From sugary drinks to other foods

According to the BBC, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, is recommending taxes on unhealthy foods. Following on what she believes are the successes of taxing “sugary drinks,” foods high in sugar and salt are now in the crosshairs. As a follow-on, Ms. Davies would like to use the taxes collected to subsidize the cost of fruits and vegetables to make eating healthier cheaper for consumers. The food industry believes taxes will have no effect on consumer behavior (there’s probably data on this by now, right?) and Ms. Davies believes the food industry has been slow to respond to voluntary standards for improving food quality. This certainly qualifies as nanny-state behavior but sometimes the nanny is right. Chalk this writer up as “super conflicted.”

Kiwis taxing fizzy drinks

That title makes very little sense out of context, amiright? Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand are recommending a tax on sugary beverages. (Full nerdy article here.) Their study found that consumers of sugary beverages (aka, “fizzy drinks”) are more likely to make other unhealthy food choices, including not reading food labels. The implication, they say, is that allowing people to make their own—more informed—choices through better labeling of sugary drinks can never work because those people are less likely to read the improved labels. In the immortal words of Homer J. Simpson, Doh! Researchers point to the UK as an example where taking the decision away from consumers and, instead, implementing a sugary beverage tax has resulted in drink manufacturers reducing the sugar content in products, removing any need for the consumer to be informed or make a healthy decision. Ahhh, the old personal rights and responsibilities vs. seemingly-obvious thing to do dilemma.

US pharmacists bound and gagged—and not in a fun way

Ahh, the US healthcare system…all the s#!t we don’t know until it comes out in the news. Did InsightCity’s US readers know that many pharmacists are under gag orders to NOT inform you when you could spend less money on a prescription? That’s right, if the cash price for your drug is lower than the co-pay that was negotiated by your insurance plan, the pharmacist may not have been allowed to tell you. Well, President Donald J. Trump—a long-time fan of gag orders 😊—has just signed a law that bans these particular gag orders, and while the law does not require a pharmacist to inform the customer of a lower price, it does prohibit the prohibition. Or something like that. Shut up. You know what I mean. Just ask your pharmacist if the cash price is lower than your copay. Also, the law doesn’t go into effect for 2 years. What the…?

Important imports?

The Department of Health and Human Services has directed the FDA to consider the importation of foreign drugs to address price spikes. The proposed policy would only apply to drugs unaffected by patent or exclusivity, in an effort to avoid intellectual property issues. However, pharma companies may still have something to say through their lawyers if such a policy were to be implemented, especially as an act of a federal agency instead of legislation. If it were implemented though, it would avoid patient access issues in situations like when an HIV medication jumped in price from $13.50 to $750, which had the incredibly unfortunate side effect of catapulting Martin Shkreli’s infinitely punchable face into the limelight. That drug still costs $750 by the way. Or just 5-10 cents in India.

Right to try, is it alright?

The FDA’s Compassionate Use program helps patients that seek access to medications still in the development pipeline. But legislation signed into law this week allows patients to completely bypass the regulatory agency should they so choose. The “Right to Try” bill gives patients access to investigational drugs with the permission of just their physician and the drug manufacturer. It also shields those drug companies from the legal risks involved. Critics, including the American Cancer Society, say the bill gives false hope to patients, and champion the current process of compassionate use and clinical trials. After all, the FDA approves 99% of compassionate use applications, and can even do approvals over the phone. When asked for comment, some formerly prominent musicians said “You gotta fight for your right… to paaaaaaaaarty.”

These teens’ hobby is to lobby

Ever tried doing your kid’s homework for a week like this dad? It might be worth a try to get a sense of the stresses affecting students these days, and it could make you more sympathetic towards getting some mental health legislation on the books. If you don’t want to, well those dang kids might just get it done themselves. Three high school students recently successfully lobbied the Virginia General Assembly to require mental health instruction for 9th and 10th graders. It’s not about kids just being bratty about too much schoolwork; the CDC estimates 1 in 5 US kids experience mental disorders and $247B is spent on these disorders each year. At least they’ll have a break soon—it’s about that time of year when School’s Out for summer.

Marijuana Mythbusting

This week, two studies in Addiction took aim at some arguments medical marijuana supporters and detractors use when fighting for and against that “dank chronic” (dope list of marijuana slang here.) Medical marijuana supporters argue that opioid abusers would substitute marijuana for pain relief, leading to fewer opioid overdoses. While studies do identify a correlation between a decline in overdose deaths and the passage of medical marijuana legislation, the first study determined that the evidence doesn’t support the laws causing the drop. On the flip side, detractors warn that one of the evils of passing this legislation is more adolescents picking up a pot habit. While that could be bad, the second study couldn’t identify that trend actually occurring in legal weed states.