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Health Headlines

    Dr. Saturnina Clemente pulls up to the small clinic in the impoverished Caucaguita neighborhood armed with one of Venezuela's most sought-after commodities: Hormonal implants to prevent pregnancy. In a country where contraceptives are in short supply, word in the shantytown on the outskirts of Venezuela's capital spreads quickly. The lucky get on a list run by community leaders. The less fortunate hope there will be extras. The veteran doctor has 104 implants and there won't be enough for everyone. As a physician at the nation's largest pediatric hospital, Clemente knows first-hand that the consequences for those who don't get one are high. 'It's a sense of impotency, of frustration,' she says. 'You see that it's not enough, that the demand is much higher.' As Venezuela's crisis deepens, women are bearing the brunt of the nation's upheaval. Despite promises by the socialist government to provide every woman access to family planning, recent surveys and interviews with health professionals indicate access to contraceptives remains incomprehensive. International organizations like the U.N. Population Fund have begun stepping in by importing tens of thousands of contraceptives this year, but their work is still limited. It's an ordeal with increasingly international ramifications, as a growing number of pregnant women flee to countries like Colombia seeking care they cannot get in Venezuela. 'Women are getting pregnant and don't have options,' said Luisa Kislinger, a women's rights activist. 'They're forced into motherhood.' Nicol Ramírez is 15 and already a mother. Her name is on Clemente's list, but to get an implant she needs to show a negative pregnancy test. The young mom and her older sister frantically call their mother. They need 40,000 bolivars, the equivalent of about $3, in order to do the simple test at a nearby laboratory. 'The situation in this country isn't one for having children,' Ramírez says, balancing her baby daughter on one hip. 'I'm still a girl myself.' During the late Hugo Chávez's presidency, Venezuela's government expanded services aimed at helping poor mothers by providing monthly cash transfers. Chavez lavished praise on women and hailed the so-called 'revolutionary mothers' who would help promote his vision. The 1999 constitution he advanced guarantees 'full family planning services' to women among a host of other benefits. 'The socialist revolution should be feminist,' he declared. Despite those initiatives, Chávez's government made only modest advances, at best, in improving contraceptive access. Government data shows that teenage pregnancies continued to steadily increase during his time in power. 'There was a major advance with the constitution, with getting all these new rights and state obligations,' said Rachel Elfenbein, the author of an upcoming book on social programs created under Chávez for women. 'But when it came to implementation, if and where it happened, it was patchy.' President Nicolás Maduro has struggled to advance his predecessor's agenda amidst a crippling economic contraction worse than the U.S. Great Depression. Few if any women still get cash transfers except for occasional 'bonuses' equivalent to a dollar or two. Maternal death rates rose over 65% between 2015 and 2016. 'Under Maduro we've seen an unprecedented setback,' Kislinger said. Health professionals believe Venezuela could cut its high maternal mortality rate by a third doing one thing: Providing contraceptives. The extent of Venezuela's birth control shortage and the impact on women is difficult to quantify in part because the government has not released information on key indicators like teenage pregnancy since 2012. According to those now dated figures, just over 23% of all births in Venezuela were to women under the age of 20. Some independent health organizations and women's rights groups contend the rate could now be as high as 28%. A study of four hospitals last year found that over a quarter of all births recorded were to teenage mothers. The most recent U.N. world population report estimates Venezuela's teen pregnancy rate is about 85.3 per 1,000 adolescents ages 15-19. That figure would mark a slight decline, though is still over double the global rate. By comparison, Colombia's rate is 66.7 per 1,000 teens ages 15-19. 'We don't know what the reality is in 2019,' said Nelmary Díaz, a program director the Civil Association for Family Planning, an organization that runs several clinics and has operated since 1986. 'That worries us.' After years of denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis, Maduro has recently begun allowing international aid. While a large part of the emergency assistance has gone toward food and medicine, a small portion is going toward reproductive health. The U.N. Population Fund has imported 45,000 hormonal implants so far with the government's authorization. An estimated 17,000 have been distributed thus far at hospitals and clinics like the one in Caucaguita where women line up before dawn. 'I don't want to have more kids,' said Yailyn Salas, 20, the mother of a 9-month-old son in the line. 'I want to close the shop.' Among the millions of Venezuelans who have chosen to flee are thousands of pregnant women. In Colombia, over 26,000 Venezuelan women have given birth since August 2015. That surge is straining Colombia's already fragile health care system and testing the nation's mostly welcoming approach toward Venezuelan migrants. In recent months, the mayor of one large Colombian city likened Venezuelans to 'a poor baby factory' while a popular newspaper columnist implored migrants to 'stop giving birth.' 'If you don't stop reproducing like you are, it's going to be even harder to see you as an opportunity for growth instead of a problem,' journalist Claudia Palacios wrote. Ramírez found out she was pregnant at 14 with her boyfriend of one year. Condoms and birth control pills were either impossible to find or too expensive. When she told her boyfriend the news, Ramírez said he responded coldly. He was 23 and already a father. He told her that he couldn't handle another responsibility. She hasn't heard from him since. Adolescent moms under 15 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy. Though Ramírez had access to prenatal care, doctors nonetheless had to perform an emergency C-section after the baby's heartbeat became irregular. 'She was born practically dead,' Ramírez said, her soft voice turning somber. Ramírez's ordeal to find birth control isn't unusual. An independent survey of 151 pharmacies consulted over a five-month period last year found some contraceptives like the patch could not be found at all in Venezuela, while others including birth control pills are experiencing near-total shortages. Even with this year's increased access to aid, experts say Venezuela will need far more to address the needs of the estimated 9 million women in the country at risk of pregnancy. 'It's a very small impact,' said Jorge Díaz Polanco, a sociologist with the independent Venezuelan Observatory of Health. Clemente's brigade was able to get ahold of a handful of the U.N.-provided implants that prevent ovulation and last four years. On two recent days, her team set up shop at a clinic where posters in support of socialist leaders filled the walls. They quickly got to work, injecting each woman with an anesthetic and then sticking a small metal tube into their upper arm so the implant could be pushed through. By 11:30 a.m. the contraceptives were gone. 'The implants have run out!' an organizer dressed in a faded Stone Temple Pilots T-shirt shouted. Nearly 40 women were still in line. Some sighed. Others were visibly angry. 'I feel deceived,' said Salas, who missed the cutoff. She said a nearby health organization was selling birth control implants at a subsidized cost of around 90,000 bolivars, or $6.50. But that was just slightly less than what her husband makes an in an entire week. 'If I get one, I don't eat,' she said. Ramírez and her sister were among the lucky few to get the last of the implants after they showed Clemente's team their negative test. Their mom had managed to get them the money. Three other women that day would learn they were pregnant. Ramírez cringed as a nurse injected her with the anesthetic before placing the implant. Just as the procedure finished, the lights in the building went out — the second blackout in the neighborhood that week. Ramírez left the darkened clinic with her baby in her arm, relieved to know she wouldn't become a mom again soon. 'I'm not ready to have a child,' she said as her baby began to cry. 'I'm a girl who is 15.' ___ Follow Christine Armario on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/cearmario
  • Two pharmaceutical companies have reached settlements totaling $15 million to avoid being defendants in the first federal trial on the drug industry's accountability for a nationwide opioid crisis. Dublin, Ireland-based Endo Pharmaceuticals announced Tuesday that it has agreed to pay the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit, home to Cleveland and Akron, a total of $10 million to settle their suits, which are still scheduled to go to trial against other drugmakers and distributors Oct. 21. As part of the deal, Endo also agreed to supply $1 million worth of blood pressure medicines it produces for the counties. The counties will determine how the settlement is divided. And Allergan, also based in Dublin, has agreed to pay $5 million to settle claims related to its branded opioid. The settlement does not resolve claims regarding its generic opioids, Frank Gallucci, a lawyer for Cuyahoga County, told Cleveland.com and other media outlets. The settlements came one day after the Summit County Council passed a resolution to OK settlements with any companies with less than 10% of the opioid market share in the county. Matthew Maletta, an Endo executive vice president, said it would have cost the company $10 million in legal expenses just to go to trial. The company admitted no wrongdoing, fault or liability related to the U.S. opioid epidemic that has led to more than 2,000 lawsuits by state, local and tribal governments, and hospitals seeking damages. Opioids, a class of drugs that includes prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, have killed more than 400,000 people in the U.S. since 2000. Governments contend that the companies downplayed the risk of the drugs and wrongfully shipped suspicious orders to spur the crisis. In recent years, illicit opioids have been responsible for most of the deaths. With the bellwether trial for Summit and Cuyahoga counties' claims about two months away, there has been a flurry of court filings and rulings. On Monday, Judge Dan Polster, who is overseeing most of the lawsuits, ruled that drug manufacturers and distributors had a legal obligation not to ship opioid orders that were considered suspicious. The companies had been arguing that there was a legal requirement to report suspicious orders but not to stop them from shipping. Polster denied an additional request from the Ohio counties to rule even before trial that defendants did not comply with the requirement, saying there were factual disputes about that. Still, his ruling could be a major win for plaintiffs, particularly in their cases against distribution companies and the big generic drugmakers.
  • Russia has resumed sharing data from radiation monitoring stations in Siberia after some were taken offline following a deadly explosion at a missile range, a nuclear weapons watchdog said Tuesday, while an American expert said the fact that more than one Russian site went offline at the same time suggests it was not the work of Mother Nature. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CNTBTO) said earlier this week that several Russian radiation monitoring stations went silent shortly after the Aug. 8 explosion at the Russian navy's testing range in northwestern Russia. Lassina Zebro, the organization's executive secretary, said Tuesday on Twitter that the two Russian stations reported to be offline are back in operation and are now backfilling the data. He lauded Moscow for its 'excellent cooperation.' William Tobey, a former deputy administrator at the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, said it was 'at least an odd coincidence' that the Russian sensors stopped transmitting data about the same time as the explosion occurred. 'Power outages, other failures, can knock down a particular place, but if more than one site is out, it would seem that that is a less likely explanation,' said Tobey, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Russian authorities have offered changing and contradictory information about the explosion at the testing range in Nyonoksa on the White Sea, fueling speculation about what really happened and what type of weapon was involved. While the Russian Defense Ministry said no radiation had been released in a rocket engine explosion, officials in the nearby city of Severodvinsk reported a brief rise in radiation levels. The contradiction drew comparisons to Soviet attempts to cover up the 1986 explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the world's worst nuclear disaster. In his first comments on the explosion, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that it hasn't posed any radiation threat. Putin added that experts are monitoring the situation to prevent any 'any unexpected developments.' He didn't say what weapon was being tested when the explosion occurred, but described the test as a 'state mission of critical importance.' Russia's state weather and environmental monitoring agency said the peak radiation reading in Severodvinsk on Aug. 8 was 1.78 microsieverts per hour in just one neighborhood — about 16 times the average. Peak readings in other parts of Severodvinsk varied between 0.45 and 1.33 microsieverts. The authorities said the brief increase in radiation didn't pose any health dangers. In fact, the announced peak levels are lower than the cosmic radiation that plane passengers are exposed to on longer flights. The Russian military said the explosion killed two people and injured six, while the state nuclear corporation Rosatom acknowledged later that it also killed five of its engineers and injured three others. Rosatom said the explosion occurred on an offshore platform during tests of a 'nuclear isotope power source.' Russian officials on Tuesday brushed off suggestions that they were concealing details of the explosion from foreign nations. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that it is Russia's choice, not an obligation, to share radiation monitoring data under the treaty. He also noted that the international nuclear watchdog's mission is to monitor the global nuclear test ban, not missile tests like the one conducted in Nyonoksa. Rosatom's mention of a 'nuclear isotope power source,' led some observers to conclude that the weapon undergoing tests was the 'Burevestnik' or 'Storm Petrel,' a prospective nuclear-powered cruise missile first mentioned by Putin in 2018 and was code-named 'Skyfall' by NATO. U.S. President Donald Trump backed that theory in a tweet last week, saying that the U.S. is 'learning much' from the Skyfall explosion. The U.S. worked to develop a nuclear-powered missile in the 1960s under Project Pluto, but the idea was discarded as impractical and risky. Tobey said Russia's apparent revival of the concept raises significant risks. 'Effectively, Russia is thinking about flying around nuclear reactors,' Tobey said. 'The very idea of this system is, I think, a risky system. It probably poses more risk to the Russian people than to the American people. If it crashes, it could spread radiation.' Michael Krepon, a nuclear expert who co-founded the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan public policy research center, said it was not surprising that Russia might take steps to conceal its activities because 'they just can't accept transparency when it comes to screwups.' 'This weapon poses a danger first and foremost to the people who are working on it,' Krepon said. 'It's dumb, it's stupid, it's expensive, and there are so many other ways that you can deliver nuclear weapons long distance. The more Putin advertises this system, the more he's likely to be embarrassed by it.' ___ Eric Tucker reported from Washington. Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.
  • More women may benefit from gene testing for hereditary breast or ovarian cancer, especially if they've already survived cancer once, an influential health group recommended Tuesday. At issue are genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. When they're mutated, the body can't repair damaged DNA as well, greatly increasing the chances of breast, ovarian and certain other cancers. Gene testing allows affected women to consider steps to lower their risk, such as when actress Angelina Jolie underwent a preventive mastectomy several years ago. Most cancer isn't caused by BRCA mutations — they account for 5% to 10% of breast cancers and 15% of ovarian cancers — so the gene tests aren't for everyone. But mutations cluster in families, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has long recommended that doctors screen women who have relatives with BRCA-related cancers and refer those who might benefit from gene testing to a genetic counselor to help them decide. Tuesday, the task force expanded that advice, telling primary care doctors they should also assess women's risk if: —they previously were treated for breast or other BRCA-related cancers including ovarian, fallopian tube or peritoneal cancers, and now are considered cancer-free. —their ancestry is prone to BRCA mutations, such as Ashkenazi Jewish women. Why screen breast cancer survivors? After all, they already know there's a risk of recurrence. Take, for example, someone who had a tumor removed in one breast in their 40s a decade ago, when genetic testing wasn't as common. Even this many years later, a BRCA test still could reveal if they're at risk for ovarian cancer — or at higher than usual risk for another tumor in their remaining breast tissue, explained task force member Dr. Carol Mangione of the University of California, Los Angeles. And it could alert their daughters or other relatives to a potential shared risk. 'It's important to test those people now,' Mangione said. 'We need to get the word out to primary care doctors to do this assessment and to make the referrals.' Private insurers follow task force recommendations on what preventive care to cover, some at no out-of-pocket cost under rules from former President Barack Obama's health care law. The recommendations were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Cancer groups have similar recommendations for BRCA testing, and increasingly urge that the newly diagnosed be tested, too, because the inherited risk can impact choices about surgery and other treatment. Identifying BRCA mutation carriers 'can be lifesaving, and should be a part of routine medical care,' Drs. Susan Domchek of the University of Pennsylvania and Mark Robson of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who weren't involved with the new guidelines, wrote in an editorial accompanying them. But too few high-risk women ever learn if they harbor BRCA mutations, they wrote. For example, cancer groups have long recommended that all ovarian cancer patients be tested, but several studies have found testing is done in less than a third. Don't skip the genetic counseling, said the task force's Mangione. BRCA testing can cause anxiety and sometimes gives confusing results, finding mutations that might not be dangerous — things the counselors are trained to interpret. There's a shortage of genetic counselors, particularly in rural areas, and she said counseling by phone can work. There's a wide array of gene tests, some that search just for BRCA mutations and others that test dozens of additional genes at the same time. There's even a direct-to-consumer kit sold by 23andMe — but Domchek and Robson warned it only detects the three mutations found most in women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, not dozens of other mutations. ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • Health authorities in Spain are on high alert after a 90-year-old woman died amid a listeria outbreak in the southern region of Andalusia that has affected more than 110 people. José Miguel Cisneros, director of the infectious disease department at Seville's Virgen del Rocío Hospital, on Tuesday announced the first casualty since the outbreak was declared on Aug. 15. Authorities have closed the pork meat supplier's plant and recalled all of its products. Cisneros said roughly half of the 114 people affected by the bacteria remain hospitalized. Health Minister María Luisa Carcedo said an investigation is looking into how the meat evaded what she called 'strict food safety controls.' Listeria is a bacteria that usually causes mild illness in healthy people but can be dangerous to pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
  • Georgia has asked a federal judge not to block the state's restrictive abortion law from taking effect and to dismiss a challenge to the constitutionality of the measure. The law bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women realize they're expecting. It allows for only limited exceptions. The ban is 'constitutional and justified,' lawyers for the state argued in court filings filed Monday. The law 'advances Georgia's unique and substantial constitutional interest in protecting unborn human lives, in addition to its interests in protecting maternal health, encouraging childbirth, and safeguarding the integrity of the medical profession,' they said. The law, which was signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in May, is set to become enforceable Jan. 1. Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a federal lawsuit in June on behalf of Georgia abortion providers and an advocacy group, saying women have the constitutional right to be free to make their own health care and family planning decisions without interference from politicians. In July, they asked the judge to stop it from taking effect while the case plays out. In response, the state lawyers said they 'deny all allegations in the complaint that killing a living unborn child constitutes 'medical care' or health care.'' The Georgia legislation makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest, if the woman files a police report first. It also allows for abortions when the life of the woman is at risk or when a fetus is determined not to be viable because of a serious medical condition. Additionally, it declares an embryo or fetus a 'natural person' once cardiac activity can be detected, which the law says is the point where 'the full value of a child begins.' This declaration would make the fetus a dependent minor for tax purposes and trigger child support obligations, and could have other impacts in state law. The so-called heartbeat law is one of a string of similar measures passed by Republican-led legislatures around the country in a attack on the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The Georgia law is not unconstitutional because it does not ban all pre-viability abortions, state lawyers argue. Furthermore, they add, the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that restricting pre-viability abortions is inherently unlawful. State lawyers also argue that the Georgia law 'advances multiple interests that the Supreme Court has accepted as legitimate.' State lawyers also reject arguments in the lawsuit that amending the state's definition of 'natural person' to include 'an unborn child' could have unconstitutionally vague implications. Since the issues in the case 'turn on pure questions of law,' there is enough time for the merits of the case to be heard by the court before the law is set to take effect, state lawyers argue. They proposed an expedited timeline that would culminate in a hearing in early November. That would allow the court to make a final decision on the merits of the arguments raised in the lawsuit before the law takes effect, which would eliminate the need for an order blocking the law temporarily while litigation continues, state lawyers argued. However, if the court doesn't believe there's enough time to fully hear the case before Jan. 1, state lawyers argue that the court should not block the law from taking effect. Sean Young, legal director for the ACLU of Georgia, said in an emailed statement that the plaintiffs will respond in a court filing. Several other states have passed similar 'heartbeat' bills. Missouri's governor approved a ban on abortion at eight weeks, with exceptions only for medical emergencies. A new Alabama law bans virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest, and makes performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison for the provider. None of the bans has taken effect, and abortion remains legal in every state. Some of the laws have already been blocked, and courts are expected to put the others on hold as they consider legal challenges.
  • Loved ones propped photos of more than a dozen young people lost to the opioid crisis against the outside of the federal courthouse in Philadelphia on Monday as a judge inside heard arguments on whether the city could become the nation's first to open a supervised injection center. U.S. Attorney William McSwain, an appointee of President Donald Trump, believes the plan normalizes the use of heroin and fentanyl and violates federal drug laws. He has sued to block the site, supported by several leading Democrats in the city, including the mayor and district attorney, and at least seven state attorneys general. In court Monday, with McSwain in the unusual role of lead attorney, U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh Jr. heard from an emergency room doctor and a nonprofit leader supporting the plan to open Safehouse, presumably in the city's drug-ravaged Kensington neighborhood. 'We believe that this public health approach is lifesaving,' said Jose Benitez, who runs a nonprofit that runs a needle exchange program and other health services and is spearheading the Safehouse effort with former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and others. Benitez has worked in addiction services for nearly three decades, and said clients today are using heroin and fentanyl as much as eight to 10 times a day, up from once or twice a day just five years ago. He directs an agency called Prevention Point, which reversed more than 500 overdoses in the Kensington area last year. Staff members have often had to run several blocks through the neighborhood with medical equipment to reach people in time, he said. Still, Philadelphia endured 1,100 overdose deaths last year, more than 200 of them in the Kensington ZIP code, he said. Benitez, in declaring opioids a public health emergency, noted the 1,100 overdose deaths is more than three times the city's homicide rate. Benitez and other organizers have visited a supervised injection site in Vancouver, British Columbia, that is something of a model for their program. The site looks like an urgent care center, with a central desk and individual bays. 'Clearly, I thought we should organize and try to do overdose prevention since we were losing so many Philadelphians,' Benitez testified. Safehouse would provide drug users with clean needles and ties and let them use their own drugs in the presence of medical staff. Advocates believe it will also provide a trusted place for them to be offered treatment. 'There would be medical staff observing an overdose reaction if one was to occur . and then providing medical care,' Benitez said. McSwain, questioning the proposed name, asked whether people who use marijuana might move on to heroin or fentanyl after thinking 'now there's a safe place, called Safehouse, to take these drugs.' 'Anything's possible,' Benitez said. 'It's not likely.' McSwain also questioned whether the Vancouver program had reduced fatal overdoses, and Safehouse's mission to provide a place to use drugs, in his words, 'without judgment or stigma.' And he questioned how staff would screen out minors since clients can remain anonymous. Benitez said that anyone who looked under 18 would be asked for proof of age or referred to other programs. Rendell, who was in the courtroom, has said Safehouse founders would consider an appeal if McSwain prevails. McHugh did not indicate when he would rule.
  • The head of Congo's Ebola response says another vaccine will be used to fight the outbreak that has killed more than 1,800 people in a year. Dr. Jean-Jaques Muyembe is the director of Congo's National Institute for Biomedical Research. He said Monday the World Health Organization has recommended the use of a preventative vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson. Muyembe also promised to put an end to the Ebola outbreak in the next four months. Health officials have already vaccinated more than 197,000 people. USAID head Mark Green visited Congo on Monday and promised that the organization and others will continue to work to end Ebola and invest in medicines and community development. Response efforts have been hampered by attacks on health workers and continuing mistrust among the affected communities.
  • Drug companies are still raising prices for brand-name prescription medicines, just not as often or by as much as they used to, according to an Associated Press analysis. After years of frequent list price hikes, many drugmakers are showing some restraint, according to the analysis of drug prices provided by health information firm Elsevier. In the first seven months of 2019, drugmakers raised list prices for brand-name prescription medicines by a median of 5%. That's down from about 9% or 10% over those months the prior four years, the AP found. From January through July this year, there were 4,483 price hikes, down 36% from that stretch in 2015. Several large manufacturers skipped their usual mid-year increases, noted Elsevier drug pricing expert Kay Morgan. Those include industry titans taking heat for high prices, including Pfizer, Novartis, Amgen, AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson. For years, they and many other drugmakers raised list prices on brand-name medicines up to three times annually, sometimes 10% or more each time. Now, companies are taking more of their increases in January, reaping the extra revenue all year and forgoing early summer hikes. Still, there were 37 price hikes for every decrease in the first seven months of 2019. The industry's restraint comes as lawmakers of both parties in Congress and the Trump administration are advancing measures to try to curb costs, a concerted effort not seen in Washington for years. Meanwhile, many states are trying to limit drug price increases or to allow residents to buy drugs at lower prices from pharmacies in Canada. 'This rhetoric around drug prices may be starting to bend the curve, but we're not getting to the point of actual decreases in the total cost of drugs,' just a slowing of increases, said Adrienne E. Faerber, who teaches health economics at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. 'Very few drug prices go down.' The AP analyzed 32,795 U.S. list price changes for brand-name prescription drugs from Jan. 1 through July 31 in the years 2015 through 2019, focusing on each year's first seven months because of the seasonality of price changes. For most drugs, the figures include multiple products: different dosages, package sizes and formats such as pills, liquids and injectable drugs. Manufacturers set list prices, and say they need to keep raising prices to fund research on future medicines. What patients pay varies. Many people with health insurance pay a flat price far below the list price, but those with high-deductible insurance plans and certain seniors on Medicare can pay much more, sometimes the entire list price or a sizeable percentage of it. The latest data show no sign of the massive price cuts President Donald Trump predicted in May 2018. The monthly Consumer Price Index does show that average drug prices people pay declined 2% from June 2018 to June 2019. But that's because 90% of prescriptions filled in the U.S. are for generics, whose prices have been declining amid pressure from big drug distributors. That trend obscured price increases for the 10% of prescriptions filled with the more expensive brand-name drugs. Many of this year's brand name price increases were under 5%, and some drugmakers haven't raised prices for over a year. But several doubled prices — and some went for more. Ajinomoto's Cambrooke Therapeutics business hiked prices by 3,083% for five nutritional supplements needed by people with certain genetic conditions. A company spokeswoman declined to comment. Stacie B. Dusetzina, a drug price expert and assistant professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University, thinks drugmakers may be trying to give Trump a political win by taking fewer increases and limiting them to their biggest moneymakers. Dusetzina said some drugmakers may be making up for that by launching their new drugs at higher list prices. 'I think everybody's just gotten caught up on how to play' the game, she said. ___ Forster reported from New York. ___ Follow Linda A. Johnson on Twitter: LindaJ_onPharma ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • Planned Parenthood said Monday it's pulling out of the federal family planning program rather than abide by a new Trump administration rule prohibiting clinics from referring women for abortions. Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood's acting president and CEO, said the organization's nationwide network of health centers would remain open and strive to make up for the loss of federal money. But she predicted that many low-income women who rely on Planned Parenthood services would 'delay or go without' care. 'We will not be bullied into withholding abortion information from our patients,' said McGill Johnson. 'Our patients deserve to make their own health care decisions, not to be forced to have Donald Trump or Mike Pence make those decisions for them.' Enforcement of the new Title X rule marks a major victory for a key part of President Donald Trump's political base — religious conservatives opposed to abortion. They have been campaigning relentlessly to 'defund Planned Parenthood' because — among its varied services — it is the largest abortion provider in the United States, and they viewed the Title X grants as an indirect subsidy. About 4 million women are served nationwide under the Title X program, which distributes $260 million in family planning grants to clinics. Planned Parenthood says it has served about 40% of patients, many of them African American and Hispanic. Family planning funds cannot be used to pay for abortions. In a statement, the federal Department of Health and Human Services said Planned Parenthood knew months ago about the new restrictions and suggested that the group could have chosen at that point to exit the program. 'Some grantees are now blaming the government for their own actions — having chosen to accept the grant while failing to comply with the regulations that accompany it — and they are abandoning their obligations to serve patients under the program,' the department said. It said it would strive to make sure patients are served. Planned Parenthood was not the only organization dropping out. Maine Family Planning, which is unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood, also released its letter of withdrawal Monday. The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, an umbrella group for family planning clinics, is suing to overturn the regulations. A federal appeals court in San Francisco is weighing a lawsuit to overturn the rules, but so far the court has allowed the administration to go ahead with enforcement. Oral arguments are scheduled the week of Sept. 23. Several states and the American Medical Association have joined the suit as plaintiffs. Abortion rights activists are also pressing Congress to overturn the rule, though it seems unlikely that the Republican-controlled Senate would take that step. Monday was the deadline set by the government for program participants to submit statements that they intended to comply with the new rules, along with a plan. Enforcement will start Sept. 18. In addition to the ban on abortion referrals by clinics, the rule's requirements include financial separation from facilities that provide abortions, designating abortion counseling as optional instead of standard practice, and limiting which staff members can discuss abortion with patients. Clinics would have until next March to separate their office space and examination rooms from the physical facilities of providers that offer abortions. The Trump administration has also made it possible for faith-based organizations opposed to abortion to receive Title X grants. Among the recipients of grants this year was Obria Medical Clinics, which runs a network of facilities in California. It promotes abstinence-based sex education and 'natural family planning,' and does not prescribe birth control. The impact of Planned Parenthood's withdrawal will vary from state to state. Some states, including Illinois and Vermont, have said they would step in to replace lost federal funding. 'We will make sure that access to these services remains available, because in Illinois we trust women,' said Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who joined Planned Parenthood's news conference on Monday. He said Planned Parenthood serves about 70,000 people in Illinois. Elsewhere, the impact could be substantial. In Utah, Planned Parenthood is the only Title X grantee; in Minnesota, it serves 90% of patients. 'It will simply be impossible for other health centers to fill the gap,' said McGill Johnson. 'Wait times for appointments will skyrocket.' HHS said in its statement that it's grateful for the many grant recipients that are remaining with the program. State and local health departments account for a significant share of service providers. 'We will work to ensure all patients continue to be served,' the agency said. Planned Parenthood has called the ban on abortion referrals a 'gag rule,' while the administration insists that's not the case. Maine Family Planning CEO George Hill said in a letter to HHS that his organization is withdrawing 'more in sorrow than in anger' after 47 years of participating in the program. He said the Trump administration regulation 'would fundamentally compromise the relationship our patients have with us as trusted providers of this most personal and private health care. It is simply wrong to deny patients accurate information about and access to abortion care.' ___ Alonso-Zaldivar reported from Washington.

Local News

  • Richmond County is the latest Georgia county to drop misdemeanor marijuana cases. The Solicitor in Augusta says there's no testing that measures how much THC is in confiscated samples. Investigators say it’s almost impossible to tell if a person has legal hemp or illegal marijuana. Gwinnett County’s Solicitor has made a similar pronouncement; Athens-Clarke County Police have said they will stop arresting marijuana possession suspects altogether.    Two suspects from South Carolina are arrested in Clemson, wanted in a string of burglaries and residential robberies in South Carolina and in Toccoa and Stephens County: 22 year-old Wallace Wardlaw and 30 year-old Vonnie Locklear are both from Greenville South Carolina.    A 40 year-old Gainesville man is facing child molestation charges: Oscar Flores was, at last report, being held without bond in the Hall County jail. 
  • There is an important deadline looming for University of Georgia: noon today marks the end of student football ticket registration. The Bulldogs are today ten days away from the August 31 season opener vs Vanderbilt. That game is in Nashville. The home opener is a week later, September 7 in Sanford Stadium against Murray State.  There is a Red Cross blood drive today at UGA, underway at 11 and lasting til 5 at the University of Georgia’s Memorial Hall.  The University of Georgia is hosting the first part-time job and internship fair of the fall semester: it’s at 11 o’clock at UGA’s Tate Student Center. 
  • Elbert County Sheriff Melvin Andrews says he will be a candidate for reelection in 2020. His announcement sets up a rematch, as Jamie Calloway, who lost to Andrews in the 2016 election, says he will make another run for the sheriff’s office in Elberton.      “I will be running for re-election on my 30 years of law enforcement experience and proudly on the record of the Elbert County Sheriff’s Office,” Andrews said. “Drug arrests are up, the crime rate is down and there are no unsolved murders in Elbert County in the seven years since I took office as Sheriff. I look forward to meeting the voters of Elbert County in next year’s primary and general election and asking for your support for a third term as your Sheriff.”   “Though I think it's a little early to ‘officially’ begin the campaign,” Callaway said, “due to rumors going around that I changed my mind about running I want to go ahead and post this. I still want to serve this county as your Sheriff and plan to run again in 2020. After losing by less than 200 votes last time, I am committed to gaining your confidence and your vote.
  • There is bicycle talk today in Athens: the Athens in Motion Commission, working on the development, implementation, and modification of a plan for a safe and connected network of bicycle and pedestrian facilities throughout Athens, meets at 4 o’clock at the Government Building on Dougherty Street. There is an afternoon meeting of the Athens-Clarke County Historic Preservation Commission: it’s set for 5:30 at the Government Building on Dougherty Street.    From Watkinsville to Gainesville, and in other cities across northeast Georgia: today marks the end of three days of candidate qualifying. Political hopefuls have been signing up since Monday to run in municipal elections that will be held on the first Tuesday in November, with mayoral and city council seats up for grabs in towns across the region.
  • The Covington Police Department needs your help.  Officials told Channel 2 Action News that officers found a man walking on Puckett Street in Covington on Tuesday afternoon. 'He is unable to tell us who he is, where he lives or the names of any relatives. His name is possibly Perry,' Covington police posted to their Facebook Page. Officers said they have canvassed the area and contacted all local nursing homes and have been unable to identify the man. If you recognize him, please call the Covington Police Department at 770-786-7605.

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS Tyler Clark represents the old warhorse on the Georgia football defense, a durable 6-foot-3, 300-pound lineman who just keeps coming back for more. Clark, a starter on the defensive front each of the past two seasons, has played 41 games in his career and is ready for more and better this season. 'I feel great, I'm healthier, I'm stronger and I'm faster,' said Clark, a product of Americus, Ga. 'We have everybody coming back (on the D-Line), and we're ready.' Clark and his fellow senior defensive linemen certainly have heard the talk that their unit is one of the most concerning on the team. There are no apparent first-round NFL Draft picks or senior dominators, and Clark admits he didn't make the progress last season that he should have. 'I didn't do as well as I thought, or as well as I could,' Clark said. 'I started feeling myself too much, and it got in my head. But I'm going to be back this year.' The fact Clark came out to talk to the media and own up to his lackluster junior season was telling. Apparently, all it took was letting him know the media wanted to hear from him during his autograph session at FanDay. Clark gives the impression of a team-first guy who is eager to please the fans and his coaches, to the point of playing through several painful ailments. Indeed, Clark said the training room has been a big part of his regiment and staying durable enough to answer the bell for the Bulldogs week-in and week-out. 'It's been pretty tough playing in the SEC, and when I come out of the games, of course there will be bumps and bruises,' Clark said. 'I go in the cold tub, I get the hammers, I get rolled out, stretched and massaged every Sunday.' And then Clark comes back for more, working against one of the best offensive lines in the country to sharpen his skills. 'It feels like a Saturday in Athens going against that O-Line in practice,' Clark said. 'But it's the only O-Line we'll face like that.' Clark would know, he's seen them all, and now he's ready for a strong finish his senior season. Georgia football DL Tyler Clark DawgNation Georgia football fall camp WATCH: Why Georgia has the best backfield in college football Versatile Cade Mays elevating his game, puts rough recruitment behind Solomon Kindley emerging as preseason first-team AA Georgia No. 3 in preseason AP Top 25 New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof The post WATCH: Tyler Clark, Georgia's D-Line warhorse ready for more rugged action appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS Could this Georgia football team have the best running game in the nation? It's a fair question to ask when one considers the powerful and deep offensive line, and the depth of great backs running behind it. UGA led the SEC in rushing last season, and it's hard to imagine any team in the league rushing for more yards in 2019. As much knowledge and passing accuracy as third-year starting quarterback Jake Fromm brings to the table, it seems like playing power football would be playing to the proven talent on the Bulldogs' roster. RELATED: Georgia QB Great explains importance of run game to pass game Whether it's dynamic D'Andre Swift, hard-charging Brian Herrien, electric James Cook, powerful Zamir White or versatile Kenny McIntosh, it seems like Georgia has the bases covered. As if the backs needed to do more, it's worth noting they are all capable pass catchers and utilized on special teams. Veteran beat writer Mike Griffith talked at length about the Bulldogs' runners, comparing them to some of the greatest backs in football that he's run across at other places, from Barry Sanders, to Shaun Alexander and Alvin Kamara. Also, more on the story of D'Wan Mathis and his emergency brain surgery, and how what Kirby Smart and the doctors at Athens Piedmont Medical Center history did was so impressive. On the Beat with Mike Griffith DawgNation Georgia football fall camp Versatile Cade Mays elevating his game, puts rough recruitment behind Solomon Kindley emerging as preseason first-team AA Georgia No. 3 in preseason AP Top 25 New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof The post WATCH: Why Georgia has the best backfield in college football appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS The recruiting services said Georgia football signee Cade Mays was a 5-star prospect. Mays was once ranked the No. 1 player in the 2018 Tennessee High School signing class, and the No. 3 offensive tackle in the country. RELATED: Cade Mays has MVP quality on Georgia O-Line When Mays, the son of Vols legend Kevin Mays, was committed to Tennessee and former coach Butch Jones, the rankings were celebrated by hometown fans who watched Mays star at Knoxville's Catholic High School. Indeed, Tennessee had the highest rated class of commits when the 2017 season began, with high-profile quarterback Adrian Martinez also committed to play for Jones. But when the Vols season went sour and the fanbase turned on Jones, Mays made the decision to de-commit, and Martinez ultimately shunned the new staff and chose Nebraska. Rough reaction The Tennessee fan base is understandably as unsettled and as anxious as any, having not been to the SEC Championship Game since the year before Tennessee legend Phillip Fulmer was fired (2007). Mays de-commitment was met with a great deal of anger on social media, and there were hard feelings, and hurt feelings. 'It definitely was hard,' said Mays, who may finally get some relief from upset Tennessee fans now that his talented younger brother, Cooper, is committed to the Vols. 'I was getting all this hate, but I was doing something for me. My parents told me it doesn't really matter what the outside world thinks, my family loves me, and my God loves me.' Mays said he dealt with it as best he could. 'I just put the phone down and confided in my family,' Mays said. 'No one has ever really come up to me in person and tried to start anything.' Keyboard warriors aside, Mays quickly proved at Georgia that he was indeed every bit as good as the 247Sports Composite rankings indicated. Stepping up Georgia was battling SEC East challenger South Carolina in the second game of the season when preseason All-SEC left tackle Andrew Thomas went down with an injury. Mays remembers Kirby Smart yelling for him to get on the field, but before that, he had to switch jerseys. RELATED: Georgia Practice Report, Mays moves up for line drills 'I was actually wearing number 42 during that game, I was supposed to be the tight end, the extra big guy,' Mays recalled. 'Then I heard Coach Smart, yelling Cade, Cade, Cade.' They gave me this big jersey to put on, and I had to run out and tell the ref I was checking in with a new jersey.' Mays started against Middle Tennessee the next week and was back in the relief role in the fourth week when Thomas left the Missouri game after re-injuring his ankle. Georgia right guard Ben Cleveland also was injured against Missouri, breaking his fibula, leading to Mays starting the following week against Tennessee in Cleveland's spot. Mays played in 11 games last season before suffering a shoulder injured that sidelined him for three games, but he earned FWAA Freshman All-American honors. 2019 glue guy That versatility continues for Mays, who has added the ability to play center to his repertoire. 'I like being that useful, if anything happens, I'm the guy that can be plugged in,' Mays said. 'It has helped knowing the center spot and learning the offense and what everyone is doing. 'I think it's helped me pick my game up and elevated it to a new level.' Mays, now 6-foot-6 and 325 pounds, was working with the first team at right guard in Tuesday's practice. Among those most impressed with Mays is former Auburn lineman and ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic. RELATED: SEC expert breaks down Georgia Great Wall' O-Line 'Ilike the way he plays more than any of those other guys in that entire group,' Cubelic said this summer. 'Cade is a finisher, he has that nasty you love to see and plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. He has room to grow fundamentally, but he's fun to watch, regardless. 'You routinely see him 10 or 20 yards downfield looking for contact on each play.' Mays says that's exactly how he wants people to think about him. 'I would say the best thing somebody could say about me is that I play hard, I love the game, and I just want to finish blocks on people,' Mays said. 'I want to be looked at as dependable, and I take pride in that.' Georgia O-Lineman Cade Mays DawgNation Georgia football fall camp Solomon Kindley emerging as preseason first-team AA Georgia No. 3 in preseason AP Top 25 New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof' The post WATCH: Versatile Georgia football offensive lineman Cade Mays elevating game appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS Georgia football appeared back at full speed on Tuesday, Monday's light walk-through having served its intended purpose. 'When you have 48 hours, you can almost recover to a full extent and we're hoping to get everybody's legs back,' Coach Kirby Smart said following Saturday's 135-play scrimmage. 'You could see it (Saturday). The GPS says it. A guy that was running 19 (mph) is running 17. A guy that was running 21 is running 18, 19. They're hurting a little bit but part of that is mental toughness and the grit. They've been able to handle that.' Indeed, and a heat index of a mere 91 degrees likely made Tuesday's workout feel like even more of a breeze after Smart had his Bulldogs in full equipment sweating through days of 100 plus early in fall drills. Smart's practice management skills may have been modeled after Nick Saban's at first. But now in his fourth year leading the Bulldogs, Smart has modified much to his liking, such as the hilarious Friday activity of staging a 4 x 100 race between selected players and coaches. Georgia AD Greg McGarity was tipped off and was on hand to watch it. McGarity chuckled while recalling when the players realizing the fix was in with world-class sprinter Matthew Boling running the anchor leg for the coaches. 'I was there when J.R. Reed spotted him and said, there's that 9.9 dude, this is a setup!' ' McGarity said, recalling how Reed described Boling, a UGA track athlete who has run the 100 meters in 9.98 seconds. 'It was a really neat event for the kids to be a part of.' 4100. Players vs coaches. Watch til the end. @UGATrack, thanks for the assist! #ATD #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/TI5q2WEEz0 Georgia Football (@GeorgiaFootball) August 19, 2019 The Bulldogs went on to have their best scrimmage of the offseason the next day, drawing praise from Smart after last Saturday's work at Sanford Stadium. Receiver rotation Redshirt sophomore Matt Landers has apparently held on to the top spot in the starting three-rotation after Scrimmage Two. Tyler Simmons and Demetris Robertson continue to hold down the top sports in the slot and the other outside receiver position. Freshman George Pickens and Miami grad transfer Lawrence Cager are running with the twos. Dominick Blaylock, who has been working with the threes (behind Kearis Jackson in the slot), got a positive call out from OC James Coley during practice. RELATED: Dominick Blaylock battles to get on 70-man bus trip Nakobe Dean injury Freshman 5-star inside linebacker Nakobe Dean was not seen at practice and is dealing with a high ankle sprain. Dean is the No. 3 ILB behind starters Tae Crowder and Monty Rice. Sophomore Quay Walker has moved up with the second team to work beside Channing Tindall with Dean sidelined. Tyrique Stevenson back Stevenson, the athletically gifted true freshman cornerback, was back at 100 percent in drill work after being somewhat limited last week. Stevenson was taking part in all of secondary coach Charlton Warren's drill work. Line Dance Sophomore Cade Mays was working with the first team offensive line at right guard during the media viewing portion of practice. Andrew Thomas continued to anchor the line at left tackle, with Solomon Kindley at left guard, Trey Hill at center, Mays and Isaiah Wilson at right tackle. The second group featured Xavier Truss at left tackle, with Justin Shaffer at left guard, Clay Webb at center, Ben Cleveland at right guard and Warren McClendon at right tackle. D-Line update Senior defensive linemen Julian Rochester and David Marshall were working through drills with their teammates at the start of practice. Smart said Rochester (ACL) and Marshall (foot) have been limited in fall camp while they rehabilitate from offseason surgeries. DawgNation Georgia football fall camp Solomon Kindley emerging as preseason first-team AA Georgia No. 3 in preseason AP Top 25 New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof' The post Georgia football practice report: Everybody's legs back' after hilarious Matthew Boling prank appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS A rough Georgia fall camp is about to get even tougher for Kirby Smart and his coaches, as they sort through personnel to determine who 'makes the bus' to Vanderbilt. The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs open the season at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31, in Nashville. Georgia can suit up 70 players for the game against the Commodores. Smart indicated he's nowhere near ready to complete the list. 'We're going to have some tough decisions to make, we're not going to make them right now,' Smart said after the Bulldogs' second scrimmage of fall camp last Saturday. 'We've got two weeks to finalize those choices and decisions.' Smart indicated freshman quarterback D'Wan Mathis has yet to be cleared for contact, so preferred walk-on QB Nathan Priestly will be the third quarterback on the travel roster behind Jake Fromm and Stetson Bennett. Georgia could dress six running backs at Vanderbilt after Kenny McIntosh's impressive second scrimmage. 'We don't know how many backs travel . if they can help on special teams, they'll be out there,' Smart said. 'We've traveled as few as four, as many as seven. Prather (Hudson) makes that number vary because he's a really good special teams player. So those decisions we've got to make are going to be tough. 'Somebody like McIntosh is a key to that decision, because his value right now is going to be special teams, initially.' The Bulldogs typically brought 10 receivers on road trips last season, but Smart pointed out how accomplished many of the departing receivers were on special teams. 'When you start talking about (true freshmen) George Pickens, Dom Blaylock, those guys haven't seen the light,' Smart said. 'Their high school special teams was, I was catching the ball and running with it, I wasn't blocking anybody, I wasn't covering anybody.' 'They have to become those players and be dominant in those roles, that's something that we're still working on.' Smart pointed out the number of talented linebackers the team has added, an indication the receiving group for road games could shrink a bit depending on how special teams auditions play out. 'The last five to get on the bus,' Smart said 'are going to be dominant special teams players.' DawgNation Georgia football fall camp Solomon Kindley emerging as preseason first-team AA Georgia No. 3 in preseason AP Top 25 New DC Dan Lanning impressing early in fall camp Kenny McIntosh stands out in Scrimmage Two Kirby Smart breaks down 'spirited' Scrimmage Two Georgia football injury updates, post-Scrimmage Two Mark Webb's 'rough' start has proven beneficial Could RB James Cook be biggest UGA surprise? J.R. Reed says Havoc Rate is out the roof' The post Georgia football coach Kirby Smart: special teams determines who's getting on the bus' appeared first on DawgNation.