Health and health care news

Scientists at Yale have given us the most detailed look yet at what happens to our brains during the crucial split-second moment we decide to pay attention to something. They says a wave of electricity engulfs our brains as we go from unconscious to aware.

So, for example, sometimes a face could enter your field of vision and you might not notice. But sometimes it catches your attention.

“We’re being bombarded all the time with different sorts of events. Sometimes we are aware of things that happen around us," says Hal Blumenfeld, a Yale neuroscientist.

A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says Maine emergency room visits for opioid overdoses increased in the last year.

According to the CDC, emergency department visits for suspected opioid overdoses increased by 34 percent between 2016 and 2017.

The Portland Press Herald reports New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island all saw decreases in emergency room visits related to opioid overdoses.

Maine had a record 418 drug induced deaths in 2017, up 11 percent from the previous year's record.

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The federal agency that oversees farming and other rural issues has chosen Maine to host one of five USDA opioid roundtables being held across the country in rural areas.

Anne Hazlett is the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development in Washington D.C. She said the state’s high rate of opioid deaths is the primary reason it was chosen. In 2017 Maine saw 418 drug deaths, with a significant number of them attributed to opioid overdoses, and 247 linked to the powerful drug fentanyl.

The Maine Center for Disease Control says five more people have died from the flu in the past week, even as the number of new cases and hospitalizations slowed.

The state said Wednesday that the number of new confirmed cases dropped 23 percent from the week before to 497, and the number of hospitalizations dropped by half to 54. Overall, the statistics suggest the number of influenza cases has dropped for a fourth week. 

Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman Christine Alberi says for the past several years, she has consistently recommended that the state’s Department of Health and Human Services improve its child safety assessments. The Department’s handling of child protective cases has come into question after the recent abuse death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy.

The ombudsman says that overall, DHHS follows proper procedures, but cites multiple instances in which it failed to do so.

The state is reporting that another three people have died from the flu in Maine this week, bringing the season's total to 55. There is, though, some hope that the worst of flu season could be ending.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett says hospitalizations due to influenza appear to be decreasing. At the same time, health care visits for flu like-illness have not dropped.

“We fully expect to see several more weeks of influenza activity, at least,” says Bennett. “Now, whether or not we see another peak, we hope not, we hope that we are now on the downward slide.”

A new American Lung Association report finds that Maine has one of the highest rates of new cases of lung cancer in the U.S. The report also finds that those Mainers who do get lung cancer are slightly likelier than the national average to survive it for five years.

The report uses data from 2009-2013 and finds that Maine's incidence of lung cancer is just under 75 cases per 100,000 people, which is the sixth-worst rate in the country.

Steven Senne / Associated Press

A member of Portland’s Overdose Prevention Task Force wants the city to establish a safe injection site, where people who use drugs can get clean equipment and be monitored by medical staff.

Jesse Harvey, who runs two recovery houses in Sanford, says at the very least it would prevent overdose deaths.

“But ideally, it’ll provide much more than that, and what a lot of studies are showing is it reduces crime, dropped needles in the neighborhood,” he says. “It also increases the likelihood that people will enter recovery, that they will decide to go into treatment.”

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Drug overdose deaths in Maine increased by 11 percent last year, with a total of 418 deaths, according to data released Thursday by the attorney general’s office.

“Forty-two more people died last year than the year before,” says Attorney General Janet Mills. “You know, every death is preventable. Every one of those deaths is more than a statistic.”

Mills says the higher number is driven by an increase in fentanyl-related deaths. Traffickers often lace heroin with the synthetic opioid because it's cheaper, but it’s 50-100 times more potent and far more lethal.

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis In Maine Prompts Call For Better Testing

Feb 22, 2018
Wendy Watkins / Bangor Daily News

Since the 1950s, tuberculosis cases have declined dramatically in Maine and in the nation, thanks to a widespread public health campaign and the development of effective drug combinations to treat the disease and halt its spread.

It could soon be easier to get short-term health insurance under proposed rules released by the Trump administration Tuesday.

The administration says short-term plans are an affordable alternative to plans offered on the Affordable Care Act marketplace. But health care advocates say the cheaper options actually come at a cost.


The LePage administration last year announced a plan to devote almost $5 million in state and federal money to medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, especially for people who don't have health insurance. The "Opioid Health Home" program was supposed to be a big step forward in comprehensively dealing with the opioid crisis.

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After the school shooting in Florida this week, President Trump vowed to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” But the president's proposed budget would cut many programs that provide mental health services.

President Trump's proposed budget does include some increases in funding for mental health. However, Dale Hamilton of Community Health and Counseling Services, says the overall takeaway for Maine is that “President Trump's budget will not advance access to mental health services.”

Toby Talbot / Associated Press File

The maker of OxyContin, one of the most common prescription painkillers involved in opioid overdose deaths, will no longer market the drug to doctors, an announcement that came Saturday as Purdue Pharma faces a lawsuit for deceptive marketing brought by cities and counties across the U.S., including several in Maine.

The days of marketing opioids to U.S. doctors are over, according to a statement issued by Purdue Pharma. The drug manufacturer has also cut its sales force by more than half.

Mainers who lost health care coverage when health insurer Anthem stopped selling plans through the federal marketplace can still purchase a new plan.

State insurance bureau superintendent Eric Cioppa said such individuals qualify for a special enrollment period until March 1.

Anthem cited uncertainty and a shrinking customer base in its decision last year to stop selling plans it sold through the federal health care marketplace.