Health Highlights: April 16, 2007

Americans Want Stronger Drug Safety Laws: Poll FDA Seeks Reauthorization of Medical Device User Fee Program N.J. Gov. Corzine Has Second Leg Surgery U.S. Screens Only Small Amount of Imported Foods EPA Increases Scrutiny of Lead in Children's Products Injured U.S. Soldiers Face Too Much Bureaucracy: Commission

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Americans Want Stronger Drug Safety Laws: Poll

Most Americans believe the federal government has failed to protect them from dangerous prescription drugs and they support drug safety reforms, says a Consumer Reports poll released Monday.

The survey was released in advance of a U.S. Senate Health Committee vote Wednesday on what Consumer Reports called the most significant prescription drug safety legislation in 45 years.

The telephone survey of 1,026 adults found that 92 percent of respondents agree that all clinical trial results should be made public, and 96 percent said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should have the power to require warning labels and follow-up studies on drugs with safety problems.

Currently, the FDA must negotiate safety warnings with drug makers.

More than 60 percent of the respondents agreed that the FDA and Congress have failed to adequately protect consumers from harmful prescription drugs.

"The message we're hearing from consumers couldn't be clearer -- they want strong laws to ensure our prescription drugs are as safe and effective as possible," Jim Guest, CEO of Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, said in a prepared statement.

"Right now drug companies can game the system by touting the positive results from their drug studies, while downplaying information about harmful side effects. Americans are fed up with being kept in the dark about critical health and safety information, and they overwhelmingly want change," Guest said.


FDA Seeks Reauthorization of Medical Device User Fee Program

A proposal to reauthorize the Medical Device User Fee and Modernization Act has been released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The current law expires Sept. 30, United Press International reported.

The FDA said the act helps ensure that safe and effective medical devices become available to patients in a timely manner. Under the act, medical device makers cover a portion of the costs of the FDA's pre-market review program.

The proposal would provide device makers with predictable fees and improved review times and would also give the FDA a steady source of additional funding for its medical device review program, said Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the FDA commissioner.

The agency will accept public comments on the proposal for the next 30 days and will hold a public meeting on April 30, UPI reported.


N.J. Gov. Corzine Has Second Leg Surgery

New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine, 60, remained in critical but stable condition Monday after undergoing a second operation to treat the broken leg he suffered last Thursday in a car crash.

He also suffered 12 broken ribs, a broken collarbone and chest bone, and a number of minor injuries. During the surgery Monday at Cooper University Hospital, doctors cleaned out the 6-inch wound inflicted in Corzine's left leg when the femur broke, the Associated Press reported.

The operation was "uneventful," said Andrew Poag, a spokesman for Corzine. Doctors operated Saturday to clean the same leg wound. On Sunday, doctors performed a brief procedure to remove fluid that had collected outside Corzine's left lung.

The governor, who was riding in the passenger's seat, apparently was not wearing his seat belt when the sport utility vehicle crashed on the Garden State Parkway just north of Atlantic City, the AP reported.


U.S. Screens Only Small Amount of Imported Foods

Food safety experts say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cannot adequately ensure that foods imported from other countries are safe, according to the Associated Press.

"FDA doesn't have enough resources or control over this situation presently," Mike Doyle, director of the University of Georgia's Center for Food Safety, told the AP.

U.S. inspectors check only a small percentage of imported foods and often find products unfit for human consumption. For example, last month the FDA detained nearly 850 shipments of imported foods for problems including unsafe food coloring, filth and contamination with salmonella and pesticides.

Those problems were detected in just 1.3 percent of food imports inspected by U.S. officials. The remaining 98.7 percent of imports, ranging from fresh produce to processed foods, are not inspected, the AP reported.

Each year, the average American eats about 260 pounds of imported foods. That represents about 13 percent of a person's annual diet.


EPA Increases Scrutiny of Lead in Children's Products

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it will increase scrutiny of companies that make or distribute toys, zippers and other children's products that contain lead, which can kill youngsters or harm their brain development.

In response to legal pressure from advocacy groups, the EPA agreed to send letters to as many as 120 manufacturers and importers telling them to provide health and safety studies if there is lead in any products they market to children, the Associated Press reported.

The EPA will also inform the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that an information review by the EPA "raises questions about the adequacy of quality control measures by companies importing and/or distributing children's jewelry."

While the EPA can ban a substance such as lead, only the CPSC can ban a product that contains lead.

Last year, the Sierra Club and another advocacy group, Improving Kids' Environment, sued the EPA to force it to take stronger action to keep lead out of children's products, the AP reported.

In December, the CPSC moved to ban, rather than recall, children's jewelry that contained more than 0.06 percent lead by weight.


Injured U.S. Soldiers Face Too Much Bureaucracy: Commission

An unacceptable tangle of paperwork and bureaucracy is making it difficult for injured American soldiers to get proper medical treatment, said leaders of a presidential commission on veterans' health care.

The nine-member panel held its first meeting Saturday, where it heard from veterans, spouses and advocacy groups who said the system was failing injured soldiers. The commission members said they wanted to work quickly to find solutions, the Associated Press reported.

The commission will deliver a pragmatic and "solution-driven" report by late July, said member Donna Shalala, who was health and human services secretary during the Clinton administration.

The report will address a number of areas including providing institutional support to family members looking after injured soldiers; reforming a disability benefits system that critics say shortchanges injured soldiers; and improving cooperation between the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Over the next few weeks, the commission plans to hold more than a dozen hearings and site visits to military and VA facilities across the country, the AP reported.

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