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John Bolton Disbanded Global Health Security Team in Charge of Pandemic Response Efforts

It is unclear what department or person is currently in charge of leading the U.S. response to a pandemic.

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Pandemic Response

(TMU) — Dr. Dena Grayson, a medical doctor, researcher, and politician with years worth of training developing Ebola treatments under her belt, has expressed concern about a pivotal moment that was largely overlooked back in May 2018.

Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense at the National Security Council starting in April 2017, was responsible for leading pandemic preparedness and response efforts but abruptly left the position in 2018. Following his departure, the team he oversaw was disbanded by then national security adviser John Bolton.

https://twitter.com/DrDenaGrayson/status/1221853111968575488

Jamil Smith, senior writing at Rolling Stone, likewise sounded the alarm on Monday.

https://twitter.com/JamilSmith/status/1221809945890279429

A May 2018 article in the Independent said that the “breakup of his team, comes at a time when many experts say the country is already underprepared for the increasing risks of a pandemic or bioterrorism attack.” This statement is all the more real in January 2020 as the world faces what could be global pandemic as cases of 2019-nCoV continue to increase rapidly in China while spreading slowly across the globe.

According to Ronald Klain, who served as the U.S. Ebola response coordinator from late 2014 to early 2015 and was chief of staff to both Al Gore and Joe Biden during their vice presidential terms, Ziemer was forced out by John Bolton. 

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer’s departure left no senior official in charge of global health security.

It is currently unclear what department or person may have taken over some or all of Ziemer’s responsibilities. However, U.S. President Donald Trump did release a “fact sheet” approximately one year after Ziemer’s departure and the disbanding of the team.

The May 2019 fact sheet states that, “President Donald J. Trump is taking action to protect America and our partners from infectious disease threats” by releasing the Global Health Security Strategy, a strategy the fact sheet claims is the first of its kind.

The strategy, which can be read here in full, will adopt “a whole-of-government approach” to national health security by combining the strengths of different departments and agencies and “defines the actions the Administration will take to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease threats, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or deliberate.”

In section IV, the strategy states that, in response to international outbreaks, it will:

Because an infectious disease can spread rapidly to all parts of the world, endangering lives and economies, the United States Government will continue to monitor and respond to international outbreaks through several mechanisms, including CDC’s Global Disease Detection Operations Center (GDDOC), CDC’s IDRRRF, and USAID’s Emergency Reserve Fund for infectious disease outbreaks (ERF).”

The strategy goes on to detail what each participating agency and department should do but does not highly who is in charge of the overall efforts, a task that likely would fallen on Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer. What’s more, while the strategy does note participation from the National Security Council, it does not indicate a person.

As seen in the screen shot below, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on national health issues and the U.S.’ involvement in global health policy, the position of Director for Global Health and International Development sits vacant—or at least was vacant on January 17 when the list was published or last updated.

However, Ziemer’s position was Senior Director for Global Health Security and Biodefense at the National Security Council (NSC)—a position that isn’t found on the list above. It is interesting to note that of the seven NSC global health positions included in the list, four of them are specific to weapons of mass destruction, biodefense, and biological threats while none of them are specific to overall global health.

Heather Cox Richardson, Professor of history at Boston College, said in a now viral Facebook post:

But the implications of the destruction of our government might well soon become terrifyingly clear. I actually wrote about the new coronavirus the day it was announced because it hit a number of issues that, as a historian, I thought were important. But I deleted the paragraph, afraid that readers who are already on edge would become unnecessarily worried (I did leave it in the notes for that day as a record for future scholars). For the purposes of this political record, though, we should note that the GOP project of dismantling the government means that we have not had anyone in charge of leading the U.S. response to a pandemic since May 2018, when Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer from the National Security Council was pushed out during a shake up by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton, who broke up the team designed to focus on global health security.

Strap in, folks. All signs suggest this is going to be quite a week.”

In a series of tweets Dr. Grayson has been detailing her concern regarding the coronavirus that is thought to have emerged in Wuhan.

  •  In addition to being highly contagious, this novel #coronavirus can cause a SEVERE infection that can kill even healthy people. It’s rare to see BOTH of these (bad) attributes in the same novel virus. Usually, it’s one or the other.
  • Thus far, the case-fatality rate appears to be ~4%…but its’ WAY too early to know what it really is, due to spotty reporting (both of deaths and cases), and because patients are still sick and could die tomorrow, next week, etc., even if no new infections occur.
  • I get asked: “How will I know if I have the #coronavirus?”
    Answer: it’s very hard to tell, because the symptoms are similar to having influenza — anywhere on the spectrum from a very bad cold to severe pneumonia with respiratory compromise.
  • #China has a history of not accurately reporting outbreaks, so it’s hard to know exactly what is happening, especially with no free press, internet, etc.
    China’s massive response is VERY telling and strongly suggests that the #CoronavirusOutbreak is VERY bad, especially in Wuhan 
  • Right now, the risk appears low in the US, with only a few isolated cases. Unfortunately, I expect that this will change, as more cases arise here, especially with global travel and how readily this #coronavirus appears to spread (via droplets in the air).
    #CoronavirusOutbreak 

And most importantly, Dr. Grayson responds to questions on how the global population can best protect themselves.

https://twitter.com/DrDenaGrayson/status/1220863166885826560

It remains unclear what led to the ouster of Ziemer and Bolton’s disbanding of the team.

Following Ziemer’s departure from his position with the NSC, he returned to the controversial USAID where he was perviously led President Bush’s Malaria Initiative. Ziemer is now Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) at USAID.

By Emma Fiala | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

Health

New Study Suggests Binge Drinking Could Damage Brain And Cause Lasting Anxiety

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(TMU) – A recent study suggests that binge drinking alcohol could seriously damage the brain in ways that increase the risk of cognitive-behavioral issues like anxiety.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Porto, found that just ten days of binge drinking cause immune cells in the brain to destroy connections between neurons, which leads to anxiety and other mental health issues.

It is important to note that these were not human studies, as the test subjects were mice, but these types of experiments typically give significant insight into how different substances affect the brains of humans.

Study co-author João Relvas, told Inverse that, [We] don’t have any reason to believe that the same mechanisms will not be operating in the human brain. Even for a short period of time, excessive drinking is likely to affect the brain, increasing the level of anxiety, a relevant feature in alcohol abuse and addiction.”

“The dangers of alcohol drinking, especially amongst the younger population, have been widely underestimated and excessive alcohol drinking is socially relatively well tolerated. Increasing public awareness and education of the young can, together with other measures, change the way society looks at alcohol intake,” Relvas added.

In the study, the researchers broke the mice off into two groups. One group was given alcohol over a 10 day time period, while the other group was not. Half of the mice were given 1.5 grams per kilogram of ethyl alcohol each day, which is the equivalent of five drinks for an adult human that weighs 165 pounds.

After 10 days, the researchers looked at the mice’s brain tissue and found that the mice who consumed alcohol had significant damage to the area of the brain that controls complex cognition and decision making, which resulted in increased anxiety.

The researchers also determined the process that caused this damage in the brain. They believe that alcohol boosts the production of an inflammatory molecule called TNF.

In further experiments, they used a drug called pomalidomide to block TNF and found that it prevented anxiety and reduced the impact that the alcohol had on the brain.

The symptoms are “ultimately driven by increased secretion of TNF by microglia, as we show that reducing its production either pharmacologically or genetically can prevent synapse loss and anxiety,” Relvas says.

Relvas also said that this drug could potentially be used to treat alcohol addiction.

“This study suggests that regulating the levels of TNF might eventually be useful when treating alcohol addiction,” he said.

However, the team does not recommend that anyone use TNF inhibitors while binge drinking, because further studies need to be done to confirm the safety and efficacy of the drugs for the purpose.

Furthermore, TNF inhibitors would not prevent any of the other damage that alcohol can do to the rest of the body.

“Alcohol abuse is a leading cause of disease with a massive impact on human life and should be treated as so,” Relvas says.

His team’s findings were published earlier this month in the journal Science Signaling.

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Bizarre

Otherwise healthy man suddenly dies from overdose of Black Licorice candy

Elias Marat

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(TMU) – In a tragic and unpredictable turn of events, a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts died after his heart stopped beating from eating too much black licorice candy. The man’s sudden death at a McDonald’s in 2019 had doctors clueless, and became the focus of a study by senior medical researchers.

We all have our guilty pleasures and vices: it could be that we like to butter our toast on both sides, drink a pot of coffee daily, snack on moonshine cherries, or the common problem of compulsive eating as we sit in front of the TV. And no doubt, these vices do carry a health cost – but the cost of this man’s black licorice habit turned out to be far beyond anything imaginable.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the 54-year-old man didn’t have a history of heart problems. His doctors attested that he regularly took his dog out on walks and was fit enough to meet the physical demands of his job as a construction worker.

However, his relative fitness wasn’t enough to contend with his fatal habit of consuming one to two large bags of black licorice every day for three weeks – a problem which, without any warning, had a massively detrimental impact on his health.

According to the report, the habit resulted in a precipitous drop in his potassium levels, causing his sudden heart failure at the McDonald’s. After suffering cardiac arrest and collapsing, the man never regained consciousness and died 24 hours after arriving at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We almost didn’t believe it when we figured it out,” Dr. Jacqueline B. Henson, who treated the man while she worked at the hospital, told New York Times. “We were all shocked and surprised.”

Doctors soon discovered that the man had a generally poor diet and consumed at least a pack of cigarettes a day, according to friends and family. Yet none of those factors could explain his death. As it turned out, his death could be traced to his sudden switch from red to black licorice three weeks prior to his death.

Officials of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have announced that consuming two ounces of black licorice for 12 days can result in an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia for people aged 40 and over, as well as high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure.

Medical practitioners are generally taught that black licorice contains glycyrrhizic acid, a common plant extract used to sweeten candies and other foods that can dangerously reduce potassium levels when consumed in high doses.

The ingredient is also common in other foods and drinks that contain licorice root, such as jelly beans, licorice tea, certain types of chewing gum, popular anise liquors like ouzo, raki, arak, and anisette, and a number of Belgian beers. Sweet-flavored chewing tobaccos also commonly contain licorice.

However, overconsuming these products cause our potassium levels to plunge, throwing off the balance of sodium and potassium that’s necessary for a healthy functioning heart. When our potassium levels drop, sodium levels skyrocket – resulting in arrhythmia and boosting our blood pressure.

The Massachusetts case, however, is an extreme one and far from the norm, noted Dr. Henson, who said that the occasional licorice treat shouldn’t be confused with poison.

“It’s fine taken in sort of small amounts, infrequently,” Henson said. “But when taken on a regular basis, it can lead to these issues.”

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Consciousness

Ann Arbor becomes latest city to decriminalize “magic” mushrooms and other natural psychedelics

Elias Marat

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(TMU) – The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has effectively decriminalized psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms along with other natural psychedelics in the latest sign that public opinion across the U.S. is continuing to turn against prohibitionist policies.

On Monday, the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution that would make it the city’s lowest-ranked law enforcement priority to the investigate or arrest anyone planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, using or possessing entheogenic plants or plant compounds.

The resolution applies to all psychedelics derived from plants and fungi, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine, mescaline, peyote and other substances with hallucinogenic properties deemed illegal under state and federal law.

The council also requires the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office to halt the prosecution of those involved in the use of entheogenic plants and plant compounds.

Ann Arbor now joins a growing list of cities including Denver, Colorado, and the California cities of Santa Cruz and Oakland that have decriminalized all entheogenic plants. Other cities including Chicago and Austin are considering similar measures. A ballot measure that would legalize the use of psilocybin in therapeutic settings will also be voted on in the state of Oregon this November.

The move to de-prioritize law enforcement around psychedelics was spearheaded by the efforts of local grassroots advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor, or DNA2.

At the beginning of the year, councilmembers were skeptical about any move to decriminalize psychedelics. Since then, they’ve found themselves convinced by evidence of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of psychedelics, including for mental health treatment and treating addiction, reports MLive.

Councilmember Zachary Ackerman cited the opening of a $17 million psychedelic and consciousness research center by Johns Hopkins Medicine as proof of “the tremendous potential of these future medicines.” The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is currently conducting clinical trials to find out whether the drug is suitable as a prescription drug for the U.S. market.

Councilmember Jack Eaton described the council’s unanimous backing for the decriminalization resolution as carrying on the city’s legacy of backing the local decriminalization of m******** during the 1970s, when the plant was still illegal under state and federal law.

The resolution doesn’t allow for the commission of crimes or any significant violation of state or federal law, and any use of entheogenic substances that pose a threat to public health and safety could require intervention by law enforcement bodies.

In the resolution, entheogenic plants are defined as the full spectrum of plants and fungi that contain indole amines, tryptamines and phenethylamines “that can benefit psychological and physical wellness, support and enhance religious and spiritual practices, and can reestablish human’s inalienable and direct relationship to nature.”

The resolution also states that psychedelic substances can be used to address substance abuse problems, addiction, recidivism, trauma, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, grief, cluster headaches and other debilitating conditions.

“The use of entheogenic plants, which can catalyze profound experiences of personal and spiritual growth, have been shown by scientific and clinical studies and traditional practices to be beneficial to the health and well-being of individuals and communities in addressing these conditions,” it states.

Psilocybin mushrooms are currently considered a Schedule 1 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

However, psilocybin – the main chemical component of the mushrooms – was designated as a “breakthrough therapy” by the FDA in 2019 due to the positive results of psilocybin in treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health problems.

Studies have also shown how a microdose of psilocybin—far from the level needed for a full-blown trip—actually increases the creativity and empathy of participants.

Other researchers have also found that psilocybin has provided effective help to patients struggling to quit other addictive substances such as cigarettes.

The newfound recognition of psilocybin therapy as a valid treatment has eroded old stereotypes of psilocybin as some intoxicating and hallucination-inducing party drug that drives its users insane – a reputation that largely grew out of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s when they were widely known as “psychedelic” or “magic” mushrooms.

The resolution further notes that entheogenic plants have been the basis of spiritual practices by human cultures for thousands of years, yet those who seek them for the sake of improving their health and wellbeing must risk arrest and prosecution to obtain them.

“Decriminalization of naturally occurring medicines is necessary for progress,” councilmember Jeff Hayner said in a press release from DNA2 last week, reports Detroit Metro Times. “We can no longer turn a blind eye towards the wisdom of indigenous peoples, and the bounty the earth provides. I have been moved by the testimonies of those who have found profound relief from the use of entheogenic plants.”

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