More Than 1,700 Reports Of Drug-Exposed Newborns Seen In Mass. Last Year

Massachusetts child welfare officials say they investigated more than 1,700 reports of drug-exposed newborns over the final 10 months of last year.

Over that period, the state saw a more than 40 percent increase in reports of drug-exposed newborns, from 132 instances in March 2014 to 190 in December, according to data provided by the Department of Children and Families. The December total was down from the agency’s peak recording of 236 in September that year.

Experts say it’s a sign of just how dire the state’s opioid epidemic has become.

Jonathan Davis, chief of newborn medicine at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center, tells the Boston Herald that Massachusetts hospitals combined used to report two or three drug-exposed babies being born per day, but it’s now more like 10 to 15 per day.

Davis said several initiatives have been created to address the issue, pointing to Project Respect, which provides substance abuse treatment for pregnant women and their newborns at Boston Medical Center and serves more than 150 mother-baby pairs each year.

The state started tracking drug-exposed babies last March.

With reporting by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

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How Contagious Is That Dinner Party? And How Best To Evade Friends’ Bugs?

(Faruk Ateş/Flickr)

(Faruk Ateş/Flickr)

“This is not a question for an expert on etiquette!” I expostulated. “It’s a question for an Infectious Disease specialist!”

The trigger for that objection: A query to Social Qs, the New York Times etiquette column on “awkward situations.” The writer describes a group of 10 close friends who meet regularly for dinner; one, who is immuno-suppressed, asks that another member who is getting over the flu and still on antibiotics keep 12 feet away and avoid touching anything she may eat. The reader asks: “Shouldn’t one of them have declined the invitation? But which?”

The columnist responds that no, no one needed to bow out, and that this distance-setting arrangement seems a good compromise, adding, “I hope the person with the flu called her doctor to make sure she was no longer contagious — for everyone’s sake.”

Surely you can understand my frustration. Fine, the flu patient could call her doctor, but what about the rest of us, hungry for more general knowledge on contagion for our own social gatherings? Why not answer the obvious questions? Like: Is 12 feet really far enough to avoid flu germs? Are you still contagious when you’re finishing a course of antibiotics?

Oddly, the day after I read that column, a similar situation played out at my house: One friend was getting over a respiratory infection, still coughing, and another friend regretfully said she could not stay and chat at the dining table, for fear of carrying a germ to an immuno-compromised loved one.

That did it. I called CommonHealth’s go-to guy on infectious disease questions of public interest, Dr. Ben Kruskal, chief of infectious diseases at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and shared my annoyance. Actually, he gently corrected me, this is an issue of both medical science and etiquette. Our conversation, lightly edited:

Dr. Kruskal: You need to have the facts and then you can figure out the etiquette in light of them.

First, when it come to infectious disease transmission, we know a fair amount, but there’s a lot that is still argued over. So let’s take flu as a good example. We know that there are multiple mechanisms by which flu is transmitted, or by which you could postulate reasonably that it might be transmitted:

Dr. Ben Kruskal (Courtesy)

Dr. Ben Kruskal (Courtesy)

• Physical contact: You’ve got germs on your hands, you touch somebody else’s hands or face. Or indirect contact — you touch your face, and then touch the doorknob. A few minutes later, someone else touches the doorknob and then their face.

And there are two different mechanisms of airborne transmission:

• Respiratory droplets, which fall to the ground pretty quickly after they leave your mouth and nose. People argue about the distance they can travel — some people say three feet, some say six feet. Six is a very conservative estimate.

• And then there’s what’s called true airborne transmission (technically, droplet nuclei), which is the mechanism by which TB, measles and chicken pox are all transmitted. And that’s the kind that can go much longer distances and can linger in the air for a long time afterward.

So which is flu?

Flu looks like it’s probably mostly droplets, with some contact, and then there’s a lot of debate in the medical literature about whether there’s some component of airborne transmission or not. If it’s there, it’s probably not huge — we’re arguing whether it’s .1 percent or 1 percent or 5 percent, but it’s probably not more than that.

What else should we know? Continue reading

AG Healey Seeks Ban On Sale Of E-Cigarettes To Minors

Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday filed proposed regulations that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, prohibit free product giveaways or sampling, and require the devices be kept out of the reach of customers at stores.

Currently there is no state law prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors in Massachusetts. Several cities and towns have approved their own local age restrictions.

The regulations would treat e-cigarettes like other tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco – including banning most sales of e-cigarettes except through face-to-face purchases and not through vending machines except in adults-only establishments.

Attorney General Maura Healey (AP)

Attorney General Maura Healey (AP)

The regulations would also define as an unfair or deceptive practice the sale of nicotine liquid or gel without the use of child-resistant packaging that meets federal standards.

“The regulations make it clear that in Massachusetts an e-cigarette is a cigarette when it comes to protecting our kids,” Healey said.

The regulations don’t extend all current smoking prohibitions to e-cigarettes, including the state’s workplace smoking ban. Healey said she supports legislation that would require users of e-cigarettes to abide by additional smoking regulations.

The metal or plastic battery-powered devices resemble cigarettes but heat a liquid nicotine solution, creating vapor that users inhale.

While e-cigarettes contain fewer toxic substances than burning traditional cigarettes, health officials warn they shouldn’t be considered harmless and say much more needs to be known about long-term effects of e-cigarette use.

Continue reading

Conflicts Abound In Research Studies On Food, Nutrition, Expert Notes

Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, has been called one of the most powerful foodies in America. (Michael Pollan deemed her No. 2, right after Michelle Obama.)  Ranking aside, Nestle (no relation) knows her Big Food.

(david_pics/Flickr)

(david_pics/Flickr)

In a recent post on her blog Food Politics, Nestle makes a clear case that food and nutrition “research” is riddled with conflicts of interests — chocolate makers sponsoring a study on the cognitive benefits of cocoa, for instance.

Nestle notes that some studies paid for by food companies or trade groups “almost invariably promote the financial interests of the sponsor.” Here are just a few examples she collected in a week or so: Continue reading

A Podcast For Your Brain: The Checkup, Episode 8

It’s the only organ in the human body that tries to understand itself (though not always successfully).

Still, the brain is on our brains in the latest episode of The Checkup, our recently relaunched health news podcast, a joint venture between WBUR and Slate.

Can you enhance your brain through music? Detect dyslexia even before kids learn to read? Alleviate the symptoms of deep depression with a brain implant?

Carey and I explore these and other questions as we delve into some of the latest advances in brain research.

And in case you missed our last episode, “Scary Food Stories,” where we tell the tale of a recovering sugar addict and offer sobering news to kale devotees, you can listen now, or download it anytime.

Make sure to tune in next week, when we present: “Grossology,” an episode on how the dirty corners of your life might benefit your health.

Each week, The Checkup features a different topic — previous episodes focused on college mental health, sex problems, the Insanity workout and vaccine issues.

Why To Exercise Today: It Could Help Your Partner Exercise, Too

(Lucky_sunny, Flickr via Compfight)

(Lucky_sunny, Flickr via Compfight)

Even if you’ve never heard of Nicholas Christakis and his splashy research on how our social networks affect our health, it’s simple common sense: We’re influenced by the people around us, and we influence them back.

Now, a new study presented at a medical conference even quantifies that influence a bit, among spouses. It found that over several years, physically active wives led to fitter husbands, and — to a somewhat lesser extent — active husbands led to fitter wives. From the press release:

The researchers examined records from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study, which in 1987 began following a group of 15,792 middle-aged adults from communities in Maryland, North Carolina, Minnesota and Mississippi. [Laura Cobb, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health doctoral student and co-author of the research] and her colleagues analyzed data from two medical visits conducted roughly six years apart, beginning between 1987 and 1989. At each visit, the researchers asked 3,261 spouse pairs about their physical activity levels.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults should exercise at a moderate intensity for a minimum of 150 minutes per week or at a vigorous intensity for at least 75 minutes per week. Forty-five percent of husbands and 33 percent of wives in the study group met these recommendations at the first visit.

They found that when a wife met recommended levels of exercise at the first visit, her husband was 70 percent more likely to meet those levels at subsequent visits than those whose wives were less physically active. When a husband met recommended exercise levels, his wife was 40 percent more likely to meet the levels at follow-up visits.

Bottom line: “Your exercise regimen isn’t just good for you; it may also be good for your spouse.” The study was presented earlier this month at the American Heart Association’s EPI/Lifestyle 2015 Scientific Sessions in Baltimore.

‘Come As You Are': Book Explores Old Lies And New Science On Women And Sex

Author and sex educator Dr. Emily Nagoski (Courtesy of Jon Crispin)

Author and sex educator Dr. Emily Nagoski (Courtesy of Jon Crispin)

“You were taught to value and expect something from your sexuality that does not match what your sexuality actually is. You were told a story about what would happen in your sexual life, and that story was false. You were lied to. I am pissed, on your behalf, at the world for that lie. And I’m working to create a world that doesn’t lie to women about their bodies anymore.”

– From: “Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.”

I will be grateful forever to “The Hite Report.” Ditto “The Happy Hooker.” Certain books, at key moments, open our eyes to sexual reality — not the distorted reality of porn or bodice-buster novels, but the real-life reality of what our fellow humans do in private and how our own bodies and brains really respond.

I predict that for some, “Come As You Are” by Emily Nagoski — subtitled “The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life” — will be one of those books.

Nagoski, 37, is a sex educator, proud “sex nerd” with a PhD and past work at the Kinsey Institute, and director of wellness education at Smith College. (Also a blogger at thedirtynormal.com.) Her book focuses in part on a fine irony: Research over the last couple of decades in pursuit of a female version of Viagra — an effort that has failed — has nonetheless added new science to the study of women’s sexuality, science that can be applied to improve sex lives without any little pink pills.

Our conversation, lightly edited:

You say that we were lied to. How?

From the beginning, the day we’re born, the model of sexuality that all of us are given is the one that comes from the expectation of how male bodies work — mostly because, for so long, men were the scientists and the medical providers, they just sort of assumed that the way a man works is how women are supposed to work. So the extent to which a person in a female body does not match a person in a male body is the extent to which they have ‘failed’ to be sexual people.

And what are the ways that women are likeliest not to match?

There are two ways in particular. The first is in what’s called ‘arousal non-concordance.’ Arousal is the activity of your central and peripheral nervous systems in response to sexually relevant stimuli. And it turns out, for men there’s about a 50 percent overlap between what his genitals are doing and how turned on he feels. Basically, if his genitals are responding he’s feeling pretty turned on. That’s not always true, but largely.

“Sex is most satisfying for most women when you’re in a context that is low stress, high trust, high affection and explicitly erotic.”

– Emily Nagoski

For women, there’s about a 10 percent overlap between what her genitals are doing and how aroused she feels. And most of the time, that’s because women’s genitals tend to respond to sort of anything, it’s like a ‘just in case’ genital response. It doesn’t mean that she likes or wants what’s happening, it just means that it’s sexually relevant.

And we look at the way women’s bodies respond to sort of anything and we think, ‘Why don’t they actually like or want all these things? What’s going on with that?’ And it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It just means the way female bodies work is not the way male bodies work. And that’s OK.

So arousal non-concordance means, if you’re a woman and you’re having genital response — wetness, blood flow — that doesn’t mean that, in your head, you’re necessarily turned on. And what’s another big one where men and women don’t match?

The other non-matching thing is in this idea of desire. The model we’re given is that desire should be spontaneous. It occurs out of the blue. You have one stray sexy thought and suddenly your engine is revving and you’re think to yourself, ‘I would like to go find someone to hook up with.’

And that spontaneous desire, out-of-the-blue desire, totally is one way people experience desire. And there’s another way of experiencing desire called ‘responsive desire': You’re sort of in neutral, you’re reading a magazine, you’re flipping through channels, and your partner comes over and starts kissing your neck or caressing your arm, and every cell in your body goes, ‘Oh, right, that’s a really good idea!’ But it doesn’t occur spot out of the blue. It emerges in response to arousal, instead of the desire coming before the arousal.

You also discuss these interesting, research-based concepts of having a sexual ‘accelerator’ and sexual ‘brakes.’ How does that work? Continue reading

Toward A Less Invasive Mode Of Deep Brain Stimulation

Imagine this futuristic tableau: A severely depressed person walks into her doctor’s office, sits in a specially designed chair with a coil around her head, and with little more than an IV injection, undergoes deep brain stimulation to treat her deep, dark psychological illness.

Well, that’s not going to happen any time soon, but engineers at MIT are working on the building blocks that could make that fictional scenario a reality.

They’ve developed a method — a proof-of-concept, really — to stimulate brain tissue using external magnetic fields and injected magnetic nanoparticles that resemble small bits of rust. This technique allows for direct stimulation of neurons, which could someday be an effective treatment for a variety of neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s, and even further in the future, for severe, treatment-resistant psychiatric disorders like depression, without the need for highly invasive brain implants or external connections. The research is published in the journal Science.

(Allan Ajifo/Flickr)

(Allan Ajifo/Flickr)

Current treatments have been effective in reducing or eliminating tremors associated with Parkinson’s but involve major brain surgery to implant wires that are connected to an outside power source.

Polina Anikeeva, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at MIT, says the new research suggests a much less invasive possibility. I asked her to describe the research in an accessible way and here’s what she said:

First, I want to clearly say that we are still very far away from any clinical or even pre-clinical application, this is a first proof-of-concept study, looking at the possibility of using these materials to stimulate neurons deep in the brain.

What we’ve done is to give a simple injection of nanomaterials (iron oxide) that look like small bits of rust [but aren’t actually rust], deep into the brain. This allows us to deliver stimulus using a magnetic field, which is converted into heat by the little rust particules. Now we have a system where a magnetic field is applied from the outside and with a simple injection of the materials we can deliver the stimulas deep in the brain without the connectors and without the implants. We don’t have to be invasive in order to do the stimulation.

Continue reading

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Connector Gains New COO, Corner Office Adviser

The Baker administration continues to put its stamp on the state’s Health Connector Authority with the hiring of two top officials.

Vicki Coates, a former vice president of dental management at DentaQuest, starts on Monday as chief operating officer, according to Louis Gutierrez, the authority’s executive director.

Coates has also worked at Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and Metro West Medical Center.

Gutierrez also announced Patricia Wada, who has worked on state information technology projects, will take the job of special assistant to the governor for project delivery. Continue reading

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Gov. Baker Fills 2 Connector Board Seats

After sweeping out four Connector Board members, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday morning named insurance executive Mark Gaunya and business consultant Rina Vertes to serve on the Massachusetts Connector Authority Board.

Vertes and Gaunya were appointed minutes before a scheduled board meeting and the governor’s office reported they plan to participate in that gathering in Boston.

Gaunya is co-owner and chief information officer at Borislow Insurance. Vertes is president of Marjos Business Consulting.

Baker during the 2014 campaign for governor complained that there had been no major personnel changes at the Connector Authority despite major problems with the rollout of an expensive website intended to help people comply with requirements of the new federal insurance law.

“Our administration believes these health care professionals with decades of experience will continue the turnaround effort of the Connector, and provide the people of Massachusetts with an efficient, well run exchange,” Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said in a statement.

Gaunya is filling a seat reserved for a member of the broker community on the 11-member board, with Vertes taking a seat set aside for a health insurance actuary. Continue reading

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