Public Health Law Watch
An initiative of the George Consortium

Public Health Law Watch blog

                            

Smart Gun Technology and the Potential to Save Lives

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

In the 1970s, a California man designed a magnetic lock that could be installed in the revolvers used by law enforcement, rendering the gun inoperable unless the user was wearing a special ring with an opposing magnet.  This device, designed so that someone who grabbed a police officer’s gun would not be able to turn that gun back on the officer, represented the first “smart gun” technology (and can still be purchased today for a mere $420). Beginning in the 1990s, technology entrepreneurs and even gun manufacturers began to develop more sophisticated firearm technology designed to “prevent shootings, both intentional and unintentional, by children, thieves, and other unauthorized users.” But developers faced vehement opposition, not from anti-gun activists pursing a once-vocal push for individual disarmament but from very loud and very angry gun rights activists. Technology development withered.  Both Colt and Smith & Wesson abandoned federal grants for such projects after suffering a “revenue-crushing boycott” from their customers because of the research. Of course, the mere fact that the federal government administered such grants led some to question whether the money for public safety technology improvement was really “a smoke screen to eventually take all handguns that are not smart guns out of the hands of law-abiding U.S. citizens...”  

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Navigating Minor Consent Laws Toward Confidential PrEP Access for Adolescents

By Jason Potter

According to the CDC, as of 2015, youth ages 13-24 comprised a staggering 22% of all new HIV infections in the United States. Given this alarming incidence rate, developing new and effective HIV prevention modalities for adolescents and young adults, and eliminating major delivery barriers, has become a priority. In the sphere area of biomedical HIV prevention for at-risk adolescents, one legal barrier looms large. The issue of caregiver consent (or the less inclusive “parental consent”) forms an oppressive threshold barrier to operationalizing biomedical HIV prevention among at-risk adolescents under the age of majority.   

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Making America Healthy Again: Analyzing Trump's Take on the Social Determinants of Health [from Health Affairs Blog]

George Consortium member and Northeastern University professor Patricia Illingsworth concludes on the Health Affairs Blog that the Trump administration shows "little interest in addressing the social determinants" of health, such as "education, socioeconomic status, poverty, the physical and social environment, employment, and discrimination, among others..."  

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American Beverage Association v. San Francisco: When the First Amendment Jeopardizes Public Health

By Micah Berman, Wendy E. Parmet, and Jason A. Smith

Last week, while the health law world focused on the Republicans’ renewed attempt to repeal and replace the ACA, the Ninth Circuit struck an ominous blow to public health. As we have noted previously, federal courts in recent years have relied on an increasingly expansive interpretation of the First Amendment to prioritize the rights of commercial speakers over the health and safety of the public.  This new-found appreciation for commercial speech has resulted in decisions striking down a wide-range of public health regulations and has led food and beverage companies to make “ever-bolder arguments aimed at limiting longstanding government authority to protect the public’s health.” In American Beverage Association v. City and County of San Francisco, those bolder arguments were accepted by the court, putting public health regulations in greater peril.

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"Graham-Cassidy" Provides Zero Funding to Address the "Opioid Crisis"

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

One of the few positive provisions of the summer’s Senate “health care” bills was the inclusion of funding to states to “support substance use disorder treatment and recovery support services.”  With more than 30,000 people dying from heroin and painkiller overdoses in the United States every year, sufficient funding to address and effectively treat the issue is crucial.  Yet the latest version of the “health care” bill has omitted this funding entirely.

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Federal 'Right to Try' Legislation - perpetuating a misguided skepticism towards the FDA [From CRITical Thinking]

George Consortium member Jeanie Kim, with the Collaboration for Research Integrity and Transparency (CRIT) at Yale Law School, has written a detailed look at the proposed federal "right to try" legislation.  Wendy Parmet and Elisabeth Ryan wrote about the Senate bill on PHLW a few months ago; Jeanie's commentary serves as a great companion piece, emphasizing the potential dangers of making an end run around the FDA.

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A Safer Way to Legalize Marijuana [from Health Affairs Blog]

George Consortium member Professor Rebecca Haffajee of the University of Michigan School of Public Health co-authored "A Safer Way to Legalize Marijuana" on the Health Affairs Blog today, proposing that legalized marijuana should still exclude smokable products in order to reduce health hazards.  

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Eight US states, the District of Columbia, and the country of Uruguay have recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana, with Canada and more US states poised to do the same. The new laws include limits on youth access, operation of motor vehicles when using, and high-volume purchases or possession. However, none of the laws consider which kinds of marijuana products should and should not be legally sold.

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Briefly: Massachusetts Governor Proposes New Crime of Manslaughter for 'Drug Dealers'

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation yesterday which would, among other things, create a new crime of manslaughter for drug dealers if a person dies from using their drugs.  Specifically, anyone who "manufactures, distributes, or dispenses" any controlled substance would be "strictly liable" if "a death...results from the injection, inhalation, or ingestion of that substance."  The punishment would be a mandatory minimum of 5 years to a maximum of life in state prison.  

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"Right to Try" May Do More Harm Than Good

By Wendy E. Parmet and Elisabeth J. Ryan

When the Senate approved the “Right to Try Act of 2017” on August 3, Republican sponsor Senator Ron Johnson hailed it as a law that helps “real people facing their mortality with no hope.”  The bill allows patients with “a life-threatening disease or condition” who have “exhausted approved treatment options” to go directly to pharmaceutical companies and request access to drugs or devices not yet approved through the traditional process.  The bill does not, however, require those drug companies to grant any such requests.  It also does not address how much drug companies can charge those patients for access. And the rhetoric hailing it as a savior for patients “with no hope” ignores the fact that the FDA already has an Expanded Access (Compassionate Use) procedure that allows patients to access investigational medical products outside of clinical trials.  In fact, the FDA has approved over 99% of such requests, some in as little as 24 hours in emergency situations.  So the “Right to Try Act of 2017” wouldn’t actually create any new access rights; rather it would end the FDA’s oversight role.  In addition, the “Right to Try Act” would immunize drug companies and prescribing physicians from liability that may arise from a patient’s use of an unapproved drug or device (or from the denial of access to those drugs and devices) except in cases of “reckless or willful misconduct, gross negligence, or an intentional tort.”

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Not Your Grandfather's Preemption: Proposed Federal Preemption of State Medical Malpractice Cases

By Wendy E. Parmet and Elisabeth J. Ryan

During this past spring and summer’s debates over Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, GOP leaders insisted that states should be given greater flexibility over health care.  Their support for states’ rights relating to health care, however, seems to be fickle. In June, the same House of Representatives that supported the American Health Care Act, which would have allowed states to get rid of essential benefits, passed on a close vote of 218-210 H.R. 1215, “Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017.” This bill would preempt numerous aspects of state substantive, procedural, and evidentiary law in any “health care lawsuit…for which coverage was provided in whole or in part via a Federal program, subsidy, or tax benefit.”  In other words, the bill would apply to any lawsuit relating to healthcare that was paid for not only by Medicare, Medicaid, or the Veterans Administration, but also by any insurance plan purchased on an Affordable Care Act exchange for which the consumer received a tax credit or subsidy.  It may also apply to lawsuits relating to care paid for by any insurance plan – including any employer-sponsored plan – that receives any tax credits from the federal government. However, the full scope of the language is unclear because it was rushed through the House and subject to just one hour of general debate

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The Wrong Path: Involuntary Treatment and the Opioid Crisis [from The Crime Report]

PHLW's Leo Beletsky and Elisabeth Ryan wrote about the increasing use of "Section 35" commitments in Massachusetts over at The Crime Report.  This law allows people with substance use disorders to be committed involuntarily to a secure facility for up to 90 days.  This is not the way to handle the opioid crisis.

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Law Enforcement, Drugs, and the 'Public Health' Approach [from The Crime Report]

Leo Beletsky, George Consortium founding member and Associate Professor of Law and Health Sciences at Northeastern University School of Law, wrote "Law Enforcement, Drugs, and the 'Public Health' Approach," for The Crime Report in April 2016.  Watch tomorrow for a new piece about the law in Massachusetts that allows individuals with substance use disorders to be involuntarily committed to secure facilities for up to three months.  

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Public Health and the Battle for Local Control

By Micah Berman

Last year -- over at Notice & Comment -- I blogged about two laws in Arizona that were taking seemed to be extreme forms of state-level preemption.  SB 1847 provided that if the state Attorney General concluded that a local government had passed a local law that was preempted by state law, the state could withhold all state funding from the locality.  Meanwhile, SB 1524 provided -- in incredibly broad and vague terms -- that a local government "may not take any action that materially increases the regulatory burdens on a business unless there is a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public that has not been addressed by legislation or industry regulation within the proposed regulated field."

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Micah Bermanpreemption
FDA Reboots Tobacco Regulation with Harm Reduction

By the Public Health Advocacy Institute

On Friday, July 28, 2017, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb unveiled a revamped approach to tobacco product regulation in an announcement that surprised tobacco companies, investors, and the public health community in equal measure.  The goal, as articulated by Gottlieb, will be to regulate products so as to encourage migrating existing consumers from the most lethal combustible tobacco products (i.e., cigarettes) to non-combustible products lower on the continuum of risk. This approach is known as “harm reduction.”  The keystone will be to promulgate product standards so that cigarettes deliver insufficient nicotine to users to create or sustain addiction so that current nonsmokers never start and current smokers either quit or switch to non-combustible tobacco product that present a lower health risk.

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Mere Exposure to STDs May Not Be Enough to Prove Damages in Usher Case

By Elisabeth J. Ryan

Three past sexual partners of entertainer Usher are now suing him for allegedly exposing them to genital herpes without their knowledge or consent.  But only one of the plaintiffs, named as Jane Doe, has actually contracted herpes.  A person with a communicable disease who “willfully exposes” another person can be charged with a misdemeanor in California, but this civil suit is instead claiming that Usher “has a duty to warn and [that] he is liable for exposure even if the other person is negative for herpes.”  The plaintiffs did not specify how much money they are seeking, but their attorney Lisa Bloom said that her clients want the 38-year-old actor/singer to “either contact his sexual partners if the diagnosis is true or make a public statement to put people’s mind at ease.”  In 2012, Usher paid $1.1 million to settle another lawsuit alleging he gave a woman herpes.

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Republicans Failed Because They Have No Idea What Kind of Health Care They Actually Want

by Robert I. Field

Not so long ago, much of the Republican Party stood united in a vision for health care. For 20 years, Party leaders from across the political spectrum coalesced around elements of a plan that would use the private market to broadly expand coverage.

The plan looked something like this. All Americans would be subject to a mandate to obtain health insurance for themselves and their families or pay a penalty along with their taxes. Most employers would be mandated to offer insurance to their workers. Those without access to employer-sponsored coverage would buy policies on an exchange directly from insurance companies, and insurers would be required to offer coverage regardless of an applicant’s health status. Subsidies would be available for those with low incomes, and those who were very poor would receive coverage under an expanded Medicaid program.

Sound familiar? It is the essence of Romneycare, the health reform plan enacted in Massachusetts in 2006 with the support of Republican governor Mitt Romney.

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