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US Cancer Deaths Are Plummeting, but Only for the Rich

Elias Marat

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New data from the American Cancer Society suggests that while death rates resulting from cancer in the United States have dropped by a stunning 27 percent from 1991 to 2016 – resulting in 2.6 million fewer cancer deaths over the period than if peak 1991 rates remained the same – it has primarily been the wealthy that have benefited from the decline.

The discovery throws into stark relief the yawning socioeconomic inequality that prevails in the U.S., where those with access to health insurance and medical care are able to beat cancer, while those of limited means – the unemployed, the working-poor, and those living in polluted zones – are confronted with often-untreated, late-stage cases of the deadly disease.

According to the report, narrowing racial gaps in cancer mortality have been accompanied by a broadening of the yawning socioeconomic inequality affecting U.S. society, with the residents of the poorest counties in the United States shouldering a disproportionate burden of the most preventable forms of cancer.

The authors note:

“These [poor] counties are low-hanging fruit for locally focused cancer control efforts, including increased access to basic health care and interventions for smoking cessation, healthy living, and cancer screening program … A broader application of existing cancer control knowledge with an emphasis on disadvantaged groups would undoubtedly accelerate progress against cancer.”

The general decline in cancer has primarily been credited to smoking cessation programs and technological advances in the early detection and treatment of the affliction, resulting in the decline of the four major types of cancer: breast, colorectal, lung and prostate.

However, Rebecca Siegel, report author and ACS strategic director of surveillance information services, told Axios:

“Poor people have less access to quality health care. Not only are they unable to get systematic screenings, but treatment options are oftentimes not the highest quality.”

Indeed, poor working people – who often work irregular shifts, juggle multiple jobs, or work scarce hours – are often deprived of basic social benefits like paid sick leave, let alone the luxury of missing out on precious income by taking the time off to see a doctor.

The data should come as little surprise to those who are often forced to make the choice between paying their monthly rent and seeing a doctor for a regular check-up. And if they do choose the latter, they are often given the choice between treating their eyes, their teeth, their heart – or their pocketbook.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, an estimated 41 million people in the U.S. live in poverty, which makes the country the second-highest ranked in terms of poverty rates among wealthy countries.

Poor whites, black people, Native American and Latino communities are among those who are faced with the highest levels of exposure to hazardous industrial waste and toxic effluence, and cancer is far from the only deadly health hazard that results from high concentrations of grinding poverty.

In recent years, parasitic diseases and viruses, such as E. Coli, Hookworm, and Hepatitis A that are easily prevented in developed nations, have made a sharp return in blighted regions across the United States.

During his late 2017 tour of poor communities in the U.S., United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston deplored the “great poverty and inequality” he witnessed in cities and towns in California, West Virginia, rural Alabama and Washington D.C., as well as the colonial U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

Highlighting the government’s essential role in addressing environmental disparities, illnesses and the other toxic byproducts of a society possessed with great wealth yet riven by increasingly acute socioeconomic disparities, the special rapporteur stressed:

“The idea of human rights is that people have basic dignity and that it’s the role of the government — yes, the government! — to ensure that no one falls below the decent level … Civilized society doesn’t say for people to go and make it on your own and if you can’t, bad luck.”

Yet in the face of the ongoing crisis of public health care and rising cancer rates among the poorest regions, the U.S. government continues to shred the nearly non-existent social safety net for poor residents while devoting the lion’s share of its budget toward war and military funds, which amounted to a mind-boggling $716 billion in Fiscal Year 2019 – an amount that the administration of President Donald Trump has promised to increase by next year.

Environment

Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say

Elias Marat

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With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.

According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.

The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.

While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.

Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.

“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.

“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.

Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced

However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.

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Health

Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact

Elijah Cohen

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Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.

And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.

Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.

Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.

Death Toll, by Percent of Population

In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.

Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.

The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.

Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.

History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning

While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.

In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.

What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?

Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics

Republished from ZH with permission.

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California Bill Backed by PTSD War Veterans Groups Would Legalize Psychedelics Statewide

Elias Marat

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California could soon decriminalize psychedelics statewide if one legislator’s new bill is passed, marking another step by the Golden State to do away with laws seen by critics as antiquated vestiges of the failed U.S. war on drugs.

On Thursday, Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco introduced Bill 519, which would comprehensively decriminalize the use of and possession of psychedelics, following the lead of such places as Oakland, Santa Cruz, the District of Columbia, and Oregon, which have all decriminalized the drugs to varying degrees.

Under the proposed law, a range of psychedelic drugs including psilocybin – the hallucinogen in “magic” mushrooms – psilocyn, 3,4-MDMA (also known as molly or ecstasy), LSD, ketamine, DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline would all be decriminalized. Like a previous law passed in 2018 that expunged cannabis-related convictions from the records of Californians, Bill 519 would also wipe clean prior convictions for the use or possession of drugs.

While the comprehensive decriminalization measure would open the door to any sort of use of the drugs, not limited to medical, it would also be tied to measures that endorse the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of psychedelics which have gained increased recognition from health experts and researchers in recent years.

Given the severity of our mental health crisis, we shouldn’t be criminalizing people for using drugs that have shown significant promise in treating mental health conditions,” Wiener said in a statement. “People should be able to seek alternative treatment for diseases like anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and we need to make science-based treatments available to those in need.”

The bill has also been heavily supported by two groups, the Heroic Hearts Project and VETS (Vets Exploring Treatment Solutions), both nonprofit organizations that assist veterans in addressing mental health challenges stemming from trauma, such as PTSD.

The strategy tout the medical benefits of the drugs is one that has been used with success in past efforts by drug policy reform advocates.

“That’s how it worked with cannabis,” Oregonian drug policy reform advocate Anthony Johnson told the Guardian. Johnson helped lead efforts in his state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of basically all illicit drugs through Measure 110, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November.

“It’s definitely a way to help people that need it first and foremost, but also then to educate the public about these substances of how the drug war has been a failed policy and how there is a better approach,” Johnson added.

In the case of Oregon’s Measure 109, which cleared the way for the all-out legalization of psilocybin mushrooms, petitioners highlighted the need to end the prohibition of the substance as a means toward treating mental health challenges through alternative methods.

“Healthcare professionals, veterans, mothers, people struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction and end of life distress, community organizations, and so many others answered to call for a new option to help so many who are suffering,” a coalition of Oregon advocates said in a statement last November following voters’ overwhelming approval of the legal psilocybin therapy bill.

As has been the case in other states, however, the largest obstacle to decriminalization has been law enforcement, who cite concerns over public safety, and the private prison industry which enjoys generous profits from state contracts to incarcerate drug users. However, state Senator Wiener hopes that the testimony of veterans will help convince opponents of the need to shed their preconceptions and biases toward users of psychedelic drugs.

“There’s a stereotype of who’s using psychedelics, but it’s much broader than that and when you have veterans coming into the Capitol talking about how psychedelics help them with PTSD and help them get their lives back, that’s incredibly powerful for legislators,” Wiener explained.

Among those veterans is 38-year-old veteran Juliana Mercer, who spent 16 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including 10 years of active duty service over the course of one tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

As a four-year member of the wounded warriors unit, Mercer saw unspeakable horrors that left an indelible impression on her psyche – ultimately resulting in long-term trauma that she was largely unable to address.

“I lost quite a few friends and just saw a lot of a lot of damage and destruction along the way,” Mercer said. “I put all of that stuff away and kind of forgot about it for a while, and once I slowed down it was all just sitting there and I didn’t know what to do with it.”

While her first experience with psychedelics was recreational, she eventually gained a sense of connectedness that had been absent for years. She eventually reached out to the Heroic Hearts Project a year and a half ago to undergo ayahuasca therapy, which she said had completely exceeded expectations in allowing her to release “years of grief.”

“I kept hearing that when you do some of these plant medicines, you’ll be able to do 10 years worth of work in one session,” Mercer explained. “Just one of my sessions really brought out all of that pain and the grief that I didn’t even know was in there and allowed me to just completely release it and expel it, things that I had no idea were there.”

For licensed clinical social worker Lauren Taus, therapies involving plants such as ayahuasca and psilocybin are simply strong tools rather than cure-alls for mental health challenges. However, with the ongoing pandemic compounding a mental health crisis that has long been felt across the United States, Taus is adamant that such potent tools must be decriminalized.

“The causes of trauma are multiplying way faster than the solutions,” Taus said. “Current treatment is generally not very effective.”

“Psychedelic medicine has been engaged with globally for eons,” she added. “This stuff works and we deserve to have access to solutions that will be sustainable.”

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