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Deadly shootings are rising in US after steady declines

This a Kaiser Health News story.

After steadily declining for more than two decades, deadly shoot..

This a Kaiser Health News story.

After steadily declining for more than two decades, deadly shootings are rising across the country, according to a new government report.

The researchers also said that the number of suicides involving a firearm grew 21 percent between 2006 and 2016.

The report, published Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at gun deaths around the country and in 50 major metropolitan areas. The researchers found a rise in gun homicides in 2015 and 2016, reversing a downward trend and bringing them to a level comparable to a decade ago.

It also reported that deadly shootings were up across all age groups nationwide.

“It is too soon to know whether recent increases in firearm homicide rates represent a short-term fluctuation or the beginning of a longer-term trend,” the report said.

The findings were released shortly after a gunman in Thousand Oaks, Calif., killed 12 people, including a county sheriffs deputy, at a bar popular with college students, and less than two weeks after a gunman walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people.

Despite the high publicity garnered by mass shootings in recent years, the Pew Research Center previously reported that the rate of firearm homicides began declining in the 1990s and then remained fairly flat from 2001 to 2014.

The federal researchers analyzed mortality and population data from the nations 50 most populous metropolitan areas to calculate both firearm homicides and suicides during two time periods, 2015-2016 and 2012-2013. The group also highlighted the rate of these incidents among 10- to 19-year-olds.

According to the report, more than 27,000 people were killed in gun homicides in 2015-2016, for a death rate of 4.4 per 100,000 people. The rate is higher for the 50 cities, where more than 17,000 people were killed, or 4.9 per 100,000 people.

By comparison, nearly 23,000 people died across the country and more than 14,000 died in those cities from firearm homicide in 2012-2013.

Andrew Papachristos, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University who was not involved in the study, said changes in the level of gun violence can come from a variety of factors, including different police protocols, gang violence and general mistrust.

Efforts by the federal government to research gun violence have been governed by the Dickey Amendment, a legislative rider for funding that groups seeking tighter control of guns felt limited the CDCs efforts to examine the issue. But federal health officials, including Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, say it does not impede federal research.

Nearly 45,000 people killed themselves with a gun in 2015-2016, more than 3,000 more than in 2012-2013, according to the report. The increase extended to city dwellers, too, although the rate of deaths among city dwellers was significantly lower than for the country as a whole.

Slightly more than 2,100 young people, including 851 in the major cities, died from firearm suicide in 2015-2016, according to the report.

The researchers noted that the sharp decade-long rise in gun suicides coincided partly with the Great Recession that began in 2007. But the increases have continued despite the economic recovery, they said.

The ease of access to a gun has been shown to be a key link to these acts. The time between deciding to commit suicide and attempting it can be as brief as 10 minutes, the report said, so finding a gun quickly can make the attempt much easier. Often, people do not try an alternative method when the highly lethal route is unavailable.

The report stressed proper storage of firearms to reduce the risk of suicide.

Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University, who was not involved in the study, said mental health professionals struggle with trying to predict who is at risk.

“People act impulsively in moments of despair,” Metzl said. “And it may or may not be linked to psychiatric illness.”

Males also run a higher risk of dying by firearm suicide. According to the report, men and boys made up 85 percent of the deaths both in the 50 major cities and nationally.

Approximately the same share of men died by firearm homicide. However, it is important to note these issues affect different populations, Papachristos said. Minorities represent a disproportionate share of homicides, while suicide claims a disproportionate number of white men.

Kaiser Health News is a nonprofit news service covering health issues. It is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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The organization helping to bring new drugs for rare diseases to market

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval o..

A research team has reason to celebrate after the Food and Drug Administration granted it approval on Friday to begin a clinical trial for a new pediatric brain cancer drug, one that might have ended up overlooked by pharmaceutical companies.

The lead researcher on the team, Dr. Teresa Purzner has already beat impossible odds. The neurosurgeon and mom of three managed to get the approval in record time and with little money thanks to the help of a team of scientific altruists called SPARK.

The development of new medications in the United States is driven by pharmaceutical companies; researchers at universities rarely bring their discoveries to the bedside. For every 10,000 potential new medicines sitting on laboratory shelves around the country, only one will ever reach patients in need, according to the National Institutes of Health. Why? Because the process can take 10 to 15 years, costing upwards of a billion dollars per drug.

As a result, the number of new medications approved by the FDA has remained stagnant at about 31 per year over the past 10 years. The majority of these medications are similar to already existing ones, and many target diseases for which there are large markets — like hypertension and high cholesterol — and therefore, a return on investment.

Enter SPARK, a non-profit program created in partnership between Stanford University and volunteers from the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and investment industries, which helps academic researchers bring their discoveries to patients. Since its founding, SPARK has given special consideration to projects typically neglected by pharmaceutical companies, including rare diseases and diseases affecting children.

Purzner put her neurosurgery practice on pause to study medulloblastoma, a type of childhood brain cancer. Compared to diseases like hypertension and high cholesterol, which affect millions of Americans, medulloblastoma is rare, affecting only 250 to 500 children every year.

“Theres something especially poignant about seeing children —beautiful, wonderful, innocent things — and seeing the impact of the therapies we are giving them. The medications, the radiation therapies impact their cognition, their quality of life and their ability to function as independent adults in the future,” Purzner said in an interview with ABC News.

Purzner had a clear goal: to find a targeted therapy that could shut down the basic biochemical pathway responsible for the development of this cancer, and she did. She tested the potential drug in mice with good results, and she just received FDA approval to test it in clinical trials, which she will do through the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium. She did it all in five years and for a price tag of $500,000.

“To get from my initial findings in the lab to the point where the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium picked it up for clinical trials would have never happened without the help of SPARK… they gave me a clear pathway and made me believe it was possible,” said Purzner.

Every year, SPARK provides 10 teams with funding and expert mentorship to promote efficient and cost-effective drug development. (more…)

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Widowed father works with congresswoman on legislation to prevent maternal deaths

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

“I was overjoyed. I reme..

Sitting in the hospital room, mother and newborn baby were sound asleep.

"I was overjoyed. I remember thinking my family is complete," Charles Johnson told ABC News.

But then he looked down and saw his wife Kiras catheter turn pink and then red with blood.

April 12, 2016 was supposed to be a joyous day for the Johnson family, but it turned into a "nightmare."

Ten hours later, Kira Johnson died as a result of internal bleeding following a cesarean section.

Now, two years later, Johnson is raising two children on his own and advocating to rectify the country's maternal health policies and regulations to prevent anyone else from sharing the same tragedy. Johnson took to Capitol Hill to share his wife's story before members of Congress, working alongside a congresswoman who experienced her own personal difficulties during pregnancy.

Charles and Kira Johnson welcomed their first son Charles V. in 2014. He was delivered via C-section. Two years later, the Johnson family relocated from Atlanta to Los Angeles and learned they were expecting their second baby boy.

"Kira and I had always wanted two boys," Johnson said. "I was excited."

The Johnsons decided to have Langston delivered at Cedars Sinai medical center, a non-profit hospital that is currently ranked as the eighth best hospital in the country by U.S. News and World Report.

Charles Johnson said his wife was in exceptional health and that she took all the necessary prenatal measures to ensure their second child would be born healthy. Since their first son was born via C-section, the doctor suggested the same for their second. (more…)

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States look to breathalyze convicted drunk drivers to reduce fatalities

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that ha..

This story is from Kaiser Health News

On Jan. 1, California joined the majority of states that have laws requiring drivers with drunken-driving convictions to install breathalyzers in vehicles they own or operate.

Researchers, public health advocates and political leaders believe these laws are helping reduce alcohol-related road deaths.

The gadgets, known as ignition interlock devices, are mounted on the steering wheel of a vehicle and prevent it from starting if the drivers blood-alcohol reading is above a predetermined level.

In California, the breathalyzers are mandatory only for repeat offenders. Five other states — Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana and Ohio — have similar laws. Thirty-two states and D.C. require the devices even for first-time offenders.

The advent of such laws across the United States in the past 15 years has been accompanied by some good news: Deaths involving drunken driving are only about half of what they were in the early 1980s, though they have ticked back up in recent years. The long-term decline is largely attributable to greater public awareness, stricter seat belt enforcement and the establishment in 2000 of a nationwide legal blood-alcohol threshold of 0.08 percent — far below the 0.15 percent standard commonly used before then.

State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), the author of the California law, said breathalyzers in cars will make roads safer than under the current law, which generally relies on license restrictions and suspensions.

“Weve seen people on a suspended license continue to drive and continue to cause destruction,” said Hill, who lost his best friend to drunken driving in the 1980s.

There is some evidence that the breathalyzers have an impact. Nationally, from 2006 to 2016, ignition-locking breathalyzers prevented 2.3 million attempts to drive by people with a blood-alcohol level at or above 0.08 percent — the legal threshold for driving under the influence — according to a 2017 report by the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Emma McGinty, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found that laws requiring interlocks for all DUI offenders were associated with a 7 percent drop in the rate of fatal crashes caused by drunken drivers. Another study found that laws covering all offenders were associated with 15 percent fewer alcohol-related fatalities compared with states that have less stringent laws. (more…)

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