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CVS and Walgreens Near $10 Billion Deal to Settle Opioid Cases

By Jan Hoffman, The New York Times 

Two of the largest retail pharmacy chains, Walgreens and CVS, have reached tentative agreements to pay close to $5 billion each to settle lawsuits over the role that they played in the opioid crisis. In August, a federal judge ordered Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart to pay $650 million to two counties in Ohio. A jury ruled that the three companies did not do their duty to monitor opioid prescriptions, allowing millions of pills to be distributed in communities. Sources say Walmart agreed to pay $3.1 billion. Separately, CVS said that it would pay $4.9 billion to states over 10 years, and $130 million to Native American tribes. Walgreens stated that they would pay $4.79 billion over a span of 15 years to states, $154.5 million to tribes, and $753.5 million in lawyers fees over the next six years. Both CVS and Walgreens said that the settlement did not represent an agreement to acknowledge wrongdoing.

— by Madison Woods

Doctors Warn F.D.A. of Health Risks Posed by Flawed Oxygen Devices

 By Christina Jewett, The New York Times  

Federal advisors are urging the FDA to require warnings of inaccurate readings on pulse oximeter devices. Pulse oximeter devices measure a person’s blood oxygen level, typically via the fingertip. Pulse oximeters have become increasingly affordable in recent years and became readily accessible over-the-counter during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet they are subject to little to no testing or agency oversight. 

Officials say that hospital-grade oximeters were marketed based on studies of as few as ten healthy people, and over-the-counter oximeters are not subject to any testing by law. A panel of researchers is now urging the FDA to raise accuracy standards and to alert healthcare professionals and consumers of the potential risks they pose, especially to black and brown patients. Doctors from Johns Hopkins University School of medicine confirmed the disparity at the panel, commenting that Black and Hispanic patients are 23-29% less likely to be recognized as candidates for Covid treatments as a result of their blood oximeter readings. Decades prior to the pandemic, studies proved that blood oximeters have always been less accurate on darker skin, often giving a more healthful reading when blood tests proved more concerning levels. 

Because blood oxygen levels are often a key factor in deciding who receives certain medicines, oxygen therapies, and even hospital beds in times of short supply, it is increasingly important that this disparity be addressed. Mandatory warnings should be added to product labels, thus raising the bar for manufacturers to reach in terms of device accuracy and precision.

by Gabriella Salazar

Florida Restricts Doctors From Providing Gender Treatments to Minors

By Azeen Ghorayshi, The New York Times

A new order by the state of Florida bans medications and surgery for adolescents seeking gender transitions. Essentially, all gender-affirming care is prohibited for individuals under the age of 18, including prescription of puberty blockers, which stall development, and hormones such as testosterone or estrogen, which bring out physical characteristics that align with the patient’s gender identity. Performing any gender-based surgery is forbidden until patients reach adulthood. The action came from the state’s Board of Medicine, in a 6-3 vote taken Friday, November 4. This decision comes just a few months after the state barred Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care, which denied access to these services for thousands of low-income children. Since Governor Ron DeSantis was elected in 2019, he has made gender-affirming care a major focus, vowing to eradicate it and gaining national attention within conservative politics. As the number of adolescents seeking gender-based treatment has rapidly increased in recent years, data concerning long-term outcomes has not kept pace, raising concerns among clinicians. Politicians and some healthcare providers say this justifies the ban, because there is a pressing need for high-quality research. However, nationally, physicians believe the ban is a misuse of power that will increase depression and anxiety among transgender adolescents.

— by Chris Ejike

Items contributed by: Madison Woods, Gabriella Salazar, and Chris Ejike