Monday, April 30, 2012

State prescription drug databases like KASPER cut back doctor shopping and drug abuse, new study shows

Photo by iStockphoto
Research from the University of North Carolina indicates drug databases like the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system do reduce doctor shopping and change prescribing behavior.

Another article showed state drug databases "facilitate a relative decrease over time in prescription drug misuse, despite state differences in program administration," reports Maggie Clark for Stateline, the freshly revised news service of The Pew Center on the States.

A 2010 evaluation of KASPER showed 90 percent of doctors who used the system found it effective in preventing drug abuse and doctor shopping. A new Kentucky law "mandates that all physicians and pharmacists who prescribe schedule II and III drugs, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, check the patient's prescription records before writing or filling a prescription," Clark reports. Dispensers must also register prescriptions in the state database without 24 hours of writing or filling the prescription.

Clark points out the legislation change sparked a debate about "how to balance patient privacy and law enforcements needs in fighting a serious criminal and public health problem." Attorney General Jack Conway, who wanted KASPER put into his office's hands, lost that fight as part of the legislative compromise. It will remain the responsibility of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and, by extension, the doctor-run Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure.

Privacy issues have likewise surfaced in Vermont. "The discussion really is about what kind of access the police will have to electronic personal health information," said Allen Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont Civil Liberties Union. (Read more)

Major newspapers publish reflections, reactions and details (including videos) on new law that will fight 'pill mills'

Reflections on the new law to fight "pill mills" are in both of Kentucky's major metropolitan newspapers today.

The Courier-Journal, which rightly takes partial credit for focusing attention on the issue, has a story by Laura Ungar that summarizes what the bill will do and not do. In the Lexington Herald-Leader, Kentucky Medical Association President Shawn Jones has an opinion piece defending his organization's lobbying against key parts of the bill.

"Unfortunately, in a desire to pass something, many did not consider the details of proposed legislation, and many of the details were extremely troublesome," writes Jones, right. "Most troubling were the proposed infringements on patient privacy through access to the state's Kentucky All Scheduled Prescription Electronic Reporting, or KASPER, system, which contains what is essentially a log of all of the controlled substances an individual has bought. A controlled substance is not just what many people have characterized as 'pain medicine.' It also includes prescriptions for medicines for anxiety, depression or attention deficit disorder." (Read more)

Jones is among the people featured in videos posted with The Courier-Journal's story. Others include Dr. Greg Cooper of Cynthiana; attorney Fox DeMoisey, who represents physicians accused of malpractice; and Dr. Patrick Murphy, a pain-management physician, talking about the various responsibilities of doctors in his field.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Tonsillectomies not necessary much of the time; among $158 billion spent each year on unnecessary health care

Photo by Matthew Staver, Bloomberg
Tonsillectomies are the most common procedure for children requiring anesthesia. "The only problem is there's no evidence they work for most" kids, reports Sarah Cliff of The Washington Post.

"The procedure does show some benefits for those with really serious symptoms — very sore throats, fevers and other symptoms at least seven times in the past year — but no improvement for those whose indications are milder," Cliff reports.

Yet, more and more of the procedures are being performed. Between 1996 and 2006, the number of tonsillectomies increased by 74 percent.

"It's a silent epidemic of unnecessary care," said David Goodman of the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care. "In most instances, it's done for patients with much less recurrent symptoms than should be indicated. I think a lot of this is unbeknownst to providers."

Unnecessary health care costs about $158 billion every year, Cliff reports, and the sum is partly to blame on demanding patients, to whom doctors acquiesce. Because doctors are paid based on volume, there is also an incentive to provide more care, even if it's not necessary.

Goodman said the medical education system is one main culprit. "Medical schools and graduate schools are failing us deeply," he said. "We need to move some of these ideas about the evidence being uncertain into the beginning of education. There's been such little work on that." (Read more)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Couple loses combined 347 pounds in 2 years, pretty simply; similar success stories are always compelling

"When Art and Betty Halcomb look at each other, they still have a hard time believing how much weight they have lost," reports Nola Sizemore for the Harlan Daily Enterprise. Together, the couple has lost 347 pounds, a journey that started in April 2010.

Art weighed 384 pounds and Betty was 308. "We decided we were going to do everything we could do in a three-month period to see how much weight we could actually lose," Betty said. That included counting calories and daily exercise, which at first comprised for a half-mile of walking. Within two weeks, they were able to walk one mile.

"We did portion control with our meals, actually measuring out serving sizes," Betty said. "I was eating 1,200 calories per day and Art was eating 1,500 calories per day. We didn't limit ourselves to any certain foods. We wanted it to be a lifestyle change, not just another diet."

One of their major motivations was their daughter, Kristen Swanner, a two-time cancer survivor who has endured chemotherapy, radiation and a stem-cell transplant. To watch her "literally fight for her life and we were just throwing ours away, we felt so guilty," Betty said.

When they discovered Swanner was pregnant, after being told by doctors that she couldn't conceive, the couple had even more drive to shed the weight, knowing they were soon to be grandparents.

"Jesus says he wants us to have an abundant life," Betty said. "If we can do this, anyone can do it. Make that decision today to lose weight and live a more happier life. Don't give up — keep trying." (Read more)

Floyd County woman is Kentucky's smoke-free advocate of year

For her work spreading the word about second-hand smoke and founding the coalition that ultimately helped Prestonsburg pass a smoke-free ordinance in 2009, Floyd County's Jean V. Rosenberg was named 2012 advocate of the year at the annual Smoke-Free Policy Conference hosted by the University of Kentucky's Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy. She stands with center Director Dr. Ellen Hahn, left, and Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley, right, the Glasgow cardiologist who won in 2011.

Rosenberg started her work in 2005 when she began working for the Floyd County Health Department as a program specialist to increase awareness about the dangers of second-hand smoke, reports Ann Blackford reports in a university press release. During that time, she founded the Breathe Easy Floyd County Coalition, which educated people about second-hand smoke and supported local smoke-free initiatives.

On Nov. 1, 2009, the City of Prestonsburg implemented a 100 percent smoke-free ordinance in all workplaces and enclosed public places, with Rosenberg at the helm to propel the effort forward. (Read more)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Measles is still around; rate in 2011 was highest in 15 years

Measles virus (Photo by Scott Camazine/CDC/Getty Images)
In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared measles had been eliminated in the United States. But last year, the nation had the most cases of the infectious disease since 1997.

A report released last week shows there were 222 cases of measles and 17 measles outbreaks in 2011. In a typical year, there are usually just 50 to 60 cases. This year, there have already been 25 cases.

"Of the 222 reported cases, 50 percent were associated with the 17 outbreaks and 90 percent were associated with importations from foreign countries — 26 percent from U.S. residents traveling abroad and 10 percent from foreign visitors," reports Alexandra Sifferlin for Time magazine.

Each case is treated with intense investigation because of the highly contagious nature of the virus. "You can catch measles just by being in a room where someone with measles has been, even if they left," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diesease. "It's serious; one out of three people who got it last year had to be hospitalized." No one died, however.

Of the 196 U.S. residents who contracted the virus last year, 166 had not been or did not know if they had been vaccinated. More than 80 percent of them were eligible for vaccine.

"Many people think diseases like measles are gone and that they do not need to vaccinate themselves or their children," Sifferlin reports. "But the CDC warns measles is still prevalent worldwide. Globally, about 20 million people get measles each year." (Read more)

Beshear OKs prescription bill, telling pill mills, 'Get out of this state'

Saying it couldn't get to his desk quickly enough, Gov. Steve Beshear signed a bill aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse in celebration today, warning so-called pill mills to "Get out of this state, because we're coming after you."

House Bill 1 requires doctors and pharmacists who prescribe or dispense Schedule II and III drugs, such as oxycodone and morphine, to use the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system and requires pain clinics to be owned by at least one physician. Clinics already in operation that have not had trouble with the law but are not owned by doctors will be grandfathered in under the law.

Though there was a strong push for it by law enforcement, the bill will not move KASPER over to the attorney general's office but will stay under the control of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the doctor-controlled Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who sponsored the bill, called the legislation "a major step forward in the ongoing battle to put the brakes on prescription drug abuse."

Though KASPER will not move to  Attorney General Jack Conway's office, as Conway wanted, he endorsed the effort. "It helps keep entrepreneurs out of the pill mill business and requires doctors, with reasonable exceptions, to use the KASPER system," he said. "I encourage those who are fearful of increased oversight to end the hyperbole and begin a constructive process with the legislature and executive branch to implement this bill." (Read more)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Nearly half of Kentuckians keep guns in their home, and 9 percent keep a gun loaded and unlocked

Forty-five percent of Kentucky adults keep a gun or other firearm in their home, and one-fifth of those (9 percent of the population) keep them loaded but unlocked, the 2011 Kentucky Health Issues Poll has found. Children are present in almost half of homes that have firearms.

"Whether or not you keep guns in your home, if you have children, this should be a reminder to talk to them about gun safety," said Susan Zepeda, CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, which released the poll results. In 2008, 576 Kentuckians died from injury by firearms, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranking the state 16th in firearm deaths that year.

The poll found that men, people with higher incomes and people who live in the Appalachian part of the state are more likely to keep firearms around the home. People who live in large urban areas had fewer of the weapons — 39 percent in the Lexington area, 37 percent in Northern Kentucky and 32 in the Louisville area, compared to 57 percent in Eastern Kentucky.

The poll was funded by The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, as well as the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. A random sample of more than 1,600 Kentuckians responded to the survey, which was conducted Sept. 27 to Oct. 27, 2011 by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. A random sample of adults across Kentucky were interviewed, including 1,313 landline interviews and 308 cell-phone interviews. (Read more)

Mayor will propose smoking ban in Hopkinsville, largest Kentucky city without one

The largest Kentucky city that has not banned smoking in public places may change that.

Hopkinsville Mayor Dan Kemp's proposal "fundamentally resembles Lexington's ban," reports Nick Tabor for the Kentucky New Era. The law would apply to bars and restaurants but not private clubs; retail tobacco stores and tobacco warehouses; and rented rooms in hotels, hospitals and nursing homes. "The best thing would be to have no exemptions," Kemp said, adding that he recognizes the need for compromise. 

An online survey by the Christian County Health Department two years ago indicated strong support for a ban. A recent, scientific survey of 500 Kentuckians shows 59 percent support a statewide ban, the American Cancer Society found. Kemp said he has "received a mostly positive response from local businesses," Tabor reports.

As for a smoking ban imposing on a person's right to light up, Kemp said, "I just think it's such an overriding health concern that that trumps the individual rights argument." Kemp hopes the council will vote on the proposal June 5. If they ratify it, the ban could take effect July 1. (Read more)

April 28 is National Drug Take-Back Day; three Kentuckians die each day from prescription drug abuse

April 28 is National Drug Take-Back Day, with Kentuckians encouraged to dispose of the expired, unused and unwanted drugs in their medicine cabinet at locations set up by law enforcement across the state. The national effort comes on the heels of Kentucky legislators passing a bill Friday evening aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse.

Dozens of sites will be set up across the state and will accept medication from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. To find a disposal location nearby, click here.

"Prescription drug abuse is the most urgent substance abuse issue facing Kentucky — one that kills nearly three Kentuckians every day — and we know that number is woefully underreported," Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement. "We can't stress enough that medications, once they are no longer needed for their prescribed purposes, should be disposed of properly to reduce their risk of being diverted and abused."

A national survey found that 70 percent of people aged 12 and over who took prescription drugs for non-prescribed reasons got the drugs from a friend or relative. That includes raiding their medicine cabinets.

Disposing of the drugs properly is also important since some medications, if just flushed or thrown in the garbage, can leach into the water table and contaminate the water supply.

Since take-back days started being hosted by law enforcement, 500 tons of medication at more than 5,300 sites have been disposed of nationwide, though a recent poll found 2 out of 3 Kentuckians still dispose of their medication improperly.

House Bill 1, which passed Friday, left the state's prescription drug-monitoring system under the control of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the doctor-controlled Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure rather than move it to the attorney general's office. It will require doctors and pharmacists who prescribe or dispense Schedule II and III drugs, such as oxycodone and morphine, to use the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting System. Only about 25 percent of Kentucky physicians now use KASPER.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Appalachian hospital chain, facing loss of 25,000 Medicaid patients, sues managed-care firms and state

"Appalachian Regional Healthcare, the largest health care system in Eastern Kentucky, has filed lawsuits against two of the state's Medicaid managed care companies, alleging that the managed care companies had not paid claims promptly," report Valarie Honeycutt Spears and Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader. ARH said it treats about 25,000 Medicaid patients at its eight Kentucky hospitals.

The moves came after Coventry Cares, one of three managed-care organizations hired by the state, said it would cancel its contract with ARH as of May 4. ARH sued Coventry in federal court on Monday; the previous Thursday, April 12, it sued "in Franklin Circuit Court against Kentucky Spirit Health Plan Inc. and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services." On March 29, "Coventry Coventry told ARH that it was terminating its contract with ARH effective May 4."

Coventry spokesman Matthew Eyles told the Herald-Leader, "We were effectively forced to break our ties with ARH until the Commonwealth takes steps to treat all MCOs equally and makes some key decisions to guarantee greater stability in the program, such as paying MCOs fairly based on whether they have healthier or sicker members." Cabinet spokeswoman Jill Midkiff said the issues don't indicate a problem with the managed-care system the state adopted Nov. 1. (Read more)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pill-mill bill passes; attorney general won't get drug-monitoring system but narcotic-prescribing doctors will have to use it

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, center, walks
with House budget committee chair Rick
Rand and House Majority Floor Leader
Rocky Adkins. (Courier-Journal photo).
Legislators have sent Gov. Steve Beshear a bill to curb prescription drug abuse and crack down on rogue pain clinics, ending the special session of the General Assembly.

The final version left the state's prescription drug-monitoring system under the control of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the doctor-controlled Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure rather than move it to the attorney general's office, as the last version in the regular session would have. But in another significant change, it will require doctors and pharmacists who prescribe or dispense Schedule II and III drugs, such as oxycodone and morphine, to use the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system. Only about 25 percent of Kentucky physicians now use KASPER.

Putting the drug-monitoring system in the hands of the attorney general was considered a linchpin of efforts to help law enforcement to proactively identify suspicious prescribers; law enforcement officers can access the database only if they have a case opened, and say they need the data to open cases. But the Kentucky Medical Association called giving law enforcement oversight of information with prescription-drug information a violation of personal privacy. "You are essentially legislating medical care," said Shawn Jones, president of the KMA.

Beshear, who repeatedly pressured legislators to pass a bill pertaining to the issue, issued a statement this evening expressing his delight. "Even though the prescription drug bill doesn't include every element we had hoped, it is an enormous bipartisan accomplishment, and it restores Kentucky as a leading state in innovative tactics in battling prescription drug abuse," he said. "The elements of the bill also help prevent Kentucky from becoming a source state for prescription pills.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who sponsored the bill, called its passage "a step forward" though he "would have preferred a stronger version." He told reporters that he did not feel this would be the last time lawmakers would be changing laws to fight the problem, and noted that Beshear could use his gubernatorial reorganization powers to change the administration of the system: "I think the governor, in the days ahead, will continue to take aggressive action on addressing this problem."

The measure will require pharmacists to submit information to KASPER within 24 hours of dispensing a narcotic and doctors must check the system before prescribing one to a new patient. They then would be required to check a KASPER report every three months during a patient's treatment.

As before, the measure will require most pain clinics be owned by at least one doctor; 33 of Kentucky's 77 pain clinics are owned by people with no medical background. Those who already own clinics and haven't had run-ins with the law will be "grandfathered" and be allowed to continue operating. "That really waters it down. A lot!!" Operation UNITE Director Karen Kelly said on Facebook.

Lawmakers also passed the transportation budget bill, which was the main reason why they were called in for a special session by Beshear. They reached an impasse last week when the Senate would not approve the budget, a move Beshear and Senate President David Williams blamed on each other.

There were suggestions that the road and drug issues, the only items that the legislature could consider under Beshear's call of the session, were related. "As the Senate receded on the amendment to put back $50 million of [road] money into Senate President David Williams' district, word went out that the House would compromise on the pill bill and let the Senate keep KASPER [where it is] as long as a funding change took place," Ryan Alessi reports for cn|2. "The Senate sprang into action amended the pill bill and leaders from the two chambers worked together to pass legislation before supper time."

Kentucky's pill mill fight makes headlines in Wall Street Journal

A man gets arrested at a pain clinic in Lexington.
Photo by Charles Bertram for the Lexington
The Wall Street Journal has featured Kentucky's legislative battle over its pill-mill bill in today's paper, calling the state an "epicenter of abuse."

"Kentucky is ground zero of the effort to move prescription-drug monitoring programs out of the health-care arena into law enforcement," said Even Jenkins, executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, a physicians trade group, and a Democratic state senator.

"The Republican-controlled Senate is considering a vote as early as Friday on a bill that would restrict ownership of pain clinics to licensed physicians and give law enforcement easier access to the state's prescription-drug database," writes Timothy W. Martin.

But, he notes, there is strong opposition to the bill from the Kentucky Medical Association, which worries "giving law enforcement oversight of a database with prescription-drug information is a violation of personal privacy."

"You are essentially legislating medical care. We think doctors should write those regulations, not legislatures," said Shawn Jones, president of the KMA. He called the bill an "overreach."

"The struggle over the Kentucky bill highlights the complicated path policy makers and law enforcement are traversing nationwide in their attempts to fight abuse of prescription painkillers," Martin reports. "Unlike importers and dealers of illicit drugs such as cocaine, the supply chain for prescription drugs is made up largely of legitimate businesses and professionals."

Legislative pushes in Ohio, West Virginia, Florida and other states have been met with fierce opposition from physician and pharmacy trade groups, Martin writes.

About 48 states have legislation requiring prescription drug-monitoring programs. That's up by 16 from 10 years ago, but restrictions for who can access the data varies by state, Martin reports. Kentucky law enforcement has complained it cannot access the data in time to single out problem prescribers, which is the reason House Bill 1 would transfer the tracking system from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general's office.

"The data is all there — it's just under a rug," said Attorney General Jack Conway, saying law enforcement cannot know now who are the highest prescribers in the state. Having access to the database would solve that problem, he said. (Read more)

Hospitals get antsy about leasing space to fast-food chains

McDonald's has space in the Cleveland Clinic. (AP photo)
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture decides what to suggest about junk food in schools, hospitals are likewise at a crossroads, with many administrators feeling conflicted about housing fast-food chains in their facilities.

At Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, the cafeteria features low-fat meals, on the other side of a wall from a McDonald's. CEO John Bluford said the golden arches send "an inconsistent message" to patients, staff and community because of the unhealthy offerings, but Truman agreed to a 25-year contract with the chain in 1992 "at a time when the financial benefit of having a stable food-service client in the hospital outweighed any potential health concerns," reports Elana Gordon for NPR.

Getting out of these contracts can be tricky. The Cleveland Clinic tried to end its agreement with McDonald's 10 years ago, but the restaurant remains in operation. "We're just going to live with it," said Bill Barum, director of hospitality and retail services. "When the contract ends, we'll have the opportunity to reexamine the space."

Of the 14,000 McDonald's in the country, there are 27 in hospitals, and officials say the restaurant's menu can be tailored to health-conscious diners.

Some hospitals have five fast-food outlets, a survey by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found. The report's top five "worst hospital environments" housed at least one fast-food restaurant. "In this day and age, you would think a hospital might be proud enough, if not shamed enough, to cut or end these contracts with fast-food outlets," said Susan Levin, a dietitian with PCRM.

But while some hospitals are looking to end fast-food contracts, some are signing them, including the Texas Medical Center's St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital and the Medical University of South Carolina University Hospital, where Chick-fil-A is  open for business. (Read more)

Poll finds parents overwhelmingly support more nutritious school food; USDA expected to issue new guidelines

Photo by Reuters' Lucy Nicholson
Chocolate bars, Cheetos and cheesy fries may soon be a thing of the past at public schools in America, and that's fine with parents, a new poll has found.

The survey found "most people agreed the chips, soda and candy bars students buy from vending machines or school stores in addition to breakfast and lunch are not nutritious, and they support a national standard for foods sold at schools," reports Susan Heavey for Reuters.

As it did for school lunch earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to release new guidelines for vending machines and à la carte sales by June, some experts say.

In Kentucky, schools are already not allowed to sell food that competes with the national school lunch and breakfast programs from the minute students arrive in the morning until 30 minutes after the last lunch period. Only water, 100 percent fruit juice, lowfat milk and any beverage that contains no more than 10 grams of sugar per serving are allowed to be sold in school vending machines, as per state mandate. There are no limits as to what food or drinks that can be sold in fundraisers.

The poll, conducted by advocacy group Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project, found 80 percent of the 1,010 adults surveyed said they would support nutritional standards that limit the calories, fat and sodium in such schools.

Students eat one-fifth to one-half of their daily diet at schools, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 20 percent of American children are obese, As of 2007 in Kentucky, more than 37 percent of children were either obese or overweight, a study by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows.

A study by the National Academy of Sciences reports that about $2.3 billion worth of snack food and drinks are sold each year in schools nationwide. As such, changes might be controversial. The new guidelines for school lunch met with resistance from lawmakers, who "locked limits to french fries and counted pizza as a vegetable because it contains tomato sauce," Heavey reports.  There are concerns industry lobbyists and members of Congress could dilute the USDA proposals. (Read more)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

As U.S. teen birthrate reaches 70-year low, Ky. still 7th highest

The teenage birth rate nationwide is the lowest in nearly 70 years, but Kentucky's rate is much higher than the national average — 46.2 births per 1,000 compared to 34.3 across the U.S.

That ranks it seventh highest in the nation, but the figure is down from 53.1 per 1,000 in 2007. Nationwide, the number is down from 61.8 per 1,000 in 1991. "Young people are being more careful," Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told Sharon Jayson of USA Today.

In 2010, a total of 367,752 infants were born to mothers ages 15 to 19. Mississippi had the highest rate, with 55 teen births per 1,000 and New Hampshire had the lowest with 15.7, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Girls who are having sex for the first time are much more likely to use contraception than their predecessors, notes Laura Lindberg, a senior research associate with the non-profit Guttmacher Institute in New York. She credited the lower teen-birth rate to "the elimination of pelvic exams before receiving prescriptions for hormonal methods, as well as use of long-acting methods such as IUDs." (Read more)

Kids needs to cut out an average of 41 calories a day to stop gaining weight

Children and teens need to cut their food intake an average of only 41 calories a day in order to stop gaining weight, a new study has found. If they don't do that, they'll end up weighing even more than they do now — four more pounds across the board, say the researchers from  Columbia University, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.. (Photo:

Without reducing consumption, more than one in five children will be obese nationwide, researchers concluded. In Kentucky, 37.1 percent of children were overweight or obese in 2007, numbers by theNational Conference of State Legislature show.

While cutting 41 daily calories is significant, that number will only stop children from getting heavier. "The federal government really wants children to be slimmer than they are now," reports Nancy Shute for NPR. In order to lower the childhood obesity rate to just 5 percent, children would have to cut an average of 120 calories a day — 33 calories for preschoolers, 149 calories for grade-schoolers, and 177 calories a day for teens.

In order to do so, teens would have to jog at least 30 minutes per day or cut out a 16-ounce soft drink.

The study's "numbers are based on population averages; individuals' experiences will be different," Shute reports. "But the numbers show that the public health world has a lot of work to do to help children keep or reach a healthy weight."

According to a nutrition chart by the American Heart Association, children should consume an average of 900 calories at age 1 and 1,000 calories at age 2. Girls should consume 1,200 calories a day from ages 4 to 8; 1,600 calories from ages 9 to 13; and 1,800 calories a day from ages 14 to 18. Boys should consume 1,400 calories from ages 4 to 8; 1,800 calories ages 9 to 13; and 2,200 calories ages 14 to 18. (Read more)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

1 in 4 grandparents keep meds where kids can reach them

A new poll shows nearly one in four grandparents say they store prescription medicines in places that can be accessed by children. Unintentional poisonings cause more visits to the emergency room for young children — one every 10 minutes — than car accidents, to say nothing of the threat of theft, a factor in the prescription-drug epidemic that is killing more Kentuckians than such accidents.

The most common type of prescriptions that are accidentally ingested are opioids, the poll found. The most common type of over-the-counter medicine ingested is acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, reports research-reporting service Newswise.

The poll found that 23 percent of grandparents and 5 percent of parents store prescription meds in easy-to-access places. Eighteen percent of grandparents and 8 percent of parents said they store over-the-counter medicine in easily accessible spots.

"Emergency room visits for accidental poisonings among young children have become much more frequent in the last decade," said Matthew Davis, director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health. "We hope the results of this poll are a reminder to parents, grandparents and all those who care for young children: check around your homes to make sure that medicines are safely stored out of reach." (Read more)

Though the numbers are on the rise, on the whole, American children are safer than they ever were, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of death from unintentional injuries dropped 29 percent from 2000 to 2009. Deaths dropped from 12,400 in 2000 to about 9,100 in 2009.

Poisoning death rates rose dramatically, however‚ going up 91 percent in youths aged 15 to 19, "a byproduct of the rising prescription-drug abuse among teens who either obtain the pills illegally or swipe them from medicine cabinets of their parents or others," reports Timothy Martin for The Wall Street Journal. (Read more)

Where you live can affect your weight, studies find

A child's weight can be determined in part by what neighborhood he or she grows up in, a new series of studies indicate. (Photo by Getty Images)

In one of the studies, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers examined neighborhoods in King County, Wash., and San Diego County, Calif., and rated them in terms of physical activity and nutrition for kids ages 6 to through 11. A neighborhood received a high rating if its residents could easily walk to places like stores, libraries and parks. They also got a good grade if they had several grocery stores where healthy foods are sold, reports Kim Carollo for ABC News.

Poor-rated neighborhoods had few grocery stores or had lots of fast food restaurants. They also had few parks. "The biggest difference we found in rates of obesity were in the places where the environment was good for both nutrition and physical activity, the rates were less than 8 percent, but if the nutrition and physical activity were not good, the rates went up to 16 percent," said Brian Saelens, a co-author and professor of pediatrics at Seattle Children's Research Institute. (Read more)

The findings, explored using geographic information systems, are in keeping with an op-ed piece by Susan Blumenthal, public-health editor for the Huffington Post. Making the link between poverty and obesity, she points out the difference an affordable housing project has made in Greenbridge in King County, an immigrant community where more than 54 percent of adults are overweight or obese and more than 85 percent of children in grades 8, 10 and 12 do not meet federal physical activity recommendations.

The neighborhood is "being designed and built as models for creating an environment that promotes healthy diets and active lifestyles for their residents," she explains. The neighborhood now boasts an elementary school, a Head Start program, a Boys and Girls Club, community gardens to grown fresh fruits and vegetables, a library, play areas, walking path, a food bank, a community center and a public health clinic.

"This integrative approach has turned a trouble neighborhood into a welcoming place to live," she writes. "Initiatives like this one that involve not only individuals but the entire family and community provide a model for how to improve the health of cities across our nation." (Read more)

A healthy recess during school can cut down on bullying, improve learning, study finds

New research shows a healthy recess period during the school day can cut down on bullying and strengthen the school climate.

The report from researchers at Mathematica Policy Research and Stanford University compared schools in five cities who used Playworks — a program that uses a full-time coach to work to engage students in safe, healthy play during recess and throughout the day — to similar schools who did not use the program.

Schools that used the Playworks method had less bullying; better recess behavior and readiness for class. Teachers reported quicker transition to learning activities after recess and the students felt safer and more included at recess. Nearly 100 percent of teachers in Playworks said they wanted to use the program again the next school year. (Read more)

University of Louisville delays choosing hospital partner

To allow time for more "discussions and negotiations," the University of Louisville has put off deciding on University Hospital's new health-care partner until the end of June.

It is not known how many entities are interested in partnering with the indigent-care hospital, nor have any entities been identified. The deadline for applications, which was last month, has not been extended. "The university has said it needs a partner with deep pockets that can inject cash required to expand the hospital and attract new patients," reports Andrew Wolfson for The Courier-Journal.

Kerri Richardson, chief spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, said he is hopeful the hospital will find "a suitable path forward to preserve its public mission and continue to successfully serve citizens in the region."

Last year, Beshear rejected a proposed merger between University Hospital, Jewish Hospital & St. Mary's HealthCare and Saint Joseph Health System, which is owned by Catholic Health Initiatives. Because Saint Joseph would have had majority control in the initial deal, the other facilities would have had to adhere to Catholic health directives, which affect procedures like elective abortions, sterilizations, artificial insemination and euthanasia. Those limitations raised concerns and that the move would have been a loss of control of a public asset, meaning University Hospital.

After Beshear's decision, Jewish & St. Mary's and St. Joseph merged, forming KentuckyOne. (Read more)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fighting prescription drug abuse back on legislative agenda

As expected, finding a way to fight prescription drug abuse was back on the legislative agenda as lawmakers gathered for Day 1 of their special session. House Speaker Greg Stumbo introduced a bill today that will make it "mandatory for doctors to use the state's electronic reporting system for prescriptions, which would be moved from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to the attorney general's office," report Jack Brammer and Beth Musgrave for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Filed as House Bill 1, Stumbo said it "will correct damages caused by lobbyists for the Kentucky Medical Association in the final days of the regular session, when KMA inserted last-minute language that prevented mandatory use of this basic tool."

The bill also makes it possible for doctors who teach pain and addiction medicine at the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville to be appointed by the governor to the boards that license doctors and nurses. "The KMA's lobbyists can no longer argue that such experts do not exist or, if they do, that they should not be on the licensing boards," Stumbo said. "It is unfortunate that KMA lobbyists sought to obscure this provision."

The bill, slightly altered from House Bill 4 that did not pass before the end of the legislative session Thursday, is considered by experts to be the cornerstone of this legislative session. (Read more)

Online training could help rural doctors offer better mental health care

More than half of all U.S. mental health care takes place at the primary-care level, and that percentage is even higher in rural areas, where mental-health doctors are often hundreds of miles away, reports Newswise, a research-reporting service. A new online training program could help rural primary-care doctors better treat patients with mental health issues, and that could be important in Kentucky.

The Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, a part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, designed the program. Educational Director Howard Liu said primary care doctors are overwhelmed by the amount of mental health care they must provide. Newswise reports "the goal is to help primary care providers get more comfortable as they prescribe medications and refer patients to psychiatrists and therapists." The adolescent version of the program was released last fall and is being used by doctors worldwide. The adult and geriatric version will be released this spring.

Primary care doctor Angie Brennan estimates 35 percent of all visits to her practice have been mental health related. She said there are specific rural challenges to treatment, including "reluctance to see a counselor and a lack of mental health insurance coverage – combined with an intensified fear that someone in the community will find out a patient has mental health issues." (Read more)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pill-mill bill does not pass as legislative session ends in failure; special session starts Monday

Though it's considered by experts as the most important bill needed this year, the Senate failed to pass a measure that would crack down on so-called pill mills before the end of the legislative session last night. Gov. Steve Beshear, above, called a special session that will begin Monday to give legislators more time to consider the bill, as well as approve funding for a $4.5 billion road-building plan — which was the main cause for the legislative gridlock.

Beshear wasn't happy, and blamed Senate President David Williams: "His rank partisanship, his obstructionist attitude, have caused numerous special sessions and cost the taxpayers millions of dollars of unnecessary expenses." The special session will cost more than $60,000 per day. "He's Senate president. I can't do a thing about that," Beshear said. "But what I can do is make sure that the people of this state know very loudly and clearly what damage he is causing to Kentucky."

Beshear even criticized Williams in his agenda for the special session, which included "legislation to enhance and expand tools and resources critical to Kentucky's continuing efforts to address the scourge of prescription drug abuse that plagues our citizens."

Negotiators on the prescription-drug measure, House Bill 4, came up with a compromise that pleased the Kentucky Medical Association, which opposes moving the state prescription-drug monitoring system to the attorney general's office from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the doctor-controlled Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure. The compromise would still make that move, and still limit ownership of pain clinics to physicians, but dropped a requirement that all physicians pay $50 to use the system.

Beshear railed against the impasse. "Sen. Williams willfully ignored the visible misery of our communities and allowed this essential bill to die," he said in a press release. "Why? Because of his road projects." Some lawmakers said another factor was House Democrats' refusal to override any of Beshear's budget vetoes, in spite of what Williams said was House Speaker Greg Stumbo's pledge to override. Stumbo denied making such a pledge.

On the road issue, "Williams wanted Beshear to sign the transportation projects list into law before the Senate voted on the bill authorizing the road construction money. Without the funding bill, those projects couldn't get started," reports Ryan Alessi of "Pure Politics" on cn|2, a cable-company news service. "Williams didn't want to give Beshear the ability to veto the project list and be able to unilaterally decide how to spend the $4 billion in federal and state road and bridge construction money."

According to Beshear, $288 million was allotted in the funding plan for Williams' district, $130 million of which would have been funded in the near future. But Williams "made some last-minute fine-print changes that moved an additional $155 million of those projects in his district ahead of those in other communities around the state." (Read more)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Docs must stop over-prescribing pain pills, summit speakers say

When a statistic showed the number of opioid prescriptions increased from 76 million in 1991 to 219 million in 2011, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, asked the seminal questions: "Do we really have this number of people requiring these prescriptions? Have we increased four times in terms of chronic pain? That's clearly not the case."

Dr. Ileana Arias, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said "opioid overdose death rates have risen in lock step with sales," reports Laura Ungar for The Courier-Journal. "In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month."

These were more troubling statistics discussed at the National Rx Drug Abuse Summit, held in Orlando, Fla., and organized by Eastern Kentucky's Operation UNITE. "This is an epidemic. And at CDC, we do not use the word epidemic very lightly," Arias said.

Volkow pointed out opioids are very addictive, since they raise dopamine levels in the brain, which are triggered when people do pleasurable activities, such as eating or sex. Heroin and the painkiller OxyContin are nearly identical in their chemical structure, she said. OxyContin blocks pain but increases dopamine. "You are decreasing pain, but you are activating a reward," she said.

Treatment is one solution, but "we don't have sufficient treatments. We are far behind other conditions," such as cancer or HIV, Volkow said.

More research is needed to "develop better pain medications that are as effective as opioids that are not addictive," she added. Doctors also need to be aware of over-prescribing, with Arias recounting a story in which she was prescribed two-weeks worth of Demerol after she had her wisdom teeth taken out — an excessive amount, in her view.

U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers of Kentucky's 5th District said he wasn't surprised. "Time and again, we've heard that doctors have prescribed, say, two weeks of medication when only a few days are necessary," he said. "Then the rest go in a medicine cabinet for (others) to pilfer." (Read more)

Troubling statistics discussed at prescription-drug summit

Staggering statistics were revealed this week at the Orlando-based National Rx Drug Abuse Summit, including one survey that found 2 million people age 12 and older started using prescription pain medicine for non-medical reasons in 2010. A troubling 11 percent of active-duty military personnel reported misusing pain medicine in the past month, Department of Defense research shows. And more than 15,000 people die each year because of pain killers, 1,000 of whom are Kentuckians, reports Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal.

"Prescription-drug abuse is causing untold misery among our families," Gov. Steve Beshear said at the gathering, which was organized by Eastern Kentucky-based Operation UNITE. The problem is "wasting away the future of many people in the Commonwealth of Kentucky."

As he's done several times now, Beshear asked conference attendees to push legislators to pass House Bill 4, which should be voted on today in Frankfort. The bill would require pain clinics to be owned by doctors, require doctors to participate in the state's prescription-tracking system, and move the system to the attorney genera's office from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Experts said prevention is key, which involves education youth, parents, as well as doctors and pharmacists. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin doctors "need to be more cognizant of the problem," Ungar reports, recounting an incident in which a patient stole one of her prescription pads by using her 4-year-old daughter to district Benjamin.

Gil Kerlikowske, known as the country's "drug czar," said general practitioners and family medicine doctors accounted for 27 percent of all prescribers of extended-release, long-acting opioids. Internal medicine physicians were the most common specialists to prescribe, accounting for almost 17 percent of prescriptions of pain pills.

One of the problems, Kerlikowske said, is prescription drug abuse is considered more acceptable than taking other kinds of drugs. Children "see their parents taking it. It's not heroin. It's not coke." (Read more)

Diabetes can cause gum disease and tooth decay

Though it's commonly known that diabetes can affect organ function and eyesight, an oral-health expert points out that the disease can also cause tooth decay and gum disease.

"Diabetics with uncontrolled glucose levels tend to develop more gum disease and may lose more teeth than diabetics who have good control of their glucose levels," writes Dr. John Novak, associate director of University of Kentucky's Center for Oral Health Research, in an op-ed piece for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A high carbohydrate/sugar diet can also lead to high levels of sugar in the blood, which can hamper the way the body deals with infection, he writes. Gum disease may be the result because the gums are inflamed by the increased levels of bacteria living in the mouth.

Diabetes can also cause dry mouth, which "creates the perfect environment for the growth of bacterial plaque and for fungal infections such as thrush," he writes. To avoid these problems, Novak recommends brushing teeth and gums twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing every day and using fluoride mouth wash before going to bed.

Signs of tooth decay or gum disease include tender gums that bleed easily when brushing or flossing; teeth sensitive to hot or cold temperatures; loose or broken teeth; sores, ulcers or a burning sensation in the mouth; and bad breath or a bad taste. (Read more)

Beshear vetoes parts of budget, but health spending is intact

Though Gov. Steve Beshear vetoed 45 parts of the state budget yesterday evening, health-related spending was safe from the cut.

The budget will help reduce caseloads for social workers who investigate child abuse and neglect, funds colon cancer screenings for 4,000 uninsured Kentuckians, substance-abuse treatment for Medicaid recipients and includes funding for an elder abuse registry to protect senior citizens from unscrupulous caretakers.

"This is the most difficult budget I have ever drafted, and it will also be a challenge to implement and manage over the next two years," the governor said in a statement.

In the two-year, $19 billion budget, Beshear voted more than three dozen line-item appropriations, including "portions of the General Fund budget that limited his ability to manage the state's budget or spent money that doesn't exist," reports Beth Musgrave of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

He also cut some earmarks, including $100,000 for Actors Theatre of Louisville and $150,000 for the International Mystery Writers' Festival in Owensboro. "I am vetoing these parts because they identify new spending earmarks yet the General Assembly failed to appropriate additional funds to finance them," Beshear said. (Read more)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Beshear tells national audience legislature should pass pill-mill bill

Today, Gov. Steve Beshear again called on legislators to pass a bill Thursday that would crack down on so-called pill mills and thus curb prescription drug abuse. Speaking at the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit in Orlando, Beshear asked for comprehensive collaboration to fight the problem, which kills more Americans than car accidents.

"No state or community is an island. It will take all of us — working across geographical and agency borders — to make headway against prescription drug abuse," he said.

The three-day summit is sponsored by Operation UNITE, which serves Kentucky's Fifth Congressional District, and features 100 leaders and experts, including Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, Fifth District Rep. Hal Rogers, and Centers for Disease Control Principal Deputy Director Illeana Arias.

Beshear outlined what has already been implemented in Kentucky to combat the problem, including working with Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia to identify those who exploit the system by crossing state borders and forming a panel of health professionals to develop criteria to identify suspicious drug-prescribing habits. But he also stressed the importance of passing House Bill 4, which would require pain clinics to be owned by doctors, require doctors to participate in the state's prescription-tracking system, and move the system to the attorney general's office from the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The latter provision continues to draw opposition from the Kentucky Medical Association, which is lobbying hard to make changes to the bill, or perhaps kill it. Beshear has been touting the bill, considered the cornerstone of this year's General Assembly, since before it was filed. Al Cross, director of the University of Kentucky's Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, said on KET's "Comment on Kentucky" Friday night that if the bill does not pass, the legislative session will be a failure. (Read more)

U of L researcher gets $3.4 million to replicate studies of stem cells for heart treatment

Dr. Roberto Bolli of the University of Louisville has received a $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to test the validity of several recent studies by replicating them. The studies examine whether certain types of stem cells are safe and effective in treating heart failure, heart attacks and other cardiovascular disorders.

"Replicating studies in several locations with a large number of patients is necessary for researchers to ultimately determine which ones can be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for approval," Jill Scoggins reports in a U of L press release.

Bolli has received more than $100 million in grants for basic research for NIH. This is the first grant he has been awarded for clinical research. (Read more)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Rx Drug Abuse Summit in Florida, organized by Ky. group, set to start as lobbying on 'pill-mill bill' continues to ramp up

By Tara Kaprowy
Kentucky Health News

As a bipartisan group of political leaders pushes the General Assembly to pass a bill Thursday that would crack down on "pill mills" that contribute to prescription drug abuse, Eastern Kentucky's Operation UNITE has organized a national summit in Florida.

The National Rx Drug Abuse Summit aims to "foster understanding and cooperation among those involved in the battle against the epidemic," reports Laura Ungar for The Courier-Journal.

The event starts tomorrow in Orlando and is expected to draw 700 people. "I think it's important because Kentucky's not an island ... This truly needs to be a national effort, standing up against the problem," Karen Kelly, president and CEO of Operation UNITE, which serves Eastern Kentucky's Fifth Congressional District, told Ungar.

Tuesday's agenda will include an address by Gov. Steve Beshear and Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, the U.S. surgeon general. About 1,000 Kentuckians died last year from prescription drug abuse, more than the number of people who died in car accidents.

But while Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway and key legislators in both parties push to pass a bill that would crack down on the problem, the Kentucky Medical Association is pushing back.

An editorial Sunday in the Lexington Herald-Leader says the KMA "should support the effort to pass this bill and fight this killer." It said, "Drug abuse is not a problem society dumps at the door of physicians. It's one deeply entwined with how we deliver medical care and police the providers."

Today, 15 business lobbying groups issued a press release calling on the legislature to pass the bill, noting that it would "limit direct dispensing of narcotics at a physician’s office to no more than a 48-hour supply. This will help control the supply of narcotics and allow for better monitoring of prescription drug abuse." Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said in the release, “Businesses large and small, rural and urban are all experiencing cost increases due to prescription drug abuse. Drug abuse is not only a social problem, it is a bottom-line business issue for Kentucky employers.”

Besides the Chamber, other groups joining in the release were the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, Associated General Contractors, the Home Builders Association of Kentucky, Kentuckians for Better Transportation, the Kentucky Coal Association, Coal Operators and Associates, the Kentucky chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses and local chambers in Louisville, Lexington, Northern Kentucky, Southeast Kentucky, Christian County and Hardin County.

Meanwhile, the legal battle against prescription-pill abuse continues. Last week, a Christian County jury found three men guilty of mailing large amounts of oxycodone from Florida to Kentucky. Peter Nibert, 27, of Pasco County, Fla., is believed to have mailed more than 3,000 pills in 2010. Cary Alder, 24, and Scotty Highsmith, 26, both of Hopkinsville were sentenced 10 and 15 years respectively for their part in the scheme.

Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Pain-pill problem has spread to new areas from Appalachia

Sales of hydrocodone (the key ingredient of Vicodin, Norco and Lortab) and oxycodone (the main ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan) skyrocketed in new parts of the country as the problem spread from its Appalachian roots in the last decade, an Associated Press analysis shows.

Oxycodone sales in Tennessee, New York and Florida were up by more than 499 percent from 2000 to 2010, the highest increases in the country, the study shows. When it came to hydrocodone, South Dakota had the highest increase, with 300 to 399 percent.

In Kentucky, oxycodone sales increased by 171 percent and hydrocodone sales increased 176 percent from 2000 to 2010. Kentucky's increase was not as high because the problem started in the eastern part of the state and in West Virginia, with coal miners needing relief from back and chronic pain, reports the AP's Chris Hawley. The problem also started in affluent suburbs, said Pete Jackson, president of Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids. "Now it's spreading from those two poles," he said.

In 2010, pharmacies dispensed 69 tons of oxycodone and 42 tons of hydrocodone nationwide. "That's enough to give 40 5-milligram Percocets and 24 5-milligram Vicodins to every person in the country," Hawley reports.

As sales increase, so do overdose deaths and pharmacy robberies, Hawley reports. Opioid pain relievers, a category that includes oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused 14,800 overdose deaths in 2008 and numbers are rising, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Part of the increase in sales can be blamed on the fact that the U.S. population is aging, resulting in more pain issues. There is also more of a willingness by doctors to treat pain, said Gregory Bunt, medical director at New York's Daytop Village chain of drug treatment clinics. But they're also increasing because people are addicted. "We all recognized that these drugs can be just as dangerous and deadly as illicit substances when misused or abused," said Gil Kerlikowske, the U.S. drug czar.

The AP analysis used drug data collected four times a year by the Drug Enforcement Adminstration's Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System. "The DEA tracks shipments sent from distributors to pharmacies, hospitals, practitioners and teaching institutions and then compiles the data using three-digit ZIP codes," Hawley writes. "Every ZIP code starting with 100-, for example, is lumped together into one figure."

ZIP codes that include military bases or Veterans Affairs hospitals have had large increases because of treatment of injured soldiers. Some areas are affected because mail-order pharmacies have shipping centers there. Areas with large Indian reservations also had larger numbers.

The most sweeping trend, though, is how the pain pill epidemic has spread to areas previously untouched. In 2000, Florida's oxycodone sales were centered around West Palm Beach. By 2010, they were common in almost every part of the state. It has become commonplace in New York City and its suburbs. Staten Island alone saw a sales jump of 1,200 percent. And Tennessee had a five- to six-fold increase in that decade. "We've got a problem. We've got to get a handle on it," said Tommy Farmer, a counterdrug official with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. (Read more)

For a view of an interactive map that shows more Kentucky numbers, click here.

Like nurse practitioners in medical field, dental profession needs mid-level providers, expert argues

With 50 million Americans living in poor or rural areas where there are no dentists to go to — and that number expected to rise by more than 5 million if the Affordable Care Act stands — states and the federal government should be training dental therapists to help solve the problem, argues Louis W. Sullivan, a physician and former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, in an op-ed piece in The New York Times.

"We have two years to prepare before millions of children will be entitled to access to dental care," he writes of the impending eligibility expansion under the ACA. "Access means more than having an insurance card; it means having professionals available to provide care. Public officials should foster the creation of these mid-level providers — and dentists should embrace the opportunity to broaden the profession so they can expand services to those in need."

Dental therapists provide preventive care and "routine procedures like sealants, fillings and simple extractions outside the confines of a traditional dentist's office," Sullivan writes. While they are "common worldwide," only Alaska and Minnesota allows them to practice. Legislation is pending in five other states. Generally, dentists have been opposed to such changes.

Sullivan points to Alaska as a model example for how these therapists can fill gaps in places like remote villages "only accessible by plane, snowmobile or dogsled, where high school seniors once graduated with full sets of dentures." In 2003, the state sent students to New Zealand to be trained as therapists. Now, therapists serve 35,000 Alaskans. They "travel to small clinics and schools, often carrying their equipment with them. They consult with a supervising dentist from the region but do most procedures themselves. Many were raised in the communities in which they now work, so they understand the culture," Sullivan writes.

Sullivan points out dental disease is the No. 1 chronic childhood disease in the country, responsible for more children needing treatment than asthma. In 2009, more than 830,000 visits to the emergency room were due to preventable dental problems across the nation, he points out. But dentists are in short supply and will be even harder to see if the ACA is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. "In a nation obsessed with high-tech medicine, people are not getting preventive care for something as simple as tooth decay," he writes. (Read more)

UK doctors first to perform triple ablation, a special form of cardiac catheterization

Ollie Whitaker of Whitesburg is the first known patient to have undergone triple ablation surgery, in which a catheter is inserted through a patient's blood vessels to remove a faulty electrical pathway and tissue from the patient's heart. The procedure was performed at the University of Kentucky's Gill Heart Institute.  (UK photo of Whitaker, Dr. Sammy Claude Elayi and Dr. Gustavo Morales)

"Typically, the catheter is placed into the patient's femoral artery, internal jugular or subclavian vein. The catheter is guided toward the heart, and high-frequency electrical impulses are used to induce the arrhythmia and then destroy (or ablate) the abnormal tissue causing it," reports Jodi Whitaker for UK Public Relations.

"Performing two ablations during one procedure is commonly done, but three with this complexity is basically unheard of," said Dr. Sammy Claude Elayi, a UK cardiologist. "But in this patient's case, despite the risk, I believed that we could perform three ablations."

"I'm so very pleased," said Whitaker, who had a massive heart attack 30 years ago at age 42 and had been suffering severe after-effects ever since. "I can work in my flower bed outside and do more around the house." (Read more)

Two gene variants identified as risk factors for childhood obesity

The largest ever genome-wide study has identified two new gene variants that increase the risk of common childhood obesity.

"We have definitively identified and characterized a genetic predisposition to common childhood obesity," said lead investigator Struan F.A. Grant, associate director of the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

The analysis included 14 previous studies "encompassing 5,530 cases of childhood obesity and 8,300 control subjects, all of European ancestry," reports research-reporting service Newswise.

The study team identified two novel loci, or specific locations of a gene or DNA sequence on a chromosome. One is near the OLFM4 gene on Chromosome 13, the other in the HOXB5 gene on Chromosome 17. There was a degree of evidence for two other gene variants as well. "The known biology of three of the genes hints at a role of the intestine, although their precise functional role in obesity if currently unknown," Newswise reports. (Read more)

Chiropractic clinic to pay $650K for Medicaid and Medicare fraud

A chiropractic clinic in Williamsburg will pay $650,000 to settle claims it improperly billed Medicare and Medicaid, reports Trent Knuckles for The News Journal of Corbin. (News Journal graphic)

Ho Medical Clinic, Kenneth Ho and Ana Moreno allegedly filed false claims when they billed for physician services, though they were performed by a chiropractor (chiropractors are not medical doctors); billed for unnecessary and unreasonable MRI and X-ray services; billed for work performed by unqualified personnel; and received funds for being a rural health clinic when it did not meet Medicare requirements.

Of the $650,000, $525,000 will go to the Medicare and Medicaid trust fund. The remaining sum will go to Danette Freeman, who sued the company under the False Claims Act. The investigation was conducted by the Kentucky attorney general's office, the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Inspector General and the U.S. attorney's office. (Read more)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Doctors' lobby still working for changes in 'pill mill' legislation

By Al Cross
Kentucky Health News

The Kentucky Medical Association, historically one of the most powerful lobbying interests at the General Assembly, has mounted a last-ditch attempt to change or perhaps kill the bill that would crack down on "pill mills" that contribute to prescription drug abuse.

The bill would require pain clinics to be owned by doctors, require doctors to participate in the state's prescription-tracking system, and move the system to the attorney general's office from the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, which is made up almost entirely of doctors and has done little to curb the growing problem.

The tracking system remains the central concern for the KMA, which issued a "call to action" for physicians to contact legislators and argue that it "could infringe on privacy and lead to excessive oversight of legitimate medical practices," reports Mike Wynn of The Courier-Journal. "Other critics have said the bill could make doctors reluctant to provide pain medication for legitimate patients."

KMA President Shawn Jones told Wynn, “We would like to see something come out of this session. We would just like to make sure that it is something that addresses both the needs of law enforcement and at the same time is not overreaching in its imposition on our ability to practice medicine in a professional way.”

The KMA’s call notes that the system "tracks medications such as Xanax, Valium and Klonopin and was placed under the cabinet’s responsibility partly for patient privacy and protection," Wynn notes. Jones told him, “The access to that data really should be limited to government agencies that are charged with public health, and not law enforcement.”

Moving the tracking system to the attorney general's office is "pretty much a cornerstone of this legislation," Senate Majority Floor Leader Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, left, told Ryan Alessi Friday night on cn|2's "Pure Politics" program. He said the medical licensure board "hasn't done a whole lot" about prescription drug abuse, and indicated that part of the bill would stand.

However, Stivers said he and other supporters of the bill might drop the bill's 30-day limit on the length of painkiller prescriptions because of concerns that it would raise costs to patients. Those concerns helped delay the bill on the 59th day of the legislature's 60-day session. House Speaker Greg Stumbo "has said the issue could be resolved with a simple fix in the bill’s language," Wynn notes.

Stivers and Stumbo were among a group of bipartisan political leaders, led by Gov. Steve Beshear, who issued a statement Friday calling on the General Assembly to pass the bill Thursday, when it is scheduled to reconvene. The legislature is in recess, pending possible vetoes of other legislation by Beshear.

KMA "also takes issue with a $50 fee that the attorney general would be able to charge doctors to fund the program," Wynn reports. "Jones said the amount will only continue to climb in coming years to address a societal problem that doctors did not create. Proponents contend that the fee is nominal and is capped by statute except for inflation adjustments." (Read more)

Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Friday, April 6, 2012

In bipartisan way, political leaders push passage of 'pill mill' bill

A bipartisan group of political leaders issued a call today "to pass a bill that will help the state battle one of its most significant threats – prescription drug abuse," a press release from Gov. Steve Beshear's office said. Beshear, Attorney General Jack Conway, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Senate Republican Floor Leader Robert Stivers, Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Tilley, D-Hopkinsville, said the legislature should pass House Bill 4 when it returns to Frankfort for its final day April 12.

"Since the beginning of 2012, more than 400 Kentuckians have been hospitalized because of prescription drug overdoses – a statistic that the leaders say underscores the crucial need to pass this bill in this legislative session," the release said. "Kentucky has the nation’s sixth-highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths, at nearly 18 deaths per 100,000."

Conway said in the release, “I'm hopeful everyone, including the medical community, can get on board with House Bill 4 to ensure that we don't lose another generation in Kentucky to prescription drug abuse.” The bill would move the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system to Conway's office from the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure, which is controlled by doctors and has done little to rein in "pill mills" that churn out prescriptions for painkillers.

"Law enforcement members warn that Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida have passed legislation similar to HB 4 to address pill mills, and failing to pass similar legislation could create a diversion effect in which Kentucky could become a source state for prescription painkillers," the release said.

Stumbo, who preceded Conway as attorney general, said in the release, “Given the true epidemic we are seeing, we cannot afford to wait another year to try to pass this again.” In October, Stumbo, Beshear and Conway "announced creation of an advisory board of physicians, dentists, nurses, and pharmacists to work with KASPER officials and law enforcement professionals to create guidelines for generally accepted prescribing practices among different medical disciplines," the release said. "These criteria will be used as a guide for when a prescriber or dispenser’s KASPER reports may be flagged for unusual prescribing activity."

The bill would require all prescription providers to register and use KASPER, require pain management clinics to be owned by a licensed medical practitioner, make medical licensure boards investigate prescribing complaints within four months.