White patients more likely to get medications for opioid use

 White patients are significantly more likely to receive medication for opioid use disorder after an overdose or related incident than Black or Hispanic patients, new research finds.

Opioid overdose rates have been on the rise among people of color in the U.S. in recent years, noted the study, which was published May 11 in the New England Journal of Medicine. But white patients received medication for overdose disorder as much as 80% more frequently than Black patients and up to 25% more frequently than Hispanic patients following an opioid-related incident such as an overdose, infection or detox admission.

In the case of naloxone, which can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose, about 23% of white patients, 21% of Hispanic patients and 14% of Black patients received the life-saving medication within six months of an opioid-related incident.

Because the patients made a similar number of visits to health-care providers in the six months after they had an incident, the disparities cannot be explained by access to care, said the study, which was led by Harvard University and Dartmouth College researchers.

More than 19 million live in counties with ‘persistent poverty’ 

About 11% of U.S. counties have experienced continued high poverty over the past 30 years, a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau shows. 

Of the 3,142 U.S. counties, 341 experienced poverty rates of over 20% in surveys taken from 1989 to 2019, which classifies them as being in “persistent poverty.” About 19.4 million people lived in those counties, according to the May 9 report report.

About 55% of people in persistent-poverty counties lived in the South, although 28% lived in the Northeast. In Mississippi, almost 35% of the population lived in counties with persistent poverty, followed closely by Louisiana, with 34%. Although New York state only had two counties with persistent poverty, both were located in the New York City area, accounting for about 21% of the state’s population.

Previous research has found that people who live in high-poverty areas often experience barriers that impact their health, such as limited access to medical services, quality education, transportation and healthy and affordable food.

Getting lead out of drinking water a win-win

Reducing lead levels in tap water would yield billions in annual savings for U.S. health care, far outweighing costs, a new study concludes.

Harvard University researchers estimate that it would cost $335 million to implement the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s lead and copper drinking water rule revision. About $9.2 billion a year would be avoided in health costs related to lead exposure, such as costs for preterm births, cognitive function impairment in children and heart disease in adults, according to the study, which was published online May 4 in Environmental Research.

Implementing the rule revision will also reduce lead-related damage to drinking and wastewater infrastructure, the study said. Released in 2021, the rule revision requires community water systems to inventory their lead service lines, improve sampling, treat and replace corrosive pipes and provide public education. It also requires lead sampling at schools and child care centers. 

Stakeholders have until October 2024 to comply with the rule. In the meantime, the EPA is working on additional updates, including those that take environmental justice into account.

The study’s cost savings prediction is significantly higher than an estimate reached by the EPA, which concluded the water rule revision would only generate about $645 million in annual health savings. But the EPA study only looked at one health endpoint, versus 17 examined in the new Harvard study, the researchers said.

Air pollution from traffic linked to Alzheimer’s onset 

Breathing in traffic-related air pollution can lead to cognitive decline and trigger changes in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease, a study published May 11 in Toxicological Sciences finds. 

Researchers at the University of California-Irvine found that mice exposed to ultrafine particulate matter for three months experienced memory loss and other lapses in cognitive function. In the brains of the oldest mice, researchers found plaque buildup and activation in certain neurological cells, both of which are linked with the inflammation that comes with Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous research suggests that air pollution and other environmental toxic exposures may cause onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Emergency departments deprioritize non-English speakers

Kids who visit a hospital emergency department with caregivers who prefer a language other than English are less likely to be seen as needing urgent attention, a new study finds.

Published online in Pediatrics May 16, the research showed that when caregivers preferred to speak Spanish, children were 4.6% more likely to be under-triaged than with caregivers who preferred English. And when caregivers preferred languages other than English or Spanish, they were almost 6% more likely to be under-triaged.  

Nearly 20% of pediatric emergency department visits examined by researchers involved caregivers who preferred languages other than English. Children with those caregivers were less likely to be assigned the immediate care they needed and to return to an emergency department within two weeks, according to the study, which was led by researchers at the George Washington University and University of Utah.