News Roundup: May 24, 2018

By Roger Parloff

We’ve written a fair amount about the menace of illicit labs in China and elsewhere, producing potent and lethal synthetic opioids, like fentanyl and its analogs, often marketed over the darknet. Illicitly produced synthetic drugs now account for fully half the opioid overdose deaths in this country. Drug policy analyst Robert DuPont has warned us that “the global illegal market is switching from agricultural products to purely synthetic drugs,” and that this fact is driving the future of the epidemic.

But what we’d frankly not known was that some of these illicit labs abroad are actually operating so openly that a couple Bloomberg journalists could go visit the owner of two of them at his home in Wuhan and casually inform him, to his apparent surprise, that he’d been indicted last September as a drug kingpin in Gulfport, Miss. We’d also not realized that China would react to all this by expressing offense that the US had “unilaterally” indicted one of its nationals and by arguing that the defendant had not violated any Chinese law—notwithstanding that he allegedly exported 22 drugs, including four fentanyl analogs, into the US, where they are banned. Continue reading “News Roundup: May 24, 2018”

News Roundup: May 18, 2018

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Photo credit: Jacob Creswick, Unsplash

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By Roger Parloff

At one level, the federal government is working with unprecedented dedication to curb the opioid crisis. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has now advanced 57 opioid-related bills (expected to reach the full House in June) while at least two Senate committees are marking up successor legislation to the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016. Yet yesterday, at a House hearing to reauthorize the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Trump Administration declined an invitation (see 35:45) to send the acting director (or any other representative) to participate. A National Drug Control Strategy, due in February, has not yet been submitted. One member of theWhite House Commission on Combating Opioid Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has, in retrospect, denounced its work as a “sham.” Appropriations remains insufficient to meet demands, and the future shape of Medicaid—which undergirds addiction treatment—remains a question mark. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), The Hill reports, is working on another repeal-and-replace bill for the Affordable Care Act. Continue reading “News Roundup: May 18, 2018”

News Roundup: May 11, 2018

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Pregnant Women With Addiction (Photo: Zach Guinta, Unsplash)

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By Roger Parloff

In America, a baby is born with opioid withdrawal symptoms every 15 minutes. The focus of this issue of the newsletter are two complementary articles exploring, from different angles, the subject of pregnant mothers with addiction. The first, in the New York Times Magazine, by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan, provides a harrowing but sympathetic view from inside the chemically-hijacked minds of these mothers—who would be considered criminals in some states. The second, by KHN, discusses the conflicting results of research on the impact of opioid withdrawal at birth, or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), on later child development. Continue reading “News Roundup: May 11, 2018”

News Roundup, April 27, 2018

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Google devoted coveted search engine space to curbing opioid abuse.

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By Roger Parloff

The opioid crisis reached emblematic apogees this week. First, the New York Times devoted its lead Sunday editorial to the topic—a 1650-word magnum opus that chased other urgent issues off the page. Then, on WednesdayGoogle trumped even that gesture, dedicating the space just below its search box—the most valuable hortatory real estate mankind has ever known—to urging readers to “help curb opioid abuse.” (As an aside, the week ended with a Cabinet nomination collapsing when it was alleged that, among other things, the nominee, a chief White House doctor nicknamed “the Candyman,” had handed out prescription drugs with abandon, including, on at least one occasion, an alarmingly large supply of Percocet.) Continue reading “News Roundup, April 27, 2018”

Prosecutor Dave Aronberg on the ‘Florida Shuffle’: Lethal Fraud in the Opioid Detox Industry

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QUICK TAKEAWAY:
  • In a Q&A, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg and his chief assistant describe how bad actors in the drug detox industry use illegal gifts and kickbacks to prey on out-of-state drug addicts.  
  • In the past year and a half, Aronberg’s office has arrested 45 for alleged involvement in such schemes, convicting 16 so far.
  • To improve this situation, Aronberg recommends reforms to the Affordable Care Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Federal Housing Act.

Continue reading “Prosecutor Dave Aronberg on the ‘Florida Shuffle’: Lethal Fraud in the Opioid Detox Industry”

News Roundup for April 20, 2018

Opioid News Roundup
Photo: Raphael Ferraz on Unsplash

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By Roger Parloff

As the House Energy & Commerce Committee prepares to mark up about 60 individual, opioid-related bills, and the Senate Health Committee continues to craft and tweak a massive, comprehensive bill, one provision is conspicuous by its absence from all of the above. Neither chamber is contemplating repeal of the 2016 law that weakened the DEA’s powers to stop suspicious opioid sales—the one that became the subject of a blockbuster Washington Post/60 Minutes exposé last October and led to Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) withdrawing his name as a nominee to become President Trump’s drug czar. We’ll discuss. Continue reading “News Roundup for April 20, 2018”

An Algorithmic Breakthrough In the Fight Against Illicit Opioid Trafficking

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QUICK TAKEAWAY:
  • When we speak of deadly illicit fentanyl, we are really referring to both fentanyl proper and dozens of chemical analogs constantly being invented in illicit labs, mainly in China.
  • New analogs have been hard for crime labs to detect and identify, but a new algorithmic breakthrough will speed up the process, it is believed.
  • With new regulations and legislation, DEA and Congress are attempting to prospectively outlaw analogs that have not yet even been invented.

Continue reading “An Algorithmic Breakthrough In the Fight Against Illicit Opioid Trafficking”

Tuesday News Roundup

rawpixel-com-358746-unsplash[To have news roundups like this one sent directly to your inbox for free, sign up by clicking here or on the blue “subscribe” button on the top of the right-hand column of the site.]  

by Roger Parloff

The public-private partnership that has now been in preparation for almost a year, in which NIH and FDA, on the one hand, will work with the pharmaceutical industry, on the other, to expedite and approve new opioid treatments and nonaddictive painkillers, has spawned a series of questions about ethics, transparency, and logistics. They are one focus of this edition.

Otherwise, recent news has been dominated by a flurry of governmental activity, which continues this week with the twin, upcoming hearings on Thursday, by the key US House and Senate committees involved, on major, multifaceted, opioid-related bills.

We also highlight an HHS study on the impact of the opioid epidemic on foster care; a Kaiser Family Foundation report on the crisis’ cost to employers’ insurance plans; and an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs poll on Americans’ paradoxical attitude toward drug addiction. (Most consider it a “disease,” yet most also favor a “crackdown” on those who suffer from it.) Finally, we draw attention to a Harpers story on “pain refugees” in Montana. Continue reading “Tuesday News Roundup”

Thursday News Roundup

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Photo by Bank Phrom on Unsplash

By Roger Parloff

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One of the most unsung acts of the Trump Administration could also be one of its most substantive in combatting the opioid epidemic. It’s a novel legal argument advanced in a letter from the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts to state health and public safety officials, which we’ll get to in a moment.

In other key developments in the past few days, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services modified a controversial draft Medicare rule that was frightening chronic pain patients; the National Safety Council has issued a report card on states’ response to the crisis (thirteen are “improving,” 29 are “lagging,” and eight are “failing.”); there were new developments in the litigation (which, by my count, now includes more than 500 lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and/or distributors); journals carry new articles on Hepatitis C, medical cannabis as an opioid substitute, how to treat gastrointestinal pain without opioids, and the growing use of prescription opioids in conjunction with something called “EDM.” Finally, a European Union publication tells a troubling story about “codeine abuse” in Europe. Continue reading “Thursday News Roundup”

We’re Fighting the Opioid Epidemic with Block Grants. Is It Money Well Spent?

QUICK TAKEAWAY:
  • Much of the $6 billion in new funding to fight the opioid crisis will likely be meted out in state block grants, which is how much of the $970 million from the 21st Century Cures Act, enacted in late 2016, is being spent.
  • Senators from hard-hit states want to change the allocation formula among states to reflect mortality rates and need.
  • A SAMHSA contractor is evaluating 57 opioid programs funded in 2017, including site visits of 20 projects.
  • The President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis urged closer federal scrutiny of opioid block grants by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
  • The ONDCP is in disarray and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the other program overseer, is stretched thin.
  • An effective medication-assisted treatment program in Vermont is being emulated by California.

Continue reading “We’re Fighting the Opioid Epidemic with Block Grants. Is It Money Well Spent?”