We’re number one, we’re number one!

Yearly overdose deaths top 100,000 for first time

Drug overdose deaths in the United States surpassed 100,000 in a 12-month period for the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday, a troubling milestone amid an already devastating period for the country…

Vermont saw the biggest rise, with a nearly 70 percent increase. Large increases were also observed in West Virginia (62 percent), Kentucky (55 percent), Louisiana (52 percent) and Tennessee (50 percent). Drug overdose deaths went down in just four states: Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey and South Dakota. South Dakota had a nearly 20 percent decrease in overdose deaths, the greatest by far.

Deaths due to opioids — mostly synthetic opioids, including fentanyl — accounted for more than 75 percent of the deaths. Deaths due to psychostimulants, predominantly methamphetamine, also increased. Cocaine accounted for slightly more deaths in 2021 than the year before, and heroin deaths decreased.

Overdose deaths are often the result of multiple drugs, Bob Anderson (NCHS) said. “They are killing people in combination, fentanyl combined with another drug such as methamphetamine or cocaine.”

Just how much of a role the stress and isolation of the pandemic played in the rising overdose deaths remains to be seen.

While the two are certainly linked, the pandemic shouldn’t be a scapegoat for an epidemic that was a major concern long before Covid, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, medical director of opioid policy research…at Brandeis University.

“Opioid addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition such that the stress or the social isolation and the inability to access support groups could have resulted in relapses in people with opioid addiction, and Covid could have made it harder for people with opioid addiction to access treatment, as well…”

“But for the past few years, opioid overdose deaths in the United States have skyrocketed. We’ve been in the midst of a severe crisis that’s getting worse and getting worse fast,” Kolodny said.

I’ve focused on similar articles, similar conclusions, off and on for decades. There is no shortage of crap excuses for addiction and concurrent overdose deaths. Every federal government for decades has one or another stash of copout excuses for not accomplishing any bloody thing.

I’d love to see something new tried. I don’t care if it’s a copycat of something that works in another country, some lone state…if there is one. Let’s get off our collective butts and do it!

Tylenol kills much more than pain

A new study suggests the popular painkiller Tylenol does more than reduce pain — it can actually reduce your ability to imagine other people’s pain. Researchers at Ohio State University conducted three experiments on college students to test whether acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and many other prescription and over-the-counter painkillers, affects users’ abilities to empathize with others who are experiencing physical or emotional pain…

In the first two studies, researchers say the college students who had consumed acetaminophen perceived significantly less suffering in others. Dominik Mischkowski, co-author of the study…believes the findings are important in understanding how popular painkillers reduce feelings of empathy…

A third experiment introduced a social gaming component to the study…Again, the group that had consumed acetaminophen rated the pain lower than the control group…

The experiment follows a series of findings about the psychological effects of Tylenol, which researchers now believe influences everything from social empathy and error detection to moral judgments.

Tylenol is considered the most deadly over-the-counter painkiller on the market. Around 78,000 Americans visit hospital emergency rooms annually to be treated for acetaminophen overdose.

Poisonally, I wouldn’t touch it with someone else’s 10-foot pole.

American gun deaths > AIDS + war + illegal drug overdoses

…During an impassioned address about the shooting at Umpqua Community College, President Obama laid out a challenge to the media. “Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side by side on your news reports,” he asked.

We’ve looked at those numbers a bit, but you can take this comparison even further: If you include all gun deaths (including homicides, suicides, and accidents), guns killed more Americans between 2001 and 2013 than terrorism, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, AIDS, and illegal drug overdoses combined:

The federal government has spent a lot of money and time trying to lower the death toll from things like car accidents and AIDS. It’s waged metaphorical wars on terrorism and drugs, and literal ones in Iraq and Afghanistan, to keep Americans safe. And yet the United States won’t take the most basic steps on the national level, such as requiring background checks on every gun sale in America, to reduce the death toll from guns.

“We spent over a trillion dollars, and passed countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so,” President Obama said in his Thursday evening statement. “And yet we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?

Greedy, small-minded, hate-filled cowards are capable of stopping progress dead in its tracks — as long as they are members of Congress.

Suicide becomes the leading cause of mortal injury in U. S.

Researchers from the West Virginia University School of Public Health and Injury Control Research Center found that suicide has now passed motor vehicle traffic crashes as the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States. Additionally, the disease rate has been declining while the injury rate has been rising.

The research team, led by WVU and including scientists from nine other institutions, examined changes in injury mortality and its five leading causes from 2000 through 2009…

“Suicide is now the leading cause of unintentional and violence-related injury mortality as a whole,” Dr. Ian Rockett said. “Suicide only surpassed motor vehicle traffic crashes in the final year available for the study, 2009. The suicide mortality rate was 15 percent higher in 2009 than 2000.”

In addition, the unintentional poisoning mortality rate increased by 128 percent between 2000 and 2009.

“Unintentional poisoning has risen to third among the leading causes of injury mortality, a change that appears mainly driven by the enormous increase in the rate of fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers,” Rockett said.

While motor vehicle traffic crashes still rank second as a cause of injury death, the rate decreased by 25 percent between 2000 and 2009 and is a universal success story, according to Rockett.

“Much time, attention and resources have been devoted to traffic safety,” he said. “Similar efforts will be needed for success in other spheres of injury prevention…”

The research also reported findings related to gender, race/ethnicity and age…secondhand smoke, income, any number of interesting vectors are considered in the study. As soon as it’s available to ordinary civilians like me – I look forward to reading the other interesting tidbits about changes in the way we achieve death too soon.

Two doctors charged for drugs and deaths

Two South Florida doctors involved in a pill mill operation that collected $40 million and dispensed more than 20 million pain pills within two years are facing charges in the deaths of nine people, federal prosecutors said Friday.

Officials say the physicians — Cynthia Cadet, 42, of Parkland, and Joseph Castronuovo, 72, of Key Largo — worked as vital tools in the Broward- and Palm Beach County-based operation that distributed oxycodone pills to addicts without any regard for their health.

Both face the possibility of life in prison if convicted

A 34-page indictment…attributed the deaths of nine people to oxycodone parceled out at the pill mills…

The two doctors were among 32 people arrested last year on multiple charges ranging from racketeering to fraud and illegal drug sales…Twenty-eight of those arrested have already entered guilty pleas and been sentenced…

The indictment alleges the doctors often relied on preliminary radiology reports in prescribing large quantities of drugs, and knew that many of their patients came from outside Florida, where stricter controls of the pills were in place.

Just as I’ve worked with some great lawyers in my time, I’ve worked with some wonderful doctors. Going down either road, the public leaders of both professions spend more time supporting gross incomes more often than ethical standards or progressive policies.

I blame them as much as this corrupt pair on trial in Florida.

Throw away the key.

More Americans OD on drugs or poison themselves than are killed in car crashes

In 2008, for the first time in nearly 30 years, more people died of poisoning than in car crashes. Poisoning is now the leading cause of injury death, and 90 percent of poisonings were caused by drugs.

An analysis published last week by the National Center for Health Statistics found that opioid painkillers like morphine, hydrocodone (sold as Vicodin and other brands) and oxycodone (Percocet and other brands) were involved in more than 40 percent of drug poisonings in 2008. These drugs were implicated in more poisoning deaths than heroin or cocaine.

Opioid analgesics accounted for 14,800 of the 36,500 fatal drug poisonings in 2008. About 12,400 people died after taking other kinds of drugs, and for 25 percent of the cases where drugs were listed as a cause of death, no specific drug was mentioned…

Non-Hispanic whites had higher rates of death from drugs than Hispanics, and rates among African-Americans were lower than both.

In 30 states, poisoning is the leading cause of injury death. New Mexico, West Virginia, Alaska, Nevada and Utah have the highest rates in the country…

According to the article, more than five million Americans in 2009-10 reported using pain relievers without a prescription or only for the feeling they caused.

It’s a wonderful life, eh?

Doctor and nurse practitioner charged in overdose deaths

A former Needham doctor and his nurse practitioner caused the overdose deaths of at least six people they knew to be drug-addicted by systematically prescribing them medically unnecessary painkillers in order to make a profit, according to charges handed up in federal court in Boston.

Dr. Joseph P. Zolot, a specialist in nonsurgical orthopedics, and nurse practitioner Lisa M. Pliner were indicted on charges of conspiring to illegally distribute controlled substances — including methadone, oxycodone, and fentanyl — and six counts each of distribution of controlled substances resulting in deaths. If convicted, they each face a mandatory sentence of 20 years to life in prison.

Law enforcement officials said it is one of the most significant cases of medical misconduct to reach a criminal court anywhere in the country.

“The conduct alleged in today’s indictment is incomprehensible,’’ US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said. “I hope it sends a strong message that the government will aggressively prosecute any medical professional who facilitates the distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs purely for financial gain.’’

Well, not any more incomprehensible than the pill factories masquerading as medical practices in Florida.

The indictment alleges that Zolot and Pliner knew their patients were addicted to drugs, including street drugs such as cocaine, but prescribed medically unnecessary painkillers in exchange for cash or payments from insurance companies. Authorities say patients then overdosed on those drugs, causing their own deaths…

“The deaths alleged by the government in [the] indictments are horrible tragedies; so too is the fact the government has chosen to charge Dr. Zolot with criminal conduct for the manner in which he practiced medicine and treated patients,’’ David Meier [Zolot’s lawyer] said. “His intent was to do good as a doctor. It was never his intent to cause harm, never mind death, to any patient…”

The prescription of painkillers for certain medical conditions is allowed even if the patient is a known addict — but only if the patient and the potential for abuse are monitored, according to standard medical procedures.

In this case, prosecutors said, the duo handed out an extraordinary number of prescriptions in blatant disregard for their patients’ safety, all for a profit.

“A license to practice is not a license to deal, and that is precisely what is alleged in this indictment,’’ said Steve Derr, special agent in charge of the Boston office of the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

RTFA. The details of the deaths in the case are there. I’m really of two minds about the case – not knowing any details, whether the accusations are true or false.

I’ve known physicians who prescribed painkillers for addicts. As the law states, there can be sound medical reasons for doing so. There’s also no shortage of doctors who pick up an easy buck prescribing for doctor-shoppers looking for a quick fix. I will follow the trial.

What 1st Amendment?

The Schneiders with Siobhan Reynolds
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Last week, I asked a lawyer from a libertarian group for a copy of a brief it had filed in a First Amendment case. Sounding frustrated and incredulous, he said a federal appeals court had sealed the brief and forbidden its distribution.

“It’s a profound problem,” said the lawyer, Paul M. Sherman, with the Institute for Justice. “We want to bring attention to important First Amendment issues but cannot share the brief that most forcefully makes those arguments.”

The brief was filed in support of Siobhan Reynolds, an activist who thinks the government is too aggressive in prosecuting doctors who prescribe pain medications.

The Institute for Justice does not represent Ms. Reynolds, and it is not a party in the case. Its submission, made with a second libertarian group, Reason Foundation, was an amici curiae — or friends of the court — brief. It relied only on publicly available materials.

But it was sealed by the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, citing grand jury secrecy rules. The court then denied the groups’ motion to unseal their own brief. That ruling itself is sealed, too, but I have seen parts of it…

The brief paints an unflattering picture of the United States attorney’s office in Kansas, which may have overreacted to Ms. Reynolds’s adamant public defense of two medical professionals, Stephen J. Schneider and his wife, Linda K. Schneider, who were indicted in 2007 for illegally distributing prescription painkillers to patients who overdosed on them.

In 2008, Tanya J. Treadway, a federal prosecutor, asked the judge in the Schneiders’ case to prohibit Ms. Reynolds, who is not a lawyer and had no formal role in the case, from making “extrajudicial statements.” In the vernacular, Ms. Treadway asked for a gag order.

Judge Monti L. Belot of Federal District Court in Wichita denied that request, saying Ms. Treadway was seeking an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech…

RTFA. An amazing tale of the lengths a prosecutor can and will go to to impose a gag order.

Ms. Reynolds has not only been gagged – and subject to daily fines – the gag has been upheld by a secret court hearing. The grand jury procedure was used to silence critics and maintain secret proceedings.

The merits of the original case are not the question. Judges and prosecutors who hold their actions as above the law and sacrosanct are at cross-purposes to free speech and transparency.

Caffeine made me kill my wife! Uh-huh.

A Kentucky man accused of strangling his wife is poised to claim excessive caffeine from sodas, energy drinks and diet pills left him so mentally unstable he couldn’t have knowingly killed her…

Woody Will Smith, 33, is scheduled for trial starting today on a murder charge in the May 2009 death of Amanda Hornsby-Smith, 28.

Defense attorney Shannon Sexton filed notice with the Newport court of plans to argue his client ingested so much caffeine in the days leading up to the killing that it rendered him temporarily insane — unable even to form the intent of committing a crime…

A legal strategy invoking caffeine intoxication is unusual but has succeeded at least once before, in a case involving a man cleared in 2009 of charges of running down and injuring two people with a car in Washington state…

I am never surprised over silly-ass defenses accepted as legit by a court. Responsibility for your own acts, decisions, means nothing.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, said their own expert may testify there was no evidence Smith had consumed diet pills or energy drinks as he claimed before his wife died.

Prosecutor Michelle Snodgrass said Smith tested negative for amphetamine-type substances shortly after the killing…

Reports and case records say during that time, he was drinking five or six soft drinks and energy drinks a day, along with taking diet pills; it all added up to more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — published by the American Psychiatric Association showing standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders — defines overdose as more than 300 mg. That’s about three cups of coffee.

More than three cups of coffee classifies you as loony, overdosed on coffee?

Har! That explains the behavior of half the geeks in the world.

Patients at serious risk after hospitals overdose CT scans

When Alain Reyes’s hair suddenly fell out in a freakish band circling his head, he was not the only one worried about his health. His co-workers at a shipping company avoided him, and his boss sent him home, fearing he had a contagious disease.

Only later would Mr. Reyes learn what had caused him so much physical and emotional grief: he had received a radiation overdose during a test for a stroke at a hospital in Glendale, Calif.

Other patients getting the procedure, called a CT brain perfusion scan, were being overdosed, too — 37 of them just up the freeway at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, 269 more at the renowned Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and dozens more at a hospital in Huntsville, Ala.

The overdoses, which began to emerge late last summer, set off an investigation by the Food and Drug Administration into why patients tested with this complex yet lightly regulated technology were bombarded with excessive radiation. After 10 months, the agency has yet to provide a final report on what it found.

But an examination by The New York Times has found that radiation overdoses were larger and more widespread than previously known, that patients have reported symptoms considerably more serious than losing their hair, and that experts say they may face long-term risks of cancer and brain damage.

The review also offers insight into the way many of the overdoses occurred. While in some cases technicians did not know how to properly administer the test, interviews with hospital officials and a review of public records raise new questions about the role of manufacturers, including how well they design their software and equipment and train those who use them…

Officials there said they intentionally used high levels of radiation to get clearer images, according to an inquiry by the company that supplied the scanners, GE Healthcare.

Experts say that is unjustified and potentially dangerous

RTFA. The scary bits persist. The incompetence of hospital administrators and staff in charge of procedures is matched by the carelessness of technology firms who apparently figured that folks would RTFM. And that would be good enough.

It ain’t.