Lots of stuff right now on the nation’s growing “bad drug” (i.e. heroin) epidemic, which for some reason we’re treating as a new thing, and on the drug war as it’s playing out in Mexico. And I thought it’d be worthwhile to aggregate what I’m reading on the subject, and then juxtapose it to what I’m reading on the nation’s growing problem with access to “good drugs,” (i.e. medicine).
Let’s start with the good drugs:
Drug shortages in America’s ER’s — As the Washington Post reports, a study in the Journal of American Emergency Medicine found a more-than-400% increase in drug shortages in the past 14 years. More than half of those drugs were lifesavers, and at least ten percent were of drugs with no substitutes. Reasons given by pharmaceutical companies included manufacturing delays and supply and demand issues. But as the Post notes, many of the drugs on the list have very low profit margins, and may simply cost more to make than they can turn in profit. See the article for an FDA-created infographic on what the agency is trying to do about it.
Congress doesn’t care enough about Drug Prices — Health Affairs notes that per-capita prescription drug spending is higher in the U.S. than anywhere else in the industrialized world, and Congress is doing next to nothing about it.
Pharma’s latest clinical trial fail — Nature News updates us on the French drug trial, that left one person dead and several more seriously ill. News of the disaster broke around January 15th, but Bial, the Portuguese company that sponsored the trial, and Bio-trial, the French contract-research company that conducted it, have remained maddeningly tight-lipped about what went down. A French newspaper has found and released documents pertaining to the trial protocol, and it looks like the researchers may not have staggered the dosing of successive trial volunteers, a simple step that might have prevented multiple people from getting sick.
And then for the bad drugs:
Heroin addiction affects white people, too — the New York Times editorial board explains how Congress is finally coming round to the idea that locking all the addicts up hasn’t quite worked, and that less punitive policies are needed. They detail a new bill, The Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act, which aims to “expand and improve drug treatment services nationwide.” The bill is pending in both houses at the moment and the NYT has come out strongly in favor. FYI: “drug overdose deaths driven primarily by addiction to prescription painkillers and heroin [have] increased in nearly every county between 2002 and 2014, a year when more than 47,000 people — an average of about 125 a day — died of overdoses.” The bill includes interagency task force, some grant money for states, and a new prescription drug monitoring system.
So maybe let’s treat it as a disease instead of a crime — In a front page article, the New York Times profiles Gloucester police chief, Leonard Campanello, who has pulled something seriously Wire-esque: he’s launched a novel treatment and recovery model in his heroin-ravaged fishing village, by publicly inviting all addicts to turn themselves in for treatment, not arrest. So far nearly 400 addicts from all over the country have taken him up on it. Some experts are not happy with Campanella (you can’t just decide to not punish lawbreakers!). But the community itself has been hugely supportive of the effort – donating money, and services to help make it work.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, drug violence is lowering life expectancy — The El Paso Times reports on a Health Affairs study, which found that there were so many drug-war-related homicides between 2000 and 2010, the life expectancy for Mexican men actually dropped by six full months — enough to reverse gains it took 60 years to make. Helps explain why everyone’s so pissed at Sean Penn for bro-ing out with El Chapo like he’s just some misunderstood Robin Hood.
Oh, and the DEA is trying to make it all about terrorism (it’s not). — ProPublica has a fantastic interactive to complement a longform piece it recently co-published with the New Yorker, detailing the DEA’s woefully misguided efforts to tie narco-trafficking to terrorism. [READ THIS STORY].