Brainstorm Health: Doctor Opioid Letters, Suboxone Suit, Sperm Count Debate

Good afternoon, readers. This is Sy.

Here at Brainstorm Health Daily, we home in on the latest technological innovations in medicine—the stuff of sci-fi, like gene editing, implantable medicines, digital apps that can be used to treat disease, and other, well, awesome stuff of that ilk.

But sometimes, in the midst of all the coolness, it’s possible to gloss over the old-school, low-tech things that can make a practical difference in public health and the culture of medicine itself—including in as pervasive and challenging a scourge as the opioid addiction and overdose epidemic.

Case in point: A new study from researchers and doctors at USC, the Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, and the Department of the Medical Examiner-Coroner of Los Angeles County found that the most basic of techniques—a good, old-fashioned letter—can make a dent in the way that physicians prescribe addictive opioids.

“A simple letter, supportive in tone, to inform clinicians of a scheduled drug harm to their patient resulted in fewer subsequent opioids dispensed by those clinicians,” wrote the study authors, adding that, so far, “traditional state regulatory approaches to limiting opioid prescribing have not achieved great success.”

Admittedly, the overall effect of these letters, highly personal missives from the families of opioid victims, were modest. But by no means were they negligible, according to the study. In fact, doctors informed of patient deaths through these personal communications were 7% less likely to prescribe opioids for new patients, and less likely to prescribe high-dose opioid painkillers, over the course of the next three months compared to those who didn’t. It may not sound like much, but in the midst of a scourge claiming tens of thousands of lives every year, the public health effect isn’t something to be easily brushed aside.

Read on for the day’s news.


Health care breaches stem from repeat offenders. Healthcare IT News reports a striking statistic: of the 142 health care data breaches in the second quarter of 2018, a full 30% were perpetrated by repeat offenders. “If an individual healthcare employee breaches patient privacy once, there is a greater than 30 percent chance that they will do so again in three months’ time, and a greater than 66 percent chance they will do so again in a years’ time,” wrote the authors of the latest Protenus Breach Barometer report. (Healthcare IT News)


DOJ joins lawsuit against Suboxone marketers. The Department of Justice has joined a number of whistleblower lawsuits against Indivior Plc and Reckitt Benckiser Group, claiming that the pharma companies employed deceptive marketing practices in an attempt to sell the opioid addiction drug Suboxone. The British firms have reportedly already set aside money in preparation for settling the disputes; in response to the new DOJ action, Indivior said: "We have been cooperating with the DOJ in its investigation for several years, and we remain in advanced discussions about a possible resolution that would render any suit by the department unnecessary." (Reuters)


Boxers or briefs? Ah, the age old question... Boxers, or briefs? A new study is fueling the debate, albeit with a slight twist: Might boxers be better for men's sperm counts? There's some controversy over the research published in the journal Human Reproduction, which found lower sperm counts in those who wear tighter underwear. Ultimately, things may boil down to a question of, uh, body heat. But critics say that much larger studies would be needed to definitively come to a conclusion about underwear choice and its effect on sperm count. (NPR)


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