Brainstorm Health: Opioid Bill Passed, NFL Players’ Boycott, Teen Marijuana Vaping

September 18, 2018, 8:39 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers. This is Sy.

Something strange happened in Congress on Monday… Lawmakers came together to overwhelmingly pass a piece of reform legislation.

In this case, the legislation was what many deemed a no-brainer—an opioid bill aiming to stymie the scourge of addiction and record opioid-related overdose deaths that have haunted Americans public health over the past decade. The so-called Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 flew through the Senate on a 99-1 vote Monday, a few months after the House of Representatives passed its own opioid bill in June (the differences between the two bills will have to be reconciled, though Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee chair Lamar Alexander said he hopes to have a final deal unveiled by Friday).

Some might consider this a long-overdue, and welcome, show of bipartisan resolve in the face of a national public health emergency. A more cynical take may point to the fact that legislators from red and blue districts alike badly want to tout some progress—any progress—on the federal level to fight the opioid epidemic, which fueled a staggering all-time high of 72,000 American drug overdose deaths in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s a crisis that cuts sharply across partisan lines.

Regardless, it’s important to explore exactly what the current legislation would (and wouldn’t) do. The bill would, for instance, ramp up efforts to crack down on mailed shipments of deadly substances like fentanyl—the potent opioid that’s made for a growing share of overdose deaths—and includes incentives to promote non-opioid pain treatments.

Those are common sense goals. But, as Politico reports, groups like the National Council for Behavioral Health question how effective they’ll be without long-term, robust funding to fix critical shortfalls such as a lack of sufficient inpatient rehab beds or incentives to push doctors to prescribe opioid addiction treatments.

All parties involved do seem to agree on one thing: Whatever form of the opioid bill that reaches President Trump’s desk will just be the next step in fighting the public health scourge, not the last word.

Read on for the day’s news.


AliveCor hits back with a new ECG reader. The new Apple Watch may come with an ECG reader—but AliveCor wants to up the ante. The company—which had the actual first over-the-counter and commercially available heart sensor via its KardiaBand device—says that it's coming out with a electrocardiogram with six leads (rather than the conventional medical grade standard of 12 leads, but six times as many as the Apple Watch's single-lead system). Theoretically, such a system could help detect a far wider range of heart conditions than just atrial fibrillation (which is what Apple's device is cleared to suss out). (TechCrunch)


AbbVie stock sinks following CA insurance commish suit. Shares of biotech giant AbbVie slumped 3% in Tuesday trading after California's insurance commissioner accused the firm of giving health care providers kickbacks in exchange for prescribing its flagship treatment Humira in a lawsuit. According to the suit, AbbVie gave doctors numerous incentives to prescribe Humira (including free trips and cash); the drug is AbbVie's cornerstone product and is particularly critical to the company's future given early mixed signals for its experimental drug pipeline. AbbVie is adamantly denying the CA Department of Insurance's allegations, which it says are "without merit." (CNBC)


DOJ clears Cigna-Express Scripts deal. The Department of Justice on Monday reportedly gave the green light to insurer Cigna's proposed acquisition of pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts, the companies said. The $54 billion cash-and-stock deal could now theoretically close by the end of the year; it has received the blessing of federal regulators and state insurance departments in 16 jurisdictions. (Wall Street Journal)

Teen marijuana vaping stats on a high. Here's the thing about new markets and products—you never really know just where they'll go. In the case of easy-to-use, easily-available, and relatively discreet marijuana vaping devices, though, the results may not be much of a surprise: One in 11 teenagers have used a marijuana vaping device, according to new research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. That's based on a survey of more than 20,000 teens; the results were self-reported, meaning there's a decent chance the real figures are actually much higher. (Fortune)


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