Side Effects

Our reporting focuses on the impacts of environment, policy and economic conditions on Americans' health. Please contact us if you are interested in republishing these stories for free. Learn more about joining our network here.

Seth Herald/Side Effects

This episode of Sick, a new podcast from Side Effects Public Media, tells the story of Kevin Polly, a man who has to leave his town behind in order to save his own life. 

In February, the Indiana State Department of Health announced an HIV outbreak in rural Scott County. Thirty people had tested positive just since December, and most of the cases were linked to injection drug abuse of a potent prescription opioid called Opana. Since then, the number of cases has grown to more than 170.

A map showing the status of state Medicaid expansion as of July 24, 2015
Anita Cardwell and Kaitlin Sheedy / State Refor(u)m

Congress established Medicaid fifty years ago today as a health insurance program for the poor, with the intention that the program would provide care just as good as what the rest of Americans receive. According to Rutgers University Medicaid scholar Frank J. Thompson, the program has done a lot of good, even if it hasn’t quite lived up to that early goal.

Bram Sable-Smith / KBIA/Side Effects Public Media

One Saturday afternoon at a backyard cookout, St. Louis, Missouri, architect Dan Rosenberg enjoyed a cheeseburger – a food he’d enjoyed many times before.

That night, a couple hours after he went to sleep, he woke up with a searing pain in his stomach—pain he describes as “a nine on the ten-scale.”


children of different races
McGeorge BLSA via Flickr/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

The health of America’s children is improving along four key measures: low birth weight, health insurance coverage, child and teen death, and substance abuse. Economic indicators, however, paint a gloomier picture, with childhood poverty staying stagnant or worsening. That’s according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s annual Kids Count Data Book, published Tuesday. The report measures the effects of economics, education, family and health on children’s wellbeing. The researchers focused on changes between 2008 and 2013.

At a booth at a health fair in Indianapolis, a 27 year-old African American woman named Sasha clicks through a computerized survey about cervical cancer.  “I’m here taking advantage of all the free health screenings they have today, just to find out things to take care of my body,” she says.


Ryan Delaney/WFYI

Where the Monon Trail hits 126th Street in Carmel, Ind., it’s crowded with bikers and joggers. There’s a shopping center with a yoga studio and some restaurants, and two different theaters are in view.

A few hundred yards away, a jazz band plays right off the trail. There are hundreds of people out for the show, and some of them dance. Further down, there’s a community center, complete with a skate park.


Criminal justice systems are bearing the brunt of increasing cuts to a psychiatric system that has been slashed since the 1960s. That’s the contention of police and sheriffs who encounter the mentally ill on runs and in jails on a daily basis. The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that between 25 and 40 percent of mentally ill Americans will be jailed at some point in their lives. 

Naloxone manufactured by Amphastar comes with a "kit" that allows it to be easily sprayed into the nostril during an overdose.
Governor Tom Wolf (D-Penn) via flickr/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In response to the rising rate of heroin overdose deaths, police in communities across the country are saving lives with naloxone (or Narcan), an easily-administered drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose in a few minutes. Thirty-one states have passed laws expanding access to the drug since 2012.

Players warm up before a game at a rink on the roof of an apartment building in the Englewood neighborhood of IndIanapolis.
Emily Metheney

Looking across four lanes of traffic on Washington Street in Indianapolis, community planner Brent Aldrich steels himself for a difficult crossing.  “When we do this we're going to have to run, or kind of frogger it across,” he says. Frogger? “You stand in one lane, you wait for the car to go past, and you hope it's not game over.”

Bram Sable-Smith/Side Effects

When Darvin Bentlage needed colon surgery in 2007, he had an expensive stay at the hospital.

“The room alone for a week was $25,000,” Bentlage says. Add in the cost of the procedure and, “it added up to about $60,000 or $70,000.”


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