Kellyanne Conway’s ‘opioid cabinet’ sidelines drug czar’s experts

President Donald Trump’s war on opioids is beginning to look more like a war on his drug policy office.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has taken control of the opioids agenda, quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address a lethal crisis claiming about 175 lives a day. The main response so far has been to call for a border wall and to promise a "just say no” campaign.

Trump is expected to propose massive cuts this month to the “drug czar” office, just as he attempted in last year’s budget before backing off. He hasn’t named a permanent director for the office, and the chief of staff was sacked in December. For months, the office’s top political appointee was a 24-year-old Trump campaign staffer with no relevant qualifications. Its senior leadership consists of a skeleton crew of three political appointees, down from nine Continue reading “Kellyanne Conway’s ‘opioid cabinet’ sidelines drug czar’s experts”

Trump’s controversial new health care idea

It sounds like a humane and overdue change to federal drug regulations: Allow desperately sick patients to ask for experimental new medicines if they’re willing to take the risk. And give drugmakers a break on liability if they provide them to patients.

The idea, known as "right-to-try," got a huge boost Tuesday night when President Donald Trump mentioned it in his State of the Union address. “People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure—I want to give them a chance right here at home. It’s time for the Congress to give these wonderful, incredible Americans the ‘right-to-try.’” he said, surprising the health care industry and publicly citing for the first time an idea that Vice President Mike Pence had been pushing for a year.

A right-to-try bill is now making its way through Congress; it passed the Senate in Continue reading “Trump’s controversial new health care idea”

How Trump’s HHS nominee’s drug company ‘gamed’ patent

When Donald Trump’s nominee for HHS secretary was a top executive at Eli Lilly, the patent on its blockbuster Cialis was soon to expire.

So Lilly tested it on kids.

The drugmaker believed the erectile dysfunction drug might help a rare and deadly muscle-wasting disease that afflicts boys. The drug didn’t work — but under a law that promotes pediatric research, Lilly was able to extend the Cialis patent anyway for six months — and that’s worth a lot when a medication brings in over $2 billion a year.

Critics say the brand-name drugmakers are “gaming” the patent system, finding all sorts of ways to protect monopolies and delay competition from generics. And Alex Azar — the former president of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations, now poised to become the top U.S. health official — professes to oppose such tactics.

But the tension between his past actions as a Continue reading “How Trump’s HHS nominee’s drug company ‘gamed’ patent”

Why a drug for aging would challenge Washington

What if you could live to 85, 90 or even 100 with your mental faculties intact, able to live independently without debilitating conditions until the last year of your life? What if just one medical treatment could stave off a handful of terrifying ailments like heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s?

The idea of a pill for aging sounds like science fiction or fantasy. But the hunt is increasingly real. At the cutting edge of research, scientists and doctors are already deep into the quest for a drug that could transform the experience of aging. The goal isn’t a pharmaceutical fountain of youth, exactly; nobody is promising to stretch human lifespans indefinitely. Instead, they’re looking for a way to ensure healthier aging—a drug that could make it more likely people reach their eighth or ninth decade of life with fewer of the ailments that make old age painful and disabling for Continue reading “Why a drug for aging would challenge Washington”

Trump’s HHS secretary nominee boosted drug prices while at Eli Lilly

President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that his nominee for HHS secretary, Alex Azar will “be a star for … lower drug prices!” But the record of the former top executive for Eli Lilly, which tripled the price of a top-selling insulin drug while he led its U.S. operation, suggests a different story.

Lilly is one of three drug companies targeted by a class-action lawsuit that accuses the company, then under Azar’s watch, of exploiting the drug pricing system to ensure higher profit for insulin and has been fined in Mexico for colluding on the pricing of the drug.

Azar, who spent almost a decade at Eli Lilly, rising to become president of the drug giant’s U.S. operations before leaving earlier this year, doesn’t deny drug costs are a consumer issue. But his record there and as a top official in George W. Bush’s administration suggests he’s unlikely Continue reading “Trump’s HHS secretary nominee boosted drug prices while at Eli Lilly”

Trump picks ex-pharma executive Azar to lead HHS

President Donald Trump on Monday nominated former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar to be his next Health and Human Services secretary, moving to stabilize the agency at the center of his administration’s biggest domestic policy failure.

Azar, a veteran of George W. Bush’s administration, would succeed Tom Price, who resigned after POLITICO reported he spent roughly $1 million on private and government air travel in just seven months on the job.

"He will be a star for better healthcare and lower drug prices!" Trump tweeted from the Philippines this morning.

If confirmed, the 50-year-old Azar would be thrust onto the front lines of a White House agenda that includes repealing Obamacare, reining in drug prices and rolling back regulations — goals that have remained largely unfulfilled since Trump took office.

The Trump administration is wagering Azar has the policy and political chops to get those priorities back on track, and Continue reading “Trump picks ex-pharma executive Azar to lead HHS”

Trump opioid panel ducks question of new money

President Donald Trump’s opioid commission will call Wednesday for big boosts in substance abuse treatment programs but stop short of asking for new funding that federal and state officials say is critical to pay for such programs.

The commission, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, will recommend the Trump administration increase access to addiction treatment and recovery programs, expand the availability of medication-assisted therapies and expand first responders’ ability to administer the life-saving overdose reversal drug, naloxone, according to a draft of the commission’s final report obtained by POLITICO.

But the draft recommendations don’t include asking Congress to appropriate new dollars to tackle the crisis.

The commission’s final meeting and report come just one week after Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency — a move seen as a largely symbolic gesture that provided no new funding.

Administration officials have characterized the declaration as a jumping off Continue reading “Trump opioid panel ducks question of new money”