US Legislators Take a Scattered Approach to Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome

 woman holding newborn

By J. Alexander Short

Pennsylvania is the latest state to enact legislation in reaction to the growing impact the opioid epidemic has on infants. Governor Tom Wolf signed H.B. 1232 in June, effectively requiring hospital officials to notify child protective services when children are born affected by the mother’s substance abuse or affected by withdrawal symptoms as a result of prenatal drug exposure.

Such outcomes generally fall within the parameters of neonatal abstinence syndrome (“NAS”), a group of health problems that occur in newborns who were exposed to drugs while in the mother’s womb.  This legislation brings Pennsylvania into full compliance with the 2003 Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

This legislative response makes sense.

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Are we speaking the same language? An alphabet soup of acronyms in the opioid epidemic

By Stephen Wood

Medication Replacement Therapy (MRT), Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT). Opioid Substitution Treatment (OST). Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT). Opioid Agonist Therapy (OAT). This confusing array of acronyms are all terms that have made their way into the dictum of patients, healthcare providers, policy leaders, politicians and journalists —and new ones pop up every day.

Buprenorphine Enabled Recovery Pathway (BERP) is one I just came up with but could just as easily make its way into the menagerie of acceptable buzzwords for using an agonist-antagonist (or other drug) for the treatment of substance use disorder.

It doesn’t stop there.

Safe Consumption Facilities (SCF), Safer Injection Facilities (SIF), another SIF in Supervised Injection Facilities, Supervised Injection Sites (SIS), Medically Supervised Injection Sites (MSIS), and Drug Consumption Sites (DCS) only begin to round out the list of areas that people who use intravenous drugs can go to use in a safe, clean and supported environment.

We see these terms bantered about in the media, among healthcare providers, legislators and policy makers. We hear them from patients with SUD, their families as well as advocate organizations. These terms are in published research reports and clinical studies. To even the savviest person though, it is a confusing alphabet soup of acronyms that are all trying to describe an array of programs, possibly something similar or maybe even the same.

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After Julie Eldred, Considering Addiction as Disease or Choice

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that relapse could be a violation of parole.

By Chris Hutchison-Jones

Is substance addiction a choice or a disease?

In the recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in the case of the Commonwealth vs. Julie A Eldred judges had to consider this question.

But they came to the wrong conclusion.

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Introduction to “Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law”

By Wendy E. Parmet and Jennifer Lea Huer

We are pleased to host this symposium featuring commentary from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series will be available here.

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The Healing Potential of Medical-Legal Partnerships

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Tamar Ezer

As we grapple with today’s social ills and Diseases of Despair such as the opioid crisis, violence and suicide, medical-legal partnerships (MLPs), can potentially provide a powerful healing combination.

MLPs, which integrate legal services into health care, have several important strengths.

They embrace a holistic approach to health, addressing not just biological factors, but also social determinants, such as access to housing or freedom from violence. They bring access to justice to communities. People need not go out to seek legal support, but can find services at a one-stop shop for multiple, intersecting needs. MLPs help address legal issues early, preventing problems and intervening before there is an eviction or utilities are shut off.

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Many State Laws Undermine Harm Reduction Strategies in the Opioid Crisis

A protest sign seen at an ACT UP demonstration. Syringe exchange programs are a harm reduction policy that could have an impact on the opioid crisis. (Photo by riekhavoc/flickr)

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Aila Hoss

Despite the increase in rates of opioid overdose death since 1999, the Opioid Use Disorder crisis shows little signs of abating. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that overdose death rates have continued to climb in recent years. These sobering reports, along with others highlighting the impact of the crisis on children and families, the increase in methamphetamine and cocaine use, and the economic costs to businesses, communities and our healthcare system remind us that “opioid addiction isn’t the disease; it’s the symptom.”

There is “no easy fix” to the social and economic determinants of health, such as poverty and housing insecurity, that are fueling this crisis. However, there are actionable, discrete, evidence-based policy measures that can be taken to reduce the rates of overdose deaths via harm reduction strategies.

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Reports on the Opioid Crisis are Full of Misidentified Problems and Poorly Calibrated Solutions

Photo by striatic/flickr

This post is part of a symposium from speakers and participants of Northeastern University School of Law’s annual health law conference, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law, organized by the Center for Health Policy and Law.

All the posts in the series are available here.

By Nicolas Terry

The epidemic associated with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) has birthed a proliferation of reports, many with notable provenance. They include the Surgeon General’s Report (2016), the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis (2017),  and the National Governors Association Recommendations for Federal Action to End the Nation’s Opioid Crisis (2018). We can add innumerable regional and state reports to that list.

Placed next to each other, their recommendations are broadly similar. While they may differ somewhat to the extent that they emphasize criminalization versus medicalization, overall, they tend to coalesce around harm reduction (such as broad naloxone availability and syringe exchanges), upstream opioid reduction strategies (such as prescription limits and prescription drug monitoring programs), and increased public health surveillance based on improved data collection and analysis.

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Buprenorphine and Naloxone Legislative Restrictions: A Compromise Towards Harm Reduction

Limiting access to MAT can result in patient harm. Improving access using a bridge therapy model may help save lives.

There were approximately 64,000 deaths from opioid overdose in 2016, including deaths from both prescription and illicit drugs. The incidence of opioid overdose has continued to escalate despite a number of efforts. Increasing treatment beds, limiting opioid prescriptions, distribution of naloxone and other efforts have not demonstrated a significant impact on non-medical opioid use or on opioid-related deaths.

The continuing rise in opioid overdose and overdose death has resulted in the declaration by the current executive administration of the opioid epidemic as a “Public Health Emergency”.

Medication assisted treatment (MAT) with agents such as methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone has been demonstrated to be one of the more effective measures in the reduction in high-risk opioid use among individuals with substance abuse disorder. Specifically, treatment with buprenorphine/naloxone has demonstrated efficacy in harm reduction with the advantage of a reduced potential for abuse, a safer therapeutic profile than alternatives, and it can be safely prescribed in the outpatient setting. Use of this therapeutic however, is currently restricted to only certain licensed providers in certain clinical settings, limiting access to this important life-saving intervention.

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The Need for Institutional, Individual and Community Based Responses to the Opioid Crisis

By John Alexander Short

Panelists discussed responses to the opioid crisis during a recent webinar.

Dr. Monica Bharel, the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Health, recently hosted a webinar panel to discuss the many consequences of the modern opioid epidemic on families.

Hosted jointly by the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and The Forum at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the event also included Dr. Stephen Patrick, Dr. Karen Remley, and Dr. Michael Warren who joined Bharel for a talk titled “State Health Leadership: Understanding & Responding to the Lifelong Effects of Opioid Exposure for Infants, Children & Families.”

The discussion offered insight into the complex nature of addiction and the need to understand the disease to craft effective solutions.

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What is in America’s Medicine Cabinet? Everything.

By Stephen P. Wood

pills

Prescriptions should never be the first option for healtcare providers. (mpcaphotos/Flickr)

There were 240 million opioid prescriptions in the U.S. in 2016, a number that accounts for about 30 percent of the world’s opioid prescriptions, and is enough for one opioid prescription for every adult American.

Experts believe the overprescribing of opioids is at least somewhat responsible for the current opioid crisis. This led to a national discussion around prescribing stewardship, as well as the development of policy and regulation with regard to opioid prescribing. Included among this have been limits on the duration of therapy, partial fills, and requirements that providers access their state’s prescription monitoring program before prescribing. These policies have had some success and there has been a decline in the number of opioid prescriptions in the last several years.

This should be good news, but unfortunately, opioids aren’t the only thing filling America’s medicine cabinets. Looking again at 2016, there were more than 190,000 kilos of amphetamines, drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, produced for consumption in the United States. The estimates are that about 16 million adults and more than 3.5 million children are taking these stimulants.

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NIMBYism continues to factor into supervised injection site policies

supervised injection site

Insite, in Vancouver, Canada, is a supervised injection facility. (Screengrab via HCLU/Vimeo)

By Daniel Goldberg

As a major tool in harm reduction policy connected to opioid and substance misuse, more than 30 states have implemented syringe exchange programs, or SEPs.

Surmounting or, in many cases, bypassing the considerable legal and political obstacles has proved a challenge for states, whether they succeeded in enacting SEPs or not. While, given the opioid crisis, SEPs are more important than ever, they do have limitations.

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Prescription Monitoring Programs: HIPAA, Cybersecurity and Privacy

By Stephen P. Wood

Privacy, especially as it relates to healthcare and protecting sensitive medical information, is an important issue. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, better know as HIPAA, is a legislative action that helps to safeguard personal medical information. This protection is afforded to individuals by the Privacy Rule, which dictates who can access an individual’s medical records, and the Security Rule, which ensures that electronic medical records are protected.

Access to someone’s healthcare records by a medical provider typically requires a direct health care-related relationship with the patient in question. For example, if you have a regular doctor, that doctor can access your medical records. Similarly, if you call your doctor’s office off-hours, the covering doctor, whom may have no prior relationship with you, may similarly access these records. The same holds true if you go to the emergency department or see a specialist. No provider should be accessing protected information however, without a medical need.

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What is the Role of the Judiciary in Tackling the Opioid Epidemic?

By Ryan J. Duplechin

The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has centralized suits in the Northern District of Ohio.

As waves of opioid lawsuits have mounted in the federal courts, one district court was chosen to shepherd all the cases, and one judge is motivated to step up to stem the tide of the epidemic.

In the Northern District of Ohio, Judge Dan A. Polster was chosen by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which centralized hundreds of suits, and created the Opioid MDL.

“The federal court is probably the least likely branch of government to try and tackle [the opioid epidemic], but candidly, the other branches of government, federal and state, have punted,” said Judge Polster during the first hearing of the MDL in January. “My objective is to do something meaningful to abate this crisis and to do it in 2018.”

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Hepatitis C Virus Infection: Another Consequence of the Opioid Epidemic

By Stephen P. Wood

And increase in diagnosis of the hepatitis C virus increase goes hand in hand with the opioid epidemic. (Zerbor/Thinkstock)

The opioid epidemic and the toll it is taking is on American lives has resulted in the declaration of a public health emergency by the Trump administration.

There were 42,000 deaths from suspected opioid overdose in 2016, more than in any previous year to date. These deaths illuminate the direct impact of the epidemic, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Hepatitis C is another epidemic that goes increasingly hand-in-hand with the opioid crisis, and is likely to take a long-term toll on American lives as well. Intravenous drug use accounts for approximately 80 percent of new cases of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection in the United States, and without intervention these numbers could continue to climb. Continue reading

As opioid overdose numbers rise, so does the cost of naloxone 

naloxone overdose reversal kit

Photo via bcgovphotos/Flickr

By Stephen P. Wood

Naloxone is an opioid-receptor antagonist. In other words, it has the ability to displace an opioid from the receptor site, and essentially reverse its activity to save overdose victims. However, a significant increase in the cost of naloxone has put it out of reach of the people who need it most.

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Taking a Humanitarian Approach to the Opioid Epidemic

By Stephen P. Wood 

The opioid epidemic has been declared a public health emergency, allowing for access to public health funding, in an effort to raise awareness and deploy public health initiatives. This declaration was in response to the growing numbers of overdoses and overdose deaths in the United States.

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Insurers are making it harder for me to treat my opioid-addicted patients

By Brian Barnett, via the Washington Post

Brian Barnett is an addiction psychiatry fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. On February 28, 2018, he was participated in the panel discussion Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred” at Harvard Law School. 

I’m an addiction specialist, and my voice-mail inbox is always nearly full. Some messages are from desperate individuals looking for outpatient treatment or help finding a detoxification program. Others are from patients needing a letter confirming their treatment for a child-custody dispute or care providers informing me that my patients have been hospitalized.

It’s hard to know what to expect, but invariably one type of message awaits: voice mails from pharmacies informing me that a patient’s insurance provider will not approve payment for the medication to treat their opioid addiction unless I obtain prior authorization from the insurer.  Continue reading

Facebook Should ‘First Do No Harm’ When Collecting Health Data

By Mason Marks

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was reported that Facebook planned to partner with medical organizations to obtain health records on thousands of users. The plans were put on hold when news of the scandal broke. But Facebook doesn’t need medical records to derive health data from its users. It can use artificial intelligence tools, such as machine learning, to infer sensitive medical information from its users’ behavior. I call this process mining for emergent medical data (EMD), and companies use it to sort consumers into health-related categories and serve them targeted advertisements. I will explain how mining for EMD is analogous to the process of medical diagnosis performed by physicians, and companies that engage in this activity may be practicing medicine without a license.

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress about his company’s data collection practices. Many lawmakers that questioned him understood that Facebook collects consumer data and uses it to drive targeted ads. However, few Members of Congress seemed to understand that the value of data often lies not in the information itself, but in the inferences that can be drawn from it. There are numerous examples that illustrate how health information is inferred from the behavior of social media users: Last year Facebook announced its reliance on artificial intelligence to predict which users are at high risk for suicide; a leaked document revealed that Facebook identified teens feeling “anxious” and “hopeless;” and data scientists used Facebook messages and “likes” to predict whether users had substance use disorders. In 2016, researchers analyzed Instagram posts to predict whether users were depressed. In each of these examples, user data was analyzed to sort people into health-related categories.

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TOMORROW! Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred

Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred
February 28, 2018 5:15 PM – 7:15 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1023
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Is addiction a disease? And does it matter for the criminal law? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court now faces these questions in the potentially landmark case, Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred. The Court must decide if it is constitutional for the criminal justice system to require addicted offenders to remain drug free. Is this requirement like asking a patient in cancer remission not to get cancer again? Or is it simply requiring someone to make better decisions? As the country faces an opioid epidemic, the case has drawn national attention.

Join us at Harvard Law School for a conversation with key legal and scientific experts involved in the case. Confirmed participants include: defense attorney Lisa Newman-Polk, and psychologist Dr. Gene Heyman, scientific expert in support of the Commonwealth.

Part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Learn more about the event here!

NEW EVENT! Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred

Addiction, Neuroscience, and the Criminal Law: Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred
February 28, 2018 5:15 PM – 7:15 PM
Wasserstein Hall, Room 1023
Harvard Law School, 1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

Is addiction a disease? And does it matter for the criminal law? The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court now faces these questions in the potentially landmark case, Commonwealth vs. Julie Eldred. The Court must decide if it is constitutional for the criminal justice system to require addicted offenders to remain drug free. Is this requirement like asking a patient in cancer remission not to get cancer again? Or is it simply requiring someone to make better decisions? As the country faces an opioid epidemic, the case has drawn national attention.

Join us at Harvard Law School for a conversation with key legal and scientific experts involved in the case. Confirmed participants include: defense attorney Lisa Newman-Polk, and psychologist Dr. Gene Heyman, scientific expert in support of the Commonwealth.

Part of the Project on Law and Applied Neuroscience, a collaboration between the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.

Learn more about the event here!