Health Highlights: April 18, 2007

Major Disparities Seen Among State Medicaid Programs Britain Has Highest Rate of Drug Abuse in Europe Few Teenage Girls Use Illegal Steroids FDA Seizes New Jersey Company's Implantable Medical Devices Melamine Found in Another Pet Food Ingredient U.S., Canadian Patients Have Similar Outcomes: Study

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

Major Disparities Seen Among State Medicaid Programs

There are a wide range of disparities in eligibility requirements, benefits and performance among U.S. state Medicaid programs, according to a report released Wednesday by the watchdog group Public Citizen.

These differences between states mean that a number of the 55 million mostly low-income Americans who rely on Medicaid fail to receive adequate services, said the report, which ranked the state programs, United Press International reported.

Even the highest-scoring states received only 64.6 percent of the maximum possible points possible under the scoring system used by Public Citizen.

Federal standards are so inadequate that no state has a truly excellent Medicaid program," Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's health research group, said in a prepared statement.

The highest ranking state Medicaid programs were in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Vermont, Alaska, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New York, Washington and New Hampshire, UPI reported.

The lowest-ranked programs were in Mississippi, Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Indiana, South Carolina, Colorado, Alabama and Missouri.

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Britain Has Highest Rate of Drug Abuse in Europe

Britain has the highest level of drug abuse in Europe and the second highest rate of drug-related deaths, according to a study that estimated the value of the illegal drug trade in Britain to be about five billion pounds a year.

Poland and Germany have the lowest rates of drug abuse, Agence France Presse reported.

In Britain, about 25 percent of adults ages 26 to 30 have tried banned drugs such as cocaine or heroin at least once, and about 45 percent of young people have used cannabis, the study said. Britain has more than twice the number of addicts (0.85 percent of the population) than France and Sweden (0.4 percent) or Germany and the Netherlands (0.3 percent), AFP reported.

In Europe, Britain is second only to Denmark in terms of drug-related deaths. The rate in Britain is 34 people per million of the adult population. But drug-related death rates in Britain and Denmark are still well below those of the United States and Australia, the study noted.

The study was commissioned for Wednesday's launch of the independent UK Drug Policy Commission.

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Few Teenage Girls Use Illegal Steroids

Flawed survey questions are likely leading to false reports that anabolic steroid use is widespread among teenage girls in the United States, concludes an analysis published in the May 11 issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Some surveys have indicated that as many as 7.3 percent of Grade 9 girls reported "illegal steroid use," and such findings have sparked widespread concern.

However, researchers at the Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital said their analysis suggests that the use of anabolic steroids by teenage girls is actually rare, but flawed wording in some surveys produces alarming findings.

"In reality, teenage girls almost never use anabolic steroids, because they cause masculinizing effects, such as deepening of the voice, bulging muscles and beard growth," author Dr. Harrison Pope, director of McLean's Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, said in a prepared statement.

He said that "national surveys of teenage drug use seem to have erroneously concluded that girls were using steroids because (the surveys) did not phrase the questions properly."

Pope said the student surveys asked "about the use of 'steroids' without cautioning respondents that the question referred exclusively to illegal anabolic steroids, and not to corticosteroids or sports supplements." This resulted in many students incorrectly answering "yes" to the steroid question.

Corticosteroids are drugs routinely prescribed to treat problems such as poison ivy, asthma and inflammatory conditions. Sports supplements that contain creatine, amino acids and other substances are legally sold in supplement stores.

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FDA Seizes New Jersey Company's Implantable Medical Devices

All implantable medical devices and products made by Shelhigh, Inc. of Union, N.J. were seized Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after the agency found major problems in the company's manufacturing processes that may compromise the safety and effectiveness of the items.

Sterility was a particular area of concern, the FDA said.

Shelhigh products targeted in the seizure included pediatric heart valves and conduits (tube-like devices for blood flow); surgical patches; dural patches (to aid in tissue recovery after neurosurgery); annuloplasty rings (to help repair heart valves); and arterial grafts.

Critically ill patients, pediatric patients and patients with weakened immune systems may be at greatest risk from the products, said the FDA, which recommended that doctors monitor patients with Shelhigh implantable devices/products for infections and proper device functioning.

The FDA said violations by the company include manufacturing products in a facility with a poorly constructed and poorly maintained clean room where sterilized devices are further processed; failing to adequately monitor critical manufacturing environments for possible microbial contamination; failing to properly test products for sterility and fever-causing contaminants; and failing to scientifically support product expiration dates.

Concerned patients should contact their doctor. The FDA said it will soon post more information for patients and doctors on its Web site.

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Melamine Found in Another Pet Food Ingredient

The industrial chemical melamine has been found in a second pet food ingredient, resulting in the recall of more pet food and treats.

Melamine was previously identified as the contaminant in wheat gluten used by six manufacturers of dog and cat food and treats. That led to a massive recall of the products and the FDA banned imports of wheat gluten from China.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that melamine is believed to have contaminated rice protein concentrate used to make a number of Natural Balance Pet Foods products for cats and dogs, the Associated Press reported.

The company, based in Pacoima, Calif., said it's recalling all its Venison and Brown Rice canned and bagged dog foods, Venison and Brown Rice dog treats, and Venison and Green Pea dry cat food.

Natural Balance, which does not use wheat gluten, said it detected melamine in the products and believes rice protein concentrate was the source of contamination, the AP reported.

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U.S., Canadian Patients Have Similar Outcomes: Study

Health care spending on individuals is much higher in the United States than in Canada, but Canadian patients have as good or better outcomes than Americans, says a study in the journal Open Medicine.

The study found that slightly more than $7,100 per person per year is spent in the U.S., compared with slightly more than $2,900 per person in Canada, the Canadian Press reported.

"In looking at patients in Canada with a specific diagnosis compared to Americans with the same diagnosis, in Canada patients had at least as good an outcome as their American counterparts -- and in many situations, a better health outcome," said study co-author Dr. P.J. Devereaux, a cardiologist and clinical epidemiologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.

He and his colleagues reviewed the findings from 38 studies and found that 14 showed better outcomes in Canada, five showed better outcomes in the U.S., and 19 showed equivalent or mixed results in both countries, the CP reported.

Devereaux said Canada's publicly-funded universal health system offers administrative cost-saving efficiencies that can't be had in a system that relies on private insurance. He also noted that controls on drug prices help Canada keep prescription drug costs in check.

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