Below: The Justice Department has appealed a ruling that struck down the CDC’s mask mandate on public transportation – and it’s going after fraud schemes to pocket coronavirus aid dollars.
The Biden administration has its first drug addiction plan amid rising overdose deaths
The Biden administration is poised to release its first overall plan for attacking drug addiction – a persistent, national epidemic that only worsened throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
The plan, which President Biden will announce today Focuses on countering untreated addiction and drug trafficking. A summary of the plan doesn’t mention the still-controversial idea of supervised drug consumption sites.
Coordinated by the Office of National Drug Control Strategy under drug czar Rahul Guptathe plan calls for working to ensure that naloxone—the nasal spray or injectable antidote for opioid overdoses—fentanyl test strips and syringe exchange programs reach anyone who needs them.
There was a time when those initiatives were controversial (in some places they still are). But with the number of drug overdose deaths on an ever-upward trajectory, the federal government is throwing its weight, and its money, behind the effort to keep people with substance use disorder alive.
- Restrictions and funding shortages are keeping naloxone out of some communities, Gupta told reporters in a briefing on the plan yesterday, as drugs are “unraveling the very social fabric of our nation and destroying American lives and livelihoods.”
And then there’s the problem of fentanyl. In the 12 months that ended in November, 2021, nearly 107,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses, most involving the powerful, illegal opioid fentanyl or its analogues.
Test strips allow users to check drugs for hidden fentanyl before consuming them. Fentanyl is now laced into other drugs such as cocaine and pressed into pills made to look like less powerful prescription opioids, causing overdoses among unknowing street users. Clean syringes, research shows, help reduce the spread of infections such as HIV and hepatitis.
The formal endorsement of harm reduction in the drug strategy is hardly a surprise: Biden campaigned on it and Xavier Becerrasecretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, outlined the administration’s intentions in October.
What the plan didn’t mention: Still-controversial supervised drug consumption sites, where staff and volunteers monitor users and stand ready to dispense naloxone and oxygen to counter overdoses. (Opioids kill by suppressing respiration.) After years of conflict about them in cities around the US, a New York City non-profit opened the first two facilities in the nation in November. Unlike the Trump administration, however, the Justice Department under Biden has made no vow to close them.
The drug strategy also emphasizes expanding treatment for people at the highest risk of overdosing — the homeless, people leaving jail and prison (who may have defeated addiction there) and people who inject drugs. The vast majority of people with substance abuse disorders do not get the treatment they need, whether that means drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone, or more intensive residential treatment.
One interesting wrinkle in the plan is a bid to closely track non-fatal overdoses which, Gupta said, are a good predictor of upcoming fatal overdoses. That may help authorities intervene before a cluster of fatal overdoses can occur.
As for drug traffickers, the administration promised to pursue them and their profits more vigorously, whether those proceeds are moved in cash or as virtual assets. In his fiscal year 2023 budget, Biden asked for a $300 million increase in funding for the Customs and Border Protection Agency and an additional $300 million for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
- The strategy calls for more effort to keep drugs from crossing the border and use of international relationships to curb the movement of precursor chemicals used to produce fentanyl. Those often originate in China and end up in Mexico, where drug cartels manufacture the powerful drug.
The drug strategy also calls for identifying ways to “advance racial equity in the investigation, arrest, and sentencing for drug related offenses without negatively impacting public safety” and diverting non-violent individuals from the criminal justice system to treatment where that is feasible.
Run, don’t walk: For about 24 hours, The Washington Post is offering free access to every story on our site, no credit card required. We did the honors and pulled some of our best health stories we think you’ll enjoy:
Justice department to appeal transportation mask mandate ruling
At the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Justice Department appealed to a federal judge’s ruling that struck down a nationwide mask mandate on public transportation, The Post’s Dan Diamond other Ann E. Marimov report.
- Catch up quick: A Florida judge on Monday voided the federal mandate that was extended through May 3, blindsiding the White House and sparking days of debate about whether to appeal the ruling. On Tuesday, the Justice Department said it would wait for the CDC’s recommendation before moving forward.
Now, agency officials say the mandates on indoor transportation “remains necessary for public health.”
Government officials appealing the decision face to an uncertain reception at the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, where a majority of the judges were appointed by the former president donald trump.
What we’re watching: The appeal could tee up a battle at the Supreme Court, which has already dealt with several blows to the administration’s coronavirus policies and could issue a new ruling constraining the CDC’s authority to fight future virus surges.
Anthony Coley, DOJ spokesman:
In light of today’s assessment by @CDCgov that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor remains necessary to protect the public health, the Department has filed a notice of appeal in Health Freedom Defense Fund, Inc., et al., v. Biden, et al.
— Anthony Coley (@AnthonyColeyDOJ) April 20, 2022
Meanwhile, so on Wednesday …
DOJ brings fresh charges over coronavirus fraud schemes
the Justice Department has brought criminal charges against 21 people across the country allegedly involved with health-care fraud schemes that “exploited” the coronavirus pandemicagency officials announced.
Federal prosecutors said defendants — which include physicians, medical business executives and manufacturers of forged vaccination cards — raked in $149 million in false billings to federal programs.
- “Throughout the pandemic, we have seen trusted medical professionals orchestrate and carry out egregious crimes against their patients all for financial gain,” said Luis Quesadaassistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division.
Wednesday’s announcement is the latest in the agency’s sweeping crackdown on fraud linked to federal spending during the public health emergency.
A vaccine for children under 5 may be getting closer
By the end of the month Moderna Inc. plans to file for emergency use authorization of its coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years old, Reuters reports.
- Omicron was the dominant variant during the pharmaceutical company’s pediatric trial, and two of the drugmakers’ doses were around 38 percent effective in preventing infections in 2-to-5-year-oldsa company spokesperson said.
- The vaccine’s effectiveness jumped to 44 percent among children aged 6 months to 2 years old.
Data on nursing home ownership made public
on wednesday, Health and Human Services for the first time made data publicly available on the changes of ownership for hospitals and nursing homes enrolled in Medicare over a six-year period, as a part of a larger push by the Biden administration for greater transparency in the health-care industry.
- Nursing homes were sold at far higher rates than hospitals. From 2016 to 2021, 348 hospitals were sold with 3,236 skilled nursing facilities.
- Hospitals in urban areas with lower profit margins and long-term care facilities were among those most likely to be sold.
The data set, which will be updated quarterly by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Servicesis also intended to provide insight into how mergers and acquisitions can impact cost for patients and quality of care by stymying competition.
- “Hospital and nursing facility consolidation leaves many underserved areas with inadequate or more expensive health care options,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSureCMS administrator, said in a statement.
- In his State of the Union address last monthBiden pledged a renewed focus on the growing role of private equity in the nursing home sector, which he said has led to worse health outcomes for patients while costing taxpayers more.
- State watch: Young people in Florida should not receive hormone therapies, puberty blocking drugs or gender reassignment surgery, the state’s health department said in a memo Wednesday, clashing with advice from the Health and Human Services.
- Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Ed Markey (Mass.) pressed the National Institutes of Health for answers about their “slow pace” of research into long covid, after Congress provided the agency $1.5 billion in December 2020 to study the range of symptoms.
- the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is taking steps to revoke Arizona’s ability to police workplace safety within the state after it refused to adopt a federal coronavirus vaccine mandate for health-care workers, Reuters reports.
- After a two-year investigation, the Justice Department determined that a Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman fostered unconstitutional conditions fueled by a lack of mental health services and uncontrolled violence that led to a spate of homicides and suicides, The Post’s David Nakamura reports.
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