Health

On your health from KUNC, Shots Health Blog, NPR & our health and medical coverage partners. Covering health, medical, insurance, and pharmaceutical issues.

At the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Clinic in Scarbro, W.Va., oxygen tubes dangle from the noses of three miners slowly pedaling on stationary bikes. All of these men have black lung — a disease caused by breathing in coal dust. Over time, the dust coats the lungs and causes them to harden. Hard lungs don't easily expand and contract, and that makes it difficult to breathe.

A doctor handed Melissa Morris her first opioid prescription when she was 20 years old. She'd had a cesarean section to deliver her daughter and was sent home with Percocet to relieve post-surgical pain. On an empty stomach, she took one pill and lay down on her bed.

"I remember thinking to myself, 'Oh, my God. Is this legal? How can this feel so good?' " Morris recalls.

When Ali Andrew Li was born on Jan. 7, he was gently placed on his mother's chest, where doctors cleaned and examined him and covered him with a warm blanket.

"I just loved it," his mother, Salma Shabaik, a family physician who lives in Los Angeles, says. "It was really nice to have the baby right there beneath my eyes where I could feel him, touch him, kiss him."

On Wednesday, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., goes before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in his first grilling since he was nominated to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. This isn't an official confirmation hearing. That comes Jan. 24, before the Senate Finance Committee. But with outspoken senators such as Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the HELP committee, Price is certain to face tough questions.

Here are five things to look out for:

Obamacare

There's the heroic, lightning-quick medical care that saves us from crises. And then there's the slow-but-steady incremental medical attention that doctors provide for weeks, months, years, even decades in the attempt to heal complex conditions.

Before Luke Whitbeck began taking a $300,000-a-year drug, the 2-year-old's health was inexplicably failing.

A pale boy with enormous eyes, Luke frequently ran high fevers, tired easily and was skinny all over, except his belly stuck out like a bowling ball.

"What does your medicine do for you?" Luke's mother, Meg, asked after his weekly drug treatment recently.

More than 30 years ago, Congress overwhelmingly passed a landmark health bill aimed at motivating pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs for people whose rare diseases had been ignored.

By the drugmakers' calculations, the markets for such diseases weren't big enough to bother with.

Ami A. / Flicker.com

In an effort to reduce drug addiction, Colorado will expand drop-off locations for the disposal of prescription drugs.

Data shows most people who abuse prescription drugs get them from a family member or friend, said Gregg Fabisiak, a coordinator with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“We really believe that if people rid their homes of the medications that they no longer need, it’ll reduce the supply of those drugs that are obtained illicitly,” he said.

When Samantha Deffler was young, her mother would often call her by her siblings' names — even the dog's name. "Rebecca, Jesse, Molly, Tucker, Samantha," she says.

So far, more than half of all U.S. states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and eight (plus the District of Columbia) have legalized the drug for recreational use. Varieties of cannabis available today are more potent than ever and come in many forms, including oils and leaves that can be vaped, and lots of edibles, from brownies and cookies to candies — even cannabis gummy bears.

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