dopelady-300x200Although most states, including most recently Virginia, have eased restrictions on the recreational or medical use of marijuana, expectant moms should take note of serious studies that show pot, especially in heavy consumption, isn’t great for the health of unborn babies.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego examined a decade of medical records of 5 million or so women in the Golden State, carefully comparing those who used marijuana heavily versus those who did not. Their results, published in a scientific journal, offered a warning, as NBC News reported:

“Babies born to women who were heavy cannabis users during pregnancy are more likely to have health problems, including premature birth and death within a year of birth, compared to babies born to women who did not use cannabis during pregnancy.”

uvahealth-300x200The University of Virginia health system has decided to end decades of draconian bill collection, giving a reprieve to tens of thousands of patients and their families who faced harsh legal actions to recover crushing medical debt.

The taxpayer-supported institution proclaimed itself “proud” that it will stop aggressively suing its own employees, university students, and hard-working and poor Virginians after they experienced illness and injury serious enough to require hospitalization.

The university jammed the state courts with these actions, as well as liens against properties — including those of family members and not just patients themselves. The process to clear the debt-collection backlog may take a year or more. The health system “will release all liens and judgments filed against all households making less than 400% of the federal poverty level, or about $106,000 for a family of four,” the Washington Post reported.

covidexcessdeathsa-21nyt-300x112Even as the latest coronavirus surge appeared to ease, including in hard-hit areas of the Midwest and Northeast, and as the federal government reported the nation has achieved key milestones in vaccinations, the battle to quell the pandemic also has entered the gnarly phase of grappling with the hesitant, the reluctant, and the  resistant.

The Biden Administration, urging continued progress against the coronavirus, reported the nation had met the president’s goal of administering 200 million shots even before the target of the first 100 days of his term.

As of April 23, the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reported that 53% of Americans 18 and older had received at least one of two doses of available vaccines, and 81% of people 65 and older had done so.

cdcstis-300x163While the coronavirus pandemic savaged the country, another infection spiked, too, with nasty consequences: The nation set new records in 2019 and likely in 2020 for cases of sexually transmitted diseases or infections, illnesses that once were on the brink of control.

As Raul Romaguera, acting director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of STD prevention, wrote of the troubling trend:

“Less than 20 years ago, gonorrhea rates in the U.S. were at historic lows, syphilis was close to elimination, and advances in chlamydia diagnostics made it easier to detect infections. That progress has been lost, due in part to challenges to our public health system.”

cig-150x150President Biden, who lost a son to the disease, has a personal commitment to fighting cancer. He has made improving Americans’ health a top priority of his administration, calling for trillions of dollars in government spending in this area. He also has said he wants his officials to be at the fore in slashing at racial inequities in health care.

These are big reasons why the NAACP, along with a leading black doctors’ group and other activists have called on Biden and Xavier Becerra, the head of the federal Health and Human Services agency, to take the steps, finally, to ban menthol flavorings in cigarettes. The Washington Post reported on the latest developments in this long-running campaign:

“Menthol is the only flavor allowed in cigarettes; others were prohibited by a 2009 law. The FDA has said it will respond by April 29 to a lawsuit stemming from a citizen petition filed seven years ago that sought a prohibition on menthol in cigarettes. Within the agency, there is strong support for banning both menthol cigarettes and small cigars, which are popular with young people, according to several administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue. The White House is weighing whether to take the first steps to ban menthol. President Biden is almost certain to be involved in the decision …”

cdcoddeathsap21-300x122Even as the nation sees cause for optimism in its battle against the coronavirus, our struggles against substance abuse are falling far short of what’s needed. The opioid abuse and drug overdose crisis has worsened significantly during the pandemic and experts are warning that too many of us need to cut back from excess boozing.

The New York Times reported that recent federal figures on the opioid crisis have back worse that officials feared:

“More than 87,000 Americans died of drug overdoses over the 12-month period that ended in September, according to preliminary federal data, eclipsing the toll from any year since the opioid epidemic began in the 1990s. The surge represents an increasingly urgent public health crisis, one that has drawn less attention and fewer resources while the nation has battled the coronavirus pandemic. Deaths from overdoses started rising again in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic — after dropping slightly in 2018 for the first time in decades … The biggest jump in overdose deaths took place in April and May, when fear and stress were rampant, job losses were multiplying, and the strictest lockdown measures were in effect. Many treatment programs closed during that time, at least temporarily, and ‘drop-in centers’ that provide support, clean syringes and naloxone, the lifesaving medication that reverses overdoses, cut back services that in many cases have yet to be fully restored.

faucijim-300x216An Ohio congressman got testy with one of the nation’s leading infectious disease experts, insisting that Dr. Anthony Fauci instantly cough up a metric to tell politicians and the public exactly when the coronavirus pandemic will end. Fauci declined to offer a simple 1-2-3 answer, trying to supply a nuanced and thoughtful response, instead.

The further anger his comments provoked may suggest it’s time to look yet again at the pandemic by the numbers. They do, indeed, tell a story but read it and them with care.

A tragic toll equivalent to noted U.S. metropolises

disabledkidsfla-300x233When doctors, hospitals, and insurers bellyache about malpractice claims with little evidence on their prevalence or outcomes, patients and politicians should push back: And they can cite the nightmares people in grievous circumstance have suffered when their constitutional right to seek justice in civil lawsuits gets stripped away.

The Miami Herald and ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative website, have conducted a joint, deep dive into Florida’s decades-old legislative experiment, purportedly to assist families struggling with infants’ birth-related and catastrophic disabilities. The state’s neurological injury compensation initiative also was promoted as a way to stem a problem seen mostly in anecdote and not evidence — obstetricians and other specialists supposedly fleeing Florida, reputedly due to spiking malpractice insurance costs.

The media investigators, in a multipart series , have found that eliminating medical malpractice lawsuits for this slice of patients has benefited not the patients but instead, doctors, hospitals, and insurers.

devicemakerpaymentsHA-300x257Although Big Pharma has taken deserved heat for selling its drugs by slathering doctors with cheesy tchotchkes, lavish or even cheap meals, and pricey trips, as well as lucrative consulting and speaking opportunities, medical device-makers’ physician-payment programs also should get a tougher, deeper look.

That’s because device manufacturers paid doctors $3.62 billion in the years 2014–17 — 1.7% of the revenue in their business sector and more than seven times the percentage of drug industry revenue spent on payments to MDs, according to a new study published in the respected medical journal Health Affairs.

The payments have come under increasing fire, as even the smallest sums — yes, even for a slice of pizza and a beer or a few sodas — may sway doctors in prescribing drugs or favoring treatments, notably with certain medical devices. The sketchy product-promotion spending may not benefit patients and may boost health care costs, a growing body of evidence from studies is showing.

bauchner-150x150dredlivingston-150x150While the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared racism a serious threat to the nation’s health, establishment medicine finds itself mired in an angry scandal over doctors’ inability to recognize the term, much less its existence, or its considerable harms.

An uproar at a leading medical journal might seem a tempest in an ivy-covered tower. But patients will want to track even a little the professional furor falling on the leaders of the respected Journal of the American Medical Association.

Its website recently featured a podcast, for which doctors could get continuing professional education credit, in which host Ed Livingston (photo above left), JAMA’s deputy editor for clinical content and “a white editor and physician, questioned whether racism even exists in medicine,” Usha McFarling, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist reported for Stat, the medical-science news site.

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