First Edition: March 28, 2022

Linda Rider

Today’s early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Big Pharma Is Betting On Bigger Political Ambitions From Sen. Tim Scott

Sen. Tim Scott, a rising star in the Republican Party with broad popularity in his home state of South Carolina, is getting showered with drug industry money before facing voters this fall. Scott was the top recipient of pharma campaign cash in Congress during the second half of 2021, receiving $99,000, KHN’s Pharma Cash to Congress database shows, emerging as a new favorite of the industry. Though Scott has been a perennial recipient since arriving in Congress in 2011, the latest amount is nearly twice as much as his previous highest haul. (Pradhan and Knight, 3/28)

Climate Change May Push The US Toward The ‘Goldilocks Zone’ For West Nile Virus 

Michael Keasling of Lakewood, Colorado, was an electrician who loved big trucks, fast cars, and Harley-Davidsons. He’d struggled with diabetes since he was a teenager, needing a kidney transplant from his sister to stay alive. He was already quite sick in August when he contracted West Nile virus after being bitten by an infected mosquito. Keasling spent three months in hospitals and rehab, then died on Nov. 11 at age 57 from complications of West Nile virus and diabetes, according to his mother, Karen Freeman. She said she misses him terribly. (Bailey, 3/28)

Nurse Convicted Of Neglect And Negligent Homicide For Fatal Drug Error 

Vaught was acquitted of reckless homicide. Criminally negligent homicide was a lesser charge included under reckless homicide. Vaught’s trial has been closely watched by nurses and medical professionals across the country, many of whom worry it could set a precedent of criminalizing medical mistakes. Medical errors are generally handled by professional licensing boards or civil courts, and criminal prosecutions like Vaught’s case are exceedingly rare. (Kelman, 3/25)

‘An Arm And A Leg’: A Fight For The Right To Help

Americans get sued over medical debt. A lot. And — no surprise — many folks getting sued can’t afford lawyers. But for a non-lawyer to give even basic advice in a lawsuit is a crime. Such a helper could go to jail. Some New Yorkers are waging a legal fight to change that. A nonprofit called Upsolve wants to train people like pastors, social workers, and librarians to help others understand their rights and prepare them to represent themselves in court. In the Bronx, pastor John Udo-Okon wants to be one of those helpers. (Weissmann, 3/28)

Journalists Recap Coverage Of The Ongoing Pandemic And Lead Risks In Schools’ Drinking Water 

KHN Midwest correspondent Lauren Weber discussed how the covid-19 pandemic has affected home health care and those with disabilities on WBEZ’s “Reset With Sasha-Ann Simons” on March 21. … KHN Montana correspondent Katheryn Houghton discussed the high levels of lead in drinking water across Montana schools on WBUR’s “Here and Now” on March 18. … Dr. Céline Gounder, KHN senior fellow and editor-at-large for public health, discussed the difficulty of fighting covid amid political divisions in the U.S. on WBUR’s “On Point’s Coronavirus Hours” on March 17. (3/26)

The New York Times:
Concerns Rise As A U.S. Reimbursement Fund For Testing And Treating The Uninsured For The Virus Stops Taking Claims

As the White House pleads with Republicans in Congress for emergency aid to fight the coronavirus, the federal government said that a fund established to reimburse doctors for care for uninsured Covid patients was no longer accepting claims for testing and treatment “due to lack of sufficient funds.” Some U.S. health care providers are informing uninsured people they can no longer be tested for the virus free of charge, and will have to pay for the service. (Barry, 3/28)

The Boston Globe:
Cuts To COVID-19 Testing, Treatment, And Vaccination Worry Health Care Leaders

Dr. Adam Gaffney is worried. Massachusetts is shutting most of its free COVID-19 testing sites in the coming days and the federal government will no longer pay for COVID care and vaccinations for the uninsured. While the winter’s blizzard of Omicron cases may be a fading memory for those who have peeled off their masks and moved on with their lives, the risk of COVID infection and serious complications for others remains all too real. There are still hundreds of new infections reported every day in Massachusetts, with those with chronic health problems, a weakened immune system, or not fully vaccinated or boosted most vulnerable to serious illness. (Lazar, 3/26)

ABC News:
Free COVID-19 Tests Ending For Uninsured Americans

Americans who don’t have health insurance will now start to see some of the free COVID-19 testing options disappear, even if they are showing symptoms. Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest testing companies in the country, told ABC News that patients who are not on Medicare, Medicaid or a private health plan will now be charged $125 dollars ($119 and a $6 physician fee) when using one of its QuestDirect PCR tests either by ordering a kit online or visiting one of the 1,500 Quest or major retail locations that administer the tests, such as Walmart or Giant Eagle. More than 30 million Americans had no insurance during the first half of 2021, according to CDC estimates. (Breslin, 3/26)

FDA Limits Covid Therapy As Ineffective Against Omicron BA.2 Variant

U.S. health officials on Friday stopped the further deployment of the Covid-19 treatment sotrovimab to places where the BA.2 coronavirus variant is now causing the majority of infections, given laboratory studies showing the treatment likely doesn’t work against the variant. States in New England, as well as New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, will no longer receive shipments of the monoclonal antibody therapy made by Vir Biotechnology and GSK, officials said. (Joseph, 3/25)

The New York Times:
New Antiviral Pills Help Treat Covid. Here’s How To Get Them

Earlier this month, President Biden announced an initiative called “test to treat,” which would allow people to visit hundreds of qualified pharmacy-based clinics, community health centers and long-term care facilities across the country to get tested for the coronavirus and, if positive, receive antiviral medication on the spot. Here are some of the most common questions about the new antiviral pills, and how the new program works. (Sheikh, 3/25)

CBS News:
Omicron Deaths Of Johnson & Johnson Recipients Were Double The Rate Of Other Vaccinated Americans, New Data Show

Recently published figures … suggest that COVID-19 deaths among Johnson & Johnson recipients may have peaked at more than double the rate of other vaccinated Americans during the Omicron variant wave. For the week of January 8, COVID-associated deaths among Americans who were vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson reached a rate of more than 5 out of every 100,000, according to the CDC’s figures. That’s higher than the rate among recipients of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which was around 2 deaths per 100,000 people. (Tin, 3/25)

ABC News:
Officials Expected To Offer 2nd Booster Shot For Those Over 50 Years Old 

As soon as Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could authorize COVID-19 booster shots for Americans over 50 years old, two officials familiar with the matter told ABC News, though the fourth shots are likely to be only offered and not formally recommended. The officials stressed that the details are still under discussion and could change in the next few days. (Haslett and Strauss, 3/27)

The Washington Post:
FDA Expected To Authorize Second Coronavirus Booster For 50 And Older 

The Food and Drug Administration is poised to authorize a second coronavirus vaccine booster for anyone 50 and older, a bid to provide an extra layer of protection amid concerns Europe’s rise in infections from an omicron subvariant could hit the United States, according to several government officials. The authorizations for second Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna boosters could be announced as soon as Tuesday, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss the situation. They said talks continue, and it was possible, but unlikely, that major changes could occur. (McGinley and Sun, 3/26)

USA Today:
COVID Vaccine For Kids Under 5: Will They Get Shots Before BA.2 Surge?

After enduring months of confusion and multiple setbacks, parents of young children were elated to find out Moderna plans to request the Food and Drug Administration to authorize a COVID-19 vaccine for kids under 6. Although parents welcomed the much-anticipated news, the BA.2 strain of the omicron variant continues to gain ground in the U.S., and access to these life-saving vaccines for 18 million of the nation’s youngest is still weeks away. (Rodriguez, 3/25)

Detroit Free Press:
COVID-19 Vaccines For Kids With Autism Present Challenges For Families

Autism, which affects as many as 1 in every 44 kids in the U.S., causes difficulties with communicating, social interaction and sensory processing. It can make things like wearing a mask or going to a crowded pharmacy or a vaccine clinic to get a shot challenging. Health leaders say those unique obstacles could be among the reasons the COVID-19 vaccination rate for people with autism isn’t high enough in Michigan. The state health department said it doesn’t collect that data and there isn’t even a census of the number of people in Michigan who have an autism diagnosis. But Jill Matson, health education manager for the Autism Alliance of Michigan, said the alliance has anecdotal evidence that shots aren’t getting to enough people. (Jordan Shamus, 3/28)

Supreme Court Says Navy Can Curb Deployment For Unvaccinated

A divided U.S. Supreme Court said the Navy can limit deployment and training for 35 Seals and other special operations forces who are refusing on religious grounds to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Granting a Biden administration request over three dissents, the justices partly blocked a federal judge’s order that required the Navy to assign and deploy the sailors without regard to their unvaccinated status. The order will apply while litigation over the Navy’s vaccine mandate goes forward. (Stohr, 3/25)

Fox News:
Long COVID Symptoms May Depend On The Variant A Person Contracted

Different variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, may give rise to different long COVID symptoms, according to a study that will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2022) in Lisbon next month. Italian researchers suggested that individuals who were infected with the alpha variant of the virus displayed different emotional and neurological symptoms compared to those who were infected with the original form of SARS-CoV-2, an early release from the ECCMID regarding the study. (McGorry, 3/27)

Different Variants Produce Varied Long COVID Symptoms, Study Suggests

Pre–Delta variant data to be presented next month at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) meeting in Portugal suggest that different variants of COVID-19 may produce different symptoms in people who develop long COVID. … The authors found a change in long COVID symptoms when comparing patients who had Alpha variant to those infected with the original, wild-type strain. Myalgia, insomnia, brain fog and anxiety and depression significantly increased with the Alpha strain, while anosmia (loss of smell), dysgeusia (difficulty in swallowing), and impaired hearing were less common. (3/25)

Scientists: COVID-19 May Cause Greater Damage To The Heart

Scientists now believe that COVID-19 patients suffer more than respiratory issues. Several studies have revealed that the virus can also damage the heart. For those with a heart condition, the threat is even greater. A September 2020 study found that the risk of a first heart attack increased by three to eight times in the first week after a COVID-19 infection was diagnosed. The study, published by medical journal The Lancet, followed nearly 87,000 people in Sweden infected over an eight-month period. Their risk of stroke increased up to six times. (O’Donnell, 3/27)

The Washington Post:
How Covid Brain Fog May Overlap With ‘Chemo Brain’ And Alzheimer’s 

People with “chemo brain” and covid brain fog could not seem more different: Those with “chemo brain” have a life-threatening disease for which they’ve taken toxic drugs or radiation. Many of those with covid brain fog, in contrast, describe themselves as previously healthy people who have had a relatively mild infection that felt like a cold. So when Stanford University neuroscientist Michelle Monje began studies on long covid, she was fascinated to find similar changes among patients in both groups, in specialized brain cells that serve as the organ’s surveillance and defense system. (Cha, 3/27)

Delta, Omicron COVID-19 Variants Caused More Cases In Pregnant Women

The highly transmissible Delta and Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variants caused triple and 10 times the rate of COVID-19 infections in pregnant women compared with other strains, with most cases among unvaccinated mothers and their newborns, finds a prospective study yesterday in JAMA. University of Texas researchers studied the outcomes of pregnant women diagnosed as having COVID-19 at a Dallas healthcare system. The study spanned the pre-Delta period (May 17, 2020, to Jun 26, 2021), the Delta period (Jun 27 to Dec 11, 2021), and the Omicron era (Dec 12, 2021, to Jan 29, 2022). COVID-19 vaccines became available in December 2020. (3/25)

California Schools Prepare To Spot Post-Break COVID-19 Cases

California’s 7 million students and school employees are getting free at-home COVID-19 tests to help prevent outbreaks at their school when they return from spring break. The state has shipped or delivered more than 14.3 million antigen tests, enough for two tests per person, to counties and school districts as part of a massive push to limit infections and avoid classroom closures after the break, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced Saturday. (Nguyen, 3/26)

Ducey Extends Medical Licenses, Key To Virus Emergency End 

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has signed legislation that will prevent temporary medical licenses issued under his coronavirus executive orders from immediately becoming invalid if he ends the state of emergency he issued two years ago. Friday’s action extends temporary licenses issued since the Republican governor first declared a state of emergency on March 11, 2020. They will be valid until the end of the year if they were active at the start of this month. (Christie, 3/25)

Los Angeles Times:
Guests And Crew Members Test Positive For COVID-19 Aboard Princess Cruise Ship

Passengers and crew members tested positive for COVID-19 aboard a 15-day Princess Cruise trip to the Panama Canal that returned Sunday to the Port of San Francisco. Those affected aboard the ship the Ruby Princess were either asymptomatic or showed mild symptoms of COVID-19 and were isolated and quarantined, Princess Cruises said in a statement. The cruise line did not say how many guests and crew members tested positive, or at what point in the trip they did so. The ship has since departed San Francisco for a 15-day cruise to Hawaii. (Shalby, 3/27)

Fox News:
NYC Won’t Rehire Unvaccinated Workers, Mayor Says

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Thursday that his administration would not rehire unvaccinated city workers. Around 1,400 city employees were fired earlier this year for failing to comply with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Adams said, during a news conference at Citi Field, he did not plan to rehire them. “Not at this time,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal, “We are not reviewing if we are going to bring [them] back. (Musto, 3/25)

Health Worker Shortage Forces States To Scramble

Top Hawaii officials last week received an urgent warning: If they didn’t act, the state would lose the services of hundreds of health care workers who have been essential in confronting the COVID-19 pandemic. The state had not extended a waiver of licensing requirements that had been in place for the past two years, noted Hilton Raethel, head of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which represents the state’s hospitals, skilled nursing centers, assisted living facilities and hospices. “This will place a materially increased burden on our existing workforce which has been stretched and strained dramatically during the pandemic, and we risk losing even more of our current permanent workforce which will have a significant impact on the ability of our hospitals and other healthcare institutions,” Raethel wrote to state officials. (Ollove, 3/25)

USA Today:
Caregiver Fatigue’s Signs Are Abundant, But Resources Can Be Minimal

As the world marked the two-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, research found that among the 53 million Americans serving as caregivers, many battle fatigue. More than 1 in 5 Americans are caregivers for either an adult family member or a child with special needs. The number of family caregivers has increased since 2015, and there has been an increase of nearly 8 million caregivers for adults age 50 or older, according to AARP. A study in Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine found that the pandemic worsened the burden on Americans caring for a parent, the self-rated burden increasing 3 percentage points compared with pre-pandemic scores. (Elbeshbishi, 3/27)

USA Today:
Families Suing Over COVID Nursing Home Deaths Face State Restrictions

With coronavirus cases circulating through Fair Acres Geriatric Center nursing home in June 2020, Christopher Beaty had alarming news for his family. His roommate at the Lima, Pennsylvania, nursing home had become sick with symptoms of COVID-19. Yet the roommate shared a room with Beaty for another 24 hours, continuously exposing him to the virus until he was relocated after testing positive, according to a federal lawsuit. It was too late for Beaty. The 63-year-old developed a fever and struggled to breathe. He was transferred to a nearby hospital on June 3 and tested positive for COVID-19. He died three days later. (Alltucker, 3/27)

Former Nurse Guilty Of Homicide In Medication Error Death

A former Tennessee nurse is guilty of criminally negligent homicide in the death of a patient who was accidentally given the wrong medication, a jury found Friday. She was also found guilty of gross neglect of an impaired adult in a case that has fixed the attention of patient safety advocates and nurses’ organizations around the country. RaDonda Vaught, 37, injected the paralyzing drug vecuronium into 75-year-old Charlene Murphey instead of the sedative Versed on Dec. 26, 2017. Vaught freely admitted to making several errors with the medication that day, but her defense attorney argued the nurse was not acting outside of the norm and systemic problems at Vanderbilt University Medical Center were at least partly to blame for the error. (Loller, 3/25)

Modern Healthcare:
Feds Join Lawsuit Against EHR Vendor ModMed

The federal government will intervene in a False Claims Act lawsuit against electronic health records vendor Modernizing Medicine and its co-founders that became public Friday. The lawsuit alleges the company falsely attested to complying with certification requirements for its EHR products, provided illegal kickbacks to doctors and upcoded diagnoses entered into its EHRs. The Justice Department notified the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont that it will partially intervene in the case and intends to file its own complaint within 90 days. (Goldman, 3/25)

Modern Healthcare:
Hospitals Worry As More Drugmakers Limit 340B Discounts 

UW Medicine is getting nervous about the future of its 340B discounts as more drug manufacturers restrict discounts for drugs dispensed at contract pharmacies. “We’re seeing our savings be eroded dramatically,” said Sumona DasGupta, assistant director of pharmacy audit and compliance. UW Medicine, which operates two 340B hospitals, has lost about two-thirds of its contract pharmacy savings, she said. Safety-net providers across the country expect more lost savings from drugmaker restrictions on 340B discounts to contract pharmacies, as sixteen drugmakers have announced plans to limit the discounts since summer 2020, despite ongoing lawsuits. (Goldman, 3/25)

The New York Times:
F.D.A. Rushed A Drug For Preterm Births. Did It Put Speed Over Science? 

By the time Brittany Bonds gave birth to her third son in the back of an ambulance 10 weeks before he was due, she no longer trusted the drug Makena. The drug was intended to forestall preterm birth and improve the health of a baby. But it did not work for Mrs. Bonds, whose son Phoenix ended up in a NICU for 83 days. At 2, he still has a host of health problems. (Jewett, 3/25)

Miami Herald:
Recall: Major Pharmaceuticals Milk Of Magnesia, Pain Drug 

Ten lots of three oral drugs shipped to hospitals, nursing home and clinics nationwide have been recalled for “microbial contamination and failure to properly investigate failed microbial testing.” That’s in the FDA-posted recall alert from Plastikon Healthcare, manufacturer of the medications for the Major Pharmaceuticals brand. Here’s what you need to know. (Neal, 3/27)

The Washington Post:
How Medicare Can Make It Harder For End-State Dementia Patients To Use Hospice 

Janet Drey knows how hard it is to predict the future, especially the future of someone who lives with dementia. In 2009, a neurologist diagnosed her mother, Jean Bishop, then age 79, with frontotemporal dementia, a disorder that irreversibly damages the front and sides of the brain. When Jean could no longer walk, speak or feed herself a year later, doctors confirmed that she had less than six months to live, Drey recalls. The prognosis fit Medicare’s definition of being terminally ill. That prognosis qualified her for hospice care, an interdisciplinary approach that prioritizes comfort and quality of life in a person’s final months. (Harris, 3/26)

The New York Times:
In Difficult Cases, ‘Families Cannot Manage Death At Home’ 

Where do people most want to be when they die? At home, they tell researchers — in familiar surroundings, in comfort, with the people they love. That wish has become more achievable. In 2017, according to an analysis in The New England Journal of Medicine, home surpassed the hospital as the most common place of death — 30.7 percent of deaths occurred at home, compared with 29.8 percent at the hospital. (Span, 3/26)

Modern Healthcare:
Florida Suspends Centene’s Medicaid Enrollment, Fines Insurer Over Tech Error

Florida’s healthcare agency has immediately suspended Medicaid and long-term care enrollment in a Centene subsidiary and fined the insurer nearly $9.1 million, after a computer glitch led Sunshine State Health Plan to mistakenly deny medical claims for more than 121,100 lower-income adults and children. The $125.9 billion insurer must pay the fine within 30 days, according to a state Agency for Health Care Administration letter sent to Sunshine State Health Plan’s CEO on Wednesday. Centene’s Florida arm must also submit a plan for how it aims to reprocess all provider and patient claims within 21 days, demonstrate within 30 days that future claims are paid promptly and participate in weekly phone calls with the agency’s senior executives about how the process is going. (Tepper, 3/25)

Houston Chronicle:
Feds Give Texas A Short-Term Reprieve In Impasse Over Billions In Medicaid Funding

The Biden administration on Friday approved new frameworks for reimbursing Texas hospitals that provide indigent care, though it has yet to sign off on individual transactions or say what will happen this fall when billions in federal aid to the state is set to expire. The decision, sent to state health officials as part of a pending lawsuit, is a short-term relief for hospitals. The Democratic administration and Republican state leaders have been at odds for months over how Texas pays for its share of the cost. Hospital and state health officials welcomed the announcement. (Blackman, 3/25)

Columbus Dispatch:
Ohio Bill Helping Patients Fight Health Insurers Ready For Approval

A bipartisan bill that would help patients meet health insurance copays may finally move after sitting dormant for more than a year following unanimous passage by the Ohio Health Committee. A Dispatch story earlier this month described how House Bill 135 was mysteriously stalled after questions were raised by Cincinnati Rep. Bill Seitz, the No. 3 GOP House leader. Dozens of advocacy groups – such as the American Cancer Society, The AIDS Institute, and Ohio State Medical Association – support the measure. Only organizations representing health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers openly opposed the bill. (Rowland, 3/25)

Georgia Mental Health Bill Faces Sudden, Vocal Opposition

A bill to improve access to mental health treatment in Georgia that appeared to be sailing through the state Legislature is now facing vocal opposition, with some critics claiming it would protect pedophiles and threaten Second Amendment rights. State lawmakers supporting the bill have blasted some of the criticism as outlandish. (3/26)

Georgia Health News:
Bill In Legislature Targets Dangerous ‘Surgical Smoke’ 

In operating rooms, the smoke created by surgery can be a health hazard for those breathing it in. Such “surgical smoke’’ is a byproduct of the thermal destruction of human tissue by the use of lasers or other devices. According to the CDC, the smoke has been shown to contain toxic gases, vapors and particulates, viruses and bacteria. A bill that has passed the Georgia Senate and is now before the House would address this issue. It would require hospitals and surgery centers in the state to implement policies to reduce surgical smoke. It’s sponsored by Sen. Matt Brass, a Newnan Republican whose wife is a nurse. (Miller, 3/25)

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
Cobb 911 Operator Answers 20,000 Calls, Shatters County Record

A Cobb County 911 specialist was recently honored for handling more than 20,000 emergency calls in less than a year. County leaders paid tribute to Dana Bell, a call taker for the past 2½ years, during a commission meeting Monday. Commissioner Keli Gambrill presented Bell with a certificate of recognition that indicated she set a new county record for answering the most calls at Cobb’s Emergency Communications Center.“ E-911 call takers are crucial first responders during an emergency,” Gambrill said, reading from the proclamation. “(Dana) calmly provides a correct response and dispatch assistance during a dangerous time or serious situation, making our agency one of the best in the country.” (Bruce, 3/27)

USA Today:
Las Vegas Program To Fight Health Disparities One Household At A Time

When Marie Antoine was diagnosed with lupus and kidney failure, she was overwhelmed by the complexities of her illnesses. But that changed when a team of health sciences students and a professor started visiting her home in North Miami Beach. With their help, the 57-year-old Hattian immigrant said she was able to make sense of the health resources available to her and finally understand “what’s going on to my body.” “They will go through the lab results with me, and the professor explained what I needed to do to keep up with my health issues,” Antoine said of the team from Florida International University, who helped her navigate a kidney transplant and recovery. (Hassanein, 3/28)

The Boston Globe:
As Some States Seek To Limit Reproductive Freedoms, BU Opens ‘Plan B’ Vending Machine

When they arrived at Boston University, Molly Baker and Charlotte Beatty didn’t expect their educational paths to lead them to the American vending machine industry. They did not envision growing familiar, for instance, with the intricacies of vending credit card systems. But after overseeing the launch of a new machine on campus that distributes emergency contraception, the co-presidents of BU’s Students for Reproductive Freedom have found themselves a sudden toast of the vending world. “We made it into Vending Times!” Beatty said of their project’s recent write-up in the trade publication. The so-called “Plan B vending machine” is among the first of its kind in the United States, offering students a generic version of what is known as the “morning after” pill for $7.25, significantly less than some over-the-counter options and with privacy not afforded by a trip to the pharmacy. (Arnett, 3/27)

Addiction Recovery Has Money But Not Enough Workers In Oregon 

Like many people who work in the field of addiction, Staci Cowan is herself in recovery. She slid into heroin use years ago after she started taking opioids for an injury. The loss of her job and apartment followed. She found herself homeless when her mom was forced to draw a firm boundary. No more sleeping at her house. “The people on the streets, you think they’re there for you,” says Cowan. “But you quickly realize that no one is there for you except for yourself.” Now, as a peer mentor at an addiction and recovery facility called Club Hope in the Portland suburb of Gresham, Cowan’s job is to be there for other people. She celebrated four years in recovery recently. Listening to people is a big part of her job. She remembers what it was like to feel invisible. (Riddle, 3/28)

Chicago Tribune:
Advocates Aim To Decriminalize Psychedelic Plants In Illinois 

Marine Corps veteran Justin Wigg was suffering from anger issues and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, but traditional medicine had been little help. So last fall, he traveled to Peru for a treatment that isn’t legal in Illinois — at least not yet. It was a psychedelic, tea-like drink called ayahuasca, brewed from two tropical plants, and it produced hallucinations that Wigg, a Chicagoan, compared to “‘Alice in Wonderland’ meets ‘Fantasia.’” On the second of four ceremonial sessions, he said, he met a spirit figure called Mother Ayahuasca who lifted his burden. “I asked her to help with anger, and it was like the snap of a fingers, just gone,” he recalled. “I wasn’t angry anymore, which I know sounds crazy, but that’s the best way I can describe it.” (Keilman, 3/28)

Friends With Paws Placing Therapy Dogs In Some WVa Schools 

Some West Virginia schools will have a new face joining students this year: therapy dogs to offer companionship and comfort. Friends With Paws will be a partnership between the governor’s office, West Virginia Communities in Schools Nonprofit and the state Department of Education. The dogs will be placed in schools in counties where students are disproportionately affected by poverty, substance misuse or other at-risk situations, Gov. Jim Justice’s office said. (3/28)

Court Eyes Appeal Over Mentally Ill Inmate Put In Solitary 

A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments in a lawsuit filed by a Delaware prison inmate who claimed he was deprived of his constitutional rights by being placed into solitary confinement because of his mental illness. The appeals court will hear arguments Wednesday in the case of Angelo Lee Clark, who also claimed he was deprived of his rights to adequate medical care while in solitary confinement. (3/27)

Vermont Officials Seek More Time To Test Schools For PCBs 

Vermont state officials have asked the legislature for more time to test older schools for PCBs, a harmful group of chemicals commonly used in building materials and electrical equipment before 1980.The PCB testing program is part of a law passed by the Legislature last year. It requires every school constructed or renovated before 1980 to test their indoor air for PCBs by July 1, 2024. The legislation came after the closure of Burlington High School two years ago because of the discovery of PCB contamination in air samples. (3/27)

Bangor Daily News:
No One Knows How Many Gallons Of ‘Forever Chemicals’ Are Flowing In Maine’s Waters

Treatment plants release millions of gallons of wastewater into Maine’s waterways each day that could contain elevated levels of so-called forever chemicals that are used in a wide variety of consumer products and have been linked to long-term health and environmental risks. But as Maine races to better understand how widespread its PFAS contamination problem is, particularly on farms and in landfills, there’s little known about the level of contamination in the wastewater these plants are releasing, nor about the concentration of forever chemicals building up in the Maine rivers onto which it’s released. (Loftus, 3/28)

Reported TB Cases Drop In US Amid COVID-19 

Reported tuberculosis (TB) diagnoses in the United States fell 20{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} in 2020 and remained 13{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} lower in 2021 than TB diagnoses made prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported yesterday, while a study today highlights disparities in at-home COVID testing. Before the pandemic, TB diagnoses declined by 1{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} to 2{fe463f59fb70c5c01486843be1d66c13e664ed3ae921464fa884afebcc0ffe6c} each year. Mask use and distancing measures—aimed at preventing COVID spread—likely also limited TB transmission, the CDC said. TB infections were also likely missed as healthcare visits dropped during the first months of the pandemic. (Soucheray, 3/25)

The New York Times:
When Will Men Get Birth Control Pills? Your Questions, Answered 

A buzzy new animal study offers another contender in the search for a male form of birth control. Researchers at the University of Minnesota created a birth control pill for male mice, which proved 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. The contraceptive targets a protein in the body that receives a form of vitamin A, which is involved with sperm production and fertility. Researchers gave this compound, referred to as YCT529, to male mice for four weeks; the animals showed drastically lower sperm counts. Four to six weeks after they stopped receiving the contraceptive, the mice could impregnate a female mouse again. (Blum, 3/25)

Nostalgia Can Reduce Perception Of Pain, Study Shows

The next time you feel pain, you might consider skipping the ibuprofen and reaching instead for an old photo. Nostalgia — that sentimental feeling of longing for the past — can reduce pain perception, according to new research published in the journal JNeurosci. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Liaoning Normal University asked study participants to rate their level of pain from heat stimulation while looking at pictures that were nostalgic — depicting old cartoons, childhood games or retro candy — compared with more modern pictures. During the tasks, an MRI machine also scanned the 34 participants. Researchers found that observing pictures that triggered childhood memories was linked to participants reporting weaker feelings of pain. (Kent, 3/28)

First Lady Jill Biden Visits St. Jude, Meets Ukrainian Kids 

First lady Jill Biden traveled to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee on Friday to meet with Ukrainian children with cancer and their families fleeing the war and seeking treatment in the U.S. Biden was greeted when she arrived at the Memphis hospital by president and CEO James Downing; Rick Shadyac, CEO of ALSAC, which raises funds for St. Jude; and actress Marlo Thomas, the daughter of hospital founder and late actor Danny Thomas. (Sainz, 3/25)

The New York Times:
Public Health Catastrophe Looms In Ukraine, Experts Warn

A convoy of five vans snaked slowly on Friday from the battered Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, toward Chernihiv, in the northeast of the country. On board were generators, clothes, fuel — and medications needed to treat H.I.V. With a main bridge decimated by shelling, the drivers crept along back roads, hoping to reach Chernihiv on Saturday and begin distributing the drugs to some of the 3,000 residents in desperate need of treatment. (Mandavilli, 3/26)

The Atlantic:
Is Ukraine Barreling Toward A COVID Surge?

With its 35 percent vaccination rate, Ukraine was especially vulnerable even before the invasion forced 10 million people from their homes. That much of the population must now cram together in packed train cars and basement bomb shelters will not help matters. For many in Ukraine, though, such concerns are not top of mind. “Their priority is just to flee and survive,” Paul Spiegel, the director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins University, told me. In his research, Spiegel has found a strong connection between conflicts and epidemics. But assessing the interplay between disease and violence in Ukraine is difficult right now: After the invasion, reporting on case counts slowed to a trickle. (Stern, 3/25)

US-Backed Group Gets Lifesaving Meds To Ukrainians Amid War 

Thousands of patients in Ukraine are receiving lifesaving medicines to treat HIV and opioid addiction through a U.S.-funded group still operating despite the Russian invasion. Supplies are running short and making deliveries is a complicated calculus with unpredictable risks. Officials say the quiet work of the Alliance for Public Health shows how American assistance is reaching individuals in the besieged nation, on a different wavelength from U.S. diplomatic and military support for the Ukrainian government. (Alonso-Zaldivar, 3/27)

Shanghai Starts China’s Biggest COVID-19 Lockdown In 2 Years

China began its most extensive lockdown in two years Monday to conduct mass testing and control a growing outbreak in Shanghai as questions are raised about the economic toll of the nation’s “zero-COVID” strategy. China’s financial capital and largest city with 26 million people, Shanghai had managed its smaller, past outbreaks with limited lockdowns of housing compounds and workplaces where the virus was spreading. But the citywide lockdown that will conducted in two phases will be China’s most extensive since the central city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected in late 2019, first confined its 11 million people to their homes for 76 days in early 2020. Millions more have been kept in lockdown since then. (3/28)

British Museum To Remove Sackler Name From Galleries

The British Museum will remove the Sackler name from galleries, rooms and endowments following global outrage over the role the family played in the opioid crisis. The museum is the latest cultural institution to cut ties with the Sacklers. The Sackler name has been removed in recent years from wings and galleries at institutions including the Louvre in Paris and the Serpentine Gallery in London. (3/26)

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.

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