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New Government Program Provides Drugs to Prevent HIV

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Drugs donated by manufacturers and services provided by pharmacy chains are allowing a government program to provide HIV-preventative medications to 200,000 uninsured Americans. They will receive these drugs at no cost.

The medications being given out are for pre-exposure prophylaxis, known as PrEP. People who use PrEP as a preventative strategy will take one pill each day. Their two choices are Truvada an Descovy, both manufactured by Gilead Sciences.

Taking PrEP medications has been deemed to be 99 percent effective at preventing HIV, according to studies. Some cities with a high rate of HIV have their own programs to pay for the medications for anyone without insurance.

Ready, Set, PrEP

The new program from the federal government is the first to provide this type of medication to anyone outside of Medicaid, the VA or other federal health programs without cost. Any patient who isn’t enrolled in health insurance and has taken an HIV test recently which was negative and has a prescription for one of the medications will be eligible.

The person can go online to sign into the government website, getyourprep.com or call 855-447-8410 to apply for the free drugs. They can also go to a community clinic and apply in person.

The government is paying the manufacturer $200 per bottle to pay for the cost of moving the drugs. They will pay the cost until March 30, 2020. After that, they will look for cheaper ways to get patients access to these drugs. CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid are donating their services for dispensing the medications as well as counseling for patients.

Reducing the Rate of Infection

Statistics show that around 1.2 million people in the US could benefit from these drugs, but only about 270,000 are taking them currently. Those in this category are considered at a high risk for developing HIV due to sharing needles or having unprotected sex.

Gilead has promised to continue donating the drugs to care for as many people as 200,000 over 11 years. The payment is designed to move the medications faster. One of the criticisms of the program is that even though people can get the drugs for free, they still must pay for the lab tests and exam as well as renewals. Studies show that could cost as much as $1000 annually.

The pharmacies will promote the program to bring awareness to those who would benefit. Promotions vary greatly based on location. For instance, in large cities, it’s not uncommon to find posters and even billboards telling about the use of PrEP. In more rural areas, there are few advertisements on the PrEP benefits.

These medications are also used to treat HIV in people who have already been diagnosed with the condition. However, the use for prevention could be a significant factor on lowering the number of cases being diagnosed annually, especially for those who are considered high risk. Anyone interested in learning more about the program should talk to their medical provider and find out how to apply and if they qualify.

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New Study Links Opioid Addiction to Cancer Survivors

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Opioids are often prescribed to cancer patients to help them manage pain, but there is now concern that this practice could raise the risk of abuse. Pain is a common and often difficult symptoms of cancer, and prescription opioids are prescribed to help the patient handle the pain.

Cancer Patients and Risk of Opioid Dependence

Studies show that more than half of cancer patients report moderate to severe pain while undergoing treatment. Opioids are effective in acute pain relief, but there are risks when prescribing it for chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for three to six months or longer, which is often the case in patients who are on long-term treatment plans.
Chronic use of opioid prescription medications can cause it to lose its effectiveness. The patient may become dependent on the drug, leading to misuse and abuse. They could even end up overdosing accidentally.

Many experts are concerned that any recommendations to reduce risk of dependence on opioid drugs don’t consider cancer patients. The study looked at patients who survived cancer and were diagnosed between 2000 and 2015. They considered their use of opioids, diagnoses of any abuse and any admissions to medical care for toxicity of opioids. Patients were diagnosed with one of the 12 most common forms of cancer. The patients in the study had all survived for at least two years post-treatment.

Post-treatment opioid use was 8.3 percent with ranges averaging from 5.3 percent to 19.8 percent, depending on the type of cancer involved. Prostate cancer was the lowest while liver cancer had the highest rate. Another factor was whether the patients had used opioids in the past. Those who had never used any opioids had a lower rate of use after treatment than those with intermittent or chronic use.

Several factors seemed to increase the risk of opioid use post-treatment. These factors include:

  • Caucasian
  • Younger age
  • Lower median income
  • Unemployed
  • Current or prior use of tobacco
  • Increased comorbidity
  • Prior drug or alcohol abuse
  • Prior diagnosis of depression

Anyone with a history of chronic opioid use had a much higher risk for persistent opioid use.

Reducing Opioid Dependency

The goal with the study was to identify risk factors for opioid abuse in cancer patients, which could provide important information to health care providers. It could allow doctors to identify those with a higher risk for developing opioid dependence and lead them to recommend alternative strategies for pain management. They may even refer these high-risk patients to pain specialists.

Opioids have an important role in pain management for those with cancer. However, the benefits must be weighed against the risks, especially since statistics show that two-thirds of patients diagnosed with cancer live for five years or longer post-treatment. This means they are at an increased risk for developing an addiction if they continue to take opioid medications for the long-term.

Most experts agree that it cannot be a blanket strategy for determining how opioids are used or who uses them. Rather, the medical condition and history of the patient must be considered.

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FDA Committee Recommends Removal of Drug for Preterm Birth Risk

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According to a US Food and Drug Administration advisory committee, a drug used to reduce the danger of a mother experiencing a preterm birth should be removed from the market. This drug, Makena, supposedly isn’t effective. The committee voted 9-7 to have the drug withdrawn.

Risks May Outweigh Effectiveness

The FDA isn’t required to follow the committee’s advice, but it often does so. Makena was approved by the FDA back in 2011. This medication is a progestin hormone, which is given by injection. It is usually prescribed to women who have a history of preterm birth to reduce the risk. However, it doesn’t work for women who have already begun premature labor or for women who are pregnant with twins, triplets or more.

Makena is one of the few treatment options for women with a history of preterm births. The active ingredient is the only treatment approved by the FDA for women who have had at least one previous preterm birth.

This medication does come with many restrictions. It shouldn’t be given to pregnant women who have had breast cancer, liver issues, unusual vaginal bleeding, a history of clots or uncontrolled high blood pressure. One study showed an indication of more miscarriages in women who were taking Makena. There were also more stillbirths, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and oligohydramnios (low levels of amniotic fluid).

Pregnancy complications are considered a common side effect with Makena. This means up to 10 percent of people taking the drug could experience these complications.

Other common side effects include pain and swelling at the injection site. Patients have also experienced urinary tract infection, a shortened cervix and cervical dilation. Nausea and diarrhea are common as well.

Preterm birth is also known as premature birth. It can be caused by a long list of risk factors, including the following:

  • Previous preterm birth
  • Pregnant with multiple children
  • Age of pregnant mother is below 17 or above 35
  • Diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Multiple miscarriages
  • In vitro fertilization
  • Less than six months between pregnancies
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Birth defects in baby
  • Trauma
  • Prolonged stress
  • Issues with the placenta, cervix or uterus
  • Infection of amniotic fluid

Preterm Risks

Preterm birth is defined as a baby that is born more than three weeks early. This condition occurs in 1 of 10 births in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The numbers are declining from statistics in the early 2000s. However, they have been rising since 2014.

The rate of preterm births is higher for certain ethnicities than for others. Babies that are born preterm haven’t had the chance for their lungs, liver and brain to develop, which usually happens in the final weeks of pregnancy. A preterm baby is at a higher risk for breathing issues, developmental delays and problems with vision. They may also be at a greater risk for cerebral palsy and other health conditions.

Preterm labor often begins unexpectedly, so it is difficult to prevent. However, doctors will monitor closely for anyone who has known risks for early birth.

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Opioid-Use Disorder Rates Increase in Patients with Rheumatic Conditions

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Research has shown that patients who are being treated with opioids for rheumatic diseases have an increased risk for opioid-use disorders. According to a presentation made at the ACR/ARP Annual Meeting, the rate of hospitalization for opioid-use disorder has gone up in patients being treated with one of these conditions.

Opioid Use for Musculoskeletal Diseases

The diseases studied in this research include the following:

  • Gout
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Low back pain

All of these conditions are chronic musculoskeletal diseases, which is one of the most common reasons that people suffer from chronic pain. Studies show that when opioid prescription medication is given for long-term use, the risk of dependence and abuse go up.

Researchers used data from 1998 to 2016 in this study. Based on findings, the rate of increase went from five-fold for sufferers of low back pain to 35-fold higher in those diagnosed with gout. Both of these conditions plateaued over the study period, but the other three conditions continue to climb. This means that more people with fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are developing opioid-use disorders from treatment.

According to researchers, the goal is to make doctors and their patients more aware of the risk for opioid-use disorders and for them to have an open discussion about the condition when choosing to prescribe or continue with opioid medications. The hope also is to cause changes in policy to reduce the risk for developing the disorder and to decrease hospitalizations.

Signs of a Problem

Opioids aren’t meant to be prescribed for chronic or long-term conditions because of the risk for dependency. However, many doctors have prescribed them for chronic conditions, and patients may take these medications for years.

One of the risks with opioids is that the body adjusts to the amount that is present in the system. The medication becomes less effective, so the patient needs either a higher dose or frequency to feel the effects. Often, patients increase the dosage on their own without consulting with their doctor. They may even seek out a second prescription from another doctor.

Symptoms of opioid-use disorder include the following:

  • Medication is taken in higher doses or for longer than intended
  • Patient is unable to stop or cut down on use of medication
  • More time is spent to trying to obtain the drug or to recover from use
  • The person stops enjoying normal activities
  • The person craves the drug
  • The person uses the drug when it is dangerous
  • The person misses work or other obligations
  • Continued use of the drug even when it impacts health or relationships
  • Increased tolerance of the drug
  • Withdrawal symptoms when the person doesn’t have the drug

Some common symptoms of withdrawal include nausea and vomiting, aching muscles, fever, diarrhea, insomnia, persistent yawning, a runny nose, watery eyes, dilated pupils, sweating and a feeling of dissatisfaction. If a person is experiencing multiple symptoms after stopping an opioid medication, they may need to see a doctor for opioid-use disorder. It’s important to prevent more serious consequences, including death, in patients who have been using opioids to manage their pain.

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