Category Archives: Drugs & Medicines

Vera Whole Health to run employee clinic for City of Kirkland

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Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 12.35.36 PMVera Whole Health has signed an agreement with the City of Kirkland to offer primary, preventive and acute care to City of Kirkland employees at a new worksite clinic.

The Seattle-based company offers on-site and near-site health clinics for organizations. Employers pay monthly fee for their employees to receive unlimited primary care, acute care and health coaching.

The company staffs the clinics with physicians, nurse practitioners, medical assistants and health coaches. The goal of the employer-funded clinics is to help employees develop and maintain healthy lifestyles, reversing the trend of rising overall health care costs, the company says.

In the Puget Sound region, the company maintains clinics for Seattle Children’s Hospital, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Trident Seafoods in Ballard and a Seattle-based investment company.

The City of Kirkland clinic is expected to open in the spring of 2015 and will be located in the Totem Lake area.

 

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As controlled substance use rises in Medicare, prolific prescribers face more scrutiny

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pills-spill-out-of-bottle

By Charles Ornstein and Ryann Grochowski Jones
ProPublica

This story was co-published with USA Today and NPR’s Shots blog.

Despite a national crackdown on prescription drug abuse, doctors churned out an ever-larger number of prescriptions for the most-potent controlled substances to Medicare patients, new data shows.

In addition, ProPublica found, the most prolific prescribers of such drugs as oxycodone, fentanyl, morphine and Ritalin often have worrisome records.

In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, Medicare covered nearly 27 million prescriptions for powerful narcotic painkillers and stimulants with the highest potential for abuse and dependence.

That’s up 9 percent over 2011, compared to a 5 percent increase in Medicare prescriptions overall.

Even taking into account an increase in the number of Medicare enrollees, the prescribing rate rose slightly for these drugs, which are classified as Schedule 2 controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Twelve of Medicare’s top 20 prescribers of Schedule 2 drugs in 2012 have faced disciplinary actions by their state medical boards or criminal charges related to their medical practices, and another had documents seized from his office by federal agents.

The No. 1 prescriber 2014 Dr. Shelinder Aggarwal of Huntsville, Ala., with more than 14,000 Schedule 2 prescriptions in 2012 2014 had his controlled substances certificate suspended by the state medical board in March 2013. He surrendered his medical license four months later. (Aggarwal could not be reached for comment.)

Prescribing high volumes of Schedule 2 drugs can indicate a doctor is running a pill mill, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer of Phoenix House, a New York-based drug treatment provider. Government regulators should do more to monitor prescribing patterns and intervene proactively if they appear aberrant, he said.

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Avoid powdered pure caffeine, FDA warns.

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From the US Food and Drug Administration

The FDA is warning about powdered pure caffeine being marketed directly to consumers, and recommends avoiding these products.

In particular, FDA is concerned about powdered pure caffeine sold in bulk bags over the internet.

The FDA is aware of at least one death of a teenager who used these products.

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These products are essentially 100 percent caffeine. A single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee.

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Teen prescription opioid abuse, cigarette, and alcohol use down, but e-cigarette use up

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Two white tabletsFrom the US Department of Health and Human Services

Use of cigarettes, alcohol, and abuse of prescription pain relievers among teens has declined since 2013 while marijuana use rates were stable, according to the 2014 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, released today by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). However, use of e-cigarettes, measured in the report for the first time, is high.

These 2014 results are part of an overall two-decade trend among the nation’s youth. The MTF survey measures drug use and attitudes among eighth, 10th, and 12th graders, is funded by NIDA, and is conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. NIDA is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“With the rates of many drugs decreasing, and the rates of marijuana use appearing to level off, it is possible that prevention efforts are having an effect,” said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D.

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Flu on the rise in King County

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Flu virusesFlu is here—and it’s a nasty one!

By Meredith Li-Vollmer
Public Health – Seattle & King County

Influenza is noticeably on the rise in King County, according the Public Health – Seattle & King County” sCommunicable Disease and Epidemiology unit.

Last week, the number of laboratory tests for flu rose sharply and a handful of schools, daycare programs, and long-term care facilities reported flu outbreaks.

A severe flu forecast

The flu season has only just begun, but the CDC is finding that so far, seasonal influenza A H3N2 viruses have been the most common flu viruses circulating. What’s the significance? In flu seasons in which H3N2 viruses predominate, there often are more severe flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.

On top of that, roughly half of the H3N2 viruses that the CDC analyzed to date are drift variants: viruses with genetic changes that make them different from this season’s vaccine virus. This means the vaccine’s ability to protect against those viruses may be reduced.

So should you still get this year’s flu vaccine? Continue reading

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US provides immunity to Ebola vaccine developers

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 Secretary of Health & Human Services Sylvia Mathews BurwellHealth and Human Services Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell today announced a declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act to facilitate the development and availability of experimental Ebola vaccines.

This declaration is intended to assist in the global community’s effort to help combat the current epidemic in West Africa and help prevent future outbreaks there, the HHS said.

The declaration provides immunity under United States law against legal claims related to the manufacturing, testing, development, distribution, and administration of three vaccines for Ebola virus disease. It does not, generally, provide immunity for a claim brought in a court outside the United States.

Past declarations have covered vaccines used in H5N1 pandemic influenza clinical trials in 2008, products related to the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, and the development and manufacturing of antitoxins to treat botulism in 2008.

Here are more details about the action from the HHS release:

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Are vaccinations ‘Everybody’s Business’? – documentary and discussion

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A community conversation sponsored by the Northwest Biomedical Research Association

Are Vaccinations ‘Everybody’s Business?’

Discussion of the locally-made documentary, “Everybody’s Business,” by Laura Green, which examines the small, tight-knit community of Vashon Island that has become a reluctant poster child for the growing debate around childhood vaccinations. This portrait of an island community digs beneath the surface to investigate the tensions between individual choices and collective responsibilities.

Tuesday night’s conversation will be facilitated by Dr. Doug Opel, Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

WHEN:
Tuesday
December 9, 2014
From 5:45pm to 7:45pm

WHERE:
Macao Chocolate+Coffee
415 Westlake Ave N.
Seattle, WA 98109

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States focus on ‘super-utilizers’ to reduce Medicaid costs

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Sign for an emergency room.By Michael Ollove
Stateline

In health policy circles, they are called “super-utilizers,” but the name isn’t meant to connote any special powers. Just the opposite.

They are people whose complex medical problems make them disproportionately heavy users of expensive health care services, particularly emergency room treatment and in-patient hospitalizations.

At least 15 states, including Washington established “health homes,” or teams of providers responsible for coordinating the care of most complicated and costly of patients.

The cost of treating them is huge: Just 5 percent of Medicaid’s 68 million beneficiaries account for 60 percent of the overall spending on the program.

Using a provision of the Affordable Care Act, many state Medicaid agencies are trying to diminish use of medical services by super-utilizers by better managing their care.

The goal is to not only reduce costs, but to achieve better health outcomes for these patients.

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This year’s flu season may be a bad one, says CDC

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influenza-virus-thumbnailEarly data suggests that the current 2014-2015 flu season could be severe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials said Thursday, and they urged anyone who is still unvaccinated this season get vaccinated immediately.

People at high risk of complications who develop flu should receive prompt treatment with antiviral drugs, the agency said.

Here’s more from the CDC’s announcement:

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Expect to pay more out of pocket next year for speciality drugs

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Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Julie Appleby
KHN

People with health coverage – including those who buy it through government insurance exchanges and Medicare beneficiaries – are likely to pay more out-of-pocket next year for so-called “specialty drugs,” which treat complex conditions, according to two studies from consulting firm Avalere Health.

More than half of the “bronze” plans now being sold to individuals through federal and state marketplaces for coverage that begins in January, for example, require payments of 30 percent or more of the cost of such drugs, Avalere said in a report out Tuesday. That’s up from 38 percent of bronze plans this year.

“…in some cases this could make it difficult for patients to afford and stay on medications,”

In “silver” level plans, the most commonly purchased exchange plans, 41 percent will require payments of 30 percent or more for specialty drugs, up from 27 percent in 2014.

As the cost of prescription medications rise, insurers are responding by requiring patients to pay a percentage of specialty drug costs, rather than a flat dollar amount, which is often far less. Insurers say the move helps slow premium increases. Continue reading

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More states adopting law allowing terminal patients to try experimental treatments

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One dye showing 2By Michelle Andrews
KHN

Earlier this month, Arizona voters approved a referendum that allows terminally ill patients to receive experimental drugs and devices. It’s the fifth state to approve a “right-to-try” law this year.

Supporters say the laws give dying patients faster access to potentially life-saving therapies than the Food and Drug Administration’s existing “expanded-access” program, often referred to as “compassionate use.”

Supporters say the laws give dying patients faster access to potentially life-saving therapies. Critics charge such ‘right-to-try” acts are  feel-good laws that don’t address some of the real reasons patients may not receive experimental treatments.

But critics charge they’re feel-good laws that don’t address some of the real reasons patients may not receive experimental treatments.

The legislatures in Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan and Missouri also passed right-to-try laws this year as part of a nationwide effort spearheaded by the conservative Goldwater Institute, which hopes to get right-to-try laws on the books in all 50 states.

The measures generally permit a patient to get access to an experimental drug after it’s passed through phase 1 of a clinical trial, the initial testing in which a drug is given to a small group of people to evaluate its safety and side effects. Continue reading

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Naloxone kits for overdoses now available in Snohomish County

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Snohomish CountyNaloxone kits for treating opioid overdoses are now available at a number of pharmacies in Snohomish County.

These kits are available just by asking the pharmacists, there is no need to see a doctor to obtain a prescription.The cost of the kits is around $125.

Pharmacists will provide education to those being given a Naloxone kit on how to use it and when to use it.

In 2013 there were 86 opioid drug overdoses in Snohomish County, and 580 within Washington State.

The availability of naloxone (sold under the brand name Narcan) could potentially cut down on deaths due to heroin and prescription opioid drugs (morphine, oxycodone/OxyContin, methadone, hydrocodone/Vicodin, and codeine).  Continue reading

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Vaccination is the most effective flu prevention for seniors

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Flu shot todayBy Dr. Kory B. Fowler
Medical Director, Intermountain Region
Humana

The influenza virus– commonly known as the flu – affects up to 20 percent of Americans annually, leaving more than 200,000 people hospitalized from complications each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The flu is particularly dangerous for Washington seniors, who often have pre-existing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.

Last year the flu vaccine prevented 6.6 million illnesses, 3.2 million doctor visits and at least 79,000 hospitalizations.

There are many ways to reduce the risk of catching the virus, such as washing your hands often, but an annual flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu and reduce the risk of complications. Continue reading

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Hepatitis C patients may not qualify for pricey drugs unless illness is advanced

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Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Michelle Andrews
KHN / October 28, 2014

In the past year, new hepatitis C drugs that promise higher cure rates and fewer side effects have given hope to millions who are living with the disease.

But many patients whose livers aren’t yet significantly damaged by the viral infection face a vexing reality: They’re not sick enough to qualify for the drugs that could prevent them from getting sicker.

An estimated 3 million people have hepatitis C. Faced with a cost per patient of roughly $95,000 or more for a 12-week course of treatment, many public and private insurers are restricting access to those who already have serious liver damage.

Many baby boomers who have hepatitis C contracted it years ago from blood transfusions at a time when blood was not screened for the virus.

Other strategies that limit access include restricting who can prescribe the drugs or requiring early proof the drug is working before continuing with treatment.

In addition, many state Medicaid programs require that patients be drug and alcohol free for a period of months before they can get the hepatitis C drugs. Continue reading

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Global Health News – October 24th

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Globe floating in air

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