Medication error melts woman’s face

There are medication errors and then there are medication errors that melt your face.

Khaliah Shaw, 26, said in 2014 she went to a doctor because she felt depressed and received a prescription for the anti-seizure medication lamotrigine. The drug is often marketed in the U.S. as  Lamictal.

A pending lawsuit by her claims she received the wrong dosage of the medication, 11Alive reports. Sometimes anti-seizure medication is used to treat bipolar illness.

Khaliah Shaw found herself in a coma after being given the wrong strength of prescription for her bipolar disorder. Photo courtesy of Khaliah Shaw.

“The goal to spread awareness as much as I can,” Shaw told The Palm Beach Post on Tuesday. “It is difficult being in the spotlight, but I think it is worth it if it means someone is more educated about the medication that they are taking.”

She is not alone. People are suing pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for aggressively promoting Lamictal without fully disclosing its risk of the drug.

The pharmaceutical giant in July 2012 pleaded guilty to criminal negligent charges and paid $3 billion to resolve allegations of fraud and failure to report product safety data for Lamictal.

For Khaliah, after two weeks of using the medication, blisters broke out all of her body.

(WARNING: Graphic Photo)-Read more below

 

“I was in excruciating pain. It felt like I was on fire,” the Georgia woman told Atlanta television station 11Alive. “It essentially causes your body to burn from the inside out and you pretty much just melt.”

She was diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome a rare serious skin disorder that is often caused by an allergic reaction to medication. She went from looking like a young vibrant young woman to something out resembling a burn victim.

“I didn’t have to have people staring at me or wondering why I look different,” she said. “Three years ago, my life changed forever.”

Shaw spent five weeks in a medically induced coma. During that time, her skin melted off.

“They’re telling me this could happen again, and they’re telling me if it did happen again, that it would be worse,” said Shaw.

Shaw’s medical bills have reached more than $3.45 million.

“I never heard of Steven Johnson Syndrome until I was in the hospital with my skin melting off of my body. That’s when I learned what it was,” she told 11Alive. “It’s a lesson she says no one should have to learn. “It’s important to know what’s in your body.”

She wants to get the word out to people to be careful about medications.

You can read more about Shaw’s story at her web page including photos at the Journey of a Butterfly by clicking here.

Or read the whole 11Alive report by clicking here.

(Feature photo provided by Khalia Shaw).

Medical marijuana: Health Department must pick up Legislature’s fumble

So much for the Florida Legislature carrying out the will of people when it comes to medical marijuana.

Among the many “up in smoke” headlines was the news the Legislature failed to come up with a law to implement a constitutional amendment establishing medical marijuana in Florida approved by 72 percent of the voters last year.

In the wake of the massive failure, Republican leaders were pointing fingers at each other, marijuana advocates were doing the same and a gubernatorial candidate was calling for a special session.

The lawmakers were not able to compromise on how many dispensaries would be allowed. Now, it is up to the Department of Health to implement the law. It created placeholder rules it published in January into a thriving medical marijuana market that could grow to hundreds of thousands of patients.

The amendment specifies that key regulations be laid out by July 3. The first patients are supposed to get their IDs by Sept. 3 to obtain the drug.

But the department’s proposed rules in January got an earful from critics at town hall meetings who said the state aimed to block patients from timely and affordable access to the medication.

The rules would also restrict physicians in treating their patients and undercut the quality of the product, these critics contend.

The Department of Health issued a statement Monday saying that it took the public comments at five workshops held earlier this year seriously.

“The department is committed to quickly moving through the rulemaking process to create a regulatory structure for Amendment 2,” it said.

The benefits of medical cannabis include relief for chronic pain and muscle spasm. It relieves nausea during chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients. It also has been used for the treatment of Tourette’s syndrome, anorexia, arthritis, migraines, and glaucoma.

But while patients with these ailments wait, Republicans in Tallahassee finger-pointed at each other on Monday.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida, Senate President Joe Negron put the onus on the House for the bill’s demise, while House Speaker Richard Corcoran rejected the blame.

Photo: Creative Commons.

“If I were a voter I would be very disappointed,” said Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who sponsored the House bill to legalize the drug told the Tampa Bay Times. “They had a legitimate expectation that we would pass an implementing bill.”

Meanwhile, former U.S. Rep. turned gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is calling for a special session to enact the medical marijuana legalization amendment.

“I watched my husband battle cancer and the sickening effects of chemotherapy. So many patients with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating diseases could use medical marijuana as a way to treat their pain,” Graham, Democrat, said in a story by CBS Miami.

“Floridians spent years begging the legislature to take action before taking their case to the voters, but once again, the legislature is ignoring them. If the people of Florida give me the honor of serving as governor, their voices will be heard.”

The two two advocates for medical marijuana in Florida — financial backer John Morgan and United for Care campaign consultant Ben Pollara also turned bitter.

Morgan, an attorney, said Pollara sold out by backing dispensary limits, according to New Times.

Pollara offered his own analysis of the Legislature’s failure in a statement Monday and tried to mend fences with Morgan. He said the House bill was partially drafted by Drug-Free America that banned smokable, edible and vapable forms of marijuana and required a 90-day waiting period.

He said he understands Morgan is angry, but the choices faced were “bad,” “worse” and “the worst.”

In the midst of heroin epidemic, enters new drug dubbed ‘Grey Death’

Florida, shaken to the core by an unprecedented heroin overdose epidemic, may now have to grapple with a brand new deadly opioid mixture dubbed “Grey Death” that utilizes several opioids and looks like concrete.

Mixing  opioids are not new, but West Palm Beach CBS affiliate, Channel 12, calls this particular concoction “the deadliest drug yet.”  It’s already killed people in Georgia and Alabama and it’s heading our way.

When it comes to designer drugs, Martin County seems to be a magnet and Sheriff William Snyder is well aware.

In August, a 19-year-old man high on a bath salt-like drug smashed through the front plate-glass window of a family’s Stuart home and attacked two people, police said.

Snyder says Grey Death looks consists of heroin, fentanyl and other opioids.

“They don’t call it gray death for any other reason other than the fact that it can definitely cause death,” Sheriff Snyder told CBS12.com.

“My prayer is that we never see it here, my expectation is the likelihood is we will see it here in Martin County,” Sheriff Snyder said.

The new drug mixture can be injected, smoked, snorted or swallowed. Snyder has ordered special gear for his deputies when they encounter Gray Death and other strong opioids that can be deadly simply by touching it.

“They will be able to cover all their body, hands, and feet and it will protect them so when they come out of that scene they can take it off, decontaminate and be safe,” Sheriff Snyder said

Read The Palm Beach Post’s coverage of designer drugs by clicking here and the heroin epidemic by clicking here.

 

Congress deals vape industry another blow – but battle far from over

A provision to protect mom-and-pop vape shops from an industry-destroying FDA regulation died in the current budget battle between President Donald Trump and the Democrats.

The Democrats were intent on killing any of Trump’s “poison pills” in the current budget deal, and while most of the attention was on the president’s border wall — you know the one Mexico was going to pay for — the provision to protect the vape industry became collateral damage.

The Cole-Bishop Amendment would have restricted the Food & Drug”s deeming” regulations to e-cigarette products sold as of Aug. 8, 2016 that fails to grandfather in existing products, whether it be devices or liquids. To get FDA approval for each product could cost millions of dollars and put many companies out of business, the industry says.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a statement that death of Cole-Bishop “delivers critical victories for America’s kids and health over the tobacco industry by rejecting proposals to greatly weaken FDA oversight of electronic cigarettes and cigars and slash funding for the CDC’s programs to reduce tobacco use.”

But while American health officials deride electronic cigarettes, there is little evidence that they are even remotely as deadly as traditional tobacco.

In England, health officials have promoted vaping and electronic cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, but in the U.S. there has been a concerted effort to rein in the hundreds of small businesses that have sprouted up around the industry.

The vaping industry says the reason is clear: they take away profits not only from Big Tobacco, but the pharmaceutical industry peddling cessation patches and gums, as well as the government that heavily taxes cigarettes.

Read the Palm Beach Post’s investigation into whether health officials claims on vaping are legit by clicking here. 

Greg Conley of the American Vaping Industry vows the fight to roll back FDA regulations is far from over.

Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Industry, says the fight is far from over with a separate bill, HR 1136, sponsored by Democrats that mimics Cole-Bishop.

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has also introduced HR 2194, The Cigarette Smoking Reduction & Electronic Vapor Alternatives Act.

“This budget is done with, but they need to come back in October and pass the FY 2018 budget,” he said. “The appropriations committees will likely start on that again soon and we will be pushing for Cole-Bishop or similar language to again be included.”

Nick Molina, CEO of Miami-based VaporFi.

In the meantime, Conley warns politicians who carry water for Big Tobacco against the vaping industry. He said if Democrats want to motivate millennial voters to come out to vote against the party, then dare to oppose measures to protect this alternative to traditional tobacco.

Nick Molina, CEO of Miami-based VaporFi, said while last week was disappointing, there are several avenues for the industry to pursue still in Congress.

“In addition to a handful of lawsuits filed against the FDA that are working themselves through the legal system, there is the bill introduced last week by Rep. Duncan Hunter,” he said. “That bill places e-cigarettes in a new category for harm-reduction products to move people off of tobacco-containing cigarettes.”

DEA takes action against synthetic pot tied to deaths

As marijuana moves towards legalization throughout the country, the Drug Enforcement Administration took action this week against the dangerous designer products pretending to be a pot substitute — called cannabinoids —  sold at some gas stations, convenience stores and head shops.

Drugs that mimic the natural plant of marijuana have been popping up in the last decade under the brand names Spice, K2 and a dozen others.  Now the DEA has temporarily added six more analogs of the THC – the drug found naturally in pot — to Schedule I list, which includes heroin.

While nobody has ever died from using marijuana, not so with the synthetic impostors.

One of the new banned substances, MDMB-CHMICA, is believed to have attributed to 42 overdoses and 29 deaths in Europe. Another, ADB–FUBINACA, is found in K2.

Synthetic marijuana is akin to the bath salts that have caused so much havoc, a chemical goop cooked up in labs. The Palm Beach Post took a look at bath salts last year. Read the story by clicking here.

Synthetic pot is sold at gas stations, convenience stores and head shops. (Photo: New York Department of Health)

The major concern is these substances are being targeted to adolescents. The DEA said it is not aware of any currently accepted medical uses for these substances in the United States.

Synthetic cannabis was developed to assist in the research of AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and chemotherapy, resulting in 450 synthetic cannabinoid compounds, according to The Daily Beast.

The pro-pot website, Herb, praised the DEA for its move, saying the hundreds of synthetics that act on the same receptors in the brain as natural marijuana are not equal because they affect the brain in different ways.

“This makes their potency range from tens to ten-thousands magnitude higher than THC, and with different effects,” according to Herb. “Synthetics are to real THC as rubbing alcohol is to vodka.

In time of Trump, Max Planck celebrates scientific method with music

It’s not easy being a scientist these days.

In the age of President Trump where “alternative facts” are doled out daily, researchers find themselves derided.

Climate change? It’s an agenda of these rascally scientists to get grant money.

Life-saving vaccines? Trump believes they may be tied to autism despite ample proof they are not.

So for the Max Planck Institute for Neuroscience in Jupiter, its highly popular science and music presentations are a great way to reach out to the public.

The latest is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:15 p.m.  at the Benjamin Upper School in Palm Beach Gardens. It’s free and open to the public but seating is limited so RSVP is required.

“I  think many times the public doesn’t understand science so when we do this outreach with music and whatnot we are playing an active role,” said David Fitzpatrick, chief executive officer and scientific director of Florida’s institute.

“With what has happened in this country, there are many people devaluing science.”

smm_2_dr-emmanuelle-charpentier
Emmanuelle Charpentier will speak Wednesday evening at the Max Planck Institute in Jupiter’s Science Meets Music at Benjamin Upper School.

The last Science Meets Music event drew more than 400 people in January. The Post previewed the series earlier this month.

The speaker this time around is one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people” Emmanuelle Charpentier – which is saying something since there are like 7.5 billion humans on earth.  She will be visiting from Berlin, Germany, where she works for the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology.

For the music portion there will be Emmanuel Ceysson, Principal Harp of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

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David Fitzpatrick, chief executive officer and scientific director of Florida’s institute, said:

The star, though, is Charpentier whose work involving a bacterial system has the potential to drastically change treatment of cancer and other ailments. It hasn’t been used on humans yet, but experiments on mice have been very encouraging.

The New York Times reported Charpentier’s discovery of being able to add or delete genes in any type of cell “has sparked a scientific revolution with a seemingly endless list of applications.”

It can hypothetically be used to remove the mutated gene in blood cells of people with sickle cell disease and to replace it with a normal gene, thus curing the disease. Or it can be used to make insect pests unable to reproduce and plants to naturally resist disease.

Fitzpatrick said he hopes by mixing music with science, he can convey how researchers at the institute use the scientific method, that these are passionate individuals who work tirelessly to find the truth.

“Musicians and scientists are many ways very much alike,” he said. “They have a dedication to what they are doing. Scientists do an experiment over and over and over. A musician does the same thing.”

For more information on the 2017 series, or to RSVP, call 561-972-9027.

 

LSD for depression? It may not be worth the trip

A psychiatrist writing in the New York Times today is taking on the trend of using the hallucinogen drug LSD to combat depression, saying it is untested and possibly dangerous.

Who knew taking acid might be dangerous? Anybody who ever had a bad trip, possibly.

Richard A. Friedman is a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College.

lsd
LSD is often taken in tiny paper tabs often decorated with a variety of images, in this case a heart.

He is empathetic that for the third of patients with major depression who get no relief from pharmaceuticals that hallucinogenics may offer some hope.  A recent psilocybin study claims that the mushroom-derived hallucinogenic relieves anxiety and depression.

Then there are the anecdotal reports about microdoses of LSD, as well a book on the subject.

Friedman says LSD is an unregulated drug in which users can’t be sure what they are even taking.

He says it is also too early to say that taking these drugs are not habit-forming, as proponents suggest. And studies of hallucinogenics have shown they can be debilitating behaviorally with bad trips or flashbacks in recreational users, Friedman points out.

 

lsd2
An illustration of LSD, Lysergic acid diethylamide.

Though Friedman doesn’t address it in his column, there is also hallucinogen persisting perception disorder that can affect users of LSD, MDMA, mushrooms and mescaline. One sufferer said he had been hallucinating that all trees sported human faces for two decades after one potent LSD trip.

“The bottom line is that we don’t know how safe or effective psychedelics are because most of the data have been anecdotal or from small trials,” Friedman writes.

Read the whole column by clicking here.

Surgeon General drops historic report on addiction

UPDATE 12:46 p.m. A half-century ago, the office of the U.S. Surgeon General – the country’s top doctor – issued a report on tobacco that started a cultural shift in a Mad Men-era America where cigarettes were ubiquitous to one today where they are shunned and forever connected to lung cancer.

Now that office under U.S. Surgeon Vice Admiral Dr. Vivek H. Murthy hopes to inspire a similar sea change with its first ever report on addiction. It aims to remove the public stigma of the disease by defining once and for all as a neurological brain disorder that needs to be treated as any other chronic condition.

“My hope with this report is that it will galvanize our country to address the addiction crisis,” Murthy said in a press availability today.

Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, comes the same day as the online release of The Palm Beach Post’s investigation, Heroin: Killer of A Generation, which outlines the scope of an epidemic that killed 216 people from overdose in the county in 2015.

Much of his findings have been accepted in the recovery community for years, even decades. But Murthy wants the public to understand that addiction is a disease, not one of simple self-control.

Murthy said he aims to change the way America views addiction. “I’m calling out country to action,” he said. “I’m calling for a cultural shift in how we think about addiction, that we recognize that it is not a moral failing.”

He said, in fact, addiction is neurological disorder of the brain and “is not a disease of choice.”

The report states the pressing need for an overhaul in the way the country thinks about addiction, stating that almost 22.5 million people reported using an illegal drug in the last year, 20 million have substance abuse issues and 12.5 million abuse prescription pain pills.

Every day, 78 people die in the U.S. from heroin or heroin-related drugs.

Among other findings is that only 10 percent of those now addicted receive treatment and that the economic impact of drug and alcohol misuse and addiction amounts to $442 billion each year.

One in seven Americans will struggle with some type of alcohol or drug addiction, the report states.

What is needed is a multi-pronged approach of medication, counseling and social support, along with evidence-based interventions to prevent addiction in the first place, according to the report.

Murtha will talk about addiction with other experts at an event later today in Los Angeles.

Without being implicit, the report offers an alternative to incarceration for those suffering from addiction and hails a system of recovery support services – or RSS – to keep recovered addicts from relapsing. The most-well known RSS, the report points out, is Alcoholics Anonymous but there are many  resources.

The report also endorses needle-exchange programs and other solutions, including medication to wean addicts off of heroin.

US Surgeon General Vice Admiral (VADM) Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A., center, tours FoundCare in West Palm Beach on February 6, 2015. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
US Surgeon General Vice Admiral (VADM) Vivek H. Murthy,  tours FoundCare  last year (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

For those on the front-lines battling addiction in Palm Beach County, the report was like the bugle call of the cavalry arriving.

James N. Hall, an epidemiologist at Nova Southeastern University, has been watching heroin’s march through the community for five years.

“This is a landmark report from the Surgeon General of the United States,” he said. “It is an open call for key policy shifts making this a No. 1 public health issue rather than a moral or criminal issue.”

Heroin
The new Surgeon General’s report defines addiction as a chronic neurological disorder.

He called on political leaders to “tackle this age-old problem that is more dangerous, more addictive and more deadly in 2016 than any other time in our lives.”

Dr. Anthony Campo is the Medical Director at Caron Renaissance and Ocean Drive. He said the report was “ground-breaking” and “long overdue.”

He thinks the de-stigmatizing of addiction and making treatment more available will go a long way in dealing with the crisis.

“When you look at the figures, overdoses takes a life every 19 minutes,” Campo said. “Criminalizing substance abuse disorders didn’t work. It has to be treatment.”

How Murthy’s report — particularly his call to “invest more” in treatment and prevention – goes over with  President-Elect Donald Trump is unknown.

Trump, though, knows the ravages of addiction.  His brother Freddy, died as an alcoholic in 1981 at the age of 43. As a result, Trump doesn’t drink.

“How we respond to this crisis is a moral test for America,” Murthy said. “Are we a nation willing to take on an epidemic that is causing great human suffering and economic loss? Are we able to live up to that most fundamental obligation we have as human beings: to care for one another?”

Marketing over common sense? May be better to wait on flu shot

The marketing of the flu vaccine has become an almost year-round effort as drug store chains urge their customers to get a shot earlier and earlier.

But a story by CNN says that may not be the wisest thing to do to combat the flu.

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When should you get a flu shot? It may be better to wait despite retailers’ claims.

Some experts say marketing may be overtaking medical wisdom since it’s unclear how long the immunity imparted by the vaccine lasts, particularly in seniors.

An early flu shot is better than no flu shot at all, but the science is uncertain how long your immunity will last if you get the shot in late summer as opposed to early fall. Flu season generally peaks in mid-winter or beyond.

“If you’re over 65, don’t get the flu vaccine in September. Or August. It’s a marketing scheme,” said Laura Haynes, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut Center on Aging.

Tom Charland, founder and CEO of Merchant Medicine, said medical services on demand appeals to millennials but when it comes to late summer flu shots, “It’s a way to get people into the store to buy other things.”

Read the whole debate on the issue at CNN by clicking here.

DEA cracks down on kratom served at many kava bars

Kratom, served at some kava bars throughout Palm Beach County, will soon be considered in the same class of illegal drugs as heroin, LSD, marijuana and Ecstasy.

The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Tuesday its intention to place the active materials in the kratom plant into the Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kavasutra in Lake Worth is one of many kava bars to have opened in south Florida in recent years. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)
Kavasutra in Lake Worth is one of many kava bars to have opened in south Florida in recent years . (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)

“Kratom is abused for its ability to produce opioid-like effects and is often marketed as a legal alternative to controlled substances,” the DEA said in a statement.

The drug also has been used to wean addicts off stronger drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methadone. Researchers at the University of Mississippi say it may even act as a suppressor for such highly addictive drugs.

The DEA crackdown is a victory for advocates who have warned of the dangers of kratom and also a financial hit for the several kava bars that operate from Boca Raton to Palm Beach Gardens.

“I think it is awesome. I am very happy that someone has listened to what we have been saying for the past three years,” said Linda Mautner, a Delray Beach resident.

Mautner blames her son Ian’s suicide in July 2014 on addiction to kratom. She says the drug is “seemingly benign” because it is touted as “all natural. She said Kava bars are very lucrative businesses and can lure unsuspecting young people into addiction.

“I hope this is right thing and I hope it will save lives,” she said. Currently, the mother has established a foundation in hopes of building a center for continuum of care for alcoholics and addicts once they finish their 30-day treatment.

 

Linda Mautner speaks about kratom and asks to have age restrictions on the sale of the herbal substance during the Palm Beach County Commission meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla. on Tuesday, December 2, 2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
Linda Mautner speaks about kratom a during a Palm Beach County Commission meeting in December  2014. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

Most kava bars contacted did not want to  comment on the DEA’s move, but James Hare, manager of Native Kava in Boynton Beach, said the DEA is in overkill mode when it has been shown by researchers to have medicinal purposes.

“It’s crazy to go from zero to a schedule I substance. It is irresponsible,” he said.

Hare said most of the problems, such as so-called overdoses, associated with kratom comes from extracts in which other substances are added or it is mixed with other drugs by the user. There is even synthetic kratom.

“There is a market for it synthetic blends and people are having an adverse affect and they are blaming it on kratom itself,” Hare said.

 

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Kratom comes in numerous forms, law enforcement says.

Kratom just doesn’t come in a drink served in coconut shell at kava bars. Law enforcement has seized it in powder, plant, capsules and even drug patches.

“Because the identity, purity levels, and quantity of these substances are uncertain and inconsistent, they pose significant adverse health risks to users,” the DEA stated.

The Centers for Disease Control says kratom abuse can lead to agitation, irritability, and hypertension. The DEA is aware of 15 kratom-related deaths between 2104 and 2016.

Kratom, from a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia, can have stimulant effects at low doses and sedative effects at high doses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

It is banned in Thailand, Australia, Myanmar, Malaysia. Several U.S. states have also moved to make it illegal, but Florida never followed suit after legislation failed.