It’s time for this week’s edition of Investigative Roundup, gathering some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare from around the country.
KY Too Slow on Hep A Outbreak
With more than 4,100 cases of hepatitis A as of this month — including 43 deaths — Kentucky’s outbreak is the nation’s worst. Now a Louisville Courier-Journal investigation charges that the state’s response was “too slow.”
The newspaper obtained correspondence from an infectious disease specialist in the state’s health department urging that $10 million be allotted for 150,000 vaccine doses and health workers to administer them. He also argued for a public health emergency declaration that would help the state secure federal funding.
His requests were rejected by the department’s acting commissioner, Jeffrey Howard, MD, who allocated just $3 million to the hepatitis A outbreak.
Howard told the paper that the state did use limited money to give vaccines that could be administered by small staffs throughout the counties. He also said that locating drug users was difficult, nurses were expensive, and that none of the counties asked for added staff and some were slow to spend state money.
Still, he said, “I wish I would’ve been more bold and said, ‘Let’s move into Eastern Kentucky,’ as opposed to waiting, as we did, with the outbreak.”
Secret Purdue Documents Published
After a three-year legal battle, STAT and ProPublica published a previously sealed 2015 deposition of Richard Sackler — former chairman and president of Purdue Pharma and member of the company’s founding family. It reveals what is believed to be the only instance of a Sackler family member testifying under oath about the aggressive marketing of OxyContin.
Other documents, part of a now-settled lawsuit brought against Purdue, indicate that Sackler supported efforts to hide just how powerful the drug was. In one email exchange, Purdue exec Michael Friedman wrote: “We are well aware of the view held by many physicians that oxycodone [the active ingredient in OxyContin] is weaker than morphine. I do not plan to do anything about that.”
“I agree with you,” Sackler responded.
In the deposition, Sackler defended these emails as attempts to keep from stigmatizing OxyContin as an end-of-life drug.
HIV Data Leaker Charged
Yahoo News Singapore reports the U.S. Department of Justice charged Mikhy Farrera Brochez with the unlawful transfer of thousands of stolen identification documents and possession with intent to distribute including medical records of 14,200 people living with HIV in January 2019.
The complaint states, “While living in the Eastern District of Kentucky, Brochez sent links to the data from his e-mail account to several news outlets. He also sent e-mails to several government officials in Singapore containing links to the data.”
Brochez allegedly acquired the files from his partner Ler Teck Siang, 37, a Ministry of Health official in Singapore who oversaw the country’s HIV registry.
In 2016, Brochez was jailed in Singapore for drug- and fraud-related offenses, one of which was lying about his HIV status (Singapore places restrictions on long-term visit passes and work visas for those with HIV). He was deported to the U.S. last year after serving his sentence.
Why did he leak the sensitive information? In an interview with Vice earlier this month, Brochez explained, “Giving that to the press, I was hoping that somebody would get a look at what has been going on in Singapore and how they are using that registry to track individuals with HIV and men who have sex with men … There’s no need to have that registry.”
Singapore’s health ministry and police have also filed civil proceedings in the U.S.
China Using U.S. Tech to Track Minorities
China’s government is using DNA in an effort to increase its control over the country’s Uighur Muslim minority — with help from U.S. companies and researchers, according to the New York Times.
The Trump administration has threatened sanctions against China over the Uighurs’ treatment. About a million Uighurs have been rounded up and placed in “re-education” camps. But apparently that’s not enough — now the government is reportedly using DNA technology to identify Uighurs.
Kenneth Kidd, PhD, a prominent professor at Yale University, is among the American geneticists who have shared genetic data with researchers affiliated with Chinese police. The genetic testing and mapping company Thermo Fisher has also been involved, mentioned in patents and sponsoring a genomics conference in China — a country the company once claimed was its “greatest success story in emerging markets.” Last Wednesday, just before the Times story appeared, Thermo Fisher announced it would stop selling its equipment in Xinjiang, the area of China where the Uighur crackdown is most prevalent.