KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

full issue

Viewpoints: The Causes Of The Nation’s Opioid Epidemic; What About The Right To Die?

A collection of opinions on health care from around the country.

The Washington Post: Who Is To Blame For The Opioid Epidemic?
According to the cynical old saw, apocryphally attributed to Joseph Stalin, a single death is a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic. I’ve been pondering that line lately, apropos the 183,000 deaths related to prescription opioid overdoses between 1999 and 2015 — a figure sure to rise when 2016 data come out. ... Prescription opioid overdose deaths were rare before the 1990s, suggesting the current wave could have been avoided, and that one or more persons or institutions can and should be held accountable. (Charles Lane, 3/29)

Business Insider/Fiscal Times: The White House Is Ignoring The Real Cause Of The Opioid Epidemic 
In a Wednesday press briefing following a meeting of this White House commission, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, blamed the crisis on "cheap heroin" flooding the market, and he credited President Donald Trump with already taking action against drug cartels. He framed the battle against the epidemic as one for the Drug Enforcement Administration and law enforcement. If that's what the White House is focused on, it has the situation all wrong. (Linette Lopez, 3/29)

The Columbus Dispatch: Opioid Scourge Fractures Families
Opioid abuse has turned into a killer drug epidemic across the nation, but especially so in Ohio, where more than 3,000 people died of overdoses in 2015. The toll of the crisis plays out daily in our homes — in poor and affluent communities alike — and is placing an enormous burden on families, law enforcement and community safety nets. (3/30)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Social Change And Economic Disappointment Create An Epidemic Of 'Deaths By Despair'
Two years ago, Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton disclosed a shocking finding: Between 1999 and 2014, middle-aged (45-54) white Americans with a high school education or less died at a rate never before seen in a modern industrialized society. Alone among every other demographic group they studied, this group’s life expectancy was shrinking. The group’s annual mortality rate jumped from 281 per 100,000 to 415 per 100,000 during the 15 years studied. Big reasons: Striking increases in the number of suicides, drug overdoses and liver disease caused by alcohol poisoning. Case and Deaton called them “deaths by despair.” (3/29)

JAMA Forum: Is The Right To Die Going The Way Of The Right To Choose?
When it comes to the right to die in the face of terminal illness, Congress has previously deferred to the states. Indeed, the liberty to relinquish life has thus far garnered limited congressional attention. Whether or not this will continue is uncertain. After all, the right to die is closely aligned with the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy, wherein the sanctity of life features just as prominently. Both constitute leading moral issues of our time, comprising 2 sides of the same proverbial coin. (Eli Y. Adashi, 3/29)

Chicago Tribune: Should Your Boss Get A Peek At Your DNA?
Bet you thought the mess that was Trumpcare was about as horrible a piece of legislation that could be concocted for ruining a lot of people's health. Nope. A bill called the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, currently under enthusiastic review by Congress, will allow employers to charge their employees a higher insurance premium if they refuse to provide them with their personal genetic information. It is hard to think of a worse idea. (Arthur L. Caplan, 2/29)

JAMA: Childhood Lead Exposure And Adult Outcomes
The discovery that the water in Flint, Michigan, was contaminated with lead shows that excessive exposure to this toxic metal remains a threat to human health. The episode resulted from a series of poor decisions by politicians that allowed lead to leach from pipes and fixtures into the water flowing into residents’ homes. But Flint is by no means unique with regard to lead hazards. A 2016 report identified 3000 US communities in which the percentage of children with a blood lead concentration greater than 5 μg/dL, the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reference value, exceeded that among affected children in Flint. (David C. Bellinger, 3/28)

Los Angeles Times: Are We Subsidizing A Public Health Crisis By Allowing The Poor To Buy Soda With Food Stamps?
A major study of the grocery-buying habits of millions of Americans released late last year found that people using food stamps generally make the same unhealthy food choices as everyone else in America. Too many sweets, salty snacks and prepared desserts. Junk food, in other words. But when it came to soda and its sugary ilk, the results were more surprising, and not in a good way. (3/29)

The Des Moines Register: Bill Capping Malpractice Awards Is Frivolous
Republicans have waited a long time to make numerous changes to Iowa law. Now that they hold majorities in the Iowa Legislature, they’re moving as fast as possible. On their list is limiting the amount of money an injured patient can collect after being victimized by medical malpractice or nursing home negligence. (3/29)

San Jose Mercury News: Reproductive Rights, Even Pregnancy, Threatened
A leaked draft of a Trump administration executive order proposed a sweeping interpretation of “religious freedom” that would allow organizations and businesses to circumvent legal protections against discrimination. This proposal echoes a controversial plan in Indiana signed by now-Vice President Pence. Discrimination for any reason is antithetical to true religious liberty, and it’s time for people of faith to raise their voices in opposition. (Sheila Briggs, 3/29)

Los Angeles Times: Felony Charges Are A Disturbing Overreach For The Duo Behind The Planned Parenthood Sting Videos
There’s no question that anti-abortion activist David Daleiden surreptitiously recorded healthcare and biomedical services employees across the state of California with the intent of discrediting the healthcare provider, Planned Parenthood — something his heavily edited videos failed to do. There’s also no question that it’s against state law to record confidential conversations without the consent of all the parties involved. But that doesn’t mean that California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra should have charged Daleiden and his co-conspirator, Susan Merritt, with 15 felony counts. (3/30)

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Abortion Opponents Ask Government To Enforce A Theological Position
The Founding Fathers were all too aware of the death and destruction across centuries driven by the intent to impose particular religious beliefs and practices on those with different convictions. Hence, the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. Thus, Hobby Lobby was excused from something no more burdensome than the ACA requirement to submit a form testifying that they were opposed to contraception on religious grounds — if they were to omit contraceptive care from their health insurance. However, many of the people and organizations who lauded the Hobby Lobby decision do not recognize that government interference with abortion-rights they propose is a more severe violation of the same amendment to which Hobby Lobby appealed. (Thomas W. Allen, 3/30)

Stat: This NIH Program Is Crucial To Global Health. And Its Future Is In Danger
A little-noticed cut in President Trump’s proposed “budget blueprint to make American great again” would eliminate the Fogarty International Center, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. That would be a big mistake for the United States and the rest of the world. The center ... has initiated and sustained research around the globe aimed at fighting polio, tuberculosis, AIDS, and other infectious diseases, as well as focusing on global environmental health, bioethics, noncommunicable diseases, and more. Through more than 400 research and training projects, the center has trained well over 5,000 scientists worldwide. (Arthur L. Reingold and Madhukar Pai, 3/29)

The Kansas City Star: Marijuana Proposal A Bad Solution To A Nonproblem
Kansas City voters will be asked Tuesday to reduce the penalties for minor marijuana possession in the city. The proposal — Question 5 on the ballot — is fraught with potential complications and unintended consequences. Voters should reject it. The plan came to the ballot through an initiative petition. It would limit fines in Municipal Court to no more than $25 for possession of 35 grams of marijuana or less — about an ounce and a quarter. (3/29)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.