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On Tuesday, September 15, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and health care reporter Caitlin Owens hosted a conversation on the state of medicine and chronic pain, exploring how policymakers and professionals are approaching responsible long-term pain management, featuring Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), Arthritis Foundation President & CEO Ann Palmer and Director of the Office of Pain Policy at the National Institutes of Health Dr. Linda Porter.

Rep. Burgess discussed the difference between Congress addressing the opioid crisis in 2017 and its failure to reach an agreement on the COVID stimulus.

  • On the opioid crisis response in 2017: "[That was] the way Congress is supposed to work. This was the legislative process being built from the ground up rather than top down."
  • How COVID-19 has exacerbating existing problems around resources in health care: "The downstream effects [are] disrupted cash flow for hospitals, medical practices, clinics. All of that has sort of compounded the chronic problems of lack of adequate resources."

Dr. Porter highlighted the effect of the pandemic on patients who experience chronic pain and discussed the recent spike in opioid overdoses:

  • On chronic pain during the pandemic: "If [patients] stop or slow treatments, their pain can get worse. Pain can be exacerbated by depression, which I think, given the isolation has been a big factor for people during COVID."
  • On patients struggling with opioid use disorders: "The rate of [opioid] overdose has vastly increased since COVID started...It's harder for [patients] because there may be a loss of jobs, a loss of income. And so all these things begin to contribute even more so to their opioid use disorder."

Ann Palmer unpacked the many ways that chronic pain impacts everyday life for patients.

  • "Pain prevents people from participating in life, may lead to a more sedentary lifestyle and the comorbidities associated with that, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure. It certainly leads to sleeplessness, and thus fatigue.

This event was a part two of a two-part series. You can watch part one here.

Thank you Pfizer & Lilly for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Nov 24, 2020 - Health

What overwhelmed hospitals look like

A healthcare professional suits up to enter a COVID-19 patient's room in the ICU at Van Wert County Hospital in Ohio. Photo: Megan Jelinger/AFP

Utah doctors are doing what they say is the equivalent of rationing care. Intensive care beds in Minnesota are nearly full. And the country overall continues to break hospitalization records — all as millions of Americans travel to spend Thanksgiving with friends and family.

Why it matters: America's health care workers are exhausted, and the sickest coronavirus patients aren't receiving the kind of care that could make the difference between living and dying.

Updated Nov 24, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: Health equity and the next four years

On Tuesday, November 24 Axios' Caitlin Owens hosted a conversation on the importance of health equity in the new presidential administration, featuring Inova Loudoun Hospital President Deborah Addo, Harvard Opinion Research Program director and professor Robert Blendon and GE Healthcare's U.S. and Canada CEO Everett Cunningham.

Professor Robert Blendon discussed the outsized impact of the pandemic on minorities in America, highlighting the severe health and economic consequences.

  • On the precarity of the economic situation: “We have people who were hanging on by the fingernail when there was federal aid, and there’s no federal aid [now]. We’re about to stop the limited protection that you can’t be evicted if you can’t pay your rent or utility.”
  • On how dire the COVID-19 pandemic is for communities of color in the coming months: "I want to be very cautious here. Unless a number of things are done on an emergency basis in the next six months, a lot of Black and Hispanic Americans are going to die."

Everett Cunningham unpacked how COVID-19 has changed the field of medicine, and how the shift to telemedicine can be a part of expanding health access.

  • On improving rural health care: "Irrespective of which zip code you're in, you should get the highest quality of care... [Telemedicine] allows us to reach out to the rural patients and give them that same quality of care."

Deborah Addo discussed policy solutions to address and help reduce public health inequities .

  • On paid leave as public health: "If you know that if you come to work ill you'll be paid, but if you stay home and you're ill, you won't be paid—that's the difference between making rent and keeping the lights on [or not]. It's unlikely that you are going to let your employer know you're not feeling well. We need to help to remove that barrier."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with USAFacts Steve Ballmer and discussed USAFacts' efforts to track the spread of COVID-19 around the country.

  • "We've got a map here that shows how COVID cases per capita keeps moving: we started in the east, then south, then moved to the west. And now there are counties in North Dakota where one out of five people in the county have had COVID. So I'm very worried about it."

Thank you USAFacts for sponsoring this event.

USAID chief tests positive for coronavirus

An Air Force cargo jet delivers USAID supplies to Russia earlier this year. Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images

The acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development informed senior staff Wednesday he has tested positive for coronavirus, two sources familiar with the call tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Barsa, who staffers say rarely wears a mask in their office, is the latest in a series of senior administration officials to contract the virus. His positive diagnosis comes amid broader turmoil at the agency following the election.