Archive for the ‘Event’ category

Misconceptions about opioid use: A Medicine X discussion

September 17, 2017

Photo courtesy of Stanford Medicine X

We often hear about the “opioid crisis” and its devastating effects — more than 90 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose and about 2 million suffer from substance use disorders involving prescription opioids. But, argued panelists at a Stanford Medicine X session on the topic yesterday, the issues are often oversimplified in public discussion and by the media, which stigmatizes opioid users and contributes to misconceptions.

The afternoon panel — which Larry Chu, MD, moderator and executive director of Medicine X, deliberately called “Opioids in America” instead of “The Opioid Crisis” — offered a broad range of perspectives from patients and physicians. Among the misconceptions discussed by the panel:

  • Only drug addicts use opioids: Joe Riffe, an ePatient and paramedic, explained, “If you use opioids, you’re seen as weak or a drug addict or a drug seeker. I’ll never take an opioid on duty, but I’m forced to use them because I’m in too much pain from my amputation. And it’s really looked down upon, especially in the medical community.”
  • People choose to be opioid addicts: Ashley Elliott, a recovering addict, artist and psychology major, noted, “People that are addicted to opioids don’t want to be. And if you’re a recovering addict, finding a doctor who is willing to treat you as a human as opposed to an addict is difficult.” Thomas Kline, MD, PhD, a patient and geriatric medicine specialist in Raleigh, North Carolina, agreed: “People with opioid addictions have been lepers for years and now another 9 million people have become lepers because they take pain medicine.”
  • Opioids are readily available: “Opioids are not being thrown at patients like candy, as it’s sometimes portrayed in the media,” said Heather Aspell, a patient, artist, attorney and disability advocate. “We actually have to go through so many hoops to get our medication. Beyond simply getting the prescription from a doctor, it can be challenging to even find the medication. I get refused by pharmacies regularly.”
  • Doctors are adequately treating pain: Anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist Frank Lee, MD, told the audience, “Data shows that we’re doing a terrible job for a lot of populations, including cancer patients, surgery patients and chronic pain patients. Now is the time to re-evaluate the paradigm. We don’t need more guidelines. We need to work together, providers and patients, to re-exam this pain-treatment paradigm.”
  • We handle prescription opioids like other countries: “I think the biggest misconception is that the United States is normal in how it handles prescription opioids,” said Stanford addiction expert Keith Humphreys, PhD. He later added, “The United States’ opioid use dwarfs any other nation by a very large factor. So we over prescribe. And at the same time, there are people who absolutely need these medications and don’t get them. So we also under prescribe. As my friend Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, says, we shouldn’t be pro-opioid or negative-opioid; we should be pro-patient.”

After the panel discussion, Medicine X executive board member Nick Dawson moderated a town hall — pushing the panel and audience to think boldly about potential solutions. Among attendees’ suggestions was to change how prescriptions are written by going beyond a numeric pain scale to identify the goal for the pain medication, being more specific about what is being treated on the script and creating a certification process for patients with chronic pain that is recognized by pharmacists.

Near the end of the session, Bruce Greenstein, the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ chief technology officer, announced an opioid challenge summit and code-a-thon taking place in Washington, D.C. this December. And Chu closed things out with a hopeful note: “I started out this conference asking us to think outside the box about these tough topics, and I think we made a start on that today. … We’re reducing the stigma about opioids by talking about it and we’re raising awareness. Let’s keep talking.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

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Stanford researcher travels to Qatar to discuss how behavior changes can improve global health

January 27, 2017
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Photo courtesy of Jodi Prochaska

About 1400 health-care experts and government officials from over a 100 countries recently attended the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in Doha, Qatar. WISH aims to create a global community to tackle health-care challenges, such as the global burden of autism spectrum disorder and the rise in cardiovascular disease mortality.

The summit included a Behavioral Insights Forum to investigate how new findings on behavior change can lead to better health outcomes at a lower cost. Jodi Prochaska, PhD, an associate professor of medicine with the Stanford Prevention Research Center, was a member of the behavioral insights team. We recently discussed the WISH summit and her involvement.

What was accomplished at the WISH Summit?

“The WISH meeting — in an intensely focused 2-day period — engaged and fostered collaborations among academic researchers, health professionals, public policy officials and entrepreneurs. The meeting showcased innovations that can make a difference for health-care communities globally.

The program content included nine panel forums on: accountable care, autism, cardiovascular disease, population health, health economics, precision medicine, health profession education, genomics and behavioral insights. Each collaborative panel generated a white paper centered on its particular area of expertise. In addition, there were several inspiring keynote speakers.”

Why did you get involved with the behavioral insights panel? How did you participate?

“The behavioral insights team sounded novel, and I was able to help shape the white paper and participate at the WISH meeting. Oftentimes in academic research, behavior change is siloed — you have your tobacco control experts, your nutrition experts and your physical activity experts. The WISH panel focused on bridging across behaviors to identify key principles of change at the individual, social, organizational and policy levels for supporting wellness and wellbeing. We identified case studies from around the globe and covered a range of health behaviors: exercise, diet, tobacco, cancer screening, suicide and accident prevention, medication adherence and patient safety.

For instance, the panel showcased research I am doing with the University of California, Irvine using Twitter to facilitate peer-to-peer support groups for quitting smoking, which has doubled quit rates relative to usual care. The meeting also showcased a trial to paint reference lines on the rail track in Mumbai to improve pedestrians’ ability to judge speed, which led to a 75 percent decline in trespassing deaths at the test location. Also, we discussed the success of a project to send letters to the highest antibiotic prescribers in the U.K., which resulted in 75,000 fewer doses being prescribed across 800 practices.”

What was Qatar like?

“Doha, Qatar was striking. It was modern and pristine, as well as easy and safe to navigate. The people of Qatar were hospitable and kind. During my stay, I had a chance to go in the Persian Gulf and to visit a local market with traditional food, spices and live animals.

I was thrilled to represent Stanford in Doha, Qatar and to bring back the knowledge gained and connections made for future collaborations.”

This is a reposting of my Scope blog story, courtesy of Stanford School of Medicine.

Science at the Theater: Next Big Tech Idea

February 21, 2014

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You be the judge! Help pick the next big tech idea that will benefit society.

Five scientists will pitch their technology ideas at the next Science at the Theater, a free public lecture hosted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It will be held on Monday, February 24 at 7 pm at the Berkeley Repertory Theater.

The audience and a panel of judges will listen to the scientists’ technology pitches, then vote on which one will help society the most. The topics  that will be discussed are:

  • “Making Better Batteries” by Guoying Chen, Chemist
  • “Tracking and Hacking Personal DNA Damage” by Sylvain Costes, Biohysicist
  • “Making Energy Measurement Stick ” by Steven Lanzisera, Applied Energy Scientist
  • “Molecular Velcro” by Gloria Olivier, Chemist
  • “Dress Code for Martians” by Alex Zetti, Physcist

Free reservations for the event are still available. But hurry, because these events usually fill up.

Expand Your Horizons

February 18, 2014

Expanding Your Horizons logo

It isn’t too late to sign up for an upcoming Expanding Your Horizons conference. These conferences are designed to inspire middle and high school girls to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The girls participate in fun hands-on activities led by women role models. For instance, they can spend the day building lego robots and participating in a robot demolition derby.

There are also workshops for parents, including discussions on how best to support your daughter throughout her schooling.

UC Berkeley’s Expanding Your Horizons conference will be held on March 15, 2014 and registration is still open for girls, parents and volunteers. There are also conferences at other Bay Area locations in the spring and fall.

Great American Smokeout: Time to Quit

November 21, 2013
photo of cigarette stubs in ashtray

Photograph courtesy of olumi_day via a Creative Commons license.

Smoking used to be portrayed as being glamorous in advertisements and movies. In old films, actors constantly smoked cigarettes and a tough guy usually had one hanging out the side of his mouth. It’s debatable whether smoking still makes you look cool though, especially since there are fewer and fewer public places you’re even allowed to smoke. Plus we now better understand the health risks of tobacco products.

Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, but nearly 44 million Americans still smoke cigarettes – 1 in every 5 adults. There are also 14 million cigar smokers and 2 million pipe smokers.

Tobacco use is not quite as widespread in California, where just over 1 in every 7 adults smokes cigarettes. In the past year, 61 percent of these smokers attempted to quit.

There are many good reasons to quit smoking, and health concerns usually top the list. Half of all smokers who keep smoking die from a smoking-related illness, including lung cancer, other types of cancer, heart attack, stroke, or lung disease. Women who smoke are also more likely to miscarry or have a baby with a low birth-weight.

There are both immediate and long-term health benefits when smokers quit. After quitting for:

  • 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
  • 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • 2 weeks – 3 months, your circulation improves and lung function increases.
  • 1 – 9 months, your coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
  • 1 year, your risk of heart disease due to smoking cuts in half.
  • 5 years, your risk of various cancers (mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder) is cut in half.
  • 15 years, your risk of heart disease is the same as a non-smoker.

Cigarettes are also expensive. You can use a savings calculator to see how much money you would save if you quit smoking. For example, a pack of cigarettes costs $6.77 on average in California. If you smoke a half pack (10 cigarettes) per day, this adds up $24 per week or $1220 per year.

Of course, the nicotine in tobacco is very addictive so quitting can be difficult, but the chance of success is increased with help. There are many treatment options used to help smokers quit and many of these treatments are covered by health insurance.

The most effective quitting method is a combination of counseling, social support and the use of cessation medication. The most common form of counseling is through telephone-quit lines, which provide free support and advice from an experienced cessation counselor. The counselor can provide a personalized quit plan, self-help materials, the latest information on cessation medications, and social support. For instance, 1-800-QUIT-NOW is a free national counseling service. Many clinics and hospitals also have counselors and support groups that you can meet with face-to-face. Counseling and support groups are also available online.

There are a variety of cessation medications that are available either over the counter or with a prescription. Nicotine replacement therapies deliver nicotine to help reduce the severity of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. The nicotine dose is gradually reduced over time. Nicotine gum, lozenges and patches can be purchased over the counter, whereas nicotine inhalers or nasal sprays require a doctor’s prescription.

Bupropioin SR (Wellbutrin or Zyban) is a non-nicotine prescription medication that acts on the chemicals in the brain that are related to nicotine craving. It can be used alone or with nicotine replacement products. Verenicline (Chantix) is a non-nicotine prescription medication that blocks the effects of nicotine, so it should not be used in combination with nicotine replacement products.

It is important for smokers to speak with their doctor and/or a cessation counselor to make a personalized quit plan that is right for them. And this week is a good time to get started, just in time to take part in the Great American Smokeout on November 21. Smokers across the nation will use this Thursday to make a quit plan, or plan in advance and quit smoking.

The Great American Smokeout happens every year on the third Thursday of November. It started in California back in 1976 when nearly 1 million smokers quit for the day, then the American Cancer Society expanded the program nationwide the following year. It has drawn attention to the deaths and chronic diseases caused by smoking, resulting in laws that ban smoking in restaurants and other public places.

The Great American Smokeout is celebrated with rallies, parades, stunts, quit programs, and “cold turkey” menu items. For instance, the community is invited to receive up-to-date cessation information, resources and giveaways at UCSF Medical Center’s Great American Smokeout event from 9-10 am and 12-1 pm on the Parnassus, Laurel Heights, Mission Bay and Mount Zion campuses. UC Berkeley is also celebrating the event with a “cold turkey” give-away – get a free cold turkey sandwich in exchange for a pack of cigarettes from 11 am – 2 pm at Sproul plaza.

This is a repost of my KQED Science blog.

Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

October 25, 2013
prescription bottles

Photograph courtesy of joguldi via a Creative Commons license.

Do you have expired or unused prescription drugs stacked up in your medicine cabinet? It’s not safe to flush them down the toilet or throw them out with the trash. But you can get rid of them safely, easily and for free at sites across the US tomorrow. Yep, it is National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Saturday October 26 from 10 am – 2 pm. Drop them off at a local collection site.

How Hot Will It Get?

April 11, 2013
Muir Glacer melt, Alaska. 1882 photo taken by G.D. Hazard; 2005 photo taken by Bruce F. Molnia. Courtesy of the Glacier Photograph Collection, National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.

Muir Glacer melt, Alaska. 1882 photo taken by G.D. Hazard; 2005 photo taken by Bruce F. Molnia. Courtesy of the Glacier Photograph Collection, National Snow and Ice Data Center/World Data Center for Glaciology.

Stay tuned for the next Science at the Theater, a free public lecture hosted by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It will be held on Monday April 22 at 7 pm at the Berkeley Repertory Theater.

Scientists will talk about their latest research findings on how the earth’s climate is changing, from the arctic to the rainforest. Participating speakers will address critical questions: What happens when the permafrost thaws? What do computer models predict about our future climate – floods, droughts, hurricanes and heat waves? What role do our forests play in carbon absorption? What kind of carbon tax might actually work?

Come find out what to expect and if there is anything you can do about it!


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