Oregon Public Broadcasting

Health Officials Find Heavy Metals In Southeast Portland Air

Oregon health officials are warning of unhealthy levels of heavy metals in Southeast Portland's air. They found high levels of cadmium and arsenic at a monitoring station near SE Powell Boulevard and SE 22nd Avenue.

David Monro with the state Department of Environmental Quality said his agency has been studying the correlation between metals in the air and metals found in moss.

It's an ongoing study DEQ is doing with the U.S. Forest Service, Monro said. When the agencies found higher-than-expected levels of arsenic and cadmium in Portland, they decided to publish some of their results early.  

"There's a lot of information right now that we don't have, but we have enough information to know that we have levels of metals in the air that are of concern, and we wanted to start getting that information out to people," Monro said.     

Exposure to heavy metals like arsenic and cadmium can increase cancer risks and damage kidneys, lungs and bones.

Advocacy group Neighbors for Clean Air is connecting the discovery to a possible cancer cluster in Southeast Portland.

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Oregon Senator Seeks Different Way To Develop New Drugs

Sen. Ron Wyden wants to shake up the way we pay for prescription drugs.

He’s issued an open letter asking what new tools the nation needs to address the problem.

Last month the Senate Finance Committee released a study into drug manufacturer Gilead. It showed the company didn’t consider affordability when setting the price of a new Hepatitis C medication at $1,000 a pill.

Wyden, D-Oregon, said the company hardly mentions, in a 20,000-page report, the usual reasons for high prices: research and development.

“Affordability and access was pretty much an afterthought," Wyden said. "All they were interested in was maximizing their revenue."

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, joined the Oregon Democrat in the letter. They’re asking what measures might improve price transparency, but at the same time maintain incentives to manufacture new drugs.

Manufacturer Gilead said its new drugs cost less than the old ones and they work better.

Dozens of pharmaceutical companies recently called on the World Economic Forum to develop new ways to pay them for developing antibiotics.

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Portland Non-Profit To Build New Health Clinic And Apartment Complex

A Portland non-profit has unveiled plans to build a new integrated health clinic and low-income apartment complex.

Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare is spending $14 million on an apartment complex for veterans, people with mental disabilities and low-income families.

CEO Derald Walker says it’s also spending $9 million on a new integrated clinic.  

“The head and the body haven’t always been connected. If you want mental health services, [for] depression, anxiety or anything like that, you have to go to one provider, perhaps across town. If you are being seen by a primary care physician, you have to go somewhere else," he said. 

"Everybody that gets served in the clinic for health care will both have behavioral health services, as well as primary health services. That’s very unique.”

Some of the money to build the center is coming from the City of Portland as part of a settlement between the Portland Police Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice.

The new ‘Garlington Center’ is expected to open in 2017.

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Oregon Couple Says Opioid Restrictions Have Gone Too Far

The state of Oregon is trying to reduce the amount of opioids doctors prescribe to help cut down on the state's high rate of addiction and overdose. But some chronic pain patients say they're having trouble getting the medication they need just to get on with daily life.

"Chuck," whose real name OPB is withholding at his request, told Think Out Loud that he's jumped through hoops and has tried many alternatives to opioids. He says he's afraid that if he uses his real name, his business will suffer and it will make dealing with the medical system even more difficult.

In the 15 years since his chronic neck and back pain began, Chuck has tried everything from stretching, exercise, acupuncture and massage to extreme treatments like nerve burning. He said he'd go off the meds immediately if he could do without them.

Chuck said he needs the medication, but he's not an addict: 

"I like to think of it more like a dependence, like someone on a heart medicine and they have to have it everyday, a certain amount, in order to have a livable, decent life. And that's the way I see myself."

He said doctors' skepticism and the obstacles they present makes managing his condition even harder — and he's still in constant pain.

"I understand the caution, because so many people are abusing, but there are those of us — there's gotta be thousands like myself — that need to exist and need to carry on (our) regular lives."

His wife, Michelle, said that there is a big difference between the way an addict uses narcotics and the way her husband, Chuck, uses them.

"An addict takes their drugs to get away from life, and a chronic pain patient takes drugs to try to get their life back."

Michelle said both she and Chuck fully support all the alternative therapies for pain, like meditation and massage. He's tried them. But, she said, she's very concerned about what might happen if he can't get the amount of medicine he needs simply to get through the day.

"The biggest danger for people in chronic pain is not addiction. It's suicide, and that's my biggest fear. That his pain will go untreated, and it'll get really bad, and I'll lose him. That's my biggest fear."

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Oregon Still Working On Details To Allow Pharmacists To Prescribe Birth Control

Pharmacists are scheduled to start prescribing birth control directly to women in Oregon next month. The details are still being worked out.

Instead of getting a prescription from a doctor, women will be able to go directly to a pharmacist for their birth control.

Advocates say it gives Oregonians the easiest access to the birth control in the nation.

Fiona Karbowicz with the Oregon State Board of Pharmacy said women will still have to answer a 20-question risk assessment.

“The purpose of this is to evaluate any potential contraindicating medical conditions,” she said.

For example, a 35-year-old smoker may not be able to get the prescription because the risk of a heart attack outweighs the benefits of birth control.

The state is still working out how pharmacists will be paid.  Previously, they haven’t had to bill for writing prescriptions.

The state hopes the new system will reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies. About half of pregnancies each year in the U.S. are unintended.

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OSU Develops New System For Freezing Human Tissue

Lots of human tissue is frozen, from blood to embryos.

But the size and complexity is constrained by ice crystals that form when frozen. Crystals can damage and even destroy a cell.

Researchers use what’s called a cryoprotectant, like the stuff you put in a car to stop the radiator water from freezing to reduce that damage. But cryoprotectants are toxic.

Now, Adam Higgins with Oregon State University says they’ve developed a new way of using cryoprotectants, “The way to reduce toxicity is to intentionally cause the cells to swell, but not swell too much," he said.

"And that swollen cell can take up more cryoprotectant at a lower concentration than an unswollen cell can.”

Higgins has been able to reduce damage in two dimensional tissue, lying on a petri dish. But now he has to show the process can work on larger, three dimensional tissue samples.

The findings were announced in the Public Library of Science.

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