether in others’ care or ostensibly on their own, millions of older Floridians were left even more vulnerable after Irma, which cut off critical life services, including power, cooling, transportation, and access to medical services and food and other supplies.

kaiser-drugs-300x225Big Pharma and medical device makers have mastered the art of crying “Poor me!” complaining without end about the time and costs of getting products to the market and the need for regulators to lighten up. New information, however, undercuts this industry whine—and it reminds that the nation’s watchdogs need, if anything, to be tougher and more vigilant.

Let’s start with new research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, that calls into question Big Pharma’s long-espoused position that its whopping prices (which the public wants official action on—see graphic) are warranted because a new drug costs upward of $3 billion to research and develop. But based on a scrutiny of public information about expenses to develop 10 new cancer drugs—among the most costly to get to market—researchers found drug makers’ R&D costs were far less — closer to $650 million.

Although independent experts praised the new study, drug makers challenged the cheaper R&D estimates, with backing from Tufts researchers’ who had set the earlier, pricier benchmark. It’s difficult to make apples and oranges comparisons. That’s because Big Pharma wants any tally of its drug development expenses to include its costly failures.

lindsey-300x200
As the 40th President of the United States used to mutter, well, there they go again.

The Republicans in the 115th Congress apparently will make another go at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, what may be their 70-something such try. It may come in the form of legislation advanced by GOP Senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

The so-called Graham-Cassidy bill, which analysts say would slash tens of millions of Americans from health coverage, cut tens of billions of dollars in federal aid for health care, and convert the ACA into state-controlled block grant funding, must overcome major obstacles to advance.

IBM_Watson-300x201Watson_bruce-150x150Technology is  transforming medicine without a doubt, but its proponents—including one of the computing industry’s titans—may be getting ahead of themselves in boasting about their devices’ capacities.

Stat, the online health information news site that had a rocky week of its own, deserves credit for reporting  that IBM at present is overselling the medical capacities of its Watson super computer.

Big Blue’s “Dr. Watson,” promoted as an innovative, speedy, and influential diagnostician and medical advisor nonpareil, may be more like the Dr. Watson played by Nigel Bruce in black and white Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone. Watson’s pleasant, records what somebody more important is doing, and, occasionally, with bumbling good luck, he stumbles his way into valuable insight.

jcgoldseal-300x300The nation’s leading watchdog of hospital safety and quality  is quick to hand out its “Gold Seal of Approval” and rarely penalizes care-giving institutions, even when state and federal officials find serious problems.

The Wall Street Journal deserves credit for its investigation of the Joint Commission, the nonprofit and industry-supported organization that is supposed to inspect and accredit hospitals nationwide. It does so for 80 percent of them, as well as for institutions serving military veterans, federal prisoners, and Native American patients in the Indian Health System.

Hospitals can either join the commission and undergo its accreditation process—including regular inspections that typically are announced in advance, conducted with flourish, and which can cost institutions tens of thousands of dollars depending on their size and membership levels—or they can be inspected by state and federal officials. Most choose the Joint Commission.

Heroin-Fentanyl-vials-NHSPFL-1600x900-300x169A Missouri  Senator has accused Insys Therapeutics, a major drug maker, of conducting a sneaky campaign to get more pain-wracked cancer patients to use its synthetic and super powerful opioid drug, thus helping to fuel the wildfire spread of increasingly lethal and debilitating prescription pain killers.

Sen. Claire McCaskill and investigators from a Senate committee, as well as federal prosecutors, have painted a harsh picture of how Insys created a special unit to boost sales and use of Subsys, its spray form of the potent painkiller fentanyl.

Through an elaborate ruse—which included carefully crafted scripts and bogus phone numbers—Insys workers contacted prescription benefit management (PBM) firms, making them believe they were patients seeking a required pre-approval for their doctors to prescribe them Subsys.

CAR-T-image-300x274Drug makers have just shown not only their verve in pursuing new ways to treat cancer and heart disease but also their nerve in pricing these novel therapies as if sick patients had the wealth of mega lottery winners. Just look at what Novartis is doing with the medications Kymirah and canakinumab, a drug now marketed under the brand name Ilaris.

One the one hand, it’s hard not to admire the medical science behind both, notably first Kymirah. The drug has been newly approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration to treat children and young adults for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a “devastating and deadly” form of the blood cancer that has resisted standard treatment and often resulted in disheartening relapses.

But Kymirah, regulators agreed, offers a treatment “milestone” because it “genetically alters a patient’s own cells to fight cancer,” converting them into a “living drug,” and training them “to recognize and attack the disease.” This Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapy (see illustration) “is part of the rapidly growing field of immunotherapy that bolsters the immune system through drugs and other therapies and has, in some cases, led to long remissions and possibly even cures,” as the New York Times has reported.

aarpAmerican workers have gotten back a little breathing room from corporations’ intrusive push to try to get them to surrender more of their personal, private health information as part of workplace wellness programs linked to company-provided health insurance plans.

This is due to a federal judge’s rejecting a rule by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that allows companies to describe the wellness programs as “voluntary,” even though workers may pay thousands of dollars if they decline to participate in them.

Such “coercive” company conduct is discriminatory, runs roughshod over workers’ health privacy rights, and is unfair, the AARP had asserted when it sued the EEOC to overturn its workplace wellness rule.

jjbabypowder-150x150What exactly causes cancer? That may be, recent news reports indicate:

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