The Opioid Crisis Requires Evidence-Based Solutions, Part III: How the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction Dismissed Harm Reduction Strategies

By Mason Marks

Drug overdose is a leading cause of death in Americans under 50. Opioids are responsible for most drug-related deaths killing an estimated 91 people each day. In Part I of this three-part series, I discuss how the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis misinterpreted scientific studies and used data to support unfounded conclusions. In Part II I explore how the Commission dismissed medical interventions used successfully in the U.S. and abroad such as kratom and ibogaine. In this third part of the series, I explain how the Commission ignored increasingly proven harm reduction strategies such as drug checking and safe injection facilities (SIFs).

In its final report released November 1, 2017, the President’s Commission acknowledged that “synthetic opioids, especially fentanyl analogs, are by far the most problematic substances because they are emerging as a leading cause of opioid overdose deaths in the United States.” While speaking before the House Oversight Committee last month, the Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan stated that of the 1180 overdose deaths in his state this year, 850 (72%) were due to synthetic opioids. Street drugs are often contaminated with fentanyl and other synthetics. Dealers add them to heroin, and buyers may not be aware that they are consuming adulterated drugs. As a result, they can be caught off guard by their potency, which contributes to respiratory depression and death. Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl are responsible for the sharpest rise in opioid-related mortality (see blue line in Fig. 1 below). Read More

Democratized Diagnostics: Why Medical Artificial Intelligence Needs Vetting

Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest illnesses out there.  The five-year survival rate of patients with the disease is only about 7%.  This is, in part, because few observable symptoms appear early enough for effective treatment.  As a result, by the time many patients are diagnosed the prognosis is poor.  There is an app, however, that is attempting to change that.  BiliScreen was developed by researchers at the University of Washington, and it is designed to help users identify pancreatic cancer early with an algorithm that analyzes selfies.  Users take photos of themselves, and the app’s artificially intelligent algorithm detects slight discolorations in the skin and eyes associated with early pancreatic cancer.

Diagnostic apps like BiliScreen represent a huge step forward for preventive health care.  Imagine a world in which the vast majority of chronic diseases are caught early because each of us has the power to screen ourselves on a regular basis.  One of the big challenges for the modern primary care physician is convincing patients to get screened regularly for diseases that have relatively good prognoses when caught early.

I’ve written before about the possible impacts of artificial intelligence and algorithmic medicine, arguing that both medicine and law will have to adapt as machine-learning algorithms surpass physicians in their ability to diagnose and treat disease.  These pieces, however, primarily consider artificially intelligent algorithms licensed to and used by medical professionals in hospital or outpatient settings.  They are about the relationship between a doctor and the sophisticated tools in her diagnostic toolbox — and about how relying on algorithms could decrease the pressure physicians feel to order unnecessary tests and procedures to avoid malpractice liability.  There was an underlying assumption that these algorithms had already been evaluated and approved for use by the physician’s institution, and that the physician had experience using them.  BiliScreen does not fit this mold — the algorithm is not a piece of medical equipment used by hospitals, but rather part of an app that could be downloaded and used by anyone with a smartphone.  Accordingly, apps like BiliScreen fall into a category of “democratized” diagnostic algorithms. While this democratization has the potential to drastically improve preventive care, it also has the potential to undermine the financial sustainability of the U.S. health care system.

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The Problematic Patchwork of State Medical Marijuana Laws – New Research

By Abraham Gutman

The legal status of medical marijuana in the United States is unique. On one hand, the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no acceptable medical use and high potential for abuse. On the other hand, as of February 1, 2017, 27 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws authorizing the use of medical marijuana. This discrepancy between federal and state regulation has led to a wide variation in the ways that medical marijuana is regulated on the state level.

In a study published today in Addiction, our team of researchers from the Temple University Center for Public Health Law Research and the RAND Drug Policy Research Center finds that state laws mimic some aspects of federal prescription drug and controlled substances laws, and regulatory strategies used for alcohol, tobacco and traditional medicines.

In the past, studies on medical marijuana laws have focused on the spillover effect of medical marijuana to recreational use and not on whether the laws are regulating marijuana effectively as a medicine. Using policy surveillance methods to analyze the state of medical marijuana laws and their variations across states, this study lays the groundwork for future research evaluating the implementation, impacts, and efficacy of these laws.

The study focuses on three domains of medical marijuana regulation that were in effect as of February 1, 2017: patient protections and requirements, product safety, and dispensary regulation.

Here’s some of what we found:

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The First Human Body Transplant – Ethical and Legal Considerations

By Ana S. Iltis, PhD

brain_glowingprofileTo what lengths should we go to preserve human life? This is a question many are asking after hearing that three men plan to make medical history by conducting the first human head transplant. Or, rather, whole body transplant. Italian neurosurgeon Dr. Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Dr. Xiaoping Ren plan to provide a Russian volunteer, Valery Spiridonov, a new body. During the procedure, Spiridonov’s body and head would be detached and, with the help of a crane, surgeons would move the head and attach it to the donor body.  But is this ethical? What role might law and regulation play in monitoring them or in assessing their conduct after the fact?

Critics call the plan crazy, unethical, and sure to fail. The likelihood of success is very low and the risk of Spiridinov dying is high. Spiridonov says that as soon as animal studies confirm the possibility of survival, the risks will be worth taking. He has Werdnig-Hoffmann Disease, a genetic disorder that destroys muscle and nerve cells. He is confined to a wheelchair and has lived longer than expected. Body transplantation offers him the best chance at a life worth living. Read More

Sentinel Policy Surveillance: A New Front in Legal Epidemiology?

Paul Erwin, Associate Editor of the American Journal of Public Health, recently wrote about the establishment of a  Sentinel Practitioner Surveillance System for Policy Change Impact,  or what might be called “sentinel policy surveillance.” The network of twelve diverse health officers will be trying to identify and share instances of harmful impact from Trump administration policies.

Erwin is suitably circumspect about what such a network can do. It is, he writes, no replacement of research, and, indeed, may be reporting perceived or feared effects as often as real ones.  I found the idea intriguing to ruminate on, though.  What follows are some scattered thoughts about the concept. I hope readers will add theirs.  Mostly I am interested in how the practice fits with general policy surveillance and public health law researchRead More

Conflict of Interests Disclosures Come to PubMed

By Christopher Robertson

Scholars and policymakers have long been concerned that the biomedical science literature — and thus the practice of medicine — is biased by the companies who fund research on their own products.  Prior research has shown that industry-funded studies tend to produce results favorable to their company sponsors.  One solution is disclosure of industry funding, so that physicians and other consumers of the biomedical literature can weigh scientific findings accordingly.

My prior work with Aaron Kesselheim, Susannah Rose, and others has found that adding such disclosures to biomedical abstracts could make a big difference — physicians understand them and will rely upon them.  Nonetheless, most journals bury the disclosures at the end of articles, which are often hidden behind paywalls and not nearly as salient as the methods and findings displayed in the abstract.  For the Institutional Corruption Lab of the Edmond J. Safra Center, I worked with a team of hackers to create a browser extension that proves the feasibility of adding those disclosures into PubMed, a Federal government database of the scientific literature.

Thankfully, that browser extension is becoming obsolete, as the National Library of Medicine (part of the NIH) has begun implementing such disclosures themselves, right in PubMed.   A search reveals that nearly 80,000 abstracts now have such tags.  While a lot in absolute terms, it is a small minority of the 17 million abstracts covered by PubMed.  Commentators have suggested that as much as 70% of the funding for clinical trials comes from industry, so we should expect millions of abstracts to have such disclosures.

Thus we are still a long way from comprehensive and effective disclosure.  There are two problems. Read More

Innovation and Intellectual Property Policies in European Research Infrastructure Consortia

By Timo Minssen

I am happy to announce the publication of our collaborative paper with Helen Yu and Jakob Wested on “Innovation and intellectual property policies in European Research Infrastructure Consortia (part I)” in the Journal of Intellectual Property Law and Practice (Oxford University Press). Taking the European Spallation Source ERIC as an example, our paper investigates ERIC Regulations and EU policies and discusses what issues and perspectives ERICs need to consider in their IPR policies to balance the core-objectives of multiple stakeholders and achieve sustainability in various research areas, including the health and life sciences.

The authors would like to express their special gratitude to Dr. Ohad Graber Soudry, Head of Legal, European Spallation Source ESS-ERIC in Lund, Sweden, for all his support and valuable comments. This paper is supported by the CoNeXT project (see http://conext.ku.dk/ last visited July 23, 2016) under the University of Copenhagen’s Excellence Program for Interdisciplinary Research.

Abstract:

Research and innovation are key pillars of the EU’s strategy to create sustainable growth and prosperity in Europe. Research infrastructures (RIs) are central instruments to implement this strategy. They bring together a wide diversity of expertise and interests to look for solutions to many of the problems society is facing today, including challenges in the health and life sciences. To facilitate the creation and operation of such RIs, the EU adopted legal frameworks for European Research Infrastructure Consortia (ERIC). On August 31, 2015, the European Spallation Source (ESS) was established as an ERIC. Under the ERIC Regulations and ESS Statutes, the European Spallation Source ERIC is required to adopt various policy documents relating to the operation and management of the facility. These cover a wide variety of issues such as user access, public procurement, intellectual property rights (IPR), data management, and dissemination. One of the main goals of the ESS policies is to ensure that the research environment at ESS is compatible with a wide variety of international users’ obligations to multiple stakeholder-interests. But how can these policies best be aligned with the EU objective to achieve economic growth and scientific excellence by encouraging international research collaborations? The complex relationship between scientific excellence, innovation, and IPRs must be carefully considered. Taking the European Spallation Source ERIC as an example, this article investigates ERIC Regulations and EU policies and discusses what issues and perspectives ERICs need to consider in their IPR policies to balance the core-objectives of multiple stakeholders and achieve sustainability. In Part II, we will analyze and compare the different IPR policies of the various ERICs in a subsequent article.

Bold New Policies for The Brave New Biologies: IPRs and Innovation in Synthetic Biology and Gene editing

Research Seminar at the University of Copenhagen debating intellectual property and innovation in synthetic biology, systems biology & gene editing.

New technologies in biology offer a brave new world of possibilities. Promising solutions to some of the most urgent challenges faced by humanity: climate change, environmental protection, growing population, renewable energy and improved health care. Scientific and technological progress has been remarkable. Simultaneously, emerging life science technologies raise outstanding ethical, legal and social questions.

In this research seminar, Prof. Esther Van Zimmeren from the University of Antwerp joins Prof. Timo Minssen, Postdoc Ana Nordberg and Ph.D. Student Jakob Wested from the Centre for Information and Innovation Law, debating bold new policies for intellectual property law and incentive to life science innovation.

Programme

15:00 – 15:10 Welcome
Prof. Timo Minssen, CIIR, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.
15:10 – 15:30 Waiting for the Rumble in the Jungle: – An overview of current CRISPR/CAs9 patent disputes, central legal issues and some thoughts on conditioning the innovation system.
PhD Student Jakob Wested, CIIR, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.
15:30 – 15:50 From FRAND to FAIR for Synthetic and Systems Biology? The Implications of Openness, IP Strategies, Standardization and the Huawei-case.
Prof. Esther van Zimmeren, Faculty of Law, University of Antwerp.
15:50 – 16:10 Keeping up with the technologies: IP Law and Regulation in the age of gene editing.
Postdoc Ana Nordberg, CIIR, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.
16.10 – 17.00 Questions and panel debate

Time: 13 March 2017, 15:00 – 17:00

Venue: Meeting Room 7A-2-04 , Faculty of Law, Njalsgade 76, DK-2300 Copenhagen S

Registration:
The event is free to attend. Registration is mandatory. Please use this registration form no later than Monday, 13 March 2017, 11:00 at the latest.

Organizer: Copenhagen Biotech & Pharma Forum, at CIIR, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen

Epistemic Injustice, Procedural Fairness, and the Real Weight of Medical Evidence

By Wendy S. Salkin

March 6, 2017

In his lucid and fascinating February 2017 article in the AMA Journal of Ethics, “What is the Relevance of Procedural Fairness to Making Determinations about Medical Evidence?,” Govind Persad, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management in the Bloomberg School of Public Health and in the Berman Institute of Bioethics, considers the following questions: How can fair procedures “help address epistemological and factual questions in medicine”?[1]

As Persad sees it, dilemmas in medical ethics and health policy often involve two questions. One is a factual or descriptive question concerning “which benefits an intervention will have.” (183) The other is an ethical question concerning “how to distribute those benefits.” (183) Persad provides the following example to tease out the distinction:

determining who should receive priority for scarce vaccines in a pandemic involves answering two questions: the descriptive (factual) question of which benefits these vaccines are expected to have for their recipients and the normative (value) question of how those prospective benefits should be distributed. (183)

Persad is interested in considering how fair procedures can be used to address questions of the first sort—the “epistemological and factual questions in medicine.” (183) He sets for himself the following task: to “consider how fair procedures have been and can be used to develop and weigh factual evidence in medicine.” (184) Persad foresees an increase in both the significance and frequency of “debates over the validity and weight of medical evidence” as the amount of medical evidence that is both required and amassed increases. He foresees an acceleration in this trend, which he credits to

the expansion of clinical data collection and analysis; the growing relevance of scientific evidence to medical practice…; and the use of evidence to support payment and insurance coverage decisions that have financial implications for patients and providers. (184)

Read More

Fantastic New Resource on Regulation

Peter Drahos and a roster of the minds that have made RegNet at the Australian National University the hub of regulatory research and theory have put (it seems) all they know into a new, FREE ebook, Regulatory Theory: Foundations and Applications.  It is a comprehensive account of the field, written to serve both as a reference for the essentials and a text book for classes in regulation and governance.  It even has a chapter on regulatory research methods in public health by this correspondent.

I am hoping to conduct a serial book review over the next couple of weeks. Here goes:

The first chapter is an introduction to the field by Drahos and Martin Krygier. It usefully orients the reader to the breadth of the field, a breadth that reflects the spread of regulatory activity beyond the state and across networks. Attention to those two phenomena, indeed, is properly presented as the foundation of the field.  There is a bit of intellectual history, highlighting the sigificance of Ayres and Braithwaite’s Responsive Regulation, and the emergence of RegNet as an intellectual gathering place. (I saw that first hand, and had a little experience of RegNet collegiality, when I spent a semester there and ended up writing an article on Nodal Governance with Drahos and Clifford Shearing — still my most downloaded paper.) Read More