NIH on COPD: Missing the Point, Too

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When you politicize science — or try to — you create new opportunities to waste taxpayer ben_franklinmoney.

The NIH has announced a new “National Action Plan” to combat COPD, the third leading cause of death in the US.

The third leading cause of death in the United States, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, affects 16 million Americans diagnosed with the disease and millions more who likely do not know they have it. The disease, which costs Americans more than $32 billion a year, can stifle a person’s ability to breathe, lead to long-term disability, and significantly affect quality of life. (1)

In building the action plan, NIH assembled workshops involving patients, medical professionals, academics, and pharmaceutical industry representatives.

That’s the problem.

COPD isn’t curable, but it may be preventable. However, to prevent it, you have to focus on causes, not treatments after the disease has developed. What are the causes?

  • Smoking — 20 to 30% of smokers develop COPD according to the Mayo Clinic, although others may have reduced lung function (4)
  • Long term exposure to industrial dust and chemical fumes (e.g., the famous “black lung” of coal miners)
  • Long term exposure to air pollution
  • Premature birth with lung damage
  • Genetics

Some authorities try to put the entire blame for COPD on the cigarette industry. That’s a simple answer, and as usual with simple answers, it’s probably not correct. Mayo’s analysis is probably more prudent, splitting blame between cigarettes and environmental factors.

Here’s the issue:

  • The workshops didn’t include representatives of the industries creating the pollution that causes COPD. Where are reps for the auto, power, chemical or cigarette industries?
  • Further, the current administration has made a clear statement that environmental issues don’t matter.

We can anticipate that this initiative will focus on more expensive treatments instead of prevention. That simply drives healthcare costs higher without solving anything.


Sources:

  1. National Institutes of Health, “COPD National Action Plan aims to reduce the burden of the third leading cause of death,” press release, 22 May 2017. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/copd-national-action-plan-aims-reduce-burden-third-leading-cause-death
  2. WebMD, “COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) – Causes,” undated. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/tc/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd-cause
  3. Ann Pietrangelo, “Everything You Need to Know About Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD),” Healthline, 25 October 2016. http://www.healthline.com/health/copd
  4. Mayo Clinic, “COPD – symptoms and causes,” undated. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/dxc-20204886
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