KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Investigation: Pharma Raided DEA Ranks, Hiring Architects Of Agency’s Opioid Enforcement Strategy

A Washington Post investigation looks at the practice of the industry hiring the very people who had designed ways to curb the opioid epidemic. Meanwhile, hundreds of Americans are dying unnecessarily because they can't get overdose medication and a company that produces kits to test for fentanyl simply re-branded an old product prone to errors to capitalize on law enforcement's demand.

The Washington Post: Drug Industry Hired Dozens Of Officials From The DEA As The Agency Tried To Curb Opioid Abuse
Pharmaceutical companies that manufacture or distribute highly addictive pain pills have hired dozens of officials from the top levels of the Drug Enforcement Administration during the past decade, according to a Washington Post investigation. The hires came after the DEA launched an aggressive campaign to curb a rising opioid epidemic that has resulted in thousands of overdose deaths each year. In 2005, the DEA began to crack down on companies that were distributing inordinate numbers of pills such as oxycodone to pain-management clinics and pharmacies around the country. (Higham, Bernstein, Rich and Crites, 12/22)

Stateline: In Drug Epidemic Resistance To Medication Costs Lives
The research is unassailable: Staying in recovery and avoiding relapse for at least a year is more than twice as likely with medications as without them. Medications also lower the risk of a fatal overdose. Addicts who quit drugs under an abstinence-based program are at a high risk of fatally overdosing if they relapse. Within days, the abstinent body’s tolerance for opioids plummets and even a small dose of the drugs can shut down the lungs. And yet as the country’s opioid epidemic worsens — every day, more than 70 Americans die from overdoses, and the numbers are climbing — only about a fifth of the people who would benefit from the medications are getting them, according to a new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (Vestal, 12/23)

ProPublica: The Truth Behind The ‘New’ Police Tool For Confronting Fentanyl Menace
Heroin overdoses killed thousands nationwide last year — some 75 over just three days in Chicago. The central culprit in many of the fatalities was fentanyl, a lethally powerful compound often added to drugs sold on the street. As a result, health officials have called fentanyl a new public menace, and police forces across the U.S. are searching their neighborhoods for the dangerous painkiller. (Gabrielson, 12/22)

In other news on the crisis —

The Philadelphia Inquirer: As Opioid Epidemic Rages, Advocates Fear Cuts To Treatment Programs
After Holly Platts overdosed on heroin in July and was revived at the hospital with the reversal drug naloxone, she went to a rehabilitation program and stayed for 78 days. ... She could afford that lifesaving therapy because of Medicaid, the insurance program for the poor run jointly by the states and the federal government. And she was one of the lucky ones, as many Medicaid recipients have trouble finding therapy beds. Even as the opioid epidemic rages, that shortage could become worse next year, unless advocates can beat back a plan to limit federal matching funds for Medicaid drug rehab to 15 days a month. The limit would apply to all facilities with more than 16 beds. (Bond, 12/22)

WBUR: Joey Beats Another Overdose, But Drifts In And Out Of Heroin Use
Across the United States, 580 people, on average, will start using heroin today. Those who become addicted and survive will likely need to manage the disease for the rest of their lives. To get a sense of what it takes to beat this addiction, we're following Joey, from Everett. (Bebinger, 12/23)

New Orleans Times-Picayune: Deadly New Drugs Entering Baton Rouge, Coroner Warns 
A fatal drug overdose in Baton Rouge has prompted the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner to warn the public about the influx of deadly synthetic opioids and other psychoactive drugs that can be legally purchased on the Internet. Dr. Beau Clark said a man who died on Sept. 28 was found to have ingested three drugs Clark had not previously seen in the parish: furanyl fentanyl, a high-potency fentanyl analog sold as a designer drug; Etizolam, which mimics the sedating effects of benzodiazepines like Xanax; and U-47700, an opioid analgesic known by the street names "pink" or "pinky." (Lipinski, 12/22)

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