Monday, July 18, 2016

WASHINGTON D.C.: The War on Drugs, mass incarceration of drug users and the failure to provide proven harm reduction and treatment strategies have driven up global epidemics of HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis B and C, reveals a new study. According to the major six-part Series on HIV and related infections in prisoners, levels of these three diseases among inmates are far higher than in the general population. With an estimated 30 million people passing in and out of prisons every year, prisoners will be key to controlling HIV and tuberculosis epidemics worldwide, as per the study. "Prisons can act as incubators of tuberculosis, hepatitis C, and HIV and the high level of mobility between prison and the community means that the health of prisoners should be a major public-health concern. Yet, screening and treatment for infectious diseases are rarely made available to inmates, and only around 10 percent of people who use drugs worldwide are being reached by treatment programmes,” said lead author Chris Beyrer of the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, USA. He added, "The most effective way of controlling infection in prisoners and the wider community is to reduce mass imprisonment of injecting drug users." Data presented in the Series show that with growing numbers of injecting drug users in prison, the prevalence of infectious diseases has also increased. Levels of HIV infection are 20 times higher among prisoners in Western Europe than the civilian population and around three times higher among prisoners in eastern and southern Africa and North America. While most prisoners are men, women and girls are the fastest growing imprisoned group worldwide, and in most regions of the world, levels of HV infection are higher in female inmates than male prisoners including Eastern Europe and central Asia. High rates of hepatitis C are also seen among prisoners, with 1 in 6 inmates in parts of Europe and the USA carrying hepatitis C virus. Prevalence of active tuberculosis is higher in prisons than the general population in all settings. One study demonstrated that prevalence was 40 times higher in one prison in Brazil than the general population. Moreover, new estimates produced for the Series suggest that up to half of all new HIV infections over the next 15 years in eastern Europe will stem from increased HIV transmission risk among inmates who inject drugs; and imprisonment could be responsible for three-quarters of new tuberculosis infections among people who inject drugs, and around 6 percent of all yearly tuberculosis infections. The Series brings together a wealth of evidence to show that countries can reduce and even reverse infectious disease transmission by scaling up proven harm reduction and treatment strategies in prisons like opioid agonist therapy (OAT), antiretroviral therapy (ART), hepatitis B vaccination, condom distribution, and sterile needle and syringe exchange. Modelling conducted for the Series suggests that reducing mass incarceration of people who use drugs, in this case lowering the number of prisoners who inject drugs by 25 percent, could result in a 7-15 percent drop in new cases of HIV among injecting drug users in the community over 5 years. Similarly, scaling up OAT (eg, methadone and buprenorphine) to all those in need in prison, and after release, could prevent over a quarter of new HIV cases in people who inject drugs in just 5 years. The study is published in The Lancet.

Price increases are insane—and seemingly unstoppable.

The high cost of prescription drugs has been causing pain and hardships for millions of Americans for years. And the situation appears to only be getting worse: Drug prices have risen an average of nearly 10% over the 12-month period ending in May 2016—a time when the overall inflation rate was just 1% in the U.S.

According to data cited by the Wall Street Journal, while food and alcohol prices have risen 2.8%, and clothing and accessories are up 5.7%, pharmaceutical prices have increased 9.8% in the past year.

Drug prices are ballooning to new highs even though Big Pharma is increasingly under more scrutiny from insurance companies, consumer groups, and American lawmakers—who are all, apparently, powerless to stop the price hikes. Prescription drug price increases of nearly 10% or more have hit American consumers for three years in a row.

It’s hard to imagine consumers would stand for such price hikes if it came to nearly any other kind of product. “You can’t take the price of the iPhone…up 10% a year,” Geoffrey Porges, a Leerink Partners LLC biotech analyst, told the WSJ.

Read Next: 21 Incredibly Disturbing Facts About High Prescription Drug Prices

But because medications are literally essential—patients could die without them—people have little choice but to pay up no matter what the price. The fact that more Americans have high-deductible health insurance plans makes the situation more painful, as they’re generally on the hook for the full cost of prescriptions.

Meanwhile, a new report from Americans for Tax Fairness says that Gilead Sciences, the world’s sixth most valuable pharmaceutical company, has been gouging consumers, raking in billions in profits, and dodging U.S. taxes—all based on medications that were developed by taxpayer dollars.

In an op-ed on Huffington Post, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders called attention to the study, and the fact that “a lifesaving product does no one any good if a patient cannot buy the medicine they need, and that is now happening far too often in the richest nation in the world.”

Gilead’s profits rose from $4.2 billion in 2013 to $21.7 billion in 2015; during the same time period its effective tax rate decreased from 27.3% to 16.4%. The company pulled off this magic trick by purchasing a company called Pharmasett, which makes the hepatitis C treatment drug Sovaldi, and whose owner, a nearly full-time federal employee, received at least $2.7 million in taxpayer money for research. After Gilead snatched up the company, it raised the price of Sovaldi through the roof, and “Gilead made its investment back in less than a year,” Sanders explained:

    Gilead’s greed is particularly reprehensible because the American public paid for these drugs twice: first taxpayers bankrolled the research behind the hepatitis C drugs and then they paid a second time when Gilead decided to charge Americans the highest price in the world for the treatment.

Read Next: Absurdly Expensive EpiPens Are Driving Families to Dangerous Lengths

Gilead also “appears to have engaged in a massive shift of profits offshore to dodge U.S. taxes,” at one point doing the seemingly impossible by reporting “more offshore profits than offshore revenues,” the Americans for Tax Fairness report states.

So “now Americans are getting cheated a third time as Gilead stashes its profits abroad to avoid taxes,” Sanders wrote.

And how do Gilead and other pharmaceutical companies get away with all of this? Well, it’s worth noting that Big Pharma spends more money lobbying American politicians than any other industry, by far.

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