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”→
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.
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”→
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”→
The opioid crisis reached emblematic apogees this week. First, the New York Timesdevoted its lead Sunday editorial to the topic—a 1650-word magnum opus that chased other urgent issues off the page. Then, on Wednesday, Google 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”→
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”→
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.”
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”→