KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Fatal Overdoses Spike 22%, A Rate Even Faster Than Previously Thought

Fentanyl deaths rose 540 percent according to the first government account of nationwide drug deaths in 2016. Meanwhile, new drug czar nominee Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), the opioid over supply, the business of treatment centers and addiction research efforts are also in the news.

The New York Times: The First Count Of Fentanyl Deaths In 2016: Up 540% In Three Years
Drug overdoses killed roughly 64,000 people in the United States last year, according to the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths to cover all of 2016. It’s a staggering rise of more than 22 percent over the 52,404 drug deaths recorded the previous year — and even higher than The New York Times’s estimate in June, which was based on earlier preliminary data. (Katz, 9/2)

Stat: Trump Nominates Republican Congressman Tom Marino As Drug Czar
President Trump on Friday nominated Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy as the nation’s “drug czar,” months after he had officially withdrawn from consideration. Marino, an attorney who has served in the House of Representatives since 2011, has a lengthy track record of supporting enforcement-side drug policy as well as improved drug treatment. (Facher, 9/2)

The New York Times: Opioids Aren’t The Only Pain Drugs To Fear
Last month, a White House panel declared the nation’s epidemic of opioid abuse and deaths “a national public health emergency,” a designation usually assigned to natural disasters. A disaster is indeed what it is, with 142 Americans dying daily from drug overdoses, a fourfold increase since 1999, more than the number of people killed by gun homicides and vehicular crashes combined. A 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimated that 3.8 million Americans use opioids for nonmedical reasons every month. (Brody, 9/4)

The Wall Street Journal: Private-Equity Pours Cash Into Opioid-Treatment Sector
Private-equity firms are piling into a new business opportunity: the opioid addiction crisis. Drawn by soaring demand, expanded insurance coverage and the chance to consolidate a highly fragmented market, firms plowed $2.9 billion into treatment facilities last year, up from $11.4 million in 2011, according to research firm PitchBook Data Inc. The number of private-equity deals rose to 45 from 25. (Whalen and Cooper, 9/2)

The Washington Post: Addiction And The Brain
Today’s war on drugs isn’t fought by first ladies or celebrity advocates. Armed with MRI machines, electromagnetic pulses and experimental drugs, scientists are on the battle’s front lines. In the cover story of September’s National Geographic, Fran Smith explores the different fronts of a war being fought in laboratories and universities all over the world. Armed with the tools of science and with the help of people who struggle with addictions to substances and self-destructive behavior, researchers are working to unravel the mysteries of the addicted brain. (Blakemore, 9/2)

In news on New York, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri and Idaho are coping with the drug crisis —

The Wall Street Journal: Drug Traffickers Push Meth Into New York City 
Mexican traffickers are supplying the New York City area with methamphetamine, attempting to create new clients in what historically has been a weak market for the drug. “The Mexican cartels have been sending loads up to New York and telling traffickers, ‘See if you can get customers,’ ” said James Hunt, special agent-in-charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York division. “They want to create an addict population.” (Ramey, 9/4)

New Orleans Times-Picayune: Louisiana Prisons Start Administering New Drug To Treat Opioid Addicts 
The use of Vivitrol is the latest trend in opioid treatment. In the first quarter of 2017, Vivitrol sales totaled $58 million, a 33 percent increase over the previous year, according to a June report by ProPublica. Several state prisons, including those in Illinois, Wyoming and Wisconsin, started administering the drug to inmates last year. Even more drug courts and local jails are using it: ProPublica tallied up more than 450 public Vivitrol initiatives in 39 states. (O'Donoghue, 9/1)

The Baltimore Sun: Baltimore County Facing Higher Costs For Inmate Care Due To Addiction, Mental Health Services 
The cost of providing medical care for inmates at the Baltimore County jail in Towson is rising more than 50 percent — several million dollars a year — due primarily to an increase in inmates and detainees with opioid addiction, mental illness or chronic diseases. The County Council is set to vote Tuesday on a contract for a private company, PrimeCare Medical, to manage medical, dental and behavioral health treatment for the jail’s roughly 1,200 inmates. (Wood, 9/5)

Idaho Statesman: Insurers Tell Idaho Pain Patients: Try More-Addictive Drugs
In at least three cases, patients with Regence BlueShield of Idaho plans were denied Radnovich’s choice of a Butrans patch — a long-acting version of the opioid buprenorphine that is “Schedule III,” with a “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.” Instead of the patch, Regence was willing to pay for a fentanyl patch or morphine tablets. (Dutton, 9/4)

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