Tagged Substance Abuse

Must-Reads Of The Week From Brianna Labuskes

Happy Friday! Before we dive in to the harder news, please join me in enjoying this story about scientists dosing a shy breed of octopus with ecstasy to see if the animal became cuddly and friendly while high. (I swear, it relates to health care: More studies are evaluating psychedelic drugs as outside-the-box treatments, especially for post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans.)

Now, here’s what else you may have missed:

Senators were busy bees this week on the Hill. In a rare bipartisan feat, the upper chamber passed a sweeping opioids package … but there’s some fine print. Lawmakers still have to iron out the (harder, more controversial) differences between the Senate and House versions of the legislation, and they probably won’t do that work until November — conveniently, after midterms. Until then, they have a talking point!

And you know that “doughnut hole” change (which forces drugmakers to pay more for medication used by Medicare beneficiaries) that pharma hates and has been pestering lawmakers about for ages? Congress might tuck a measure rolling that back into the opioid package.

The Associated Press: GOP, Dems Unite Behind Senate Bill Fighting Addictive Drugs

Stat: GOP Lawmakers Seeking to Use Opioids Bill to Deliver Drug Industry Major Victory

It’s not all roses for drugmakers, though: A Senate-passed bill would ban “gag clauses,” which currently keep pharmacists from talking to consumers about lower-cost options.

Stat: Senate Passes Bill That Would Ban ‘Gag Clauses’ Limiting Disclosures on Drug Prices

In a sharp divergence from the budget spectacles of years past, the Senate quietly OK’d a measure to avert a government shutdown. The measure included a big, 5 percent boost to the National Institutes of Health, which was the fourth-straight significant increase for the agency.

The Associated Press: Senate Backs Bill to Avert Shutdown, Boost Military Spending

There’s a real fear out there that we’re all one bad accident away from financial ruin. A bipartisan group of senators wants to protect patients from that worry with its proposed measure on surprise bills, otherwise known as “balance billing.” (Bonus: Check out the KHN story that Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy cited in his announcement.)

The Hill: Bipartisan Senators Unveil Proposal to Crack Down on Surprise Medical Bills


As the news continues to evolve over the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, here’s a health tidbit you might have missed if you didn’t scan all the way to the bottom of today’s stories. Gov. Bill Walker of Alaska, an independent, and his lieutenant governor, Byron Mallott, both came out against Kavanaugh’s nomination — not because of the accusations, but because they’re worried he’s going to jeopardize Medicaid coverage. It will be interesting to see if that’s enough to sway Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, who is being watched closely as a possible swing vote.

The New York Times: Christine Blasey Ford Opens Negotiations on Testimony Next Week


Attorney general races are rarely the belles of the ball when it comes to elections. But as more of them use their position to try to check President Donald Trump’s policies (especially ones chipping away at the health law), the campaigns are drawing more eyes.

Politico: Obamacare Lawsuit Boosts Democrats in State AG Races

Preexisting conditions have been a bomb Republicans have been trying to defuse for weeks on the campaign trail, but even GOP strategists call it a losing battle. “What you have to do at this point is duck and cover,” said one in Politico’s coverage.

Politico: Republicans ‘Duck and Cover’ on Pre-Existing Conditions


A new, more detailed report has emerged of the slow-moving medical catastrophe that was Hurricane Maria. It’s also a grim insight into why counting a death toll becomes so complicated.

The Associated Press: Maria’s Death Toll Climbed Long After Rain Stopped

Meanwhile, an investigation has been launched into why two mentally ill women who were seeking care were taken from a safe hospital and driven into Florence’s floodwaters, where they both drowned.

The New York Times: They Were Seeking Mental Health Care. Instead They Drowned in a Sheriff’s Van.


In the miscellaneous, must-read file for the week:

  • The U.S. is the most dangerous place to have a baby in the developed world, yet states are doing little to address the issue. And the ones that are, often blame the moms.

USA Today: Maternal Deaths: What States Aren’t Doing to Save New Mothers’ Lives

  • We’re on the precipice of some amazing breakthroughs for cancer treatments, yet Native Americans and black patients are missing out because they’re underrepresented in clinical trials.

ProPublica/Stat: Black Patients Are Being Left Out of Clinical Trials for New Cancer Therapies

  • Personal health aides can be a lifeline for elderly patients. Inviting a stranger into your home, though, is inherently risky and there’s few regulations that exist to weed out predators.

Boston Globe: Stranger in the House

  • And a fascinating Alzheimer’s treatment called “reminiscence therapy” has seen success overseas and is gaining traction here. Check out this one facility that recreated a 1950s town square, complete with Buddy Holly on the jukebox and an old-fashioned diner.

The Wall Street Journal: To Help Alzheimer’s Patients, A Care Center Re-Creates The 1950s


As a newsroom that has a dedicated chocolate drawer and sweet treats brought in by colleagues a few times a week, this article on employers cutting down on sugary snacks sparked a bit of a debate here. To ban or not to ban, that is the question of the week.

Have a great weekend!

Half As Many People Are Trying Heroin, But Marijuana Use Grows

Some good news from the front lines of the heroin crisis: Half as many people tried heroin for the first time in 2017 as in 2016. That’s according to data released Friday from the government’s annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“This is what we were hoping for,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, who directs the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “It tells us that we are getting the word out to the American people of the risks of heroin,” especially when the drug is tainted with additional powerful opioids, fentanyl or carfentanil.

The survey found that marijuana use, however, increased in 2017, especially among pregnant women and young adults. McCance-Katz said the increase was likely linked to the growing number of states that have legalized marijuana and the misperception that marijuana is harmless.

McCance-Katz attributed the drop in new heroin users to increased government funding for prevention and public messaging on the local, state and federal levels.

Dr. David Kan, president of the California Society of Addiction Medicine, was surprised by the heroin finding. “This report seems to run counter to the common wisdom that everyone is migrating from prescription medications to heroin,” he said. Still, the number of drug overdose deaths continued to climb to a staggering 72,000 in 2017, with the sharpest increase among people who used fentanyl or other synthetic opioids. “All it takes is one exposure to fentanyl to die,” Kan said.

The survey also found a small increase in the number of people with substance use disorders who receive treatment, particularly heroin and opioid users.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Greg Williams, executive vice president of Facing Addiction, a nonprofit group that advocates for people struggling with substance use disorders. “We’ve had a 90 percent treatment gap in America for the two decades we’ve been tracking it, and we have not been able to close it.” Despite all the news coverage of the drug crisis, he said, “the response has been woefully inadequate.”

As for marijuana, it appears that public health messaging has not been as effective as marketing efforts by the burgeoning cannabis industry. “When you have an industry that does nothing but blanket our society with messages about the medicinal value of marijuana, people get the idea this is a safe substance to use. And that’s not true,” said McCance-Katz.

Cannabis does appear to have medical benefits — in June, for example, the FDA approved the first cannabinoid-derived medication for the treatment of epilepsy. But McCance-Katz said there is already ample evidence that the drug can pose serious health risks, particularly for teenagers, young adults and pregnant women.

The survey found that from 2015 to 2017 the percentage of pregnant women who reported marijuana use more than doubled, to 7.1 percent. Often, they use it to combat nausea and pain, believing it is safer than the FDA-approved drugs prescribed by their doctors. Mounting evidence, however, suggests that marijuana can cause preterm birth and long-term neurological problems in the babies of mothers who use it during pregnancy.

“I’m going to talk about it every chance I get,” said McCance-Katz. “Americans have the right to know that marijuana has risks.”

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ A Detour On A Smoking Off-Ramp

The Food and Drug Administration declared Wednesday that vaping among teenagers has reached “an epidemic proportion.” The agency told five major e-cigarette manufacturers that they had 60 days to find ways to keep their products away from minors.

“I use the word epidemic with great care,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a Wednesday news release. “E-cigs have become an almost ubiquitous — and dangerous — trend among teens.” Yet, as the panel discusses, health advocates warned that the actions may not be strong enough.

This week’s panelists are Sarah Jane Tribble of Kaiser Health News, Stephanie Armour of The Wall Street Journal, Kimberly Leonard of the Washington Examiner and Rebecca Adams of CQ Roll Call.

They also look at Arkansas’ announcement that more than 4,000 Medicaid enrollees will be suspended for not meeting new work requirements, the Census Bureau’s announcement that the nation’s uninsured rate was unchanged last year, legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill that will affect the Affordable Care Act and efforts to stem the opioid epidemic.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The FDA’s announcement on e-cigarettes appears to be a turning point on officials’ views of how to handle the issue. It was spurred by reports of dramatic growth in teen vaping. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) recently reported that teen use has increased by 75 percent in the past year.
  • The e-cigarette industry is largely unregulated. Many brands offer a variety of sweet flavors, even though makers of traditional cigarettes are prohibited from doing that.
  • Arkansas’ move to cut adults from the Medicaid expansion program the state rolled out under the ACA is likely to be challenged in court.
  • The Trump administration has been a strong supporter of work requirements in the Medicaid program and Seema Verma, who heads the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, tweeted Wednesday night after the Arkansas announcement that she was excited about the work Arkansas has done to connect beneficiaries to jobs and education.
  • The Census Bureau’s report Wednesday is the first time since the implementation of ACA coverage expansions that the national uninsured rate did not fall.
  • The Republican-led House is expected to vote soon on a package of bills that will remove or postpone more taxes in the ACA, including the penalty for employers who do not offer coverage for workers and a tax on tanning salons. It is doubtful, however, that the measure will get through the Senate this year.

Plus, for extra credit, the panelists recommend their favorite health stories of the week they think you should read, too:

Sarah Jane Tribble: Bloomberg News’ “The Secret Drug Pricing System Middlemen Use to Rake in Millions,” by Robert Langreth, David Ingold and Jackie Gu

Kimberly Leonard: Harper’s Magazine’s “Can Hospitals Learn to Better Treat Deaf Patients?” by Katie Booth

Rebecca Adams: The New York Times and ProPublica’s “Top Cancer Researcher Fails to Disclose Corporate Financial Ties in Major Research Journals,” by Charles Ornstein and Katie Thomas

Stephanie Armour: The Financial Times’ “Opioid Billionaire Granted Patent for Addiction Treatment,” by David Crow

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