Vocablets in the News: Price Gouging on Life-Saving Medicine

What’s the story behind the snippet?  Let’s take a closer look.

The Word:

When I saw this Vocablet, I knew I had to investigate further.  The idea that a hospital might not have the medicines it needs to treat patients or that the unreasonably high cost of medicine might prevent hospitals from being able to properly care for patients is unsettling, to say the least.

The whole story paints a troubling picture of health care in the United States, touching on the issues of relying on for-profit industries in life-and-death situations.

The Story:

Hospital Drug Shortages Prove Costly and Deadly (NPR, 24 Sept 2011)

Hospitals are facing a growing crisis in shortages of important drugs, including those for chemotherapy, pain management, and battling infection.

These shortages force hospitals to buy medicines from secondary vendors, most of which increase the price of these ordinarily inexpensive drugs by an average of 650 percent.  In one extreme case, a drug for high blood pressure that usually costs $25.90 was priced at $1,200.

The main causes of these shortages, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are manufacturing problems, such as contamination.  Some companies have also stopped producing these drugs altogether because of their slim profit margins.

Companies are not required to alert the FDA when they choose to stop manufacturing drugs, which means that the FDA cannot know to start looking for new sources of a drug until a shortage has been reported.

Why It Matters:

The shortages have required hospitals to delay surgeries and cancer treatments, caused patients unnecessary pain, and forced hospitals to give less effective treatments.

If shortages continue, hospitals will no longer be able to absorb the costs, leaving insurers and patients to pick up the tab.

Drug shortages are affecting research, preventing scientists from working on clinical studies and developing new treatments.  These effects are long-term, and could seriously delay the advancement of medicine.

There are risks involved in buying from secondary vendors.  Hospitals can’t know if those drugs were stolen, if they were refrigerated properly, if they were manufactured properly and safely, or even if they are past the expiration date.

Legislation is pending to increase penalties for drug thefts from warehouses and to require companies to altert the FDA when they anticipate a shortage.  However, only three states currently have legislation against price-gouging medicines.

Meanwhile, drug shortages have directly caused at least 15 deaths, but many deaths and harmful side effects go unreported.

Making It Memorable:

What did YOU think when you saw this Vocablet?  Do you have any thoughts or stories about drug shortages or other problems with healthcare in the U.S.?  How is this Vocablet and its story memorable to you?

Vocablets in the News: Test-Tube Burgers?

There’s more to every Vocablet than what’s on the surface.  Let’s take a closer look at the story behind the snippet.

The Word:

Would You Eat Meat Grown In A Lab? (NPR, 30 August 2011)

My answer?  I don’t know.

I don’t eat meat.  The ethical and environmental problems of eating meat seem insurmountable to me, so that’s the personal decision I’ve made for my life.

But if meat could be grown without the suffering of animals or the enormous depletion of natural resources that currently accompany industrial meat production?

That certainly changes things.

But then, eating meat grown by scientists seems… weird, doesn’t it?  Separated from Earth and the natural order of the world.

Here’s the story; decide for yourself.

The Story:

Scientists are working on developing ways to grow meat in laboratories without requiring live animals.

They start by taking stem cells from animals and placing them in a nutrient-rich broth, where they rapidly grow.  The next step is to create muscle tissue from the cells, which involves figuring out a way to stimulate the muscle so it won’t atrophy and die.

Because the cells come from animals and replicate organically, the resulting meat would not be synthetic — it just wouldn’t be from an individual animal that had once been alive.

Researchers say the taste and texture should be indistinguishable from other meat.

Why It Matters:

Americans eat a lot of meat.  Increasingly, other countries are adopting a more American diet, which means much more meat.  These factors, along with our rapidly increasing population — from 7 billion today to an anticipated 9 billion in 2050 — mean that the demand for meat is skyrocketing, and that isn’t likely to change.

Unfortunately, all that meat takes a huge toll on the planet’s resources.  Livestock is already responsible for almost 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention the huge amounts of grain, land, and water needed to feed the animals, plus the environmental costs of slaughtering and processing.

There has also been backlash against the meat industry due to the cruel treatment that food animals often receive, both at slaughter and during their entire lives.

Lab-grown meat would eliminate all of the ethical and many of the environmental concerns that many consumers have about eating meat.  It may also be a necessary step if we are to face the challenges that face our species as we continue to deplete Earth’s resources over the next century.

So, in ten or twenty years when you pull up to the window at your favorite drive-through fast food restaurant, that burger you chow down on may not have come from a life of misery, a terrifying death, and a huge environmental footprint, but from a team of scientists and a petri dish.

And you’ll never taste the difference.

Making It Memorable:

What did YOU think when you saw this Vocablet?  Do you have any thoughts, ideas, or stories about meat, its environmental impact, animal welfare, or the prospect of growing meat in a lab?  How is this word and its story memorable to you?

Vocablets in the News: Did Lance Armstrong Cheat?

What’s the story behind this Vocablet?  Let’s dive a little deeper to see what’s really going on.

The Word:

The Story:

Teammate accuses Lance Armstrong of doping (CBS News, 20 May 2011)

I don’t follow professional cycling.  I don’t follow any professional sports, to be honest.  But even I know about Lance Armstrong’s basic story — how he won the Tour de France a record-breaking seven times, even after battling testicular cancer.

The Tour de France is a long, intense, competitive race that lasts for three weeks.

It’s an inspiring story, and his legacy has been firmly established as one of the greatest athletes of our time and as a tireless activist in the fight against cancer, having created the Lance Armstrong Foundation to fund cancer research and support cancer patients.

All of that came crashing down recently when a close teammate appeared on 60 Minutes, alleging that Armstrong, along with the rest of his team, used doping to enhance their performance when they competed.

Why It Matters:

“Doping,” as it’s colloquially known in professional racing, can mean a few different things.  Originally, it meant blood doping, a process in which a cyclist would give blood before a race, store it, and then transfuse it back into his body at some point during the race.  Now, doping usually refers to taking EPO, a drug used to increase the body’s supply of red blood cells.

The process works because having more red blood cells allows more oxygen to get to the muscles, allowing the cyclist to go faster and for longer distances without getting as tired.

Tyler Hamilton, the teammate making the allegations, claims that not only was Armstrong and the rest of the team (including himself) doping, but that it was sanctioned and encouraged by the team’s administrators.

There are even implications that Armstrong’s donations of money to the International Cycling Union — the organization that polices doping — were intended to pay for preferential treatment for himself and his teammates, and to cover up any positive tests that they may have found.

Armstrong maintains that he was never involved with doping, and has even demanded an apology for the accusations made against him.

Making It Memorable:

What did YOU think when you saw this Vocablet?  Do you think that Hamilton is telling the truth?  If so, do you think Armstrong should confess?  Or do you think this is an attempt to discredit Armstrong’s success?  How is this word and its story memorable to you?

Looking for related words?  Try these studylists: Sports, Sports Figures

Vocablets in the News: Making Friends with the Neighbors

What’s really going on in this Vocablet?  Let’s take a closer look at the story behind the snippet.

The Word:


The Story:

Queen Elizabeth II visits the Republic of Ireland (NPR, 17 May 2011)

I have to admit, United-States-centric American citizen that I am, I didn’t fully understand why the Queen’s visit to Ireland would be so important.  Yes, I’m aware of the history of bad blood between the two nations — rebellion and war do tend to strain relations — but I thought that surely these close neighbors had moved on enough to be civil, right?

View Larger Map

It turns out that some historical animosities run deep, and repairing relationships can take longer than expected.

Queen Elizabeth II’s visit to the Republic of Ireland in May marked the first time a British monarch has visited the country since its independence.

The last visit was made by the Queen’s grandfather, George V, a century ago!


Why It Matters:

Some splinter groups, unhappy with the idea of a British monarch on Irish soil, planted real and hoax bombs in Dublin.  The threats were successfully defused, but the steps taken to protect the Queen on her trip still constituted the largest security operation in Ireland’s history.

In spite of these problems, the four-day visit represented a step forward for relations between the two countries, which have been slowly recovering from the decades-long grudge held on both sides following Ireland’s 1919-1921 war of independence.

The Queen’s vibrant green ensemble, no doubt chosen out of celebration and respect for the Emerald Isle, was a prominent visual symbol of Britain’s desire for friendship between the two nations.

Let’s just hope the Queen didn’t step on any Irish toes with her choice to decline to taste a perfectly poured pint of Guinness at Dublin’s famous brewery.


Making it Memorable:

What did YOU think when you saw this vocablet?  Do you have any ideas, thoughts, or stories about British/Irish relations or the monarchy?  How is this word and its story meaningful to you?

Looking for related Vocablets?  Try these studylists: Royalty & Tyrants, Countries & Regions

Vocablets in the News: Rogue Planets

What’s really going on behind the Vocablet?  Let’s take a closer look.

The Word:


The Story:

I love space.  I love how little we know about it, which means constant research and amazing discoveries.  I love how every time we think we have it figured out, we learn something completely unexpected, allowing for freedom of imagination and speculation when coming up with new theories.  I love trying to expand my brain enough to conceptualize the sheer size of it — which is, of course, impossible.

The universe is really, really big.

Most of that is just empty space between stars.

If you look up into the sky on a clear night without any light pollution, you can see about 2,500 stars.  But our galaxy, the Milky Way, actually has about 300 billion stars.  That’s 300,000,000,000 stars!

And yet, scientists are now saying that the number of planets in our galaxy is even higher. (National Geographic, 18 May 2011)

A new study has shown that a new class of planets, called rogue planets, roam freely around space without being tethered to the gravitational pull of a star.  The ones found so far are Jupiter-like gas giants, but scientists speculate that smaller rogue planets could be out there, undetectable by current methods.

Size comparison -- see the tiny Earth in the middle?

This means that the closest rogue planet to Earth may be nearer than the closest star (other than the sun).


Why It Matters:

Of course, the immediate question that comes to mind is: with all these planets whizzing through space, is it possible that there could be life on any of them?

Are there little green men on planets right next door that we didn't even know were there?

Even without the heat of a nearby star, scientists say it’s possible.  Even some of the coldest planets in our solar system have hot cores, so a rogue planet that’s icy on the outside could be hot in its core, with liquid water in between.

Anything is possible.


Making It Memorable:

What did you think when you saw this vocablet? How is it memorable to YOU?

Do you think there could be life out there on one of these rogue planets, or anywhere at all?  Do you have a story about roving celestial bodies or new research in astronomy?  Make it into a vocablet and post a link!

Vocablets in the News: Sinking Islands

Let’s take a moment to dive deeper into a vocablet and get the whole story behind the snippet.


The Word:


The Story:

Islands are sinking into the ocean (BBC, 13 May 2011)??  What is going on here?

When I first saw this vocablet and its snippet, my thoughts went immediately to global warming and rising sea levels due to the melting of the polar ice cap.  Of course, that’s probably because I live in San Francisco, where the threat of serious damage due to flooding is being predicted for the next 100 years:

The blue and purple areas are vulnerable to flooding from sea level rise.

However, upon reading more about the islands, I learned that it’s not rising sea levels, scientists say, because the sea levels are rising at a lower rate in that region of the world compared to the global average.  Instead, scientists place the blame on the mining of coral reefs, which until 2002 had no regulations to protect the islands.

Beautiful formations like these are destroyed to make building materials and concrete.


 Why It Matters:

The islands were part of a group in the Gulf of Mannar that had been made a biosphere reserve by the Indian government in 1989.  Sadly, this means that, even though the islands were small, their sinking into the ocean means the loss of a huge amount of biodiversity.

View Larger Map

Also worrying is the fact that these islands work as a buffer for the mainland and saved many communities from destruction when the 2004 tsunami struck.

The loss of these islands should serve as a warning to those who have been abusing the gulf’s resources, and as a reminder that if people abuse natural resources instead of valuing and protecting them, they can disappear.


Making It Memorable:

What did YOU think when you saw this vocablet?  Do you have a story about submergence, sea level rise, or coral reef mining?  How is this word and its story meaningful to you?