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How disaster pushes medicine forward

In 2020, the world changed more than many of us could have imagined. The pandemic tore apart social structures, grounded travel and led to the deaths of millions. As tragic – and potentially avoidable – as that was, it also holds the seed of something amazing. In the quest to combat such a powerful foe, humans dedicated a jaw-dropping amount of funding, time and brainpower to understanding every possible facet of the virus and how it spread.

Suicides didn’t rise last year, even during lockdown

The pandemic hasn’t driven up suicide rates, even amid Victoria’s worst lockdown, according to preliminary domestic and international data. Fears about suicides were commonly leveraged against calls for stricter measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. Mid 2020, the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre predicted a 25-50% increase in suicides over the next five years – equivalent to between 750 and 1500 deaths per year.

How do we know COVID isn't a bioweapon?

It’s a virus that has infected more than 12 million people and caused more than half a million deaths worldwide. If you have listened to US President Donald Trump and several of his colleagues, the leader of Iran, and official sources in China at various points, this threat came not from nature but was intentional. The conspiracy theory that SARS-CoV-2 actually came from a laboratory has gained traction in recent months, with many accounts blaming the pandemic on a leak (or malicious release).

What is deep brain stimulation? And how does it work?

What if some of today’s hardest-to-treat psychiatric problems could be treated with a zap of electricity to the brain? You may have already heard of this treatment for people with Parkinson’s disease, when an electrode is placed deep into the brain to deliver an electric current. Watching doctors switch on the device is miraculous. You can see the shaking hands immediately steady once the current is switched on.

Turning on to psychedelics: fear and loathing no more

Drugs such as LSD and psilocybin, that for half a century have been demonised as criminal, counterculture and dangerous, are suddenly undergoing a facelift, with scientists busily studying their effects on a range of hard-to-treat psychological problems. It’s a development which Dr Stephen Bright, a senior lecturer in Edith Cowan University, describes as “an international psychedelic science renaissance in the 21st century”.

How the pandemic is affecting sexual health

Society is in upheaval. Healthcare is facing unprecedented disruption. One thing that is easy to overlook amid the massive changes wrought by the coronavirus pandemic is patients’ reproductive and sexual health. Now experts have weighed in on the most important shifts you need to know about this lockdown. Unplanned pregnancies are expected to rise as partners are locked inside, spending more time together, experts warn.

Are we underplaying the downside of medical terminations?

Carla made it to the bin just in time, fingers tightening around the edges as vomit splashed against the cold plastic. As her body spasmed, trying to evict what little was in left in her stomach, she momentarily savoured the brief respite from the vice-like contractions gripping her pelvis. So, this was the “bad period pain” Carla was told might be in store after swallowing the second lot of abortion pills.

They tried to make me go to rehab … I said 'What works best?'

You’re a sexual assault victim and the trial is approaching. You’ve come off drugs in the past, and right now you know you’re at risk of relapsing, because as the trial date approaches the cravings increase. But when you turn to the rehab clinic that helped you once before, they turn you away, saying it might be possible if you were taking something already, such as buprenorphine or methadone. It feels like things have to get worse before they get better.

Why we are losing the ‘war’ on drugs

Sir Nicholas Clegg remembers something strange about his time in the UK government. From 2010, when he became deputy prime minister under David Cameron, Sir Nicholas began to speak with his fellow MPs about the country’s approach to illegal drugs and noticed an alarming disconnect between science and politics, evidence and emotion. “When I spoke privately to my then-colleagues in the government that Cameron and I had formed, I couldn’t find a single minister that did not agree with me."

Hepatitis B: unnoticed, unmonitored, undertreated

Amid the sunshine and celebrations around the new hepatitis C cures, a dark cloud is looming, unnoticed by many. Our region of the world is home to around half of all cases of chronic hepatitis B, despite only accounting for a quarter of the world’s population. Despite Australia’s highly successful vaccination program, some in the medical community warn of an incoming epidemic. And because of that same highly successful vaccination program, hepatitis B remains largely off the public’s radar.

Happy anniversary! ... you missed a spot

It’s the second anniversary since the government subsidised the revolutionary treatments for hepatitis C, and tens of thousands of individuals were able to become free of the chronic disease. It is estimated that one in five people living with the disease was treated within the first 12 months of the direct-acting antivirals being listed on the PBS. This makes Australia one of only a few countries in the world set to reach the World Health Organisation’s elimination targets.

Can you catch obesity from your social network?

When we think of how people gain weight, we often think of oversized soft drinks, McDonald’s restaurants on every corner, or a life that is increasingly positioned in front of a screen. But that’s not where it ends. Our propensity to gain weight now seems, at least partly, to be determined by the genes inherited from parents, and some research even suggests that viruses and gut bacteria may also play a role. Now, researchers around the world are investigating whether obesity is contagious

The second wave in the war on hepatitis C

“We ran out of people to treat in our local prison,” says Associate Professor Darren Russell, director of sexual health at the Cairns Sexual Health Service, talking about the hepatitis C elimination well under way in the region. It didn’t just happen by accident, he explains. The government announced it was approving the highly-awaited direct acting antivirals for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listing on December 20, 2015, “and we met on December 21 to plan how we would do it".

The new X drugs! What, in truth, is out there

“Bath salts”, “plant food” and even “research chemicals” are some of the terms an expanding array of new, usually illicit, drugs are advertised under. But these innocuous-sounding labels belie the more alarming coverage they get in the media, when they are linked to high-profile overdoses. Instead of more familiar names, such as heroin, ice and MDMA, these drugs are more likely to go by a string of numbers and letters.
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