These days it can be hard to keep up with the stories in your newsfeed. We take a moment each week to look at what’s happening outside of the Capitol and the White House. Here’s what we’re reading now.
1. Nearly 30 percent of opioid prescriptions lacked documented pain diagnoses.
Nearly 30 percent of U.S. patients prescribed opioids by doctors — over a period spanning a decade — were not documented as suffering from pain, according to a letter published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The study analyzed 31,943 visits between 2006 and 2015 (the year of newest available data at the time) that resulted in opioid prescriptions for patients over 18 years old, as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.
Two-thirds of the patients received opioids to treat pain diagnosed by a doctor, while 5 percent received opioids for pain linked to cancer. The outstanding 28.5 percent of visits had no recorded pain diagnoses to justify the opioid prescriptions. The research team, however, did not make a conclusion as to whether the opioids were appropriately prescribed, the PBS NewsHour’s Laura Santhanam reported.
The survey showed that the patients who received opioids without a recorded pain diagnosis often got them through refills.
Over the course of the decade, the public’s understanding of the opioid threat has changed drastically. Many physicians did not understand how addictive the medications were and the potential threat they posed. [PBS NewsHour]
Why it matters: The opioid epidemic has become a critical public health crisis in the U.S. — and much publicized — over the last few years. More than 40 percent of all opioid overdose deaths in 2016 involved a prescription, according to the CDC.
Some states are working to counteract liberal prescribing practices. California has had a prescription history database for decades, but physicians and health care providers have not always utilized it. Starting Oct. 2, it will be mandatory for California doctors to consult these records before prescribing medication, since the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System has been certified for statewide use by the Justice Department.
By logging into a web-based program, physicians can see who prescribed what to a patient to determine if they are hopscotching doctors to swipe prescriptions, or if a patient is at risk of a potentially dangerous mix of prescribed drugs.
Other states like New York, Kentucky and Tennessee are also requiring prescription database consultation. Ultimately, they may help decrease preventable deaths caused by lethal cocktails of prescribed medications, or patients using unsafe amounts of opioids.
2. The alarming new numbers on suicide attempts among trans youth
A study released last week found that about 50 percent of transgender boys have attempted suicide at some point in their lives — the highest number among any other gender identity included in the report.
Researchers at the University of Arizona surveyed more than 120,000 teens, aged 11 to 19, between June 2012 to May 2015. Of the thousands surveyed, more than 1,700 identified as transgender or as questioning their gender. For those who identified as nonbinary — neither male nor female — 41.8 percent said they attempted suicide. Among trans girls and women, it was nearly 30 percent. And for adolescents who were questioning their gender identity, it was nearly 28 percent.
In contrast, the rates of attempted suicides among cisgender adolescents were lower: 17.6 percent among females, 9.8 percent among males.
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan of the National Center for Transgender Equality told Buzzfeed News that the study’s findings may be “exceedingly upsetting, but this is not, unfortunately, anything new to our ears.”
What specifically has been driving these figures is not addressed in the study, but Freedman-Gurspan offered possible reasons to Buzzfeed.
“Overall what we hear from people who attempt [suicide] is that they can’t deal with the stigma,” she said. “What we always try and say is that there’s nothing that trans people have done — society is just so slow in accepting and it creates scenarios where people don’t feel supported and safe.” [Buzzfeed News]
Why it matters: How trans youth are perceived and treated in places like school is an issue that reaches to the highest levels of American policymaking. A review of federal records by Politico found that at least five complaints to the Education Department involving trans students have either been dismissed or stalled under Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Stacey Burg, the mother of a trans teen whose complaint was thrown out, told Politico how her son was isolated during debate competitions. School officials sided with parents who didn’t want Burg’s son sharing the same room with his fellow teammates on debate competitions. Such treatment weighed heavily on her son, she said.
“He would see his therapist and they would increase his antidepressants,” she said. “He would say it’s schoolwork and debate, but I thought it was more. He was stressed all the time. He was upset, he was depressed, he was anxious. He would get angry at home.”
If you are having thoughts of suicide, go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
3. Detectives face heavy caseloads — and the result may be fewer arrests
Violent crime has been dropping in the U.S. since the early 1990s, but most incidents reported to police tend to go unresolved or don’t result in an arrest, according to the Pew Research Center.
While looking at national data, the center said murder cases were more likely to be resolved than other crimes. But in 2015, the clearance rate for murders and non-negligent homicides in the U.S. topped at 62 percent — a rate that has remained mostly steady since the 1990s. However, this is still a drop compared with 1965, when more than 90 percent of murders were solved, the center said, citing data from the Murder Accountability Project.
One reason, an investigation by the Washington Post suggested last week: Detectives are being overloaded with cases.
The Post requested latest available data from police departments in 50 major U.S. cities to get a better idea of how many homicides detectives were tasked with solving.
According to experts and a study by the FBI, detectives are most effective when they are assigned five homicides or less.
While a small number of departments declined to provide that data or gave incomplete information, the Post found that 39 of 48 police departments in major cities have higher caseloads resulting in a lower number of arrests. (In Detroit, for instance, detectives were assigned eight homicide cases each.) [The Washington Post]
Why it matters: Police departments gave several reasons for the lower arrests rates. Chicago said it had 100 fewer detectives after a wave of retirements. St. Louis said unresolved cases in recent years can lingerthe detectives’ lists as fresh cases continue to come in.
Another could be that after the recession, police department resources to handle homicide cases were slashed and have had difficulty restrengthening these units, according to police officials in the story.
Cmdr. Doug Eckert of the New Orleans Police Department offered another reason: “This is not a very wanted job anymore,” he told the Post, citing increased scrutiny of police officers following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, four years ago, and other shootings since.
“In some ways, we created some of this problem. But we’re not the total problem,” he said.
4. A new world record in the marathon
Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge set a new world record in the marathon on Sunday during a race in Berlin, running 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 1 minute, 39 seconds.
Kipchoge, 33, sustained an average mile pace of 4:42 — faster than the average treadmill can even go, Runner’s World pointed out.
It’s the seventh time a runner has broken the world record in the marathon since 2002. More importantly, the record put us even closer to the ever-elusive goal of breaking 2 hours in the marathon.
Kipchoge has run a faster time in previous time trials — 2 hours and 25 seconds, to be exact — but “what he showed in Berlin is that he can do something similar in a real race,” The Guardian wrote. The time still has to be certified by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
Why it matters: Whether you’re totally enthralled with the endurance required for long-distance running, or think watching other people jog and sprint is a complete waste of time, it’s hard to ignore the new questions (and possibilities) around human stamina, physique and mental toughness raised by Kipchoge’s latest victory. The race to break two hours in the marathon is a quest years in the making.
Some scientists thought we wouldn’t be close to breaking the mark until at least 2020 (the secret, they’ve said: making runners more efficient). Kipchoge’s win suggests we could get there even sooner — another reminder that there’s no better motivation than proving everyone wrong.
5. Americans are eating dinner at home more frequently than they did a decade ago
Americans are eating more meals at home than they did a decade ago, according to NPD Group.
Back in 2000, Americans visited restaurants an average of 215 times per year, according to NPD. But that statistic has hit a 28-year low — only 186 visits in 2018.
Eight in 10 American meals are now prepared at home. The availability of pre-made meals, online grocery delivery, and the focus on healthy eating are a few of the contributing factors, Bloomberg reported. But saving money also appears to be a reason, since the gap between the restaurant tab and your own home cooking has been widening.
While major fast food chains such as McDonald’s may have reported an increase in sales, such reports are a product of price hikes rather than a broader customer base. Fast-casual restaurants, which provide quick service and are more upscale than fast-food establishments, are outpacing the industry and experiencing continued growth — 6 percent annually over the last 5 years, according to NPD.
Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jennifer Bartashus pointed out that supermarkets are also making it more convenient to eat at home. “Ten years ago, you had to chop your own onions,” Bartashus said. “Today, you can go into any grocery store and most of them sell pre-chopped fruits and vegetables. If the biggest driver for eating out was that it’s simply more convenient, that problem is now being solved by a variety of different products and services.” [Bloomberg]
Why it matters: Since there’s a decreasing trend of people dining out in the United States, the restaurant industry is trying to adapt.
The American dinner table is going through changes and is increasingly seeing blended meals that include a restaurant or prepared food item.
For example, Chick-fil-A is selling chicken meal packages that can be prepared in 30 minutes at 150 of its restaurants in the Atlanta area — an attempt to capitalize on the changing dining landscape. The test is set to run from late August through mid-November to see if sales of the meal packages bite into those of the other items.
But many reasons for dining at home go beyond the food industry. “Due to a changing workforce, the ease of online shopping, and the boom in streaming entertainment, there are fewer reasons than ever to leave the house,” said David Portalatin, NPD Food Industry Adviser.