Government vs. Private Efforts to Promote Breastfeeding: My Response to a Critic

I recently published an op-ed at The Hill entitled “Breastfeeding Controversy Shows Need for Private Efforts—Not Government Campaigns.”The piece came after U.S. ambassadors faced considerable criticism for attempting to block a World Health Assembly resolution calling for governments to devote more resources to promoting breastfeeding and to place more stringent advertising regulations on breastfeeding substitutes in developing nations.

Instead of criticizing politicians, I tried to address what I consider a more pressing question: Do we really want governments more involved in promoting global health efforts? My answer was no. To justify my stance, I provided peer-reviewed research indicating that government efforts to promote public health and improve living standards in developing countries have repeatedly failed. As an alternative, I provided evidence that private efforts to promote childhood nutrition (specifically breastfeeding) were more up to the task.

FDA Considers Regulating E-cigarette Juices

Last March, the U. S. Food and Drug Administration announced its intention to lower nicotine levels in cigarettes to prevent future generations from smoking and to help current smokers quit. In a piece I wrote in May for Inside Sources, I argued these regulations were unlikely to help and could possibly make things worse by motivating smokers to consume more cigarettes or switch to other, less healthy smoking products.

The FDA acknowledged this shortcoming in a regulatory notice which reads, “If a [regulatory] standard were to apply to cigarettes only, it could be substantially less effective.” But instead of heeding potential unintended consequences as a reason to refrain from regulation, the agency seems to be doubling down.

FDA Approves Medical App for Contraception

The Swedish phone app Natural Cycles recently made headlines for becoming the first app approved by the Food and Drug Administration for contraception. Natural Cycles uses morning temperature readings and its own algorithm to predict the user’s most fertile days (about ten days a month) during her ovulation cycle. The app has widespread popularity with nearly 700,000 users worldwide.

Although Natural Cycles is celebrated as being “first of its kind,” when we examine recent trends in medical technology, we find this story has been a long time coming.

Open Up Off-Label Drug Communication and Let the Market Work!

The Food and Drug Administration determines which drugs can be prescribed in the United States. However, the FDA does not tell physicians how to prescribe drugs. When physicians prescribe drugs for uses other than their FDA-approved use, they engage in off-label drug prescription.

Off-label drug prescription is extremely common. By some estimates, 25 percent of all prescriptions are for off-label uses. These rates can be exceptionally higher for conditions with few available treatments. Cancer, HIV/Aids, many mental illnesses, and large sections of pediatrics heavily depend on off-label drug prescriptions.

Three Reasons To Be Optimistic about Pharmaceutical Policy

To say the U.S. pharmaceutical market is highly regulated is an understatement. According to the RegData database developed by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing industry as of 2014 had approximately 10,000 more restrictions than the median U.S. industry. Many of these restrictions are enacted by the Food and Drug Administration, which determines whether pharmaceuticals can enter the U.S. market legally. The approval process each drug undergoes is time-consuming (typically requiring 12 years) and expensive (costs can exceed $1 billion).

Political rhetoric suggests little is likely to change. Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly involves himself in the DEA’s distribution licenses to grow marijuana for medical research, an unprecedented role for his position. To combat the opioid crisis, President Trump called for fewer prescriptions and possibly the death penalty for illegal distribution. Both proposals create more barriers to patients seeking pain relief or suffering from addiction. The FDA recently began issuing warning letters to companies distributing goods containing kratom. Although the agency considers kratom to have “opioid properties,” kratom is legal in most states.

If Telemedicine Is Underachieving, Government Is to Blame

Telemedicine, the use of telecommunication technology to help administer medical care, is often credited with “radically changing” the healthcare market. Some have credited telemedicine with revolutionizing healthcare delivery, private practice, and outpatient care among other components of healthcare.

However, a recent CNBC article is receiving considerable attention for arguing that “telemedicine has been such a bust so far.” In the article, technology and health reporter Christina Farr contends telemedicine fails to live up to its reputation as “the next big thing in healthcare” and still finds itself on the outskirts of mainstream healthcare and medical practice.

Misdiagnosing Right-to-try Laws

In a recent press release, Congressman Jason Lewis (R-MN) urged the House of Representatives to pass recent ‘right-to-try’ legislation “as soon as possible.” Lewis also said, “I want each and every treatment option that could save a life to be available to those who are sick” and that “Families are depending on us.”

President Trump and Vice President Pence echoed similar sentiments. In his State of the Union Address, President Trump stated, “It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the ‘right to try.’ ” About three weeks ago, Vice President Pence tweeted, “Let’s get this [right-to-try] DONE.”

Putting Right-to-Try Drug Prices in Perspective

Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics Inc. recently made headlines for attempting to offer an experimental treatment for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly shortened to ALS or called Lou Gehrig’s disease). This path-breaking treatment, named NurOwn, is a personalized cell therapy which works to promote motor neuron growth to reestablish nerve-muscle interaction.

The treatment was going to be the first attempt to offer patients access to experimental treatment under the new national right-to-try legislation. However, due to a lack of funding, Brainstorm decided not to pursue this option and instead focus on FDA approval. NurOwn is currently in phase 3 of the FDA’s approval process and will likely be approved in 2019 or 2020.

EpiPen Pricing Controversy Reveals Ignorance about Market Competition

A recent episode of CNN’s Boss Files podcast featured Heather Bresch, CEO of Mylan and the first woman to run a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company. The podcast focused primarily on her journey to success. However, roughly 40 minutes in, Bresch was questioned about her pricing strategy for EpiPen, the epinephrine auto-injector for treating emergency allergic reactions.

Mylan acquired the right to sell EpiPen in 2007 and, under Bresch’s leadership, EpiPen prices were raised nearly 400 percent in late 2015. In mid-2016, Mylan released a generic EpiPen, which sold for about $300 for a 2-pack (50 percent less expensive than the name-brand version). When questioned about Mylan’s pricing and promotion strategy, Bresch explained that patients “needed a solution and wanted a solution” and that her generic device provided both.

FDA Moves Closer to Approving Ecstasy

Last August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began testing MDMA (ecstasy) for treating post-traumatic stress disorder. The FDA also granted MDMA breakthrough therapy status to expedite the approval process by making it easier for drugmakers to begin clinical trials.

Recently, MDMA passed phase 2 of the FDA’s four-phase drug-approval process. Although phase 3 requires a large sample and a longer period to complete, the drugs that reach this phase are typically approved. Evidence of MDMA’s “impressive” therapeutic benefits is now published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal. Stemming from the drug’s successful clinical trial results, many expect MDMA to be approved for therapeutic use by 2021.