KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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‘Gray Death’ Is A Particularly Lethal Opioid Mixture That’s Infiltrating Street Drug Market

“Gray death is one of the scariest combinations that I have ever seen in nearly 20 years of forensic chemistry drug analysis,” says Deneen Kilcrease, manager of the chemistry section at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. In other news, a sales representative for an opioid maker talks about his secret addition. And highway safety officials say that drug-impaired driving is a growing problem.

The Associated Press: 'Gray Death' Is The Latest Opioid Street Mix Causing Worry
It’s being called “gray death” — a new and dangerous opioid combo that underscores the ever-changing nature of the U.S. addiction crisis. Investigators who nicknamed the street mixture have detected it or recorded overdoses blamed on it in Alabama, Georgia and Ohio. The drug looks like concrete mix and varies in consistency from a hard, chunky material to a fine powder. The substance is a combination of several opioids blamed for thousands of fatal overdoses nationally, including heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil — sometimes used to tranquilize large animals like elephants — and a synthetic opioid called U-47700. (Welsh-Huggins, 5/4)

Stat: Sales Executive For Opioid Maker Was Addicted To The Drug He Promoted
As a district sales manager for Insys Therapeutics, Jeffrey Pearlman led a team that aggressively pushed doctors to widely prescribe the company’s highly addictive opioid painkiller Subsys. He even threatened to stop paying a nurse speaking fees if she didn’t help boost sales of the drug, emails show. All the while, Pearlman held a secret: He himself was addicted to opioids like the very ones he was promoting. (Armstrong, 5/5)

NPR: Measuring Drug Impairment In Drivers Easier Said Than Done
Drug-impaired driving is a growing concern for highway safety officials. But, as a recent report makes clear, its actual impact is still difficult to measure. The report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, a group of state highway safety offices, found that in 2015, among fatally injured drivers with a known test result, drugs were detected more frequently than alcohol. (Hobson, 5/5)

And from Georgia and Minnesota —

The Star Tribune: Minneapolis VA Study Finds Opioids No Better For Chronic Pain Than Other Meds 
First-of-its-kind research at the Minneapolis VA has found no long-term benefits for patients taking opioid medications for chronic pain — a finding that is likely to strengthen the case for reducing use of the addictive medications that have been responsible for a sharp rise in drug overdoses and deaths. Focusing on patients who suffer from chronic back pain or arthritic knees and hips, the study compared 120 who didn’t receive opioids with 120 who did as part of their pain management. (Olson, 5/4)

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