What We’re Reading: Overdose Deaths; HHS’ Poor Watchdog Assessment; HIV Vaccine Trial Starts

Little-known drugs are now contributing to the US overdose epidemic; the Government Accountability Office finds HHS is at "High Risk Alert"; Moderna begins HIV vaccine trial.

Non-Fentanyl Drugs Fuel Overdose Crisis

Two little-known drugs, para-fluorofentanyl and metonitazene, are contributing to the nation’s overdose crisis, as they are being seen more often by medical examiners looking into the deaths, a new government report found. According to The Associated Press, these drugs are usually taken with or mixed in with fentanyl, one of the main contributors of the over 100,000 overdose deaths reported in the United States in 2021. However, the drugs are also more powerful than fentanyl and are increasingly the sole reason for some deaths. Naloxone can still work in cases where the 2 drugs are ingested, but more may be needed per case.

HHS Receives Poor GAO Report

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found HHS has failed to fix problems in its pandemic response, threatening the agency’s efficacy in responding to future crises, Politico reports. HHS is now on what the GAO deems “High Risk Alert,” meaning it is susceptible to mismanagement and abuse in the absence of significant changes. An additional 3 dozen agencies are also deemed at high risk. Among the failures outlined are leadership shortcomings, difficulties in collecting and analyzing data, and problems communicating with the public. In Congress, members are calling for the implementation of new guardrails for future emergencies handled by HHS.

Moderna's HIV Vaccine Trial Beings

Moderna has initiated its trial of an HIV vaccine that uses mRNA technology, ABC News reports. The first participants received doses of the vaccine on January 27, and the trial is in partnership with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Approximately 38 million individuals around the world are currently living with HIV, including 1.3 million in the United States. Throughout the height of the US AIDS epidemic, around 50,000 deaths occurred each year while today, advances in treatment allow patients to manage the virus to the point where viral loads can become undetectable, preventing transmission.