Health

Governor Mike Pence has declared a public health emergency in one southern Indiana county. 

An HIV epidemic has been linked to intravenous drug use in Scott County. 

Deputy State Health Commissioner Jennifer Walthall says people are abusing a powerful painkiller that’s a cousin to Oxycontin and heroin.

"It's Oxymorphone, which the trade name for that is Opana," Walthall explained to WKU Public Radio.  "It's an incredibly powerful and potent opiate that comes in pill form, but can be crushed, boiled, and then injected."

The Indiana State Department of Health has confirmed 71 cases of HIV.  In comparison, Dr. Walthall says Scott County typically sees around five new HIV cases a year. 

The state is preparing to set up a temporary needle exchange program that will allow addicts to swap out dirty needles for clean ones in an effort to stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C.

The three Kentucky hospitals that treat the most heroin overdoses are getting reversal kits to hand out to patients.

The kits will go to University Hospital in Louisville, the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington, and St. Elizabeth Hospital in northern Kentucky.

The kits contain naloxone, which can restart breathing in people who have overdosed.

The initiative to hand out 2,000 kits was announced Tuesday by first lady Jane Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway.

Fewer than half of people with Alzheimer’s disease were told their diagnosis by their physician, according to a report released Tuesday.

The 2015 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, released by the Alzheimer’s Association, found that only 45 percent of people ages 65 and older with Alzheimer’s were told the diagnosis by their doctor.

Elizabeth Betts, special events manager for the Greater Kentucky and Southern Indiana chapter, said the figures are alarming.

“All people living with Alzheimer’s disease deserve the opportunity to know the truth about their diagnosis because this allows them to maximize the quality of their life and to play an active role with their families in planning for their futures,” she said.

Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in Kentucky. In 2012, 1,462 Kentuckians died from the disease. There has also been a 72 percent increase in Alzheimer’s deaths in the state since 2000.

In Indiana, 2,104 people have died from Alzheimer’s. The state has also experienced a 74 percent increase in Alzheimer’s deaths since 2000.

The association said disclosing an Alzheimer’s diagnosis has benefits, including an opportunity for a second opinion and better medical care.

“Waiting until later in the course of the disease, because it is a progressive  brain disease, this has the potential to deprive the person to seek the care and treatment early in the disease,” Betts said.

More Kentuckians are insured, protected from second-hand smoke and making healthier lifestyle choices, according to a recently released preliminary report on Gov. Steve Beshear’s kyhealthnow initiative.

The initiative was created to achieve by 2019 seven major health goals on issues ranging from insurance rates to obesity.

The  Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services  set the goal of reducing the state’s uninsured rate to 5 percent or less. With the implementation of Kynect and the expansion of Medicaid, Kentucky’s uninsured rate is currently 9.8 percent.

Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, the state’s public health commissioner, said she’s optimistic that the goal will be reached.

“If we continue to do what we’re currently doing, we feel that we’ll get there because in a year or so we’ve taken it down to 9.8 percent from a baseline in 2013 of 20.4 percent,” she said.

Although, the proposed smoking ban bill passed the House earlier this year, its future looks grim. And so does the future of the proposed heroin bill.

But, Mayfield said, “the session is not over yet.”

Kentucky has joined a multi-state and federal fraud lawsuit against Cincinnati-based Omnicare Inc., alleging that the company billed the state’s Medicaid program almost $6 million over nine years for drugs that were given to nursing home patients for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

According to papers filed by Attorney General Jack Conway in federal court in Abingdon, Va., Omnicare received “millions of dollars” in kickbacks from Abbott Laboratories for promoting the use of Depakote, an anti-seizure and mood-disorder drug, for dementia patients who were agitated or aggressive. The suit says Omnicare defrauded state Medicaid programs by billing for the illegally administered drugs.

The complaint is Conway’s third kickback case against Omnicare, which moved its headquarters from Covington in 2012. Omnicare spokesman Patrick Lee did not return a phone call Monday.

The company paid $98 million in 2009 to settle claims it took kickbacks from drug makers Johnson & Johnson and IVAX. It paid $8.2 million in 2014 to settle claims it paid kickbacks to nursing homes in return for their pharmacy business.

Abbott Labs settled the Virginia case by paying a $1.5 billion settlement in 2012, about $3 million of which went to Kentucky. Another institutional pharmacy operator named in the case, Louisville-based PharMerica, has agreed to settle out of court for an unspecified amount.

An estimated 16.4 million Americans have gained health insurance coverage since the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

That’s according to new data released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Dr. Richard Frank, assistant secretary for planning and evaluation, said number of uninsured Americans has reached a 40-year low.

“This is a historic drop in the uninsured and nothing since the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid come near to this type of change," commented Frank.

About 14.1 million adults have gained coverage since open enrollment began in October 2013, according to the report.

An additional 2.3 million 19- to 25-year-olds have gained coverage since a new provision went into effect in 2010, allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance until the age of 26.

Kentucky has the second greatest reduction in the rate of uninsured people among the states, just behind Arkansas. The state’s uninsured rate is now 9.8 percent– down from 20.4 percent in 2013.

A federal report says raising the legal age to buy tobacco products to higher than 18 would likely prevent premature death for hundreds of thousands of people.

The report issued Thursday by the Institute of Medicine was commissioned by the Food and Drug Administration and mandated by a 2009 law that gave it authority to regulate tobacco.

The law set the federal minimum age at 18. Congress would have to act to raise it nationally.

Most states currently have set the age at 18. Four set the age at 19 and several localities, including New York City, have raised the minimum to 21.

The report looks at the impact of increasing the age to 19, 21 or 25, but it does not make any recommendations.

Kentucky has received a $3.6 million grant that could help rural families with children get more money for food.

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said the grant would test giving families an extra transportation deduction to account for the long journeys rural families often have to get to a grocery store. Some research suggests families could receive an extra $50 per month in federal food benefits.

Booster Seat Bill Emerges from House Committee

Feb 25, 2015

Booster seat advocates say legislative action is needed to fix Kentucky's current law. A bill that would increase the height requirement to 57 inches and age standard to nine years old, passed the House Transportation Committee Tuesday.

Dr. Susan Pollack with the Kentucky Injury Prevention Research Center has been lobbying for years on vehicle booster seat issues. "All this is recognition that kids don't get to adult height until older than what we had said and taller," said Pollack. "It's really a height issue because if you're not in the right position height wise, the seat belt doesn't fit you properly."

Brandon Muravchik testified before the House committee. He was injured in a car accident when he was eight and underwent surgeries as a child and as an adult. "Ended up being a four hour surgery and he removed two feet of my intestine," he said. "So, this is 23 years later; so I'm still suffering from it."

Similar measures have passed the full House previously, but failed to make it through the Senate. Senate Transportation Committee Chair Ernie Harris believes Winchester doctor Ralph Alvarado's inclusion in Senate membership could change the dynamics. "We will talk about this bill at some time. We'll see what he has to say. I think he'll be supportive of it. But, I don't know if the votes are there. It hasn't even crossed my mind until you mentioned it today," said Harris.

Harris says members of his committee will be polled to gauge support.

Kentucky's Uninsured Rate Down To 9.8 Percent

Feb 24, 2015

Kentucky has the second greatest reduction in the rate of uninsured people among the states, according to the Gallup Healthways Well- Being Index released Tuesday.

The survey said Kentucky’s uninsured rate is now 9.8 percent—down from 20.4 percent in 2013.

Kentucky is behind Arkansas, which has an uninsured rate of 11.4 percent compared to 22.5 percent in 2013.

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