What We’re Reading: Flu Hospitalizations Up 30%; HHS to Overhaul Substance Abuse Privacy Laws; Opioid Prescriptions Declined in Early COVID-19

US flu hospitalizations increased nearly 30% in the week before Thanksgiving; HHS proposed a rule to align 42 CFR Part 2 privacy protections with existing law to protect patients with substance abuse disorder; New York State saw a decline in opioid prescriptions during the first month of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Flu Hospitalizations Jump Nearly 30% Week Before Thanksgiving

Flu hospitalizations increased nearly 30% in a week in the United States, with more than 11,200 patients hospitalized during the week of November 13 compared with around 8700 patients the week prior, CNBC reported. Flu has hit the United States especially hard this season, with around 11 in every 100,000 individuals being hospitalized since early October, which is the highest level in a decade. According to CDC data, there have been more than 6.2 million flu cases, 53,000 hospitalizations, and 2900 deaths this season. Experts are concerned hospitalizations will surge more around the winter holidays, especially as the H3N2 flu variant—which is more severe for older adults—is currently the dominant variant.

HHS Proposes Privacy Rule for Patients With Substance Abuse Disorder

HHS proposed a rule Monday aimed at aligning 42 CFR Part 2 privacy protections with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to protect patients with substance abuse disorder, Axios reported. To facilitate the sharing of patient information between providers, the rule requires one-time patient consent for disclosure of treatment, allowing HIPAA-covered entities to access certain patient records. The rule will also grant patients the right to know when and where their information was disclosed and request restrictions on what information providers can access, as well as prohibit courts from using Part 2 records against the patient in civil or criminal proceedings. Behavioral health advocates called this proposal a critical step in managing the opioid crisis.

NY COVID-19 Lockdowns Did Not Lead to Rush in Opioid Prescriptions

Early New York State COVID-19 lockdowns were associated with a decline in opioid prescriptions as well as steady prescription rates for medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), Columbia Mailman School of Public Health reported. According to a study published in Addiction, the total weekly morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per day per zip code of dispensed non-MOUD opioids steadily declined between March 21, 2020, and April 17, 2020. Mean weekly total MME/day dispensed during this first month of COVID-19 lockdowns was 17.07% lower compared with the 4 weeks prior to March 21, 2020, which the authors said was almost entirely due to a drop in MME/day dispensed for prescriptions of 7 days or shorter. The study authors also noted that policy initiatives by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration were likely the reason emergency orders did not affect access to MOUD.

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