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hep c hope

9/17/14 3:30pm

Generic Version of Pricey Hep C Drug Available in Developing Countries

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California-based pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences struck a deal on September 15 to offer a generic version of its $1,000-a-pill hepatitis C treatment which will be available in poorer countries. The scandal over Sovaldi since its release on the open market in the United States has not been over its effectiveness, but rather its outrageous cost. As one of the costliest drugs in the world, Sovaldi has been criticized as an answer only for the rich, excluding the vast majority of people in the world infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Pushing back against the tide of negative opinion, Gilead Sciences announced a generic version of the drug that will be sold in India and other developing countries at a fraction of the price charged in the United States. With nearly 180 million people infected worldwide with hepatitis C who do not live in rich countries, the goal is to stop a potential storm of negative press by saving lives when death can be prevented through accessible treatment options.

In its first year on the market after gaining approval in the United States in December of 2013, Sovaldi is expected to exceed $10 billion in sales in 2014. Such profit easily covers the research investment in the drug by Gilead Sciences. Still, the intensity of the criticism in terms of the cost remains as Sovaldi continues to be a financial drag on insurers and Medicare alike.

Even though Gilead spends 19% of its revenue on research, the company will still profit from sales of Sovaldi. The new outrage in the United States is that such profit can be maintained even after the company cuts the drug’s price by 99% in Third World countries. A secondary goal of the company is to protect their patents in Third World countries by offering breaks before the price structuring is attacked by governments and in courts.

In the United States, Sovaldi costs $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 for a typical 12-week course of treatment. According to Gregg H. Alton, Gilead’s executive vice president, Gilead plans to introduce the drug in India for about $10 a pill, or 1% of the price in the United States.

“Really what we’re trying to do here through the partnerships we’ve established is expand availability of chronic hepatitis C therapy, particularly in the developing world," Alton explained.

Seven Indian generic drug makers will pay royalties to Gilead to manufacture the drug for 91 developing countries. More than half of the world’s infected HCV population lives in those countries. The cost of manufacturing Sovaldi in India will be a miniscule fraction of the price charged in the United States. The lingering question is whether such price breaks are fair to the down and out population in the United States infected with the HCV virus.

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By John Lavitt

recovery event

9/17/14 1:00pm

White House Celebrates 25 Years of National Recovery Month

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ONDCP's Michael Botticelli. Photo via

For the past 25 years, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has designated each September as National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month as a means of educating Americans about addiction treatment and mental health services.

Today, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will pay tribute to individuals in recovery by hosting an event at the White House called “Recovery Month at the White House: Celebrating 25 Years.” The event will be streamed live from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. EST and will feature a panel of recovery advocates who will participate in a discussion, as well as share their own personal stories of recovery.

The panel will include former National Football League Hall and ESPN analyst Cris Carter, who is currently in recovery; Washington Post reporter Ruben Castaneda, who wrote about his path to recovery in the book S Street Rising; Christina Huffington, who will provide perspective on young people in recovery through her own experiences, and Brooklyn Center, Minnesota mayor Tim Wilson. Moderating the panel is Laurie Dhue, a former Fox News Anchor and host of TheBlaze’s news magazine For the Record, as well as a recovery advocate.

Viewers will be able to tweet questions for the panelists to the account of Michael Botticelli, Acting Director of ONDCP (@Botticelli44) by using the hashtag #Recovery@WH at any time prior to or during the event. The Recovery Month at the White House event seeks to raise awareness of both substance abuse disorders and recovery and help to promote the understanding that addiction is a disease. Administration priorities and accomplishment in attaining this goal will also be highlighted during the event.

Stream the event live here.

Tweet panelist questions here.

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By Paul Gaita

overdose deaths

9/17/14 10:30am

New Statistics Show Prescription Drug Deaths Quadrupled In U.S.

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New statistics released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have highlighted just how severe the prescription drug epidemic is in the U.S., with prescription drug deaths quadrupling between 1999-2011.

Approximately 4,263 deaths were linked to opioid overdoses in 1999, but that number had climbed to 17,000 in 2011, and didn’t include those from benzodiazepine drugs such as Xanax and Klonopin. The numbers could be even higher because specific drugs weren’t named in about 25% of all drug deaths. The greatest increase in death rates occurred in Americans between 55-65 years old.

“The amount that [opioids] are administered by well-meaning physicians is excessive,” said Dr. Robert Waldman, an addiction medicine consultant not involved with the research. “Most physicians are people-pleasers who want to help and want to meet people’s needs, and they are more inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt until you are shown otherwise.”

However, drug deaths have slowed down in other groups such as the age 15-24 demographic. This could be due to a renewed focus on drug education in many school districts across the country, local drug treatment programs and law enforcement activities.

Other recent reports have also highlighted the ongoing prescription drug problem. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported last April that over 100 overdose deaths occur per day, making prescription drugs more deadly than car accidents, guns, and suicide. More than five million Americans abuse painkillers each year, while 2.2 million are abusing tranquilizers and another 1.1 million are recklessly using stimulants. Enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult every four hours for a month.

Emergency room visits related to prescription drugs also doubled for seniors between the ages of 55-65. “There's this growing group of seniors, they have pain, they have anxiety … and a lot of (doctors) have one thing in their tool box—a prescription pad,” said Mel Pohl, director of the Las Vegas Recovery Center. "The doctor wants to make their life better, so they start on the meds.”

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By McCarton Ackerman

decriminalizing weed

9/17/14 8:30am

Philadelphia on the Verge of Decriminalizing Weed

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In the next couple of weeks, Philadelphia will become the largest U.S. city to decriminalize personal amounts of marijuana.

After initially opposing decriminalization, Mayor Michael A. Nutter has said that he will sign a bill sponsored by City Councilman James A. Kenney that would lessen punishment for people caught with small amounts of weed. Instead of prison, people caught with less than 30 grams—or about one ounce—would receive a fine of $25, while people caught smoking pot in public would be fined $100.

"This bill will not legalize marijuana. Rather, it will decriminalize marijuana, which means that offenses involving small amounts of marijuana will result in a civil penalty, not an arrest or criminal record,” Nutter said in a statement.

Councilman Kenney began the push to decriminalize marijuana after learning that of the 4,000 Philadelphians arrested each year for simple possession, over 83% have been black or Latino.

"It’s just not a fair situation. I think marijuana use is pretty even across most demographics, and arresting these young people for that reason and putting that weight around their neck to carry for the rest of their life doesn't make any sense," Kenney told the Los Angeles Times.

Back in August, Nutter—who is African-American—scoffed at such an argument to decriminalize marijuana as being "a bogus issue" and an "insult to the community, and even went so far as to say that the police did not target blacks or other minorities. But in recent days, Nutter has backed off that stance following Kenney's agreement to pass necessary amendments.

“We want to ensure that the punishment for using or possessing small amounts of marijuana is commensurate with the severity of the crime, while giving police officers the tools they need to protect the health and well-being of all Philadelphians,” Nutter said.

Once signed, the law will go into effect Oct. 20.

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By Shawn Dwyer

headlines

9/17/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Sept. 17, 2014

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Yes, that's a baby on the tracks. Photo via

By Shawn Dwyer

oops

9/16/14 7:30pm

Tennessee Man's 911 Call Leads to Drug Charges

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Grant O’Connor is an unlucky 25-year-old from Tennessee whose unlucky butt dial earned him drug possession charges.

O’Connor unintentionally called 911 on his cell phone and, according to Nashville news station WKRN, the dispatcher claims to have heard him discussing “pleasure shivers” and “tiny little pins” in his body. In Big Brother fashion, the snooping dispatcher stayed on the line to listen in to the rest of his call, then traced it to a Mexican restaurant and sent an officer to the scene.

The officer found O’Connor and a woman pulling out of the parking lot. Since the vehicle happened to have a tail light out, the officer used that as an excuse to pull them over. The officer searched the car and found a small bag of marijuana and “drug paraphernalia,” (probably a pipe), so he arrested the very unfortunate O’Connor and charged him with drug, and drug paraphernalia, possession.

Talk about bad luck. Talk about creepy invasion of privacy. The police department’s manipulation of the situation in order to catch a nonviolent person who was clearly not in any immediate danger or posing any threat to anyone, is a typical example of why our nation needs to decriminalize marijuana possession.

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By April M. Short/AlterNet

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