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Apr 2017

How a $40 Drug Cocktail May Save $20 Billion a Year

Could a cure for one of the most fatal, health conditions be as simple and cheap as a vitamin C drug cocktail? One East Coast doctor seems to think so, and he is gaining believers.

A Norfolk, Virginia critical-care physician reported treating sepsis patients with vitamin C and steroids has resulted in “very short” hospital stays and lower readmission rates. Critics and skeptics were quick to call for a randomized controlled trial before believing that a sepsis cure can be achieved at such a low cost.

What we do know is sepsis is unpredictable, fast moving and fatal. Sepsis has been identified as the number one reason for hospital readmissions, and it is the most costly to treat. My healthy, 74-year-old mother had a urinary tract infection turn into sepsis in early October of 2016. She passed away nearly 30 days later with six-figure medical expenses paid by Medicare and private insurance. If only her Florida hospital had what some are calling “the miracle juice.”

In January of 2016, Dr. Paul Marik, chief of pulmonary and critical care at Eastern Virginia Medical School, was treating a 53-year-old female patient battling sepsis. Dr. Marik had recently read medical journals about vitamin C, and he decided to order IV infusions of it along with hydrocortisone, a steroid, to reduce inflammation in the middle-aged woman. The next day, the patient already showed remarkable improvement. The process continued for some time with results fairly consistent and positive for the patient’s health.

A study published online in December of 2016 by CHEST, an American College of Chest Physicians’ medical journal, revealed Dr. Marik’s amazing results.

In 2016, a total of 47 patients with sepsis were treated in Norfolk General’s ICU. Just four of the 47 patients died, which is an 8 percent mortality rate. Of those four patients who passed, none of them died of sepsis but rather the conditions that led to their sepsis in the first place. In 2015 at Norfolk General, 19 of 47 sepsis patients died, which is a 40 percent mortality rate.

To fend off his critics, even Dr. Mark calls the study preliminary, agreeing more data is needed. Critics label Dr. Marik’s findings a retrospective study, which means it compares something at one point in time to a control group further back in time. Secondly, the skeptics argue the study’s numbers are small. Lastly, the study’s sepsis cases were all at one hospital, Norfolk General.

Those critics’ points are called study limitations. The gold standard study would be a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in which patients with the same condition are observed in the same period, and health care providers don’t know who is receiving the treatment or a placebo.

However, Dr. Marik is also quick to point out this sepsis regimen is safe enough for hospital ICU’s to start using now. Why should anybody pass from sepsis when this fairly inexpensive and safe solution is available?

“It costs $40, which is less than that of an antibiotic,” said Dr. Marik to HealthLeaders Media in an interview. “It shortens the length of stay, it doesn’t have all these complications, which are very resource-intensive and very expensive. And patients leave the hospital well.”

Dr. Marik’s hunch came from reading a preponderance of literature on critically ill patients who have almost undetectable vitamin C levels. From a medical treatment standpoint, it is quite appropriate to replenish vitamin C. Even the package insert states IV vitamin C is indicated for patients with acute deficiency of vitamin C.

To date, Dr, Marik has not observed any side effects.

“Patients will come to our ICU in septic shock. They will leave three days later with no organ failure. From the hospital’s perspective, this is very big, Dr. Marik told HealthLeaders Media.

How large of a medical breakthrough could this simple discovery be?  Just look at the facts to understand the unbelievable health impact.

Sepsis occurs in more than 1 million people a year in this country, with 28 to 50 percent dying, according to the National Institutes of Health. Sepsis can stem from a variety of different ailments and has an overwhelming immune response to infection.

Natural chemicals released in the body trigger widespread inflammation, which leads to blood clots and leaky vessels. That slows blood flow, damaging the organs by depriving them of nutrients and oxygen. It is a catch-22 as the body fights off a major infection by nuking itself internally.

In the worst cases, like my mother, the patient’s blood pressure drops, the heart weakens and the patient goes into septic shock.

From a dollars and sense point, the savings of a $40 drug cocktail are staggering. The cost to treat sepsis in the United States has been estimated at $20 billion a year as recently as 2011. It looks like vitamin C is the simple answer to lowering this cost.

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