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March 20, 2018

Dirty needles litter the playground... So these Kentucky students invented a solution and won $50,000

Students at Ashland Middle School demonstrate how to pick up used needles with the device they invented. (Photo by Will Wright Lexington Herald Leader)Students at Ashland Middle School demonstrate how to pick up used needles with the device they invented. (Photo by Will Wright Lexington Herald Leader)

ASHLAND - In Boyd County, where staff at a local elementary school must search the playgrounds every day for dirty heroin needles, a group of middle school students decided to take action.

Students at Ashland Middle School invented a device that allows people to pick up dirty needles without getting stuck — and their invention has already landed the Eastern Kentucky school $50,000 in prizes.

The students said they did not have money on their minds when they started the project, though. They just wanted to help keep their younger siblings safe from a dangerous side-effect of Kentucky’s opioid abuse crisis. 

“We have little brothers and sisters, and we don’t want them to come in contact with needles,” said Aubree Hay, a student who worked on the project. “Kids, they don’t know any better to not pick up a needle.”

The project, entered in the Samsung Solve For Tomorrow contest, won first place in the statewide Kentucky competition, and the students will head to New York City in April to compete for the national $100,000 prize.

The school won $50,000 in Samsung technology for its first-place performance at the state level, and could win an additional $20,000 if its project collects the most votes in an online Samsung poll.

The idea began last fall with Ashland police officer Troy Patrick, who serves as the school’s resource officer.

Patrick pitched the idea of creating an invention to pick up needles to Ashland Middle School science and technology teacher Mike Polley, after community groups said they wanted to volunteer to pick up dirty needles around town.

Student Shaela Taylor holds the device which allows people to safely pick up dirty heroin needles. (Photo by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader)Student Shaela Taylor holds the device which allows people to safely pick up dirty heroin needles. (Photo by Will Wright, Lexington Herald-Leader)

“They’re talking about using spaghetti tongs and pliers and stuff to pick these things up,” Patrick said. “Without proper training for picking up a needle, it could be a bad thing.”

Patrick said the dangers of picking up used needles is two-fold: the sharp point could puncture skin and leave the victim at risk of contracting diseases such as Hepatitis C or HIV; and residue left on the barrel of the syringe from the powerful opioid carfentanil, which drug dealers sometime mix with heroin to create a more potent cocktail, could seep through a person’s skin and into the bloodstream.

“They took off and ran with it,” Patrick said. “They went leaps and bounds over what I proposed.”

Finding dirty needles around town is common.

At Crabbe Elementary School in Ashland, Principal Jamie Campbell said he and his staff have found 18 used needles on their two playgrounds this school year.

“Thankfully we haven’t had any student be injured by that, but one would be too many,” said Campbell, who has two sons at Ashland Middle School who worked on the project. “That would be the most heartbreaking phone call that I think I would ever have to make.”

Every morning, staff at Crabbe Elementary scan the playgrounds to find dirty needles before the children do.

“We shouldn’t have to risk that with children in our community,” said Isaac Campbell, a student who worked on the project. “We really wanted to help people, that was the main point.”

When the Ashland Middle School students heard about the project last fall, they immediately began to brainstorm a device that would help people safely pick up the dangerous needles.

In the end, after many test-runs and trial-by-error prototypes, they landed on a hollow plastic box, a few inches longer than a needle and about 3 inches wide, with one of the walls replaced with plastic teeth.

If a needle is lying in the grass at a playground at Crabbe Elementary, a custodian would place the box on top of the needle, squeeze, and the box would safely picks up the dirty needle.

The students produced the product with 3D printers from their school, and also created a smaller version that can fit inside an evidence tube for police investigations.

The students said they hope the product will eventually be patented and mass-produced.

Aubree, one of the students, said she hopes the project will help prove that Eastern Kentucky is home to people who are working hard to help alleviate some of the region’s problems.

“Our area, it’s often stereotyped to be unhealthy, uneducated and drug addicts,” Aubree said. “We’re trying to overcome those stereotypes and make our community a better place.”

The students also created an online database that people can use to report where they have spotted dirty needles. The students hope police and other public safety officials will use the database as part of an effort to collect those needles.

When asked if any of the students had a personal connection to the opioid crisis, student Eric Billups said “I think there’s a story just about all of us have to tell about that.”

In Boyd County last year, EMS services responded to 326 heroin overdoses, according to Boyd County EMS director Charles Cremeans.

The students also plan to speak at elementary schools to talk about the dangers of picking up dirty needles.

“I think it’ll help the kindergarteners and the elementary schoolers when we present to them because we’re kids, and it’s not just an adult telling them not to do something,” Aubree said. “This really happens. We could find a needle really anywhere.”

By Will Wright
Lexington Herald-Leader

 See complete story with video HERE

February 19, 2018

Anthem makes several exceptions to its controversial policy of denying payment for ER visits it deems non-emergency

Responding to complaints from legislators and health-care providers, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield has added several exceptions to its recently established policy of not paying for emergency-room visits if it determines there was no emergency.

The policy first took effect in Kentucky, Missouri and Georgia; "Ohio, Indiana and New Hampshire were added to the program in January, after the new exceptions were already in place," Leslie Small reports for FierceHealthcare.

The exceptions include patients who:

*  are sent to the ER by another provider, including an ambulance
*  visit an ER between 8 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Monday, or on a major holiday

*  are younger than 15
*  live more than 15 miles from an urgent care center
*  are traveling out of state
*  receive any kind of surgery
*  get intravenous fluids or IV medications, or an MRI or CT scan
*  have an ER visit associated with an outpatient or inpatient admission

"Anthem said the changes went into effect Jan. 1," Shelby Livingston reports for Modern Healthcare. "It will apply the exceptions to any previously denied claims."

The company said in a prepared statement, “Anthem stands by our belief that emergency rooms are an expensive place to receive routine care. The costs of treating non-emergency ailments in the ER has an impact on the cost of healthcare for consumers, employers and the health care system as a whole.”

The changes did not satisfy the American College of Emergency Physicians. "This is still a fundamentally flawed policy,” Laura Wooster, the group's associate executive director of public affairs for the American College of Emergency Physicians, told Small. “Making fixes around the edges doesn’t end this dangerous policy that’s really going to scare patients away from going to the ER or even considering going to the ER.”

Wes Brewer, former president of ACEP's Kentucky chapter, told Lisa Gillespie of Louisville's WFPL, “We have hundreds of cases where people with conditions, where I don’t know in what universe you wouldn’t think they’re emergencies, have been denied.”

Small reports, "Anthem’s program was meant to deter members from using the emergency room for illnesses or injuries that aren’t life-threatening. But critics say patients shouldn’t be forced to self-diagnose, warning that the new policies will encourage people to avoid seeking care for serious medical conditions out of fear that their claim will be denied."

Shannon Muchmore reports for HealthcareDive, "Anthem has said its program denies a small percentage of claims, but the change in policy signals the payer may be worried about the backlash, including from patients who have gone public with denied claims.

Posted by Al Cross at 9:59 AM

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

February 26, 2018

Lobbying on cigarette tax ramps up, with foundation's ads and tobacco firm's use of farmers, retailers and paid media report

RAISING CIG TAXRAISING CIG TAXRaising the state cigarette tax $1 a pack is an active idea among members of the Ky. General Assembly

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- If activity by lobbying interests is any indication, the idea of raising the state cigarette tax $1 a pack is an active idea among members of the Kentucky General Assembly.

The main group advocating the tax increase, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, reported spending more than any other lobby during the first month of the session. Its total of $100,240 was not far ahead of collective spending by tobacco companies that oppose the tax hike, which totaled $95,218.

The leading pro-tobacco spender, at $44,643, was Altria Client Services, a subsidiary of Altria Group, which includes Philip Morris USA, the nation's largest manufacturer of tobacco products.

This month, Altria spent an as-yet-undisclosed sum with Commonwealth Radio Reports of Louisville, which distributed a 45-second audio report to Kentucky radio stations about tobacco farmers and retailers lobbying legislators against the tax increase. The report did not say who sponsored or produced it.

Richard Farmer, the reporter and company owner, told Kentucky Health News that Altria brings tobacco farmers to Frankfort every session, but this year added retailers. That indicates the stakes are higher; in addition to the foundation's campaign, the state faces serious revenue problems.

The foundation is also using paid media. It has laid out more than $98,500 for an advertising campaign set to begin Monday, Feb. 26, Marcus Green reports for Louisville's WDRB. The foundation is staffing the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow, comprising more than 150 groups and individuals.

“It will be a multimedia campaign,” Bonnie Hackbarth, spokeswoman for the foundation and the coalition, told Green. “We will be using billboards, cable TV, digital, and we will be focusing on the health benefits that can be achieved through a $1 or more increase on the tax on cigarettes.”

Hackbarth told Green that the campaign will focus on the health benefits of quitting smoking. Kentucky's smoking rate of 25 percent "trails only neighboring West Virginia," Green notes.

"Hackbarth said the coalition, whose members include health, business and other groups, does not expect that a standalone bill raising the cigarette tax will pass during the current session," Green reports. "But she said it’s possible the measure could be added during budget negotiations or approved in a special session on tax reform. Advocates estimate a $1-per-pack cigarette tax could generate more than $266 million for the state each year while also reducing smoking-related illnesses."

Hackbarth said of the ad buy, “This is the first wave and we will continue until we will be able to win.”

In his report, Farmer said, "Opponents say the tax hike would unfairly burden those least able to pay, the nearly 48 percent of low-income Kentuckians who smoke, and it would hurt the family farm, according to Christian County farmer Robert Gray," who said tobacco prices are stable, unlike those for other farm products.

Altria's allies also argue the hike would be "counterproductive," Farmer reported, because "60 percent of states recently increasing cigarette taxes failed to meet revenue projections. Growers pointed out that higher taxes would drive smokers across borders to buy cigarettes, harming Kentucky convenience stores, which derive more than a third of their sales from cigarettes." Dan Hartlage of Guthrie Mayes Public Relations in Louisville, which works for Altria, was asked the source of that data and what "recently" meant, but didn't provide the information.

Raising the tax $1 a pack would make it $1.60, the same as in Ohio but much higher than the 99.5 cents in Indiana, the other state that shares a major metropolitan area with Kentucky. The rates in other bordering states are $1.98 in Illinois, $1.20 in West Virginia, 62 cents in Tennessee, 30 cents in Virginia and 17 cents in Missouri; the last two are the lowest in the nation.

Foundation President and CEO Ben Chandler said in an email that tobacco manufacturers are “hiding behind farmers,” who “get about 3 cents per pack of cigarettes for their tobacco. Yet the health-related costs are about $35 per pack. And every household in Kentucky pays about $1,200 in extra taxes each year to cover those health costs. We’re grateful that lawmakers are beginning to understand this message, and will keep working until we can announce we’ve kept our promise to make Kentucky healthier by reducing smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.”

Posted by Al Cross 

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

LAWRENCE CO. HEALTH DEPT. is participating in the program and has run a media campaign on many tobacco concerns.


February 14, 2018

States expand authority of nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to increase health care in rural areas

Can get waiver to prescribe opioid maintenance drugs

The shortage of doctors and drug treatment in rural areas hamstrings efforts to fight the opioid epidemic. Medication-assisted therapy, which requires a prescription, is the most effective treatment. The Drug Enforcement Administration announced in late January that nurse practitioners and physician assistants can get a waiver that allows them to prescribe and dispense opioid maintenance drugs. But lawmakers in several states have gone a step further, seeking to expand the scope of practice for nurse practitioners and physician assistants in rural areas where there is often no doctor.

In Georgia, Republican Sen. Renee Unterman, chair of the Senate health committee, has introduced a bill that would give rural nurse practitioners more latitude to treat patients. Nine of the state's 159 counties have no physician, and dozens more have no pediatricians or obstetrician/gynecologists. "Proponents argue expanding the scope of practice for nurse practitioners could help fill in the health-care gaps in a growing state with increasing needs, especially with primary care. Nurse practitioners can also specialize in certain areas, such as pediatric care or mental health treatment," Jill Nolan reports for the Valdosta Daily Times.

In April 2017 the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill to let nurse practitioners to practice on their own after fulfilling a three-year, 3,600-hour formal agreement with a physician, Jan Murphy reports for Penn Live. "There are not enough doctors willing to practice in smaller communities and as older doctors retire, fewer new doctors are coming in to replace them," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Camera Bartolotta. "Thankfully, there is a solution that holds the promise of easing this looming health care catastrophe."

Texas passed two related bills in 2017: one that allows nurse practitioners in under-served areas to see Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Plan patients without a doctor's supervision, and one that allows APRNs and physician's assistants to sign death certificates. Nurse practitioners had protested having to pay up to six-figure contracts with doctors that would allow the nurse practitioners to treat patients and write prescriptions, Mariana Alfaro reports for The Texas Tribune.

Written by Heather Chapman Posted at 2/14/2018