Drug test strips.

Synthetic Cannabinoids and the Lack of Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Carceral Settings

By Aaron Steinberg, Ada Lin, Alice Bukhman, LaToya Whiteside, and Elizabeth Matos

The inability of prisons and jails to address the drivers of and treat substance use disorders, especially during the pandemic, is leading to underexplored health ramifications for prisoners, and particularly for prisoners who identify as Black, Indigenous, or other people of color (BIPOC), who already had comparatively poorer health outcomes.

This article focuses on one substance of growing popularity in carceral settings: synthetic cannabinoids (SC), which are frequently referred to as K2 or spice.

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Doctor working with modern computer interface.

Harms and Biases Associated with the Social Determinants of Health Technology Movement

By Artair Rogers

Many health systems have begun using new screening technologies to ask patients questions about the factors outside of the clinic and hospital that contribute to an individual or family’s health status, also known as the social determinants of health (SDOH). These technologies are framed as a tool to connect patients to needed community resources. However, they also have the potential to harm patients, depending on how patient data is used. This article addresses key harms and biases associated with the SDOH technology movement, and provides suggestions to address these issues going forward.

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Magazines on wooden table on bright background.

Citational Racism: How Leading Medical Journals Reproduce Segregation in American Medical Knowledge

By Gwendolynne Reid, Cherice Escobar Jones, and Mya Poe

Biases in scholarly citations against scholars of color promote racial inequality, stifle intellectual analysis, and can harm patients and communities.

While the lack of citations to scholars of color in medical journals may be due to carelessness, ignorance, or structural impediments, in some cases it is due to reckless neglect.

Our study demonstrates that the American Medical Association (AMA) has failed to promote greater racial inclusion in its flagship publication, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), despite an explicit pledge to do so.

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Brooklyn, New York, United States - JUNE 13 2021: Protest in Brooklyn, NY for trans youth rights.

Misleading, Coercive Language in Bills Barring Trans Youth Access to Gender Affirming Care

By Arisa R. Marshall

On Friday, a federal judge temporarily enjoined part of a new Alabama law that would make it a felony for physicians to provide gender-affirming care to trans youth. The law had been in effect for less than a week.

This is only the most recent development relating to a raft of anti-trans legislation sweeping the country. More than twenty bills that would impose life-changing healthcare restrictions on transgender children have been introduced in statehouses nationwide over the past two years, threatening the wellbeing of transgender youth and communities. Most of these bills aim to entirely ban gender-affirming medical care for minors, including surgeries, prescription puberty blockers, and hormone replacement therapies.

These laws are detrimental to the mental, physical, and social health of children. They are dismissive of the experiences of transgender children and teenagers, misleading, and manipulative.

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San Diego CA 6-24-2020 Tourists eating at Mexican restaurant with waitress wearing mask in historic Old Town State Park.

Improving Job Quality and Scheduling Predictability Can Advance Public Health and Reduce Racial Inequities

By DeAnna Baumle

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief deeply rooted structural inequities in the United States. As U.S. government officials and media celebrate recent economic gains, women — especially women of color — are not recouping their economic losses. Further, the pandemic continues to kill nearly a thousand Americans daily and disproportionally affect Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. It is no accident that these communities have been left behind in the nation’s so-called recovery: racial capitalism has long excluded marginalized communities from economic and social gains.

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Melbourne, Australia - 1st November 2021: A person wearing full PPE holds a vial of sotrovimab medicine covid-19 virus treatment. It is under an emergency use authorization to treat covid in Australia.

Litigation Challenges Prioritization of Race or Ethnicity in Allocating COVID-19 Therapies

By James Lytle

Recent guidance from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) encouraged several states to adopt policies that prioritized race or ethnicity in the allocation of monoclonal antibody treatments and oral antivirals for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2.

The guidance proved to be highly controversial, prompting two states, Utah and Minnesota, to withdraw their guidance, and leading a third state, New York, to become the subject of two federal lawsuits that challenge the guidance’s legality: one (Jacobson v. Bassett) brought by a white, non-Hispanic Cornell Law Professor, William Jacobson, in the Northern District of New York (“Jacobson”) and a second (Roberts v. Bassett) initiated by Jonathan Roberts and Charles Vavruska, two white, non-Hispanic residents of New York City in the Eastern District (“Roberts”).

Public health and policy experts have published commentaries on the challenging issues underlying New York’s COVID treatment guidelines and others have offered more detailed guidance, including on this blog, on what criteria should be used in allocating scarce COVID treatments. What follows is focused on the litigation pending in New York and its potential impact on the broader issues at the intersection of the pandemic response and racial equity.

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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.

Affirming Nondiscrimination Rights: HHS Needs to Acknowledge a Private Right of Action for Section 1557 Violations

By Cathy Zhang

Last week, on the heels of attacks on trans youth and their families in Texas, the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issued a notice and guidance expressing support for transgender and gender nonconforming youth and highlighting the civil rights and privacy laws surrounding gender affirming care.

OCR all but names the Texas attacks as unlawful under Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability by federally funded health programs or activities. It notes that for federally funded entities, restricting medically necessary care on the basis of gender — such as doctors reporting parents of patients to state authorities — “likely violates Section 1557.”

The guidance directs those who have been discriminated against on the basis of gender identity or disability in seeking access to gender-affirming health care to file a complaint through OCR. HHS can go further, however, by formally acknowledging that individuals have a legal right to enforce Section 1557 when they have experienced prohibited health care discrimination.

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New York, USA, November 2021: Pfizer Covid-19 Paxlovid treatment box isolated on a white background.

How to Fairly Allocate Scarce COVID-19 Therapies

By Govind Persad, Monica Peek, and Seema Shah

Vaccines are no longer our only medical intervention for preventing severe COVID-19. Over the past few months, we have seen the arrival and wider availability of treatments such as monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), and more recently, of novel oral antiviral drugs like Paxlovid and molnupiravir.

The recent Delta and Omicron surges have made these therapies scarce. The Delta variant led the federal government to resume control over mAb supply and promulgate allocation guidelines. The Omicron variant exacerbated scarcity because only one of the currently available mAbs, sotrovimab, appears to be effective against it. While Paxlovid and molnupiravir are effective against Omicron, both will likely be in short supply for many months. Paxlovid is currently constrained by a lengthy manufacturing process. Molnupiravir — which is substantially less effective — is contraindicated for use in patients under 18 and not recommended for use during pregnancy.

To allocate COVID-19 vaccines, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), and the World Health Organization (WHO) identified ethical goals for prioritization, such as maximizing benefit and minimizing harm, mitigating health inequities, and reciprocity. These committees, particularly the NASEM and WHO committees, included ethics experts as well as experts in social science, biology, and medicine. Current federal guidelines for therapy allocation, in contrast, do not identify ethical objectives or involve ethics expertise.

In an open-access Viewpoint in Clinical Infectious Diseases, we identify ethical goals for the allocation of scarce therapies. We argue that the same ethical goals identified for vaccine allocation–in particular maximizing benefit, minimizing harm, and mitigating health inequities — are also relevant for therapy allocation. Because many people have now taken steps to mitigate pandemic scarcity, for instance by protecting themselves through vaccination, we argue that reciprocity is also relevant.

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Up close shot of an orange prison jumpsuit

Prison Health Care is Broken Under the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy

By Sarah Wang

Incarcerated individuals need health care, but punitive policies make securing access to care particularly difficult among this population, which numbers about 2.1 million as of 2021.

As a first step to protecting incarcerated individuals’ right to health, Congress should repeal the Medicaid Inmate Exclusion Policy (MIEP).

The MIEP, established in 1965, prohibits Medicaid from covering incarcerated individuals, despite any prior eligibility. Through the MIEP, two populations are affected: first, jail inmates, defined as those convicted or accused of a crime, and second, prison inmates, defined as those convicted or awaiting trial. In other words, both convicted individuals and those still presumed innocent are stripped of their access to the federal health insurance program for low-income individuals.

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