What We’re Reading: Health Systems Reject Aduhelm; Overdose Deaths Surge During Pandemic; J&J Recalls Sunscreen

Two big health systems will not administer a newly approved drug to patients to treat Alzheimer disease; drug overdose deaths hit a new high in 2020 Johnson & Johnson (J&J) recall sunscreen products after detecting a cancer-causing chemical.

Health Systems Refuse to Administer New Alzheimer Drug

In light of the controversy surrounding the FDA approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer drug, Aduhelm (aducanumab), 2 major health systems, Cleveland Clinic and Mount Sinai, have announced they will not be administering the drug to patients. According to The New York Times, the decision was driven by institutions calling for a federal investigation of the FDA's decision and the agency’s relationship with Biogen. Experts also expressed concerns regarding safety and efficacy data, saying that it is unclear whether the drug works to slow cognitive decline or provide a significant benefit to patients. Additionally, the price of the drug is exorbitant, at $56,000 a year. A recent survey of nearly 200 neurologists and primary care physicians found that a majority disagreed with the FDA’s decision and did not plan to prescribe Aduhelm to patients.

US Overdose Deaths Break Record in 2020

According to The Wall Street Journal, drug overdose deaths in the United States skyrocketed nearly 30% in 2020, a direct impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The estimated 93,331 deaths accounted for a record high and represents the sharpest annual increase in more than 30 years. In 2019, 72,151 deaths were attributed to overdoses. The pandemic intensified the overdose epidemic by forcing individuals to self-isolate, causing trauma and contributing to job losses. The surge was largely driven by an increase in fentanyl use across the country. Overdose deaths started to climb in fall 2019 with the spread of fentanyl but rose more steeply in March 2020, when pandemic-related shutdowns and social-distancing measures became more prevalent in the United States. In addition, to fentanyl-related deaths, deaths from methamphetamine and cocaine overdoses rose.

J&J Recalls Sunscreen Due to Toxic Chemical

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) has announced a voluntary recall for 5 Neutrogena and Aveeno brand aerosol sunscreen products after low levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, benzene, were detected in some samples. Reuters reported that the company has instructed consumers to stop using and discard the products and for distributors and retailers to stop selling them “out of an abundance of caution.” J&J said that benzene is not an ingredient in its sunscreen and that it is investigating how the products became contaminated, while also emphasizing that the levels detected would likely not cause adverse health consequences. The recall represents another issue for J&J, which already is facing billions of dollars in settlement costs resulting from lawsuits over its talcum-based baby powder, vaginal mesh implants, and opioid painkillers. The company is also facing production challenges related to its COVID-19 vaccine, which is being investigated for having a potential link to Guillain-Barré Syndrome.