Welcome to Wednesday’s Overnight Health Care.
A federal judge ruled the Trump administration can’t block the country’s first safe injection site from opening. Impeachment might have thrown a wrench into any drug pricing deal, and a new poll found some unintended consequences of a potential vaping ban.
We’ll start with news from the courts…
Federal judge rules first U.S. supervised opioid injection site is legal
A Pennsylvania federal judge ruled Wednesday that a nonprofit’s plan to open the nation’s first safe injection site does not violate federal law.
The ruling from U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh is a blow to the Justice Department, which sought to prevent Safehouse from opening “consumption rooms,” which provide safe places for drug users to inject using sterile equipment under the supervision of medically trained staff.
The lawsuit against Safehouse and its executive director was the first of its kind in the nation. The lawsuit claimed Safehouse would violate a section of the Controlled Substances Act intended to close crack houses.
But McHugh, an Obama appointee, ruled that Safehouse’s plan does not facilitate illegal drug use.
“Safehouse plans to make a place available for the purposes of reducing the harm of drug use, administering medical care, encouraging drug treatment, and connecting participants with social services. None of these purposes can be understood as a purpose to facilitate drug use,” McHugh wrote.
It was not immediately clear whether the DOJ would appeal McHugh’s decision. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decision was applauded by a host of addiction advocacy groups, which hailed it as an important step towards changing how officials fight the opioid epidemic.
Is a drug pricing deal still possible?
There’s been a flurry of activity on drug pricing even amid the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opened a press conference Wednesday filled with reporters waiting to ask about impeachment by touting her legislation to lower drug prices.
But President Trump dismissed those efforts in a tweet.
“Nancy Pelosi just said that she is interested in lowering prescription drug prices & working on the desperately needed USMCA,” Trump tweeted. “She is incapable of working on either. It is just camouflage for trying to win an election through impeachment. The Do Nothing Democrats are stuck in mud!”
However, White House staff did meet with Pelosi’s staff yesterday on drug prices, as first reported by the Associated Press. Pelosi’s staff briefed the White House staff on the bill, but it was not a formal negotiation.
Bigger picture: Any deal between the White House and Pelosi has always been tough on drug prices, and the current environment makes it tougher. But Pelosi, at least, is still hoping to work together.
Walmart pulls Zantac from shelves, joining CVS, Walgreens
Walmart announced Wednesday it is joining other chain stores in halting the sale of the over-the-counter heartburn drug Zantac amid concerns it contains a cancer-causing chemical.
The nation’s largest retailer said in a statement it was making the move after reviewing a recent product alert from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) saying that ranitidine, which is found within Zantac, could contain low levels of the carcinogen nitrosodimethylamine.
“Walmart Inc. is suspending the sale of all over the counter ranitidine products in stores, clubs and online, including Zantac, Equate and Member’s Mark brands,” the realtor said. “Customers who purchased these products may return them to Walmart or Sam’s Club for a refund.”
Walmart joins CVS Health, Walgreens and Rite Aid in announcing it will no longer sell the drug.
Majority says vaping ban would drive consumers to black market: poll
An unintended consequence of the push to ban vaping: more than half of consumers in a new poll believe that a ban on vaping devices would merely drive Americans to an unregulated black market.
USA Today reported Wednesday that a survey conducted by the newspaper and Ipsos polling found that 59 percent of Americans polled, including 82 percent of those who say they use e-cigarettes regularly, believe that a ban on vaping products would drive consumers to purchase from unlicensed dealers.
On top of that, 72 percent of respondents who use e-cigarettes said government regulations would not reduce the overall number of Americans who use vaping products.
E-cigarette companies are facing widespread furor over a mysterious lung illness and rising youth vaping rates, sparking action from the Trump administration, Congress, governors and other businesses. Massachusetts last week announced a four-month ban on all vaping products. Michigan, New York and Rhode Island have passed slightly less restrictive bans on flavored e-cigarettes, and some cities are also considering bans.
The CDC says most patients have reported vaping cartridges containing THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, which are widely available on the black market, and is warning people not to buy illegally sold products. The agency has warned people against buying black market products.
Alzheimer’s Association pushes to keep funding boost going
As recently as 2015, the government was spending about $600 million on Alzheimer’s research at the National Institutes of Health. Now, that number has roughly quadrupled to $2.4 billion in 2019.
The Alzheimer’s Association is looking to keep the momentum going, trying to get an additional $350 million that has been proposed in the Senate’s appropriations bill across the finish line this fall, Robert Egge, chief public policy officer for the Alzheimer’s Association told The Hill.
Fighting the disease has attracted interest in both parties, given that caring for patients with Alzheimer’s is expected to eat up a growing share of the federal budget if a cure or treatment is not developed.
“Your fiscal hawks worried about the federal budget have a lot of reason to say we need to emphasize Alzhiemer’s research,” Egge said.
He said the extra funding is allowing researchers at the NIH to now follow “scores of hypotheses” at the same time, rather than picking just a couple avenues to focus on.
What we’re reading
Hospitals are buying up housing units, helping ‘stranded’ patients find a home (USA Today)
Trump set to nominate Stephen Hahn as FDA commissioner, pending vetting process (Stat News)
Health insurance premiums for federal employees, retirees to go up an average of 5.6 percent next year (The Washington Post)
State by state
Rural North Carolina Republicans to GOP legislators: Reject ‘national party stance’ on Medicaid (News & Observer)
The deep divide: state borders create Medicaid haves and have-nots (Kaiser Health News)
Sheriff’s deputy sues her county to get health coverage for transgender-related care (NPR)
From The Hill’s opinion page: