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.”

medicaidmap-300x196Hundreds of thousands of poor, middle-class, old, sick, and young Virginians will get increased access to health care as the Commonwealth, joining 33 states and the District of Columbia, saw the crumbling of five years of fierce GOP-led opposition to an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Partisans, who reviled an enlarged role of the state in health care, got to pin a partisan fig leaf on the state’s move, by amending the social support program to force more recipients to work or show that they cannot, to receive Medicaid benefits.

Although neither the Trump Administration nor congressional Republicans are likely to heed it, Virginia and other states are sending a clear message that voters see health care as a right, not a privilege, and that voters will go to the polls to deal with those who claim to represent them but who make a near religion out of seeming to want to punish the sick and poor and to make costlier the already skyrocketing price of medical services.

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.

insurersPP-300x296Patients who expect their health insurer will work in their interests to contain costs by medical providers might just as well hope for assistance from leprechauns, unicorns, or the tooth fairy.

Marshall Allen, a reporter for the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site ProPublica, has just penned a strong myth-busting piece, cross-posted on the National Public Radio site, about health insurers, writing:

The United States spends more per person on health care than any other country does. A lot more. As a country, by many measures, we are not getting our money’s worth. Tens of millions remain uninsured. And millions are in financial peril: About 1 in 5 is currently being pursued by a collection agency over medical debt. Health care costs repeatedly top the list of consumers’ financial concerns. Experts frequently blame this on the high prices charged by doctors and hospitals. But less scrutinized is the role insurance companies — the middlemen between patients and those providers — play in boosting our health care tab. Widely perceived as fierce guardians of health care dollars, insurers, in many cases, aren’t. In fact, they often agree to pay high prices, then, one way or another, pass those high prices on to patients — all while raking in healthy profits.

suicide-300x154Moms, dads, grandparents, teachers, and coaches all may need to increase even more the attention and concern they devote to teen-agers, especially young women, as hospitals and emergency rooms report dramatic increases in their treatment of youthful suicides.

Multiple news organizations reported that, as the New York Times noted, “the proportion of emergency room and hospital encounters for …  suicide-related diagnoses almost tripled, from 0.66 percent in 2008 to 1.82 percent in 2015. And the rate of increase was highest among adolescent girls.”

NPR reported: “Children ages 5 to 17 visited children’s hospitals for suicidal thoughts or attempts about twice as often in 2015 as in 2008.”

nags-300x166If you can get your favorite sports fans peeled away from the latest broadcast pro event  ─ whether it’s the basketball playoffs, hockey championship series, golf tourneys, or the heating up baseball season ─  a conversation of sorts could be sparked by dropping numbers on them. See what kind of rise you can get by telling them their data-driven obsession with improving their own athletic performance may be built on shoddy calculation.

In the “Moneyball,” statistics’ crazy world of contemporary sports and athletic fandom, that statement could be heretical. But the numbers-driven folks at the web site “528” deserve credit for digging into a popular but dubious approach employed by researchers in sports medical science: Magnitude-based inference, aka MBI. Their article’s worth a read, especially for wonks and the numerically inclined. For those who are less so, here’s a taste of what’s at stake, as 528 reported:

At first blush, the studies look reasonable enough. Low-intensity stretching seems to reduce muscle soreness. Beta-alanine supplements may boost performance in water polo players. Isokinetic strength training could improve swing kinematics in golfers. Foam rollers can reduce muscle soreness after exercise. The problem: All of these studies shared a statistical analysis method unique to sports science. And that method is severely flawed.

gottliebAfter critics called President Trump’s long-awaited plan to rein in Big Pharma’s rapacious prices disappointing, his administration launched a much-tried tactic against the industry: “naming and shaming.” The federal Food and Drug Administration issued a list of drug makers and the complaints against them about their expensive “shenanigans,” their efforts to undercut potentially cost-cutting competition by stalling the creation of generic counterpart medications.

As the New York Times reported, Uncle Sam and Big Pharma have battled for some time over generics, which FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has made a new cost-controlling priority. These drug alternatives, which don’t carry patent protections and pricey branding, marketing, and advertising, are supposed to be cheaper and equally safe and effective for patients.

But their makers need large batches of Big Pharma samples to work with to develop generics  ─ and more than three dozen major firms like Johnson & Johnson’s Actelion Pharmaceuticals, Celgene, Gilead Life Sciences, Novartis, Pfizer, and Valeant have balked at providing requested products.

medicare-300x109Callous institutional inertia can allow dangerous doctors to keep harming patients. But media digging deserves credit for raising needed alarms when professional caregivers and others fail to step up to protect individuals as disparate as taxpayers, seniors, coeds, and heart transplant recipients.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and MedPage Today performed a public service, reporting that they found more than 200 doctors nationwide who surrendered a license, had one revoked, or were excluded from state-paid health care rolls in the previous five years  but somehow remained on the federal Medicare rolls in 2015.

This meant the problem doctors could keep bad practices afloat, in part because Uncle Sam ─ that’s taxpayers like you and me ─ paid these hundreds of MDs $25.8 million to care for seniors, among the nation’s most vulnerable patients.

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