Russia says ‘Nyet’ to any more visits from hundreds of members of Congress

NC bill seeks to protect doctors who prescribe off-label drugs for COVID. But docs don’t need the protection.

Rep. Bobby Hanig

A bill filed this week would prevent the state Medical Board from disciplining doctors who prescribe drugs off-label to treat COVID-19.

It looks like doctors don’t need a legal shield, though. The NC Medical Board doesn’t discipline doctors for prescribing for off-label uses.

House bill 1085,  sponsored by Currituck County Republican Rep. Bobby Hanig, does not mention ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine by name, but it is similar to bills filed more than a dozen states, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards, that seek to shield doctors from discipline for prescribing these unproven drugs as COVID treatments.

Republican lawmakers in a committee late last year questioned a UNC epidemiologist about allowing hospitalized COVID patients to take ivermectin, a drug approved for treatment of parasitic infections in humans.

Hanig could not be reached for comment Friday.

Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are not FDA approved COVID treatments. Oral medications Paxlovid and Legevrio, and monoclonal antibodies are authorized  COVID-19 therapies for some patients who aren’t hospitalized, and remdesivir is authorized to treat hospitalized patients.

The North Carolina Medical Board does not have any position on the bill, spokeswoman Jean Fisher Brinkley said Friday.

Off-label use of prescription drugs is common, she said, and the board does not discipline doctors or physician assistants for employing a routinely used treatment strategy. The board has not cited any doctors for prescribing ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine, she said.

In August 2020, the board issued a “public letter of concern” about a physician assistant who prescribed hydroxychloroquine to himself and family members for the purpose of stockpiling it. He prescribed the drug without documenting it on patient charts.

Infant formula stockpile for the U.S. suggested by FDA chief

New legislation would allow DEQ to regulate some types of PFAS in drinking water

The Cape Fear River, the drinking water source for hundreds of thousands of people, is contaminated with PFAS, some of it from groundwater seeps originating at the Chemours plant in north Bladen County. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

After five years without meaningful legislation on PFAS contamination, North Carolina could adopt its own threshold for the toxic compounds in drinking water, under a new bill introduced in the General Assembly yesterday.

House Bill 1095 would authorize the state’s Environmental Management Commission to adopt a maximum contaminant level for one or more per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances compounds. Currently, there is only a health advisory goal of 70 parts per trillion for total PFAS in drinking water, which is legally unenforceable. For GenX, a type of PFAS, the goal is 140 ppt.

State health and environmental officials have advised not to drink water that contains more than 10 ppt of any individual compound.

Depending on exposure levels, PFAS have been linked to multiple health problems, including thyroid disorders, reproductive and fetal development problems, immune system deficiencies and kidney and testicular cancers. In addition to drinking water, PFAS are found in microwave popcorn bags, fast food containers, stain- and grease-resistant fabrics, and hundreds of other consumer products.

The EPA has yet to regulate PFAS in drinking water, although it plans to release a more stringent toxicity assessment for GenX and PFBS this year. States can use those assessments to set their own regulations.

North Carolina lags behind several states in regulating PFAS. Michigan and New York, for example, have maximum contaminant thresholds of 8 ppt and 10 ppt, respectively for certain types of the compounds.

PFAS don’t break down in the environment, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals.” Traditional drinking water treatment systems can’t remove the compounds.

Primary bill sponsors are Republicans Ted Davis, Jr. (New Hanover), Frank Iler (Brunswick), and Charles Miller (Brunswick, New Hanover), and Democrat Robert Reives (Chatham, Durham).

GenX was discovered in Wilmington’s public drinking water system more than five years ago. Chemours,  100 miles upstream near the Cumberland and Bladen County line, discharged GenX into the Cape Fear River; the company is also the primary source of other PFAS in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin. PFAS  from other sources have also been detected in Pittsboro’s drinking water, in Chatham County.

Since 2017, the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority has installed expensive technology — at ratepayers’ expense — to sharply reduce levels of PFAS in drinking water. The proposed legislation addresses that inequity by authorizing the NC Department of Environmental Quality to order responsible parties to repay the public water system for costs associated with reducing levels of PFAS contamination below the permissible concentration level.

In turn, the public utility that had expended funds would reimburse ratepayers through a reduction in future rates.

The bill would appropriate $2 million  in nonrecurring funds for the 2022-2023 fiscal year to DEQ to carry out the legislation’s requirement. The funds would be deposited into a special PFAS Public Water Protection Fund. The NC Collaboratory, housed at UNC-Chapel Hill, would receive an additional $2 million in nonrecurring funds to, conduct research and analysis to provide scientific and  economic support for maximum contaminant levels for PFAS.

SB 830, sponsored by Sen. Kirk DeViere (D-Cumberland) would appropriate $5 million to phase out firefighting foams that contain PFAS, and replace them with materials that don’t contain those compounds. The Firefighting Foam Replacement Fund would award up to $100,000 in grants to eligible fire departments to cover costs related to the replacement.

Firefighting foam is another major source of PFAS contamination. The foam not only contaminates waterways, but has been linked to elevated levels of cancers in firefighters. PFAS has also been detected in firefighting gear.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied 29,992 career firefighters in San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York, and compared their cancer rates with the U.S. general population. The results of the study, published in 2020, confirmed higher rates of several cancers, including those affecting the digestive and urinary tracts, in firefighters, as well as leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Senators advance controversial ‘Parents’ Bill of Rights’ disregarding concerns of educators, LGBTQ advocates (w/video)

Members of the Senate Health Care Committee sought to limit debate over the Parents’ Bill of Right Thursday by restricting comments to only the portion of the bill that deals with parental consent for treatment.

But even with that narrow focus, more than half a dozen speakers told lawmakers House Bill 755 would be harmful to LGBTQ students, who may not be out to their parents or peers.

Gretchen Phillips

The current version of the bill prohibits curriculum that teaches about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3. The measure also spells out parents’ legal rights to consent or withhold consent from participation in reproductive health and safety education programs.

If a child asked that a different name or pronoun be used, the school would be required to first notify the parents of the request.

Gretchen Phillips, a former teacher and Wake County parent, said she has real concerns about the health care implications of the bill.

“This is going to make it so teachers feel pressure not meet their students where their needs are, but to go by their parents’ comfort level, even when their parents’ comfort level is directly against the best interest of the mental health care of their children,” Phillips testified.

Iliana Santillan

Iliana Santillan, executive director of El Pueblo, said as a queer activist and former teacher she was troubled by the message the bill sends to young people like her own teenage daughter.

“When she was in third grader her peers would ask her why she didn’t have a Dad, why her Mom was with another woman. I am proud of who I am today,” Santillan said.

Santillan said rather than fast track this measure, lawmakers should turn their attention to the Leandro school funding plan.

“Get more nurses, get more counselors in the school system. What you are doing now is wrong and it’s going to damage families like mine. It’s going to further exacerbate the anxiety of my child.”

Olivia Neal said the bill was laden with discrimination against North Carolina’s LGBTQ community.

Olivia Neal

“I was a queer student in North Carolina public schools,” Neal said. “If this bill were made law in my youth, I would have lost many of the outlets that I had to explore and understand my identity without the interference of the government or the school system.

“Even as someone with parents who supported my queerness, I would have felt unsafe seeking help in my school, even mental health care, if I was constantly worried about being outed by my counselors before I was ready.”

Neal said students should be focused on learning in school, not worried about the backlash and abuse they might be subjected to when they return home.

“In some cases, school may be the only place where LGBTQ students can access supportive mental health care, but this bill would force them to run the risk of outing. The reality is for LGBTQ students, parents do not always have their best interest at heart.”

Forty-five percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year, according to a recent survey by the Trevor Project.

“This bill is not about securing rights for parents, it’s about trying to eradicate LGBTQ identity from public life,” Neal added.

Taylor Cortes, a former educator, said the bill was unfair for LGBTQ youth and their families.

Ari Becker

“Unfortunately there are many households where children are not safe coming out. Forcibly making children come out in environments that are hostile will absolutely put their lives at risk,” Cortes warned.

“Children are not their parents’ property. They are their own people. And if they are in an environment that is not safe to their authentic selves, they need to be protected.”

Ari Becker told lawmakers before she was a graduate student at NC State, she was a homeless LGBTQ youth.

“A student who discloses they want to use a different name or pronoun to their teacher or health care provider may have good reason not to want this reported to their parents,” Becker testified. “Forcibly outing children will put them in physical danger.”

Becker said the bill as written would allow for broad censorship, leaving some educators unable to teach about historical figures if they were part of the LGBTQ community.

Sen. Ralph Hise

“Would this result in people life me being ousted from the classroom?” Becker asked.

Senator Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) dismissed the concerns.

“Take a school nurse, how many hours do you think they have actually spent with a child?” Hise asked his colleagues.

“When it comes to health and those sorts of things, parents have been there since the children were born. They know the mental health issues they’ve gone through; they know the physical health issues and having a school professional on limited knowledge be able to make those decisions and not inform the parents should be criminal as a matter of fact.”

As for concerns a child might face physical abuse at home from being outed, Hise said teachers with proof have a duty to report that abuse to the department of social services.

HB 755 advanced on a voice vote Thursday and moves to the Senate Rules Committee next week.

Bonus content: Watch a sampling of some of the educators and LGBTQ advocates speaking out against HB 755.