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: May 4, 2018

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Credit: Charlotte (Unsplash)

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By Roger Parloff

This week’s New York Times Magazine story about Insys Therapeutics—whose founder and six top former officials have all been criminally charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act—is a rip-roaring yarn, but one that also reveals severe problems with US pharmaceutical marketing practices. Continue reading “News Roundup: May 4, 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”

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”

News Roundup: April 17, 2018

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Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

By Roger Parloff

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As of yesterday, 598 lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, brought mainly by municipalities, were pending before US District Judge Dan Polster in Cleveland. That was a 38% increase over the number before him just 30 days earlier: 433.

Continue reading “News Roundup: April 17, 2018”

Tuesday News Roundup

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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”

Friday News Roundup

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Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

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In the most alarming story of the week, the New York Times reports that a new Medicare regulation threatens to halt reimbursement of opioid medications for 1.6 million chronic pain patients. Other top developments include a new CDC analysis of fatal drug overdoses for the years 1999-2016; a study concluding that opioids are no better than nonopioids for acute dental pain; an economist’s report finding that nearly a million people were knocked out of the workforce in 2015 due to opioids; and the arrest of a drug kingpin for allegedly trafficking enough fentanyl to kill 10 million people.
Continue reading “Friday News Roundup”