Happy Friday! Do you ever wonder what our modern-day version of bloodletting is? You know, that practice that would horrify whoever is writing the Breeze 200 years from now? You’d think protections would be in place to keep wacky theories from gaining traction these days, but they seem to persist even centuries after that bloodletting craze (probably) hastened George Washington’s death.
Anyway, as those of us in D.C. bid adieu to the days of slightly less traffic, here’s a look at what you may have missed this week.
There are reports that Purdue Pharma is going to pony up between $10 billion and $12 billion to settle the consolidated opioid case scheduled to go to trial in October. That deal would include the Sackler family paying $3 billion from its own coffers (who knows how deep those are …) and ceding control of the company. Purdue would also give its addiction treatment drugs to the public without cost. Already there are rumblings that some state attorneys general are less than pleased with the details of the settlement, though, so don’t count this as the final deal yet.
That big Purdue news came on the heels of an Oklahoma judge’s ruling that Johnson & Johnson has to pay the state $572 million for its role in the opioid crisis. The amount might seem big at first glance, but J&J’s stocks actually rallied after the news because it was far below what the company was braced to pay. The decision had been closely watched as the first of its kind, but in the end, the messages it sent were mixed. Which means everyone’s collective gaze snapped to that looming Ohio case (see above).
Meanwhile, how did a company known for Band-Aids and baby powder get so caught up in this? The New York Times takes a look at J&J’s faltering reputation.
And in case you’re interested in the legal aspects, this was a pretty cool read about the little-known doctrine making all this court action feasible.
Outrage has been growing over a new Trump administration policy that allows sick immigrant children receiving care for life-threatening conditions to be deported to their home countries, where the same treatments might not exist. Democrats blasted the change as “absolutely immoral,” calling it a death sentence for children with cancer and other diseases. “There is no national security justification for further traumatizing sick kids at their most vulnerable,” said 2020 hopeful former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I tell people, I feel like I’m signing my son’s death warrant,” said Shonell Norville, a 37-year-old from Guyana, whose son receives regular medical care to treat his seizures. In The Boston Globe’s coverage of the story, she says she fought to stay in Boston “to save him — now, just to be pushed out. How do you comprehend that?”
Cases of the mysterious vaping-related lung illness continue to climb across the country, but mostly crickets have been heard from federal public health officials. But state and local officials are stepping in. The city of Milwaukee, for one, has told all its residents to stop vaping ASAP.
The government did issue a public advisory this week about not smoking marijuana. And the CDC came out with a warning Friday advising youth, pregnant women and people who don’t currently use nicotine products not to start vaping, and to watch out for counterfeit products. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and HHS Secretary Alex Azar also aimed their warnings at teenagers and pregnant people in particular, citing the potency of modern-day products that are available as a reason to stay away. Or, as Adams said: “This ain’t your mother’s marijuana.”
Meanwhile, over in the Big Tobacco world, a reunion could be in the works between Philip Morris and Altria more than a decade after the two became separate companies. The talks have anti-smoking advocates cringing. They say a merger like that — which would bring Marlboro, IQOS and Juul under one company — would be a public health nightmare.
The Office for Civil Rights filed a notice of violation against the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington over allegations that the hospital forced a nurse to participate in an abortion. The hospital, meanwhile, said it had investigated the incident and that the notice was “not supported by the facts” of the case. At stake here? Millions of dollars in federal funding for the facility. The number of complaints into the Office for Civil Rights has skyrocketed under the Trump administration, which has been vocal about making morality protections a priority.
When it comes to million-dollar treatments, even rare diseases don’t seem all that rare when the bills start adding up. In the past, employers and unions could just shrug off the “bad luck” of having to cover an employer with such a condition, but as more miracle drugs emerge more and more unions find themselves footing costs they were never prepared to pay. In a startling example: At one point in 2018, for every hour that one of a union’s 16,000 members worked, 35 cents of his or her pay went to cover one family’s drug treatment.
For families with children who had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the announcement that Sarepta was working on a therapy for the condition brought endless hope. That is, it did for families with boys. The girls were left out in the cold.
In the miscellaneous file for the week:
• The results are in: No single gene dictates same-sex behavior. And I’d say from reading through the dozens of articles on this story, the complexity of human sexuality can be summed up by the wide array of headlines. That is to say, it’s complicated, y’all.
• If overdoing antibiotics can cause resistant bacteria to thrive … could the same theory apply to chemotherapy and malignant cancer cells? One oncologist wanted to try out a new approach to treatment rather than just flooding the body with as much chemotherapy as it could handle. (Though he sweated bullets at the thought it might not work.)
• The headlines in recent weeks have been flooded with the promise of “red flag” gun control laws as both a bipartisan goal that might actually get through Congress and something that has real-world benefits. But advocates warn that while, yes, the laws do work, they work only if supported with resources. And that often is not the case.
That’s it from me! Have a great weekend!