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”

How Synthetic Opioids—New and Lethal—Are Tested and Trafficked on the Darknet

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Five grams of fentanyl for sale as recently advertised in a darknet cryptomarket. Also sold are newly invented synthetic opioids, like MPF-47,700.
QUICK TAKEAWAY:
  • eDarkTrends, an interdisciplinary academic group, monitors the introduction of new synthetic opioids into global illicit drug markets via “cryptomarkets” on the so-called darknet.
  • eDarkTrends noticed five new synthetic opioids being offered for sale during just a two-week stretch from March 20 to April 3, 2018.
  • Synthetic opioids—including fentanyl, its analogs, and still more exotic drugs like U47700 and its analogs—accounted for 46 percent of opioid overdose deaths, and 31 percent of all drug overdose deaths in 2016.
  • In Ohio, where eDarkTrends is based, fentanyl and related drugs accounted for 58.2 percent of all unintentional drug overdose deaths.

Continue reading “How Synthetic Opioids—New and Lethal—Are Tested and Trafficked on the Darknet”

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”

Opioid Addiction Treatment Begins in the Emergency Room in a Camden, NJ, Hospital

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Patients at the Addiction Medicine Program of Cooper University Health Care’s Urban Health Institute (Photo: Cooper University Health Care)
QUICK TAKEAWAY:
  • At Cooper University Hospital in Camden, NJ, emergency room doctors treat five to 15 patients a day for opioid overdose.
  • When legally permitted, medically indicated, and the patient agrees, the hospital starts medication-assisted treatment in the emergency room.
  • The hospital has also launched its own addiction clinic, to ensure that patients have a viable medication-assisted treatment option.

Continue reading “Opioid Addiction Treatment Begins in the Emergency Room in a Camden, NJ, Hospital”

News Roundup: May 11, 2018

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Pregnant Women With Addiction (Photo: Zach Guinta, 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

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.

[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 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”

Opioid Overdose Deaths Are A Growing Source of Transplant Organs. Yet Some Are Discarded.

The Opioid Epidemic Is a Growing Source of Transplant Organs
Data source: Organ Procurement Transplant Network (via the United Network of Organ Sharing).
QUICK TAKEAWAY:
  • The percentage of organ donors who died from drug overdose surged nearly tenfold from 2001 to 2017, from 1.4 percent to 13.3 percent. The number of organs obtained from those donors has surged 24-fold since 2000.
  • Surgeons must warn prospective transplant recipients eligible to receive such “increased-risk” organs, which appears to deter acceptance. Yet evidence suggests there is less risk for patients in receiving the organs than in turning them down.
  • Christine Durand, lead author of a Johns Hopkins study published this week, says “we have a responsibility to honor the gift made by all organ donors” lest “we add to the tragedy of the lives lost.”

Continue reading “Opioid Overdose Deaths Are A Growing Source of Transplant Organs. Yet Some Are Discarded.”

An Algorithmic Breakthrough In the Fight Against Illicit Opioid Trafficking

fentanyl mass spec image

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”