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Mike Honda pitches ‘Gun Violence Research Act’

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would regain the authority to research the causes, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of gun injuries, under a bill proposed Wednesday by Rep. Mike Honda.

Honda’s Gun Violence Research Act, inspired by a spate of mass shootings on top of the nation’s high death-by-gun rate, also would encourage improvement and expansion of the CDC’s already existing National Violent Death Reporting System, and would give doctors the right to ask patients about firearm possession, speak to them about gun safety, and report a patient’s threat of violence to authorities.

honda.jpg“In Silicon Valley, we recognize the power of research. My Gun Violence Research Act seeks to bring this data-driven approach to the public sphere so that we may develop a more pointed strategy to understand and ultimately better address the public health crisis of gun violence,” Honda, D-San Jose, said in his news release.

“It is my hope that by conducting research into the causes of gun violence, we can better identify warning signs, address any loopholes in oversight, and get people who are prone to gun violence the assistance they need,” he added. “How many times must we bury our loved ones from senseless acts of gun violence before we pass commonsense legislation to understand the problem our society is facing?”

The House Appropriations Committee rejected an amendment in July that would’ve let the CDC study the underlying causes of gun violence. That same month, a federal appeals court upheld a Florida law that limits doctors’ ability to ask questions and record information about patients’ gun ownership.

Honda’s bill has 36 original cosponsors include Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, but about zero likelihood of getting even a committee hearing in the Republican-led House.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence supports it.

“When the cause of death is the same for 32,000 people every year, that’s a public health crisis that demands attention. That’s why it is so important that the Centers for Disease Control study gun violence causes, effects and solutions,” campaign president Dan Gross said. “If this were any other issue — food poisoning, seat belts, anything else — this would be a non-issue, which speaks to the corporate gun lobby’s stranglehold on Washington.”

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said gun violence in cities like Oakland is “intolerable and truly represents a public-health crisis.”

“We are also just beginning to understand the long-term and crushing effects of the trauma inflicted upon children and families whose lives are forever altered by gun violence,” she said. “It is vitally important that the CDC be able to study gun violence and its repercussions in order to combat this epidemic in a meaningful and smart way.”

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Rep. Eric Swalwell attended Ebola hearing in Dallas

Rep. Eric Swalwell was in Dallas on Friday for a House Homeland Security Committee field hearing on the Ebola virus.

The only person so far to be diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil, Thomas Eric Duncan, died Wednesday in Dallas. People with whom he came into contact are being watched carefully for signs of the disease.

Swalwell, D-Dublin, and other members of Congress at Friday’s hearing discussed with health officials how the federal government is working to control the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and prevent a serious outbreak in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security will be implementing enhanced security procedures at the five international airports in the U.S. that account for over 90 percent of travel to the U.S. from areas affected by Ebola.

“As we respond to the Ebola crisis overseas, I called on health officials to aggressively address the situation in West Africa, prepare local hospitals and clinics, and to bust the myths that threaten to cause unnecessary panic,” Swalwell in a statement issued after the hearing.

Swalwell will hold a conference call Tuesday with East Bay hospital officials and the Centers for Disease Control about the Ebola virus and how his office can help to ensure local hospitals and clinics are prepared to screen, diagnose and treat potential Ebola patients.

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Obama names Bay Area doctor as ‘HIV/AIDS’ czar

President Obama today named a Bay Area physician as his HIV/AIDS czar.

Dr. Grant ColfaxDr. Grant Colfax, 47, of Sausalito, will leave his post as head of the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s HIV Prevention Section to become director of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), which coordinates the government’s efforts to reduce the nation’s number of HIV infections and care for citizens with HIV/AIDS.

“Grant’s expertise will be key as we continue to face serious challenges and take bold steps to meet them,” Obama said in a news release. “I look forward to his leadership in the months and years to come.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said the appointment “brings enormous pride to many San Franciscans and prestige to our city’s efforts to increase prevention, ensure treatment, and support research.” She said Colfax has been essential in ensuring San Francisco’s decline in new HIV infections, pioneering evidence-based prevention strategies such as monitoring and mapping “community viral load.” The city/county’s model of HIV/AIDS care “has become the national standard, and today, with the appointment of Grant Colfax, President Obama has recognized our efforts,” she said.

ONAP also coordinates with the National Security Council and the State Department’s Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, and works with international bodies to ensure that America’s response to the global pandemic is fully integrated with other prevention, care, and treatment efforts around the world.

Colfax is Harvard Medical School graduate who completed his medical residency at the University of California, San Francisco. His work in studying HIV testing strategies, clinical trials of medications to treat substance dependence and other HIV prevention methods has been supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And he has been a practicing clinician at the Positive Health Program, San Francisco’s public HIV clinic.

UPDATE @ 2:25 P.M.: Rep. Barbara Lee, who has been a leader in Congress on HIV/AIDS issues, said she looks forward to working with Colfax.

“While we have made tremendous strides over the past thirty years, HIV remains a crisis in our communities – threatening the well-being of our neighborhoods, the health of our families, and the lives of our brothers and sisters,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “However, at this moment of time, an extraordinary opportunity is in front of us. Scientific discovery has brought new powerful tools and created a renewed momentum to do what it takes to bring AIDS to an end.”

“This summer, the United States will host the International AIDS Conference for the first time in 20 years – a remarkable opportunity to take aggressive steps to fight the domestic epidemic and partner with countries in this global fight.”

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Bill aims to curb nation’s overdose epidemic

There’s new federal legislation afoot aimed at reducing the nation’s rising tide of drug overdose deaths – unfortunately, yet another dubious distinction in which California is a leader.

Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., today rolled out the Drug Overdose Reduction Act – making $27 million per year available to cities, states, tribal governments and nonprofits to implement overdose prevention plans – even as the Drug Policy Alliance issued a new report on the problem. (At the moment, despite more than 20,000 U.S. overdose deaths per year, there’s no federal money dedicated to overdose prevention.)

Accidental drug overdose — from drugs both legal and illegal — now ranks second only to auto collisions among the leading causes of accidental deaths in the United States, according to the DPA, and California has the largest number of overdose deaths in the nation: 3,646 Californians died of overdose in 2006, or 10 people per day. In fact, overdose was the leading cause of accidental death for Californians ages 25-64 in 2006, surpassing even motor vehicle accidents, and is the second leading cause for all ages.

What’s fueling the increase? It may not be what you think. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Congress last year:

“One might assume that the increase in drug overdose deaths is due to an increased use of street drugs like heroin and cocaine, because we have in the past associated such drugs with overdoses. However, in a paper published in 2006, the CDC drilled down to another level to look at the codes given to the specific drugs recorded on the death certificates through 2004. When these more specific drugs were tabulated, we found that street drugs were not behind the increase. The increase from 1999 to 2004 was driven largely by opioid analgesics [such as OxyContin and Vicodin], with a smaller contribution from cocaine, and essentially no contribution from heroin. The number of deaths in the narcotics category that involved prescription opioid analgesics increased from 2,900 in 1999 to at least 7,500 in 2004, an increase of 160% in just 5 years. By 2004, opioid painkiller deaths numbered more than the total of deaths involving heroin and cocaine in this category.”

And although the CDC said it’s not easy to project how things have gone in the last few years, what data it has available indicates “that the mortality statistics through 2005 probably underestimate the present magnitude of the problem.”

More, including a California elected official’s unique perspective, after the jump…
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Barbara Lee: We need a domestic war on AIDS

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is the only member of Congress attending the 17th Annual International AIDS Conference, now in progress in Mexico City.

Lee coauthored the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) back in 2003, as well as the recent reauthorization which puts $48 billion toward helping millions of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS around the world. She told me this afternoon she wishes progress in fighting the disease here in the United States would be so successful.

New figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the number of cases reported annually in the U.S. is as high as 56,300, far exceeding old estimate of 40,000. And according to a new report from the Black Aids Institute, if Black America were its own country it would rank 16th worldwide in the number of people infected, more than in Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho or Swaziland.

“It’s time for a domestic PEPFAR,” she told me today, the conference’s hustle and bustle audible behind her voice on her cell phone. “We’re talking about minimally $1.3 billion, and I’m saying we need billions more.”

See more of what Lee said about what we’ve done so far, and what we need to do, after the jump… Continue Reading

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Upcoming Bay Area political events

    Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will host a free forum to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in the African-American community from 10 a.m. to noon tomorrow, Friday, May 9 at the West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline St. CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding will discuss ongoing efforts by the agency to address the local HIV/AIDS crisis, and the Bay Area Black Nurses Association, CAL-PEP, Healthy Oakland Preventative Care Pathways and experts from local HIV/AIDS prevention or advocacy organizations will participate in a panel discussion. Participants can receive free on-site health screenings and HIV/AIDS testing, and hyper-allergenic pillow cases and sheets will be distributed.
    Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, in cooperation with Kaiser Permanente will host a free Women’s Health Fair from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, May 10, in the Karp meeting facility at the San Leandro Public Library, 300 Estudillo Ave. The event offers free screening on bone density, blood glucose levels and more as well as information on nutrition, fitness, cancer, heart disease, mental health and other women’s health concerns. Advance reservations are required; call 510-583-8818 or visit Hayashi’s Web site to RSVP.
    Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his running mate, former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, will speak at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 11 at the Roxie Theater, 3117 16th St. in San Francisco; organizers request a $10 contribution, $5 for students or low-income people, but nobody will be turned away. Nader will be in Berkeley at 1:30 p.m. Monday, May 12, to speak to the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, at 1924 Cedar St. And Gonzlaez will address the Commonwealth Club of California at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 14 at the club’s offices on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco; tickets cost $12 for club members, $20 for non-members or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available through the club’s Web site.