Articles Posted in Medications

overdosedeaths1-300x1812017 ends with yet more grim news about the nation’s opioid drug epidemic — not only that its toll keeps rising, it now is afflicting African Americans as never before. They had been less harmed by this crisis but the scourge is spreading to them, notably in spots like the District of Columbia and Baltimore.

Reporters for the New York Times’ “Upshot” feature dove into new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on opioid drug-related deaths. They found the official numbers not only reaffirmed a sharp increase in drug fatalities in 2016 but also showed that “the drug death rate is rising most steeply among blacks, with those between the ages of 45 and 64 among the hardest hit.” As the newspaper reported:

Drug deaths among blacks in urban counties rose by 41 percent in 2016, far outpacing any other racial or ethnic group. In those same counties, the drug death rate among whites rose by 19 percent. The [new CDC] data … suggests that the common perception of the epidemic as an almost entirely white problem rooted in over-prescription of painkillers is no longer accurate, as fentanyl, often stealthily, invades broader swaths of the country and its population.

gottliebThe  Food and Drug Administration has closed out the year by issuing a new white paper reaffirming the agency’s three-year-old warning to surgeons and women to avoid in general the use of a surgical device called a morcellator in “key-hole” or laparoscopic gynecological operations.

It wasn’t a surprise that the FDA retained this caution. That’s because the Wall Street Journal, back in 2014, had published a major investigative series linking morcellators to increased cancer incidences, recurrences, and risks in women. Researchers found that the popular surgical tool, by grinding up tissues such as those found in common female fibroid tumors, purportedly to permit their easier, faster removal, spread cancerous tissues throughout the body. The FDA has taken major, deserved criticism for failing for two decades to better protect thousands of women from harms caused by this medical device.

But what else did the agency do in its busy December? Scott Gottlieb, the FDA commissioner, also has reaffirmed that the FDA is motoring ahead with a stepped program to speed up an already loose approval and oversight process for medical devices like the morcellator.

asthma-300x123Even as they rake in big bucks and ride  a tsunami of mergers and consolidations sweeping the U.S. health care system, big hospitals and academic medical centers must step up on patients’ behalf, doing much more, for example, to battle America’s growing asthma woes and the opioid drug abuse epidemic.

Kaiser Health News, the Capital News Service, and the Washington Post deserve credit for their report on “Forgetabout Neighborhood,” the “worst asthma hot spot” in Baltimore. This part of the city is filled with “decrepit houses, rodents and bugs” that “trigger [asthma] and where few community doctors work to prevent asthma emergencies,” the news organizations have found. They say that residents of this neighborhood “visit hospitals for asthma flare-ups at more than four times the rate of people from the city’s wealthier neighborhoods.”

This area, zip code 21223, also sits in the shadow of not just one but two renowned medical centers, noted, among other things, for their respiratory expertise: Johns Hopkins, and the University of Maryland Medical Center. As the news organizations have reported:

srdrugs-300x178When families and friends visit Kansas nursing homes, they may be startled to see how listless and lethargic their elderly loved ones may be, especially if the facility residents suffer from dementia. There’s a sad, simple, and likely reason—the seniors may be drugged up with potent anti-psychotics.

The Kansas City Star deserves credit for providing a powerful reminder that nursing homes, not just in the Heartland but nationwide, persist in over-relying on off-label dosing of their sometimes difficult to handle patients with drugs such as olanzapine (more commonly known by the branded product Zyprexa), aripiprazole (Abilify), risperidone (Risperdal), or quetiapine (Seroquel).

As the newspaper reported:

cutting-300x205Teen-aged girls are turning up in increased numbers for emergency treatment at hospitals because they have cut, burned, poisoned, or otherwise tried to harm themselves. This disturbing trend may be linked to the obsession by the young, especially girls ages 10 to 14, with smart phones and their aggressive online, but weak real world, social lives.

The data developed by researchers from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control also provide a serious warning about girls’ struggles to reach maturity because the rise in detected instances of self-harm also may signal increases in suicides—the No. 2 cause of death of young people ages 10 to 14.

Researchers say the negative numbers —most pronounced as an 18.8 percent increase in incidents of self-harm among girls ages 10 to 14 — affected young females most, with young males showing no major changes in comparable cases of cutting, poisoning, burning, or otherwise hurting themselves.

azar-235x300Members of Congress have scattered back to their districts for Thanksgiving, giving the nation a bit of a break from the health policy turkey shoot that has besieged the nation’s capital. The health- and medical-related actions have piled up so fast and furious that it can be daunting.

But let’s not overlook:

  • The hot mess that’s supposed to be a GOP wish list of tax changes has, instead, turned into yet another attempt to gut the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, this time by eliminating the “individual mandate” that requires Americans to show through their tax returns that they have health insurance coverage. Tax policies invariably are complicated. Let’s simplify this one: Partisans want to slash the ACA, so they can take money from it — $300 billion or so — to help “pay for” $1 trillion or more in tax cuts for giant corporations and the wealthy. This legislative legerdemain will mean 13 milllion Americans will lose health coverage and insurance premiums for millions will rise 10 percent, according to the independent Congressional Budget Office.

bp-300x169Did you feel yourself just get less well? U.S. heart experts have just issued new guidelines on what Americans’ optimal blood pressure should be—effectively and suddenly shifting just under half of the adults in the nation younger than 45 into an unhealthful status as hypertensive.

Doctors say there’s no doubting data that shows that blood pressure readings exceeding 130 over 80 can be detrimental to patients’ health. That’s down from the previous warning level of 140 over 90.

But what exactly has the medical establishment wrought with this sweeping metric? Have they deemed so many of us unwell in this way that we’re about to see public doubt and confusion—even profiteering—as has surrounded the description of tens of millions of Americans as “prediabetic?”

urine-sample-cup-263x300With opioid drugs now the leading cause of death for Americans 50 and younger and killing more than 64,000 people last year, was it inevitable that some shady characters are profiteering off the miseries of those struggling to get off potent painkillers?

And is it predictable that key politicians keep talking big but still haven’t backed up their boasts with the money and means to attack a public health crisis that is claiming more lives than cars or guns and at a faster pace than HIV-AIDS did at the peak of that epidemic?

Americans have plenty cause to be — forgive the vulgar word play — pissed off at the doctors and labs that are raking in profits on urine testing for drugs. This business has exploded but with little or no oversight. As reporters Fred Schulte and Elizabeth Lucas have written:

Marijuana-206x300Let’s give them their just deserts and dispatch them with alacrity. In this week’s hokum alert:

epipen-300x119Big Pharma’s rapacious profit-seeking can seem to hit no bounds, even if it afflicts millions: Just consider what federal and state regulators are mulling about the makers of a popular anti-allergy therapy and those who supply a critical diabetes medication.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has replied to Bloomberg News Service that, so far, in 2017, it has recorded 228 reports of EpiPen or EpiPen Jr. failures, and the failure of EpiPens to deploy correctly has been cited in seven deaths through mid-September.

The agency said it is monitoring closely these “adverse event complaints.” These are unconfirmed reports that do not necessarily tie a product to a harm. But they might constitute sufficient grounds to investigate further and to potentially order product recalls, though, so far, the FDA says it believes patients can keep using EpiPens on the market without worry.

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