Justice sends out opioid task force

The Justice Department is dispatching 12 federal prosecutors charged specifically with fighting the opioid epidemic by investigating healthcare fraud related to opioids.

[Attorney General Jeff] Sessions said the group of prosecutors he has dubbed the “opioid fraud and abuse detection unit” will rely on data in their efforts to root out pill mills and track down doctors and other health care providers who illegally prescribe or distribute narcotics such as fentanyl and other powerful painkillers.

Artist’s interpretation

Pharma companies hide their involvement in fight

Which pharmaceutical companies are donating money to fight an Ohio bill that’s trying to keep drug prices lower? (The law would set the price the state pays for medication (e.g., via Medicaid) to the same cost paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.)

PhRMA, the industry trade group, isn’t saying — and it took advantage of a loophole in Ohio law to hide the information.

It created an LLC, then funneled pharma companies’ money into that LLC. Then the LLC made the contribution to the lobbying group — not the individual companies.

[T]he LLC reported making $15.8 million in contributions to the campaign, disclosing the only donor as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the international trade association representing drug makers.

“I have no idea if the money came from all of those [PhRMA member] companies or just some of them … and, if it was the latter, which ones,” said a spokesman.

Not just for children, but let’s start with them

About 50 feet from where my mother is buried is a section of the cemetery with much smaller graves. These are children who died in the 1918 flu epidemic. There was no such thing as a flu shot back then, of course.

What the heck? I hear you say. Why would I possibly share this? Because August is National Vaccine Awareness Month, that’s why.

Most post-surgery opioids get tossed

Turns out that something like two-thirds of the painkillers prescribed for surgery patients aren’t used … at least not by the patients.

At the low end of the spectrum, 67% of patients who went under the knife to treat kidney stones, prostate cancer or other urologic conditions had unfilled prescriptions or leftover pills from prescriptions that were filled. On the high end, 92% of general-surgery patients had excess pain medication, the researchers found.

So what happened to all those pills? “In 70% of cases, patients said they hadn’t given the situation any thought at all.”

Gene-editing was a success in experiment

Those U.S. scientists who edited the genes of a human embryo? Turns out it worked — they were able to remove a mutation without causing other effects in the cell. And while they could have allowed the embryos to grow and then implant them to create a pregnancy, they didn’t do that. Not this time.

Health policy watch

It looks like members of both parties want to continue to pay health insurers the subsidies they were promised under the Affordable Care Act. But actually doing that might be tough, because politics. (Notably: Democrats want to keep the ACA’s minimum standards for health insurance; Republicans want to allow states to set those regulations.) Politico has more.