Doctor Housecalls Blog

Healthcare related news and updates


Loss of visual acuity tied to increased risk of earlier death in seniors.

by Dr. Steven J. Lipsky MD, FACEP

Advances in medicine are allowing people to live longer but what people truly desire is a longer quality of independent life. New research is pointing to healthy eyes as the answer.

The Health News Report “Shots” published by NPR (8/21, Shute), released a summary from a study published by JAMA Ophthalmology on the cause and effect of early death in seniors being tied to vision problems. Scientists looked at data gathered over ten years following individuals 64 to 84 years of age. They found that individuals who lost “visual acuity equivalent to one letter on an eye chart each year had a 16 percent increase in mortality risk over eight years.” Why? Because seniors suffered a loss of independence making it harder to pay bills, do housework and otherwise manage their lives. In short, “an eye exam may be the ticket to a longer life…because good vision is essential for being able to shop, manage money and live independently.” Reduce your risks and visit your eye doctor annually. Problems may be easily corrected with new glasses or contact lenses and can give you an increase lease on an independent life.

Study indicates working from home reduces stress.

Dr. Steven J. Lipsky MD, FACEP

In today’s society, the challenge of balancing work and family priorities can be stressful. Whether you work in a job that requires 24/7 attention or you work from home, the increase in demands can leave an employee feeling pulled in multiple directions and questioning who should receive more attention, work or family. The New York Times (8/24, BU4, Korkki, Subscription Publication) recently released the results from a study by The American Sociological Review examining whether the stresses of work-life conflicts could be eased if an employee was given more flexibility over their schedule and work location. The study reported that employees who were given flexibility in their schedules felt happier, less stressed, had more energy and used their time more effectively. However, for this flexible schedule to succeed it must have full managerial and department support. The study was financed by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Study: Medical marijuana may help rein in painkiller overdoses.

by Dr. Steven J. Lipsky MD, FACEP

The legalization of medical marijuana has been sweeping the nation. As of June 2014, 23 states have legalized medical marijuana with several others pending legislation. Recent research has sparked a new debate over whether medical marijuana could be the answer to help stem the rising tide of prescription painkiller overdoses. In an article published by USA Today (8/25, Hughes), federal officials pointed out that prescription painkillers are among the most abused prescription medicines in the U.S., responsible for the deaths of more than 15,000 Americans annually

The study  published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine received national media coverage in major newspapers and at least one prominent news agency. While several media outlets highlighted that states that have medical marijuana laws in place reported declining deaths due to opioid overdoses, others suggested more studies were needed, quoting experts who cautioned against drawing a direct causal link.

In August, the Washington Post (8/25, Millman) picked up the study in their “Wonkblog.” Research found that states with medical marijuana laws saw 24.8% fewer deaths from painkiller overdoses compared to states that didn’t have such laws. This translated into 1,729 fewer deaths than expected in 2010 alone, and an improvement in overdose rates with medical marijuana laws.

The Los Angeles Times (8/26, Healy) also reported on the study, highlighting the decline in deaths linked to opiate drugs after legalizing medical marijuana in 13 states. In fact, the study points outs that states with formal laws allowing legal medical marijuana experienced a steady drop in opiate-related overdoses, reaching, on average, that 33%, five and six years after the states’ medical marijuana laws were implemented.

In an email to Reuters (8/26, Doyle) lead author of the study, Dr. Marcus A. Bachhuber commented on the studying saying, “Most of the discussion on medical marijuana has been about its effect on individuals in terms of reducing pain or other symptoms. The unique contribution of our study is the finding that medical marijuana laws and policies may have a broader impact on public health.” Dr. Bachhuber and his team at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, examined state medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose deaths using death certificate data from all 50 states from 1999 to 2010. While overdose deaths continued to fall in states with medical marijuana law, overdose deaths across the US rose sharply, from 4,030 in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010, according to data from the CDC.

ABC News (8/25, Zimmerman) also covered the story in its “Medical Unit” blog quoting that the researchers who conducted the new study suggest “that because legalizing medical marijuana makes it more available to chronic pain patients, it provides a potentially less lethal alternative to pain control on a long-term basis.”

The Boston Globe (8/25, Rice), however, wonders whether Massachusetts is an anomaly because in that state, where Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has “declared a ‘public health emergency,’ the number of deaths due to opioid overdoses has increased by 90 percent from 2000 to 2013.” The article notes that “voters legalized medical marijuana in a November 2012 ballot initiative.”

Criticism and skepticism surrounds the study, even from those closely tied to it. The strongest criticism of the study came from Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida College of Medicine. In an interview with USA Today (8/25, Hughes) Sabet expresses his concerns about how the study’s authors collected and analyzed the data. “They failed to differentiate between states with strict and lax medical marijuana laws, and didn’t examine emergency-room admission and prescription data, and failed to see what impact methadone clinics might have had.” Sabet finds it hard to believe there has been such an across-the-board reduction in predicted deaths.

The study was also covered by CNN (8/26, Young), TIME (8/26, Sifferlin), Vox (8/26, Lopez), The Hill (8/26, Al-Faruque), Newsweek (8/26, Main), HealthDay(8/26, Thompson), Medscape (8/26, Anderson) and Modern Healthcare (8/26, Johnson, Subscription Publication).

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