a crowd of people shuffling through a sidewalk

Lost in the Shuffle: The Impact of COVID-19 on Immigrants in Need

The recommendations for healthy people who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the illness caused by the corona virus called SARS-Co-V2, is to stay at home, get plenty of rest, drink fluids and control fever and body-aches with a non-steroidal medication. For people with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly or those with more serious symptoms, an evaluation by a healthcare provider is warranted. This is a reasonable recommendation given that for most healthy people, the symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. There is a population however, that regardless of the severity of their illness, may stay at home and not seek medical care, even when things are serious. Fear of arrest and deportation is a real issue for undocumented immigrants and calling an ambulance or going to a hospital can put them at risk for these actions. The result is that some very sick people may not seek appropriate medical care. In addition, they may be taken care of by people that don’t have the appropriate personal protection, putting even more people at risk.

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a pill in place of a model globe

When it comes to opioids, it’s all about turf.

By Stephen Wood

When it comes to selling opioids, turf matters. Access to customers and geography play a role in the day to day sales of opioids. This often means selling in areas where there is a wanting and willing customer base with funds to spare. It also means picking a spot, a corner, where enforcement is low or where corruption can overcome most legal problems. The delivery can’t be too conspicuous. It needs to be hidden from plain sight, done in the shadows or alleyways where no one is looking. It’s a craft and when done right can lead to fistfuls of cash in the hands of the distributor, the dealer.

This may sound like a street-level drug deal, but it isn’t. It’s the tactic many American pharmaceutical companies are taking in response to increased regulation on prescription opioids. Like the stealth and shadowy moves of a street-level dealer, American pharmaceutical companies have moved their turf to new, mostly naïve markets to sell their wares. They have done this to escape the federal regulations that have limited their market; a response to the opioid crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of lives affected by substance use disorder or lost to overdose.

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Photograph of commercial fishing vessels

How Thailand’s Fishing Industry and Your Tuna Melt Are Linked to Human Trafficking

By Stephen Wood

I used to be averse to mayonnaise and I still am for its use as a condiment or in dishes like coleslaw or potato salad. My grandmother made our potato salad with oil and vinegar and lots of garlic and our coleslaw was vinegar-based too. I would tell friends that I was allergic to mayonnaise so that they wouldn’t slather it on my bologna sandwich or make me eat chicken salad. I’m not sure why this is the case; mayonnaise is made from stuff I like — eggs, salt, and vinegar — and when homemade can be really delicious. It’s just weird. But something changed that. I wanted to eat tuna. Not the blue or yellow-fin tuna that you grill as a steak or to enjoy as sushi, but canned tuna. This transition happened when I moved out of my family’s home and into an apartment. I was working and living on my own and soon realized I needed to eat on the cheap. I wasn’t used to eating on the cheap. I like lobster, escargot, flank steaks, and good wine. But I was broke and on a budget so I decided that I was going to brave it and eat canned tuna. With mayonnaise. I perfected a recipe. It has tuna, mayo, celery, onion, cumin seeds, and salt. It’s topped with shredded cheese and toasted and it is delicious. I’ve overcome my aversion to mayonnaise for this one thing, and also occasionally deviled eggs. But there is a problem.

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Medical devices in a doctor's office

What the Trade War with China Means to the Medical Industry

If you rely on a pacemaker, an implanted defibrillator, a prosthetic hip, wear contacts or need an MRI, then you should be concerned about the constant threat and imposition of tariffs on Chinese imports by the Trump Administration. Using Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, President Donald Trump imposed new tariffs on an array of Chinese imports based on the assertion that they were stealing United States intellectual properties. The first volley occurred in July 2018 when the administration applied tariffs of 25% to over $34 billion in Chinese imports, and then again in August 2018 when it added another $16 billion in products to the list.

In an ongoing tit-for-tat, on May 10, 2019, the United States raised tariffs from 10% to 25% on an additional $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, including many health care products, from surgical gloves to chemical reagents. While medical supplies are only a small, biopsy-sized sample of the goods that will face these tariffs, they are sure to have some impact on an already financially burdened health care delivery system here in the United States. This will result in higher prices for health care products, devices, and components that are all passed off to the consumer.

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swarm of media and tv cameras

The Hidden Cost of Misinformation: Harms from Opioid Hysteria Extend Beyond Overdose Deaths

Fentanyl is a potent opioid analgesic and has been the center of the opioid and overdose epidemic. As an illicit agent, fentanyl is often in the form of a powder, which is then either insufflated (the fancy medical term for snorting) or dissolved in water and injected intravenously. It is fifty to one-hundred times more potent than heroin, the drug it replaced as the illicit opioid of choice. It can cause significant euphoria and analgesia, which is why it is so widely used. It can also cause respiratory depression or complete respiratory arrest, the reason it can be so deadly. It is readily absorbed when insufflated or injected and the actions are almost immediate. These are the facts.

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Handcuffs on a pile of pills

Emergency Department Psychiatric Holds: A Form of Medical Incarceration?

Wait times and length of stay in emergency departments are a hot topic and often result in a variety of identifiable harms that include medical error and failures to meet quality care measures. Patients with psychiatric conditions, including suicidal ideations, risk for harm to others, or psychosis, are particularly vulnerable to increased emergency department (ED) lengths of stay. The length of ED holds for psychiatric patients can be three-fold that of similar holds for medical patients. Lack of access to appropriate care, comorbid medical illness, or violent behavior can all contribute to this.

Increased length of stay impacts the efficiency of the ED itself, increasing wait times, utilizing human resources and physical space. It has a more important impact, however, on the patient. Patients may be held in a small room with constant observation for days with little or no access to natural light, bathing facilities or contact with family or friends. They may be dressed in paper gowns, told when to eat, when to sleep and confined to their room for days at a time, emulating the conditions in a maximum security prison. Emergency Departments, through no fault of their own, are becoming holding cells for patients who are both vulnerable and often marginalized.

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Close up on a pile of yellow pain pills

Addressing the Opioid Epidemic Starts with How We Treat Pain

As a nurse practitioner in a busy suburban emergency department, pain is my job. Pain is one of the most common reasons people come to an emergency department (ED). It could be abdominal pain, chest pain, back pain or even emotional pain, including depression or suicidal ideations. Pain is a driver for people seeking medical care. We have made pain into a vital sign, and we ask, “How would you rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10?” a mandatory question for any patient who steps through our door.

This whole concept evolved circa 1987 when the Institute of Medicine urged healthcare providers to use a quantified measure for pain. It gained even more traction in 1990 when then president of the American Pain Society, Dr. Mitchell Max, called for improved means to assess and treat pain. The term “oligoanalgesia” gained popularity in the published literature, meaning that we weren’t giving enough pain medication to patients in the ED, in clinics or in any other healthcare setting. Healthcare providers responded. We asked about and we thought, more effectively treated pain to address this issue.

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Medical team in an emergency room

The Emergency Department is The “New” Frontier of Public Health

I had always considered my field of expertise to be emergency medicine. I worked through the ranks as an emergency medical technician, then onward as a paramedic, which included a nine-year stint on a busy medical helicopter. I worked in disaster medicine, and was the associate director of a Harvard-affiliated disaster medicine fellowship in Boston. My current practice is as a nurse practitioner in a busy suburban emergency department (ED) and I am still active in emergency medical services as a SWAT medic and as an educator.

The emergency part of what I do is the exciting part —the part that stimulates the excitatory neurotransmitters that flood the brain, preparing it to act quickly and concisely.

We are selling ourselves short, however, when we label this role as “emergency” providers. Instead, “public health provider” is a much more appropriate term to use, because emergency departments and those who provide care there are really public health workers.

All of us who practice in emergency medicine know that real emergencies are few and far between. Our day-to-day is much more mundane. We deal with many urgent issues as well as some less urgent, primary care problems. We may even spend time filling printer paper or bringing a patient their lunch. We may help to find someone a homeless shelter, send a family home with warm coats for the kids, or pack up a bag with food and toiletries for a young girl we feel is being trafficked.

In light of all this, the purpose and the policies of the emergency department need to be redefined. Read More

image of a handgun with several bullets

Out of Touch NRA tells Front-line Healthcare Providers to “Stay In Their Lane” on Gun Control

An unnamed columnist writing for the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action blog advised physicians and other healthcare providers to “stay in their lane” when it comes to advocating for gun control.

This appears to have been sparked by the position paper published in the October, 2018 Annals of Internal Medicine authored by the Health and Public Policy Committee of the American College of Physicians. The author of the blog post argues that the paper and subsequent position statement is flawed, claiming that there is “not enough evidence” to suggest that stricter gun laws would have any effect of the rates of gun violence in the United States.

The conclusion is that medical providers should keep to doing what they do best (practicing medicine) and leave the discussion of gun control to the “experts”, by which the author apparently means gun owners and the NRA.

This article would have likely been just another throw-away piece had it not caught the attention of thousands of medical providers on Twitter. Retweets carrying the hashtag #ThisIsMyLane went viral, relaying stories of gun-shot victims that physicians, nurses, EMS providers and others have had to treat. Some were accompanied by pictures of blood-stained trauma bays or operating room suites.

It seems like an odd move to criticize the very people who have to deal with the carnage of gun violence, and given the response, the NRA picked the wrong people to bully. There were more than 16,000 comments within just a few hours, mostly from healthcare providers denouncing the article and the accompanying tweet.

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protesters carry signs that say "refugees welcome" in

Words Matter: How Refugees of Torture Became a “Migrant Caravan”

San Pedro Sula in Honduras was the murder capital of the world for decades, a title it lost only a few years ago to Caracas, Venezuela in 2016.

At its peak, there were an average of three murders a day, which is alarming for a city with a census population of around only 765,000. This violence is fueled by a booming drug and weapons trade, one-third of the population facing unemployment, the presence of violent gangs, and political strife that make living in Honduras a daily life or death struggle.

When framed this way, it is clear to see that the term “migrant caravan” doesn’t at all describe this group marching from Honduras, through Mexico to the United States border. Let’s not let politicos or the media brand them as anything else. Terminology is important here, and the term “migrant caravan” doesn’t even begin to describe this group.These people are victims of torture, fleeing a violent landscape to seek asylum for themselves and their families. Anything less than that is a disgraceful mischaracterization of who they actually are.

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