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11/13/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Nov. 13, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

failed policy

11/12/14 7:30pm

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Wants Drug Tests for Welfare, Unemployment Recipients

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In what is becoming a recurring and unpleasant refrain with Republicans, newly re-elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will put in motion a system to require drug tests for state residents who receive either unemployment insurance or food stamps.

The plan, which Walker announced during his re-election campaign, has not been finalized, but seeks to require drug testing for “those requesting unemployment and able-bodied, working-age adults requesting food stamps from the state.” Current figures show that an estimated 836,000 Wisconsin residents, 40% of which are children, received FoodShare benefits, while more than 39,000 people filed weekly unemployment compensation claims.

Currently, at least eleven states have passed legislation that requires drug testing or screening for residents to receive public assistance, while unemployment compensation comes with a drug test in four states, two of which, Kansas and Missouri, have both requirements.

However, the success rate of ferreting out drug users from the ranks of the unemployed and those on welfare is exceptionally low. Tennessee found just one drug user out of 800 welfare recipients, while Utah generated 12 positive tests from its welfare recipients. Florida Governor Rick Scott has pursued a testing system in his state since 2011, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to grant his petition and a cost to tax payers of hundreds of millions of dollars, while the state of Texas just announced that it will has filed a new bill for review that will require testing for those seeking government assistance.

A spokesperson from the Drug Policy Alliance responded to the proposed Wisconsin plan by stating, “If Governor Scott Walker cared about families in his state, his first response would be to ensure that people who struggle with problematic drug use are able to receive treatment on demand and the help they need to live a healthy and productive lifestyle. Drug testing families and individuals struggling to make ends meet is uncaring, uncompassionate and unconstitutional.”

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By Paul Gaita

alternative therapies

11/12/14 5:30pm

Antibody Therapy Shows Promise in Blunting Addict's High

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A new study has shown that antibody therapy can blunt an addict’s high by preventing certain drugs, specifically methamphetamine, from reaching the brain.

The experiment, presented last week by molecular biologist Eric Peterson of the University of Arkansas, aimed to integrate antibody engineering and gene therapy technology to generate an antibody-based medicine that could continue working for months or years.

Researchers were able to show that the therapy continued to prevent methamphetamine from reaching the brains of mice over a month after receiving a dose of the drug. This approach has the potential to protect recovering addicts from relapsing if it can be proved to work safely in humans.

In the experiment funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, meth-addicted mice received antibody therapy. They were injected with an adeno-associated virus, which is engineered to deliver genes that produce antibodies that bind tightly to methamphetamine.

Fifty days after the mice were injected with the virus, they received a dose of methamphetamine. Up to an hour after administering the methamphetamine, the researchers observed a greater presence of the drug in the blood of the mice that received the gene-based therapy than the mice that received a saline shot instead.

According to the researchers, this suggests that the drug, bound to the antibodies, never passed into the brain and remained in the bloodstream until it was filtered out. Similar therapies have the potential to help with other addictions, like cocaine and tobacco, but have yet to be found safe and long-lasting enough to help an addict get clean.

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By Victoria Kim

unnecessary and evil

11/12/14 3:30pm

Doctors Charging Seniors for Unnecessary Drug Tests, According to Study

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That's not the PCP I remember.
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The Wall Street Journal has found that pain management doctors are reaping millions of dollars by charging Medicare for warrantless drug tests on senior patients for substances like PCP and cocaine.

Analysis of payment data conducted in 2012 found that Medicare has spent $445 million on tests for such drugs, which marks an increase of 1,423% since 2007. One company, the San Diego-based Millennium Laboratories, received $190 million from Medicare that year, including $4.5 million for PCP tests alone, the largest number of such tests conducted by any other California company.

The Journal report comes on the heels of similar findings by the New York Times this year, which showed that of the 880,000 doctors who accept Medicare coverage, only 2% account for about a quarter of all total payments, which is estimated at $15 billion. This does not include an additional $13.5 billion received by clinical laboratories and ambulance services.

As with the Journal report, the Times story found that high-priced tests, often conducted in lieu of lower-cost options, were the primary source of the windfall. In the case of the drug tests, doctors appear to be conducting these more expensive tests instead of simple urine tests, which Medicare capped four years ago for charges of overbilling.

However, these tests are designed to determine the presence of illegal drugs including marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. A 2012 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that about 1 in 1,000 seniors use such substances, however, prescription drug abuse among the elderly is another story altogether).

Consumer Watchdog Executive Director Carmen Balber confirmed that charges like these have become an all-too-common occurrence. “Doctors like to blame patients and lawsuits for the proliferation of unnecessary tests and procedures, but the truth is that more tests mean more revenue,” Balber said.

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By Paul Gaita

back in the day

11/12/14 1:00pm

First Pap Smears Were Conducted On Drunk Guinea Pigs

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The first ever Pap smear was not done on a woman in a doctor’s office, but a drunken guinea pig in a laboratory.

Many years ago, George Papanicolaou, the inventor of the Pap smear, set out to determine the effects of alcohol on guinea pigs and their offspring. Papanicolaou needed to study the guinea pigs’ eggs pre-ovulation. The problem was determining when the guinea pigs were menstruating and the solution, he found, was the first-ever Pap smear.

Papanicolaou, who had originally trained as a doctor in Greece, conducted his alcohol study in America in 1912. The samples Papanicolaou extracted from the drunk guinea pigs helped him track the animals’ sex cycles, and his work was of such a caliber that others soon joined in his study.

Ultimately, Papanicolaou was able to gather cell samples from women. While he was also able to track their sexual cycles by their cells, more importantly, he was able to associate certain abnormal cells with cervical cancer.

Today, Pap smears are used to reliably test and diagnose cancer and have saved tens of thousands of women’s lives. And it’s all thanks to a couple of drunken guinea pigs and the ambitious Papanicolaou.

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By Brent McCluskey

drug testing

11/12/14 10:30am

Texas Will Keep Pushing For Welfare Drug Testing

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Like many Republican-controlled states, Texas will continue its push for drug testing welfare recipients by filing bills that could make it a reality as early as next year.

Though some welfare applicants in Texas are already subject to drug testing, a new bill just filed for review would require it for everyone receiving government assistance. The state senate previously passed a bill in April 2013, which requires applicants to fill out a questionnaire and submit a screening assessment to determine their risk of drug use. Anyone deemed a risk would be required to be drug tested, as would anyone with a previously failed drug test or felony drug conviction.

The Texas State Senate approved that bill by a 31-0 margin and it was passed by the House the following month. "Taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize someone's drug habit," said bill sponsor Sen. Jane Nelson (R). 

Applicants who test positive would be barred from collecting benefits for 12 months, but could reapply in six months if they completed a substance abuse treatment program. Three positive tests would result in a permanent ban on benefits. However, the bill did not impact children of those who tested positive by allowing them to continue receiving benefits through a designated third party.

Opponents of welfare drug testing believe that it essentially classifies an entire population of people as criminals who are unmotivated to better themselves. In endorsing the bill that was approved last year, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst further demonized welfare applicants by declaring that "welfare should never subsidize the irresponsible choices of otherwise capable people who instead elect to stay at home, play video games, and get high with their friends."

The states that have introduced welfare drug testing so far have seen few, if any, results come from it. In April 2012, findings showed that only 108 out of 4,086 welfare applicants (2.6%) who were drug tested in Florida showed positive results. Some have also seen those programs shut down for being unconstitutional. Florida Gov. Rick Scott was exposed last June for spending nearly $400,000 in taxpayer money to challenge his welfare testing program being deemed unconstitutional. Shalini Goel Agarwal, staff attorney for the ACLU in Florida, called Scott’s efforts “a costly and embarrassing boondoggle for Floridians."

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