What We're Reading: White House, Azar Spar; A Twist on Drug Shortages; Teen, Young Adult Suicide Rate Spikes

Tensions have risen between White House officials and HHS Secretary Alex Azar; a life-saving bladder cancer drug is in short supply; suicide rates for children and young adults have soared.

Tensions Rise Between White House Officials and HHS Secretary Alex Azar

Tensions have widened the rift between White House officials and HHS Secretary Alex Azar, POLITICO reported, resulting in impeded projects, disputes over Medicaid and fetal tissue research, complicating drug pricing reform, and spurring personal attacks, according to current and former White House aides and HHS officials. The White House called the disagreements part of the deliberative policy process while HHS downplayed the disputes. Azar is believed not to be at risk of being fired despite the recent tensions.

Low Prices of Some Life-saving Drugs Have Hindered Access to Them

While drug shortages are sometimes caused by production errors, quality problems, and natural disasters, the example of a low-cost, gold standard immunotherapy drug for bladder cancer illustrates another reason—some believe the price is set too low and discourage others from making the off-patent drug. Desperate patients are searching for a Merck drug, called BCG, a live, weakened bacteria that takes 3 months to make, The Washington Post reported.

Suicide Rates for Adolescents and Young Adults Have Topped Record Levels

A study in JAMA found that suicide rates for teens and young adults have reached the highest level since 2000, especially for young men, while the rate for females steadily increased. A total of 5016 males and 1225 females between 15 to 24 years old took their own lives in 2017. At ages 15 to 19 years, the rate of suicides was 11.8 per 100,000 (17.9 per 100,000 in males and 5.4 per 100,000 in females). In young adults aged 20 to 24 years, the suicide rate for males and females combined in 2017 was 17 per 100,000; in males, 27.1 per 100,000; and in females, 6.2 per 100,000.