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Parents Are Not Okay - The Atlantic

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It was two weeks, originally. Who couldn’t do two weeks with the kids at home? Two weeks to bend the curve. It was simple.

Then it was two months—because nothing bent—and, well, we did two weeks and that went okay, so two months would be doable, right? Right?

And then it was summer, and kids are always home in the summer, so how was that different? Sure, we can’t go anywhere, but we’ll just do a little more TV, a little more iPad, a little more of everything we’re already doing. Besides, school is just around the corner and finally they’ll go back.

Except they didn’t. Instead it was a year in limbo: school on stuttering Zoom, school in person and then back home again for quarantine, school all the time and none of the time. No part of it was good, for kids or parents, but most parts of it were safe, and somehow, impossibly, we made it through a full year. It was hell, but we did it. We did it.

Read: Parents are losing their minds over masks in schools

Time collapsed and it was summer again, and, briefly, things looked better. We began to dream of normalcy, of trips and jobs and school. But 2021’s hot vax summer only truly delivered on the hot part, as vaccination rates slowed and the Delta variant cut through some states with the brutal efficiency of the wildfires that decimated others. It happened in a flash: It was good, then it was bad, then we were right back in the same nightmare we’d been living in for 18 months.

And suddenly now it’s back to school while cases are rising, back to school while masks are a battleground, back to school while everyone under 12 is still unvaccinated. Parents are living a repeat of the worst year of their lives—except this time, no matter what, kids are going back.

I am a father. I have a 6-year-old and a 16-year-old. And what I can tell you is that I am furious and I am afraid. I can also tell you that the only real difference between this year and last is that the most effective tool for keeping our kids safe—remote school—seems to be off the table. When cases were plummeting this spring, most every district and state board of education made the quick decision to stick a knife in remote school. It was awful last year, don’t get me wrong, and I understand what motivated that decision. But now we’re stuck with full-on, 30-kids-in-a-room, wide-open school as the Delta variant rages.

It’s a real monkey’s-paw situation, because, as a parent, all I’ve wanted for a year and a half is for my kids to go back to school—for their sake and for mine—but not like this. Now I’m stuck wishing that the thing that barely worked last year was still an option, because what’s looming is way worse.

School is only just starting and already kids are being quarantined in mind-boggling numbers: 20,000 across the state of Mississippi, 10,000 in a single district in Tampa, Florida. They’re getting sick too, with hospitalizations of kids under 17 across the country up at least 22 percent in the past month, by the CDC’s count, and each new week sets pediatric hospitalization records for the entire pandemic. The rapid increase of COVID-19 cases among kids has shattered last year’s oft-repeated falsehood that kids don’t get COVID-19, and if they do, it’s not that bad. It was a convenient lie that was easy to believe in part because we kept most of our kids home. With remote learning not an option now, this year we’ll find out how dangerous this virus is for children in the worst way possible.

Of course, things can be done to reduce the risk to kids, but those very things are fueling pitched battles across the country. Masking, the easiest solution to reducing the spread of COVID-19, is at the center of the fight. Fourteen states require masks in schools, eight have banned local districts’ ability to make them mandatory, and every other state has kicked the can down to the local level so that parents can brawl at school-board meetings. Florida has gone so far as to threaten administrators with fines and firings if they defy the mask ban, making it seem like some governors, legislators, and run-of-the-mill assholes just won’t quit until kids are stacked like cordwood. And all of this assumes that the fight should be over masks, and not reinstating the ability to hold school online until every child can be vaccinated.

Katie Moylan and David Schepard: The 1 thing teachers can do to protect students

It’s enough to bring a parent to tears, except that every parent I know ran out a long time ago—I know I did. Ran out of tears, ran out of energy, ran out of patience. Through these grinding 18 months, we’ve managed our kids’ lives as best we could while abandoning our own. It was unsustainable then, it’s unsustainable now, and no matter what fresh hell this school year brings, it’ll still be unsustainable.

All this and parents are somehow expected to be okay. We are expected to send our kids off into God knows what, to work our jobs and live our lives like nothing’s wrong, and to hold it all together for months and maybe now for years without ever seeing a way out. This is not okay. Nothing is okay. No parent is okay, and I’m not sure how we come back from this.

Parents aren’t even at a breaking point anymore. We’re broken. And yet we’ll go on because that’s what we do: We sweep up all our pieces and put them back together as best we can. We carry on chipped and leaking and broken because we have no other choice. And we pray that if we can just keep going, our kids will survive too.

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synapsecracklepop
28 days ago
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LOL. Moved abroad for spouse's job and 6yo twins' education, 3 months before COVID. They were in school for nearly 6 weeks before the first lockdown (private $chool, because no public spots in the middle of the year, in this country where homeschooling is illegal). By August I asked for a divorce. In January, spouse's company closed the office we'd sold everything to move here for. A few weeks ago, I bought a plane ticket to move home, alone, come October. "Broken" doesn't begin to describe it.
Frankfurt
acdha
33 days ago
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Washington, DC
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christophersw
31 days ago
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Yup.
Baltimore, MD

All watched over by machines of loving grace

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All watched over by machines of loving grace

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synapsecracklepop
269 days ago
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Frankfurt
MaryEllenCG
28 days ago
My mom works for a doctor, and used to bring home tons and tons of drug-branded stuff. Her whole house is still full of it! I kind of want the Lexapro mouse...
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Schools or bars? How nations rank education in pandemic priorities. - CSMonitor.com

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Decisions whether to open or close schools, like so much else during the pandemic, are a moving target.

Yet as case counts rise to significant levels across Europe and North America, many districts in the United States have done the opposite of Europe: They’ve kept children away from their classrooms even as nonessential businesses have been open for months. In Europe – where positivity rates in some countries exceed the 3% threshold that recently sent New York City students home – bars, indoor dining, and other nonessential businesses have been re-shuttered to safeguard schools. 

Cultural values in the U.S. that emphasize freedom and individual choice above all else have also undergirded decisions to open or close school. Whereas in Europe and Canada, the costs of rising inequality and a desire to keep social safety nets firmly in place have prompted authorities to implore society to do its job – by forgoing nonessential activities – to help keep schools open. 

“During a crisis you have to ask yourself what is really important. On the question around reopening, do you open cinemas first or schools?” says Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. “These are values questions. Societies need to make tradeoffs between the present and the future, and they do that very differently.”

When New York City schools closed abruptly last month to in-person learning as COVID-19 positivity rates reached 3%, Caroline Goldrick was incredulous. On her street at the northern tip of Manhattan, her daughter’s elementary school doors were shuttered. Those of restaurants and gyms remained wide open. 

“It’s so backward. To be honest, when I stop and think about it, I almost start crying. I don’t get it. I don’t understand what the priority is here,” says Ms. Goldrick, a theater teacher and mother to a first grader in the public school system. 

The daily commute is the opposite for Uwe Berlo in Berlin. After he or his wife escort the kids to school, they can’t pop into a cafe for coffee or meet up with friends for a leisurely restaurant brunch. As German officials have nervously watched the country’s COVID-19 case count tick up toward 25,000 per day in recent weeks – with a countrywide positivity rate between 5% and 10% – their priorities in pandemic-management are clear. Restaurants, bars, and gyms have shuttered to fight the second wave, so that 2.8 million primary schoolchildren can remain in class learning. 

“The risk of not going to school is much bigger,” says Mr. Berlo, a crisis management business consultant in Berlin. “I think we [as a country] are differentiating between what we can fix with money, and those things that can’t be fixed with money,” he says. “Psychological problems can’t be fixed with money. It’s the right thing that schools are open.”

Students at Martin-Buber-Oberschule secondary school wear protective masks as school resumes following the autumn holidays in Berlin on Oct. 26, 2020.

Decisions whether to open or close schools, like so much else during the pandemic, are a moving target. Best practices are still evolving and schools shift course as the virus does. 

Yet as case counts rise across Europe and North America, many districts in the United States have done the opposite of Europe: They’ve kept kids away from their classrooms since March – from Chicago to Los Angeles – even as nonessential businesses have stayed open. In Europe, where positivity rates in some countries far exceed the 3% threshold that originally sent New York City public school kids home, bars and indoor dining and other nonessential businesses have been re-shuttered to safeguard schools. 

Certainly, many of the same challenges affect school systems across the globe. Unions battle for better safety measures, while many teachers feel as though they have no choice but to return to class, even if they feel unsafe. Parents everywhere worry – both about keeping their kids out of school and about putting them in.

But the decision-making around how and where American schoolchildren will spend their days has been affected by political polarization and a distrust of authorities that have made it harder to find consensus on responding to the pandemic, including education policy. A set of cultural values in the U.S. that emphasizes freedom and individual choice above all else has also undergirded decisions to open or close school. Whereas in Europe and Canada, the costs of rising inequality and a desire to keep social safety nets firmly in place have prompted authorities to implore society to do its job – by forgoing nonessential activities – to help keep schools open.

“During a crisis you have to ask yourself what is really important. On the question around reopening, do you open cinemas first or schools?” says Andreas Schleicher, director for education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris. “These are values questions. Societies need to make tradeoffs between the present and the future, and they do that very differently.”

Still, some backtracking in the U.S. is happening. More Americans have started to push for schools to reopen – essentially asking states to shift priorities to improve conditions for doing this. New York City, which had opened with a hybrid model, only to close about two months later, announced earlier this week it will return some pre-kindergarten and elementary students to in-person learning starting on Dec. 7 and do away with the 3% positivity threshold for closing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield has said that schools can operate with “face to face learning” and can do it “safely and they can do it responsibly.” Some U.S. school districts have had to delay reopening plans due to surges in cases. Rhode Island recently chose to limit bar seating and close bowling alleys for a few weeks, while offering grants to business owners and keeping schools running – more along the lines of what Europe and Canada have done. 

“Education is a certified right”

Historically, the consequences of school closures can be long-lasting. A September OECD study estimated that students in grades 1 through 12 affected by closures in 2020 could expect an average 3% lower income over their lifetimes. 

The most affected will be students who are most disadvantaged in the first place, says Harry Patrinos, practice manager at the World Bank’s education global practice. From the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 to World War II, losses have been traced decades later. “I worry that the longterm impact is going to be huge,” he says. “Past crises like influenza of 1918 and other catastrophes had lifetime impacts.”

In March when the pandemic was declared, 1.6 billion children around the world were sent home as schools shuttered. It was during spring and summer, when nations turned to the task of planning and prioritizing and seeking to strengthen social trust through the process, that educational paths diverged. 

For Germany the goals were clear from the beginning – even if the path to reopening was not without emotion or debate.

“Education is a certified right in Germany. We are an industrialized country and have relatively few natural resources, so we need professional workers who have a sensible education,” says Norman Heise, the elected chairman of the Parents’ Committee in Berlin, which represents the families of about 330,000 schoolchildren in the capital city.

For a wealthy country, Germany has a low level of digitization in schools, with only a third of children having access to online learning, well below the OECD average of 54%. German schoolchildren’s access to computers is also below the OECD benchmark. 

Teacher Eike Postler holds a tablet computer on which quarantined teacher Tobias Honnen is seen from his home office during a virtual English lesson at Alexander-Coppel-Gesamtschule school in Solingen, Germany, Nov. 17, 2020.

This, coupled with the government’s longtime focus on mitigating educational inequality, factored into the federal government-level decision to keep schools open. The heads of Germany’s 16 states, who are responsible for delivering education, might disagree on the extent to which economies should be shut down, or the logistics of keeping schools open, but agree on the importance of getting kids into classrooms.

School closings potentially exacerbate all kinds of social problems for children, from experiencing more domestic violence to falling behind because they lack access to Wi-Fi or laptops. For some children, schools provide their only hot meal of the day, or a safe space to interact with adults outside the family. Concern that educational inequalities would widen even further is a major factor in German decision-making, says Guido Küssner, an educational consultant at the German online school Wilhelm von Humboldt. Public school closures could drive parents with resources to devise their own workarounds, including enrolling in private schools or employing tutors. “There’s a real fear of ‘privatization,’” says Mr. Küssner.

What’s next in the U.S.?

In the U.S., there are few doubts that the pandemic will accelerate privatization of education in the country – intensifying a debate that is deeply polarized there. 

Public education was a foundation of the nation from its inception, says Derek W. Black, professor of law at the University of South Carolina in his new book “Schoolhouse Burning.” The federal government underwrote public education and forced states to provide for it in their own constitutions – to guarantee and shield it from the political process.

Two students wave goodbye to teachers and counselors at West Brooklyn Community High School in New York after attending an in-person blended learning session and hearing from the principal that the school would be closed until further notice due to rising cases of the coronavirus on Nov. 18, 2020.

But the ideals of an education for all have never been realized. A history of exclusion and segregation still manifests in stubborn racial and socioeconomic inequalities today, while the American localized approach leads to a patchwork of standards. And many believe the privatization of education – which has gathered force since the Ronald Reagan administration – has made the system more vulnerable during the pandemic, which will in turn accelerate the trend. 

“Today we talk about education as though it’s a commodity rather than a constitutional commitment. And now we are shrinking our obligation to it in ways we never have before,” says Dr. Black. “We talk about the importance of education but the implementation and reality of that commitment is far more difficult because the stock market and the unemployment rate rule America in a way that it doesn’t necessarily rule the rest of the world.”

The federal government has given school boards little guidance. And with misinformation surrounding the pandemic fairly common, distrust over how to respond has influenced local districts and teachers unions. Initially, unions were behind some of the push to keep schools closed. Even where state governors have prioritized school openings, the community spread of the virus makes that logistically tenuous. 

In New York City, where some schools are set to reopen Monday, parents are keenly aware the system could close back down at any moment. Some, like Ms. Goldrick, who opted to keep her daughter in virtual classes because she doesn’t trust the safety of sending her back, is now considering pulling her out altogether and homeschooling instead. “She’s sitting in front of a screen for five hours a day, which is terrible,” she says. “It starts to affect her attitude towards school, which is something that’s really hard to watch.”

It’s not that the situation is seamless for parents and teachers anywhere, including Germany. Silke Steltner, a public school teacher in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, uses a pseudonym because she’s gotten threats for speaking out against school reopenings. She says she has teacher friends who are high-risk or live with high-risk family members. 

“We teachers are being sacrificed for the economy,” says Ms. Steltner. “It’s more about the working population being able to continue working. So we are a bit like nannies.” 

“Are we doing this the right way?”

Yet despite those universal concerns, Mr. Schleicher of the OECD says collaboration, not confrontation, has led countries like Germany to functioning academic fall terms while many places in the U.S. are still flailing.

The U.S. spends above the average of its peers in education but it neither values teachers enough – financially or intellectually – nor treats the school system as the heart of society, he says. In China, or Singapore, or northern Europe, various actors have together grappled with the school question during the pandemic, whereas in the U.S. decision-making has become commodified and siloed. “It makes you a customer rather than a participant in the process,” he says. “Where the social fabric of education is stronger, they are managing a lot better in this crisis.”

Robert Pianta, dean of the school of education and human development at the University of Virginia, says this crisis has laid bare where America’s failings lie. “It has definitely exposed weaknesses, in the same way 9-11 exposed the weaknesses in our homeland security,” he says. “I would hope that we are able to sit back and ask, ‘Are we doing this the right way?’ and double down on our efforts to dedicate ourselves to ‘harden’ that system.”

In Germany, those questions were already settled. Decision-making has been driven by research that shows children and young people are not the driving force behind the pandemic. Nationwide, infection figures have remained low in schools, with the education policy officials highlighting the need for public cooperation. People have a responsibility to restrict private lives and meetings with friends so that “our children and young people can get the education they are entitled to,” announced Stefanie Hubig, president of the conference of ministers of education and cultural affairs, in late October. “This is our educational policy, but it is also our task for society as a whole.”

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synapsecracklepop
293 days ago
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We're living through this culture clash. Moved from the US to Germany a year ago with 2 (then) kindergarteners. Survived the first spring quarantine (full closure, including schools) but at what cost? Summer was slightly more bearable with reopenings and some travel allowed, even though we couldn't go back to visit family and friends as we'd initially envisioned.

Now we're in "Lockdown Lite" -- the second quarantine, outlined in this piece, which limits "non-essential" businesses like restaurants, bars, museums, recreation, but keeps schools and retail (with limits) open -- for the foreseeable future. It's easier with kids in school, and they haven't been the victims or sources of any outbreaks.
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acdha
294 days ago
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Washington, DC
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Google Photos — Bait Meet Switch

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Google Photos blog post announcing their new Google Photos service.

In case you missed it recently, Google Photos has decided to end their free unlimited photo hosting service. Beginning in June of next year users will be limited to 15GB of space before being asked to pay for more storage. How much you’ll have to pay will depend on how much storage you use. Unfortunately for me, I have more photos than fit their top tier $100/year plan, so even if I wanted to pay I’d be capped out of the service.

While I don’t begrudge Google, a trillion dollar company that makes billions of dollars a year, from wanting to make even MORE money, I am offended by the bait and switch approach that they took with Google Photos. Offering a user the first hit for free is classic dealer marketing. A lot of time and energy goes into organizing your photos on ANY photo sharing site and when someone spends hundreds or even thousands of hours organizing their photos at a site only to be priced out of the site, those are countless hours that you will never get back.

Fortunately for me I’ve spent a lot less time using Google Photos for the past few years. Google’s consistent bad faith across photo hosting/sharing products has left me very skeptical of anything they do anymore.

Some of you may remember Picasa (Google killed it). I was a user of that. I also was a big user of Google Buzz (they killed that too). Then I put hundreds of hours into my photography on Google+ (once again RIP). We used to do photowalks and hangouts and lots of other fun things around photography with Google+. Here’s my old Google+ url.

Initially I was super excited about Google Photos, but that changed over time. I was disappointed that one of their early features, photo facial recognition, didn’t really work for me. It limited the service to 200 faces and unfortunately for me when the service launched it grabbed a bunch of faces of musicians I’d photographed performing at Coachella and chose those as the ones to tag. There was no way to delete those and have it choose people who were actually my family, friends, neighbors, etc.

I was also disappointed that the hours and hours and hours I’d spent keywording all my photos in Adobe Lightroom were stripped out of my uploads to Google Photos. I’m not sure why Google would want to remove one of the best ways for me to search my photos from their service but for whatever reason they strip this data.

Still, Google Photos was free (even though it downsized my photos). It’s hard to complain about free — until they locked my gmail. Last year I received a rather ominous message from Google threatening that unless I paid them for more storage they were going to turn my gmail off.

It turns out that even though Google Photos claimed to be able to convert my photos to high quality JPEGs with free unlimited storage, that TIFF files generated by the software program Analog Efex Pro (ironically a former Google owned product before they jettisoned that as well) were not being converted by Google Photos and were sucking up my gmail storage which was then demanding payment from me. They actually locked my gmail and I missed several important emails that were blocked during this fiasco.

By this point I was about ready to delete my Google Photos account — except I could not find ANY way to delete my Google Photos account. That’s right you can’t just delete Google Photos. You have to delete your entire Google account including your Gmail!

While this is my unhappy story and experience with Google Photos, many, many users were duped into signing up for a free service that they thought would protect, as Google put it, their “lifetime of memories.” Now Google is demanding money from these users.

To me it seems wrong (even evil — remember their old motto “don’t be evil” that they also abandoned?) that Google would bait and switch so many users on this product. You can’t/won’t get the many hours that you spent organizing your photos on Google Photos back. Some will just begrudgingly pay up. What I see is one of the world’s largest companies who used a classic monopolistic tactic to grab market share by pricing out and hurting smaller competitors and now wants to profit from their move.

Once burned shame on you. Twice, three times, four times, five times, six times burned, shame on me. I will never trust Google with another product again.

Thankfully there is an alternative to Google Photos, good old trustworthy Flickr. Here is a thoughtful analysis done by Jeremy Zero comparing Google Photos and Flickr.

I’ve been using Flickr since 2004 and as long as I can remember my Flickr Pro account has remained unlimited. Flickr/SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill even recently re-iterated Flickr’s commitment to honoring their unlimited service. While Flickr may not be a trillion dollar company or make billions of dollars every year like Google does, they are a small company that cares about photographers and your photography. They also do a great job storing and sharing your full high-res, uncompressed, high quality images (and they even retain your photo keywords when you upload them there). I feel much better supporting an ethical small business than a trillion dollar company using monopolistic bait and switch tactics to try to drive the smaller guy out of business.

You can find me on Flickr here. If you are an American Photographer come join the American Photographer Group I administer on Flickr and say hello.



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synapsecracklepop
306 days ago
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I'd even be willing to pay if they'd EVER added some basic functionality (eg sort albums by name or date; nested albums; dupe detection) and/or if the search looked in the Information (free-text caption) section. But no. For these and many other reasons, I've been considering moving and now probably will.
Frankfurt
sirshannon
306 days ago
I paid for extra storage for my fullsize images until I realized they don’t support keywords. There are too many good competitors to pay for so little functionality.
freeAgent
306 days ago
My recommendation to everyone is to use a NAS and possibly back that up to a cloud provider (or another off-site NAS). I started dumping Google when they shut down Reader and I'm glad I did. At this point the only Google service I regularly touch at all is maps on the web (I use Apple Maps on my phone, but I can't access it from non-Apple PCs :( ).
sirshannon
306 days ago
If file backup is what you’re looking for, a NAS is fine but then again, google photos will work if all you want is file backup. Photos are just files (so Google photos lacks the photo-centric features) but they are files (so Apple Photos lacks the required file-based features). File backup is needed for all files of every type but in addition to that, photos require a photo-centric service that understand photography. SmugMug and Flickr and a lot of other services understand photographers and photography. Google should have figured it out during the decade of bait before the switch.
freeAgent
306 days ago
You should take a look at the photo-specific features of modern NAS devices. I am a hobbyist photographer, and my Synologies are great. "Photo Station" works with tags and other metadata quite well and has very powerful sharing features: https://www.synology.com/en-us/dsm/feature/photo_station
sirshannon
306 days ago
That looks pretty good. I may move to NAS-based storage in a few years when apple offers (relatively) affordable 4TB SSD laptops and I can ditch my desktop.
sirshannon
307 days ago
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He’s right about all of this but damn... if I had a dollar for every time I said "I will never trust Google with another product again.’
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Old Drug Turned 'Cash Cow' as Company Pumped Price to $40K a Vial

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Acthar was a "premium-priced product" with a "robust cash flow profile" that would help the company "achieve aspirational goals with a single transaction," according to internal discussions.
Kaiser Health News
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synapsecracklepop
354 days ago
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When I had an MS exacerbation in 2011 that effectively blinded me for 9 months, it didn't respond to steroids, so doctors prescribed a 5-day course of acthar gel as a kind of hail-mary effort. Insurance wouldn't cover it, and it was going to cost $5,000 even then for a vial half the size of my pinky finger. After much finagling, NORD came through with a grant to help pay for it. Can only imagine what these poor families are going through with prices so much higher now. Criminal.
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Long-term Muscle Relaxant Use Nearly Triples in the US

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Long-term use of skeletal muscle relaxants nearly tripled in the US between 2005 and 2016. These medications were prescribed disproportionately to older adults, often in combination with an opioid.
Medscape Medical News
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synapsecracklepop
445 days ago
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FFS, legalize it already.
Frankfurt
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