Kratom leaves and capsules.

A Sensible, Evidence-Based Proposal for Kratom Reform

By Dustin Marlan

In May 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the seizure of 37,500 tons of adulterated kratom in Florida, worth an estimated $1.3 million.

But rather than focusing on the fact that the seized substance was adulterated, FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock emphasized the alleged toxicity of kratom. This telling choice falls in line with recent efforts by the FDA to end U.S. kratom sales, distribution, and use, including a failed 2016 attempt to have kratom placed into Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, along with other federally prohibited drugs such as cannabis, psilocybin, and heroin.

This reactionary prohibitionism is likely to do more harm than good. Moreover, it does not reflect the state of the science, which remains unsettled as to kratom’s risks and benefits.

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Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

COVID-19 and Dementia Care: Lessons for the Future

By Marie Clouqueur, Brent P. Forester, and Ipsit V. Vahia

Alongside the COVID-19 epidemic in the U.S., the country faces another public health epidemic: dementia, and particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently one in nine older adults in the U.S. — 6.2 million — have Alzheimer’s disease. The number of adults with Alzheimer’s in the U.S. will increase rapidly as the Baby Boomers age — it is expected to double by 2050.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation. Acute, surging demand for dementia care services will turn into a persistent problem if we do not increase our capacity for services and better support our frontline workers. We have a chance now to reflect and take action to prepare for what is coming.

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCT. 8, 2019: Rally for LGBTQ rights outside Supreme Court as Justices hear oral arguments in three cases dealing with discrimination in the workplace because of sexual orientation.

The Many Harms of State Bills Blocking Youth Access to Gender-Affirming Care

By Chloe Reichel

State legislation blocking trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care puts kids at risk, thwarts physician autonomy, and potentially violates a number of federal laws, write Jack L. Turban, Katherine L. Kraschel, and I. Glenn Cohen in a viewpoint published today in JAMA.

So far this year, 15 states have proposed bills that would limit access to gender-affirming care. One of these bills, Arkansas’ HB1570/SB347, already has become law.

This legislative trend should be troubling to all, explained Cohen, Faculty Director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School. In an email interview, he highlighted “how exceptionally restrictive these proposed laws are,” adding that they are “out of step with usual medical, ethical, and legal rules regarding discretion of the medical profession and space for parental decision-making.”

Turban, child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Stanford University School of Medicine also offered further insight as to the medical and legal concerns these bills raise over email.

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doctor holding clipboard.

Transformation of Behavioral Health Care Through Section 1115 Waivers

By John Jacobi

As the Biden administration works to improve health access and transform health delivery, behavioral health reform should be at the front of the queue.

People with severe mental illness and opioid use disorder are dying young for lack of routine health care. Much of the work that needs to be done in behavioral health is developed or developing at the state level. But the Biden administration has a powerful tool for encouraging state-level innovation in the § 1115 Medicaid waiver process.

Reform through state waivers

Section 1115 waiver authority permits the Department of Health and Human Services to approve pilots and demonstrations if they are found likely to promote the objectives of the Medicaid program. Waivers, which do not require Congressional or formal regulatory enactments, permit relatively rapid cycling of innovation, in contrast to the lumbering pace of legislative or regulatory change.

While applications for waivers originate with the states, presidents have set the agenda by signaling what categories of waivers will be looked upon favorably, offering the administration the ability to put its stamp on the development of care for low-income and disabled people.

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Physical therapist helps person in wheelchair.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Has Changed Caregiver Education and Training

By Elizabeth Hansen

As a Physical Therapy Practice Leader, I help patients at the rehabilitation level of care — patients who have sustained a significant injury or disease that has life-changing implications.

Caregivers play an important role in the discharge of these patients from the in-patient context back to the home. They take on the burden of learning the techniques and interventions recommended by the clinical team. They may be learning how to use and maintain new equipment, such as power wheelchairs, feeding tubes, and lifts.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have noticed increased distress among both health care providers and family caregivers as patients are getting ready to discharge home, due in large part to challenges posed by the pandemic to family health care education.

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DUQUE DE CAXIAS,(BRAZIL),MAY,20,2020: doctors take care of patients with covid-19 and an intensive care unit (ICU) at hospital são josé specialized in the treatment of covid-19.

From Pain to Progress: Nursing After the Pandemic

By Victoria L. Tiase and William M. Sage

America’s nurses are a powerful force for good — four million strong, universally trusted, increasingly diverse, serving every community across the country, with an overall economic impact greater than the total output of the median American state. However, the pain of pandemic nursing is real and widespread. Urgent attention to nursing’s vulnerabilities is required for the profession to help the U.S. emerge from the confluence of the worst public health crisis in over a century and the most severe economic decline since the Great Depression.

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Field hospital in NY during COVID-19 pandemic.

Ethical and Legal Challenges Faced by Hospitals in New York’s First COVID-19 Surge

By Zachary E. Shapiro

After COVID-19 reached the United States, New York City quickly became the epicenter of the pandemic. Clinicians at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center turned to the Clinical Ethics Consultation Service to help meet the ethical challenges that arose. During the surge, the Ethics Team saw a marked increase in the volume of consultations for individual patients in the hospital, and took part in over 2,500 informal consultations with caregivers. Discussions centered around a wide range of ethical issues distinct from those that come up in routine practice. As one of the only lawyers in the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College, I encountered a myriad of legal concerns presented by the pandemic.

During the height of the surge in New York, there was no formal legal guidance available to clinicians concerning medical practice during a pandemic. Questions about legal immunity abounded, as unclear state and federal guidance left many doctors worried that they were taking personal and professional risks by providing care to COVID-19 patients.

The pandemic forced doctors to shift away from traditional standards of care in terms of resuscitation, patient care, and surrogate decision-making. The ethics team had to take new dynamics into account, such as the risk of infection to doctors and staff, and balance these factors in the risk/benefit calculations for treatments and interventions. Undertaking these shifts without federal or state guidance caused significant distress and concern. It often seemed that the law was not only not helpful, but an active hindrance to medical practice, as many health care workers were consumed by worry about the prospect of future liability. This concern persisted, even though the deviations in the standard of practice were necessitated by the realities of the pandemic overwhelming our health care system.

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Healthcare concept of professional psychologist doctor consult in psychotherapy session or counsel diagnosis health.

The Case for Non-Police Response to Behavioral Health Crises

By Jennifer J. Carroll and Taleed El-Sabawi

People who use drugs continue to die at staggering rates, due not only to overdose from contaminated drug supply, but also due to our persistent reliance on the carceral system to respond to behavioral health crises.

This approach stems from the state-sanctioned violence of the War on Drugs. It takes various forms, including the use of police officers as first responders to behavioral health crises (including welfare checks), the excessive police use of force, and the use of potentially lethal restraint methods to subdue agitated persons. It also manifests in police officers’ use of jail cells as tools for forced “detox” believing that coerced withdrawal while in custody will reduce overdose risk or help someone “go clean” (it very clearly does not).

Evidence-based alternatives to police response for behavioral health crises exist. However, despite being both feasible and effective, these alternatives to police intervention remain the exception, rather than the rule.

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America divided concept, american flag on cracked background.

The Health Implications of Xenophobia Directed Toward Asian Americans

By Sravya Chary

In response to the March 16, 2021 attacks targeting spas in Atlanta, GA that resulted in the deaths of eight individuals, six of whom were Asian women, President Biden urged Congress to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.

The legislation was first introduced nearly a year ago, on May 5, 2020, but did not receive a congressional vote at that time.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, although beneficial as a reactive solution to hate crimes, does little to mitigate the long-term negative health implications of xenophobia on Asian Americans.

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Sisaket,Thailand,09 April 2019;Medical staff wearing face shield and medical mask for protect coronavirus covid-19 virus in CT scan room,Sisaket province,Thailand,ASIA.

The Future of Acute and Critical Care Nursing

By Sarah A. Delgado

We need to change the future for nurses. Even before the pandemic, nurses suffered high rates of burnout and a disproportionate risk of suicide. But the pandemic could be a tipping point that leads many nurses to change careers, leave their jobs, or retire early.

Moral distress, the consequence of feeling constrained from taking ethical action, was well-documented before the pandemic, particularly among critical care nurses providing end-of-life care. Additional research conducted before 2020 demonstrates that nurses were experiencing post-traumatic stress due to the suffering they witnessed and the demands of their work.

During the pandemic, surges in critically ill patients have led to untenable workloads. The distress of end-of-life care is heightened by restrictions on visitation and increased mortality rates. In addition, shortages of basic personal protective equipment contribute to fear and a sense of betrayal.

While the pre-pandemic state of the nursing profession was concerning, the pandemic creates imminent peril.

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