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.

 

GOP Health Bill Could Undermine Coverage Under Employer Plans

Under the GOP’s repeal of Obamacare, the most wealthy get a tax break, while the poor will have benefits rolled back under the Medicaid program, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

But what about those who get their health insurance through their employer? Not our problem, right? Think again.

The Wall Street Journal reports that many people who obtain health insurance through their employers could be at risk of losing protections that limit out-of-pocket costs of catastrophic illness. That’s about half of the country, folks.

“It’s huge,” Andy Slavitt, former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obama told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re creating a back door way to gut employer plans, too.”

Hardly noticed among the debate over pre-existing conditions, this change came in a last-minute amendment to the House Republican health-care bill that passed by four votes.

The House bill would allow large employers to choose the benefit requirements from any state including those that are allowed to lower their benchmarks under a new waiver, The Wall Street Journal reported.

By choosing a waiver state, employers looking to lower their costs could impose lifetime limits and eliminate the out-of-pocket cost cap from their plans under the GOP legislation.

 

Health care analysts say the real question is, would employers do this?

“Many wouldn’t,” said Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Many employers offer quality benefits to attract employees. But employers are always looking for ways to lower costs.”

Fifty-nine percent of covered employees who were in an employer plan had a lifetime limit on how much their insurance plans would cover before the ACA, Mr. Levitt said.

To read all of the Wall Street Journal story click 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.”

Want to save a life? Gardens man needs Hispanic bone marrow donor

The dearth of Hispanic bone marrow donors has a Palm Beach Gardens man with a rare blood cancer in the unenviable position of begging for someone who can save his life.

Manny Valdes says if willing Hispanics donors could just get their mouths swabbed, then he can possibly find a bone marrow match.  The test is free for the potential donor.

Manny Valdes with his two children. Valdes is fighting a rare form of leukemia but is having trouble finding a Hispanic donor.

The 42-year-old  husband and father of two was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in February. It is a rare form of blood and bone marrow cancer.

Currently, in the second round of chemotherapy, Valdes is in need of a  bone marrow transplant, but so far no match has been found for him yet.  Valdes works as director Florida IT Operations at Minto Communities.

The Gift of Life Marrow Registry, a national non-profit organization based in Boca Raton, operates a public registry dedicated to curing blood cancer through marrow and stem cell donation. They are appealing nationwide to increase Hispanic representation in the donor pool.

The Palm Beach Post reported in April 2015 how minorities fighting leukemia and other cancers have an additional hurdle in finding an outside donor to save their lives. Nicole Rivera, a young Jupiter mother,  spoke to The Post about the dilemma Hispanics have in finding suitable donors for a bone marrow transplants.

The mother of two ended up losing her battle with cancer after having to wait to find a donor for her second transplant.

Before her death from leukemia in September 2016, Nicole Rivera got the word out of the need for Hispanic bone marrow donors.

And now Valdes is playing the same waiting game.

Gift of Life says bone marrow is inherited like eye or hair color which makes ethnic and racial diversity crucial to finding donor matches for a greater number of patients in need of marrow transplants.

Because of the under-representation, 55 percent of Hispanic cancer patients and 75 percent of multi-racial patients are never matched with donors who can save their lives.

All it takes to become a bone marrow donor is a simple check swab. Once the tissue is typed, volunteers will then be entered into a registry for a patient currently or in the future.

People can request their FREE swab kit to become a potential donor at https://www.giftoflife.org/register.

There is also a Facebook page for Valdes: https://www.facebook.com/MANNYVSTRONG/

Judge gives doctor’s defamation lawsuit against CNN green light

CNN had the heartbreaking stories from parents who lost their children. It had damning statements by some of the state’s top cardiologists.

But in its zeal to shut down St. Mary’s Medical Center’s pediatric cardiac surgery program, did CNN purposefully fudge the death rate, reporting it was three times the national average?

Did the cable news giant intentionally defame the physician at the center of the program, Dr. Michael Black, whose photograph was splashed on television sets and websites with the headline: “Babies as sacrificial lambs”?

A Palm Beach County Circuit judge ruled Friday that a defamation lawsuit brought by Black against CNN could move forward, rejecting a motion by the network to dismiss it. Judge Richard Oftedal order 15-page order was built on a foundation of solid libel law that included a federal defamation action against CNN by St. Mary’s former CEO.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision. CNN intentionally misled its readers and intentionally manipulated statistical data to portray Dr. Black in a negative light,” said Libby Locke, the attorney for Black.  “We have every confidence that a jury will reach the same conclusion when CNN’s reporting is scrutinized.”

CNN’s attorney, Charles Tobin, could not be reached for comment late Friday.

Oftedal’s ruling echoes another by a federal judge in Atlanta in February when it allowed the defamation case brought by St Mary’s former CEO, Davide Carbone, against CNN to also move forward. U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans found that Carbone’s allegations were sufficient to establish that CNN was acting “recklessly with regard to accuracy.”

 

Dr. Michael Black

Oftedal, in his order, repeatedly referenced the Carbone decision in denying CNN’s motion to dismiss.

The pediatric cardiac surgery program at St. Mary’s shut down and Carbone resigned following CNN’s June 1, 2015, story titled, “Secret Deaths: CNN Finds High Surgical Death Rate for Children at a Florida Hospital.”

As reported by The Palm Beach Post in several stories, the data used in CNN’s report that St. Mary’s sported a death rate of infants in the unit three times the national average was widely disputed by the hospital and the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration. St. Mary’s said at the time that CNN failed to use risk-adjusted data in determining the death rate.

St. Mary’s, owned by Tenet Healthcare, said CNN missed numerous operations and procedures in its analysis.

Black has gone further, saying in court CNN purposefully manipulated the data in order to justify its narrative.

After the criticism, CNN published a story on its methodology as the statistics took center stage, overshadowing the parents featured in the story and a report finding problems with the program by the state’s Cardiac  Technical Advisory Panel. Black is the defendant in lawsuits brought against him by parents of his tiny patients who died or who ended up crippled.

Oftedal rejected CNN’s efforts to dismiss Black’s suit by arguing that the doctor was a public figure and that it was really criticizing St. Mary’s and not the physician. He didn’t buy CNN’s argument that the sensationalized headlines used in the story were just “rhetorical hyperbole” and protected free speech.

The judge noted CNN reported that Black made a “total mess of the babies,” juxtaposing the phrase with the doctor’s photograph.

 

 

Breakthrough: new vaccines take aim at mosquito-borne illness


A vaccine to combat the Zika virus is now undergoing clinical testing.

And in Africa, people will actually start receiving the world’s first vaccine against malaria next year which the World Health Organization claims will save tens of thousands of lives.

To work, the vaccine needs to be given once a month for three months with a fourth dose 18 months later. The three countries involved in the trial are Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and involve more than 750,000 children between the ages of 5 and 17 months, according to the BBC.

“The world’s first malaria vaccine is a real achievement that has been 30 years in the making,” said Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance which is helping to fund the study.

“Malaria places a terrible burden on many of the world’s poorest countries, claiming thousands of lives and holding back economies.”

The Palm Beach Post on this blog reported earlier this month that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has announced that vaccination trials have begun using an experimental DNA serum.

The trial aims to enroll at least 2,490 healthy participants in areas of confirmed or potential active mosquito-transmitted Zika infection, including the continental United States and Puerto Rico, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, and Mexico.

“A safe and effective Zika vaccine is urgently needed to prevent the often-devastating birth defects that can result from Zika virus infection during pregnancy,” NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci said on March 31.

“Evidence also is accumulating that Zika can cause a variety of health problems in adults as well. This trial marks a significant milestone in our efforts to develop countermeasures for a pandemic in progress.”

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention released a report that 15 of infants were born with birth defects in pregnancies with a confirmed Zika virus infection in the first trimester. “These findings highlight why pregnant women should avoid Zika virus exposure,” the report stated.

The CDC suggest that because the full effects of the virus are unknown, all pregnant women infected with Zika should receive postnatal imaging and a comprehensive newborn physical exam and hearing screen.

Free HIV testing available today in Palm Beach County and Treasure Coast

Planned Parenthood in South Florida is offering free HIV testing today at four locations.

“Many times people cannot afford the cost of an STD test and since Florida continues to lead the nation in new HIV infections, this is a great opportunity to get tested,” said Christina Noce, spokeswoman for the organization.

Testing is available at three locations until 5 p.m.:

  • Stuart Health Center at 1322 NW Federal Highway in Stuart.
  • West Palm Beach Health Center at 931 Village Boulevard, Suite 904 in West Palm Beach.
  • Wellington Health Center at 10111 Forest Hill Boulevard, Suite 340 in Wellington.
Shutterstock

The Boca Raton Health Center at 8177 Glades Road., Suite 25  will offer free testing until 7 p.m.

HIV rates have been on the uptick in South Florida in recent years. Miami has had the second highest new rate of infection in the nation.

One reason, health officials say, is that the disease is no longer a death sentence but manageable through medication.

In a story last year, the Palm Beach Post reported that the increase is a dating landscape dominated by social hookup apps are not helping matters.

“These sites are just meant to hook up and have anonymous sex, and that is very, very risky,” said Dr. Alina Alonso, director of Palm Beach County’s Health Department for the story. “You have no idea what you’re getting or who you are getting, and those are just another component of the risky behavior that is occurring.”

 

Study: diet drinks can lead to stroke, dementia

A new study shows people who drink diet sodas may be more at risk for stroke and dementia.

Have a Diet Coke and stroke.

Diet sodas — one of Americans favorite caffeine delivery systems — appears to be just as unhealthy as its sugary cousins

The Washington Post reports that a new study refutes that diet drinks are a better option than those made with sugar or corn syrup.

The new study in the journal Stroke says people who drink diet soda are three times as likely to have a stroke or develop dementia.

“This included a higher risk of ischemic stroke, where blood vessels in the brain become obstructed and Alzheimer’s disease dementia, the most common form of dementia,” Matthew Pase, a Boston University School of Medicine neurologist told The Washington Post.

Paseo is the lead author of the study.

He stressed the study showed just a correlation and not a causation but that diet pop simply “might not be a healthy alternative.”

The study of 2,888 individuals age 45 and overlooked for the development of a stroke and 1,484 participants age 60 and older for dementia over a 10 year period.

There was no association with stroke or dementia found in a parallel study of sugary drinks.

The diet sodas used by those in the study contained the artificial sweeteners saccharin, acesulfame-K, and aspartame.

“So, the bottom line is, ‘Have more water and have less diet soda,” Christopher Gardner, director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, said in an American  Heart Association news release. “And don’t switch to real soda.”

He added: “Nobody ever said diet sodas were a health food.”


The American Beverage Association said low-calorie sweeteners have been proven safe by worldwide government safety authorities as well as hundreds of scientific studies and there is nothing in this research that counters this well-established fact.

“While we respect the mission of these organizations to help prevent conditions like stroke and dementia, the authors of this study acknowledge that their conclusions do not — and cannot — prove cause and effect,” the beverage association noted.

To read the whole Washington Post story click here.

More Americans suffering untreated mental illness, study finds

Feeling like there’s a little more mental illness out there in America these days? You are correct.

According to a new study published Monday in the journal Psychiatric Services,  Americans are more stressed, depressed and anxiety-ridden.

And even worse news is that many are unable to get the services they desperately need.

Judith Weissman is a research manager in the department of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City and lead researcher of an evaluation of federal health data.

“Mental illness is on the rise. Suicide is on the rise. And access to care for the mentally ill is getting worse,” she said.

About 3.4 percent of the U.S. population — an estimated 8.3 million American adults —  suffer from serious psychological distress Previous estimates put the number of Americans suffering from serious psychological distress at 3 percent or less, the researchers said.

Much of the distress, Weissman said, is an after-effect of the Great Recession that began in late 2007 and caused long-term emotional damage to many Americans.

Because of the Great Recession, more Americans needing psychological or psychiatric services have gone without.

“The recession seemed to have pushed the mentally ill to a point where they never recovered,” she said. “This is a very disturbing finding because of the implications of what mental illness can do to a person in terms of their ability to function and their life span.”

The study included national health data from a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 35,000 households nationwide participate each year.

“We need to increase access to care for the mentally ill,” Weissman told CBS. “We also need to put trained psychiatrists and mental health providers within the primary care setting.”

CDC: Type 2 diabetes increasing with tweens, teens

Our fast-food nation is taking a toll on our children.

Type 2 diabetes was once considered a disease mostly confined to the adult population, but the CDC says it is now firmly established in the teen and tween populations in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says in New England Journal of Medicine the increase in type 2 diabetes corresponds with the increase in childhood obesity, which has tripled since the 1970s.

Photo: Health Aiken, Creative Commons.

The study, funded by the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, found that type 2 diagnosed cases increased by 4.8 percent between from 2002 to 2012.

Type 1 diabetes is the most common form of the disease in youngsters where the pancreas produces no or too little insulin, a hormone that allows sugar to enter cells to produce energy.

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult-onset diabetes. It is characterized by high blood sugar and insulin resistance and is thought to be brought on a combination of lifestyle and genetic factors. Extra body fat makes it hard for cells to use insulin.

Those who have diabetes often have to take insulin shots to regulate their blood sugar. The disease also costs an average of $13,700 per year.

In 2012, The American Diabetes Association estimated the total costs of diagnosed diabetes was $245 — a 41 percent increase over a five-year period.

This figure represented a 41 percent increase over a five-year period.

To read more about the latest report, click here to read a Los Angeles Times report that delved into all the study’s findings.

Injecting insulin. Photo: Tess Watson, Creative Commons.