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berenson-223x300Moderation matters with health issues, so skepticism about marijuana and its widening use may be welcome. But let’s see how much of recent wariness about this intoxicant is just a puff of smoke — or does it catch fire and become something more?

Author Alex Berenson has become the latest advocate for tamping down the national exuberance for pot. It has in recent days become legal for recreational use in 10 states and the District of Columbia and has been broadly legalized for medical purposes in 19 other states. Cannabis products have become trendy, and stocks in pot-selling enterprises have become a hot investment topic.

But Berenson — in Opinion pieces in both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, as well as in a new, well-selling book — paints a more ominous picture of weed. He’s not harkening back to risible scare campaigns, ala the  movie classic Reefer Madness. Berenson says his concern about dope started in a casual mention by his wife, a psychiatrist, that the criminal patients she specializes in treating shared a commonality: They all smoked grass.

cancerdeathrates2018-271x300Cancer hasn’t gotten knocked out of its spot as Americans’ No. 2 killer, but health officials have delivered some good news about the disease that once was considered irreversible in its lethal course: Cancer deaths rates have fallen now for a quarter of a century.

The American Cancer Society, pointing to 1991 as a peak year, says that death rates from the disease declined by 27 percent, “meaning more than 2.6 million deaths [were] avoided between 1991 and 2016.”

Still, 1.7 million Americans likely will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and the disease will kill more than 600,000 patients — meaning 1,666 people per day in this country will die of cancer.

drugoverdosewomen2019-272x300A new kind of gender equality can only be seen as tragic and sad: Drug overdoses are soaring among women older than 30, with a giant spike in these deaths due to opioids.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that since 1999, drug overdose death rates “increased by approximately 200 percent among women aged 35–39 and 45–49 years, 350 percent among those aged 30–34 and 50–54 years, and nearly 500 percent among those aged 55–64 years.” Overall for women aged 30-64, the CDC says, the rate of opioid overdose fatalities increased by a whopping 492 percent from 1999 to 2017.

The new data show the malignancy of the opioid crisis, which claimed more than 70,000 American lives in just the last year — more men than women. The overdose death rate itself rose in one year alone by 10 percent, and federal authorities say such incidents, intentional or accidental and too often now involving the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, have become a leading killer of Americans 50 and younger.

cracktv-300x169When reformers look for ways to slash the ever-higher costs of American medical care, one line item should leap from television screens, print pages, and radio broadcasts: How does the nation benefit from medical enterprises spending $30 billion annually in a growing avalanche of marketing and advertising — and why can’t this be stopped or subjected to tougher regulation?

Two physician-scientists at The Center for Medicine in the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice have published on the JAMA Network their new research, showing that:

[M]edical marketing expanded substantially [between 1997 and 2016], and spending increased from $17.7 to $29.9 billion, with direct-to-consumer advertising for prescription drugs and health services accounting for the most rapid growth, and pharmaceutical marketing to health professionals accounting for most promotional spending.

fees-300x254Ever noticed how tourists strolling our cities’ streets not only pause and peer into the windows of restaurants but they also invariably make a beeline for the menu posted out front? That’s smart consumerism, right, and so common sense that, hey, why doesn’t such price-checking work in medical care, too?

Well, think again: The nation’s in the midst of yet another experiment to try to make clearer and more transparent the soaring prices of medicine. With the dawn of 2019, Uncle Sam decided that hospitals needed to make available online their “chargemasters,” the giant list of their supposed prices for facilities, services, and prescription drugs.

Good luck, though, to consumers to find this important document, as required now by law, on hospital websites. Good luck, too, for patients in determining just what the sizable Excel spreadsheets mean for their finances and budgets.

dirtydrugs-300x143Even as Big Pharma launched the new year with yet another round of profiteering price hikes for prescription medications, a new investigation has uncovered how drug makers get away with nasty manufacturing practices, which, combined with lax oversight, send billions of doses of tainted products to market each year,  imperiling patients’ health.

Sydney Lupkin, writing for the independent, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service (KHN), has done the public a service in exposing the weak, irregular, and risky oversight of drug making by the federal Food and Drug Administration. This is a significant problem, Lupkin reported:

Since the start of 2013, pharmaceutical companies based in the U.S. or abroad have recalled about 8,000 medicines, comprising billions of tablets, bottles and vials that have entered the U.S. drug supply and made their way to patients’ medicine cabinets, hospital supply closets and IV drips, a Kaiser Health News investigation shows. The recalls represent a fraction of the medicines shipped each year. But the flawed products contained everything from dangerous bacteria or tiny glass particles to mold — or too much or too little of the drug’s active ingredient. Over the same period, 65 drug-making facilities recalled nearly 300 products within 12 months of passing a Food and Drug Administration inspection…

jeanne_lenzerbrownlee-150x150Medical devices race onto the market with little or no effective testing or regulatory safeguards, and a proposed “reform” of the oversight system of products that are implanted in tens of millions of Americans is a sham, safety advocates say.

That’s because there are gaping flaws in the proposal to alter the so-called 510(k) procedure under which the federal Food and Drug Administration clears medical devices for sale, say medical journalist Jeanne Lenzer (right) and health care activist Shannon Brownlee (left).

Their Op-Ed in the Washington Post is the latest salvo against FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s claims of “transformative” changes in medical device regulation by his agency. News organizations around the world in recent weeks have published investigations of how poorly such products are tested, reviewed, and then released on markets, killing and injuring patients as a result.

knees-300x81With a graying nation projected to see millions of patients undergoing knee replacements each year at an annual cost to taxpayers running in the billions of dollars, it may be past time to ask if surgeons and hospitals promote and perform these popular procedures to excess.

Liz Szabo, in a story written for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Kaiser Health News Service (KHN) and published in the Washington Post, reported that knee surgeries have their “risks and limitations,” and “doctors are increasingly concerned that the procedure is overused and that its benefits have been oversold.”

As she wrote:

hospital-unit-300x150As the new year gets under way, regulators and lawmakers need to look hard at a nightmare in New Jersey involving a free-standing surgical center and to a nationwide harms occurring in psychiatric hospitals to ensure that these and other institutions improve the safety and quality of their patient care.

USA Today and the Wall Street Journal, in separate stories, reported about shoddy practices and lax oversight that contributed to significant problems in the medical facilities.

The Journal investigated hospitals for the mentally ill and found that, “More than 100 psychiatric hospitals have remained fully accredited by a major hospital watchdog despite serious safety violations that include lapses linked to the death, abuse or sexual assault of patients.”

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