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Brainstorm Health: Opioid Emergency, Virtual Brain Cells, Celgene Tanks, Obamacare Poll

October 26, 2017, 5:40 PM UTC

Greetings, readers! This is Sy.

President Donald Trump will announce he’s declaring the opioid epidemic an official “public health emergency” in a speech Thursday, following through on a long-expected action. But Trump’s directive to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is a bit different from the “national emergency” he indicated he would be declaring during a speech in August. And that has some state officials and medical experts arguing that, while the move is a definite step in the right direction, it falls short of what’s necessary to combat the opioid crisis, since a jolt of new federal funding won’t automatically be deployed to states and counties.

With a public health emergency declaration, states and HHS will be able to use certain grant money and redirect existing funds to tackle prescription opioid painkiller and heroin addiction. The move will also loosen certain regulations—for instance, by making it easier to expand telemedicine addiction-fighting services—to facilitate new programs.

Those are important measures, according to addiction advocacy groups. But the funding element will be key; and without a “national emergency” declaration as was recommended by Trump’s own opioid commission, that money will have to be appropriated by Congress, frustrating some experts.

“The Administration’s declaration of a public health emergency is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough,” said Jonah Frohlich, managing director at health policy and business advisory firm Manatt Health, in a statement. “More funding is absolutely vital to support city and county programs to confront the fallout from substance use disorders.”

The Trump administration argues that a national emergency isn’t completely necessary, and that new funding to help locales fight opioids may be part of a Congressional spending deal. But there are also two important executive vacancies that will likely have to be filled before meaningful national action takes place: a permanent Secretary of Health and Human Services (following former Secretary Tom Price’s resignation) and a drug czar who would coordinate relevant strategies across the country (Trump’s previous nominee, Rep. Tom Marino, withdrew his name from consideration last week).

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


U.S. scientists recreate human brain cells with computers. Here's a cool sentence: Scientists at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle have been able to create virtual human brain cell reconstructions that mimic not only the biological structure and anatomy of living cells, but also the kinds of electrical impulses they send. They were able to do this by studying brain tissue that usually gets thrown out during surgery, and the advancement could help model how brain cells act under neurological diseases. (NPR)


Celgene tanks 20% on forecast cut, string of bad news. Biotech giant Celgene added to its rough streak Thursday as the company announced it was cutting its long-term earning forecast through 2020 and ramping up discounts on a key drug because of intense competition from rivals. Sales also fell a bit below Wall Street expectations in the third quarter of 2017—and all of this follows a significant setback for the company's experimental pipeline. Last week, Celgene dumped a key experimental drug for Crohn's disease called mongersen following a late-stage trial failure. Celgene's stock was down 20% in Thursday trading.


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