Health Highlights: April 26, 2006

Huge Increases in Medicaid Drug Spending Recorded Menopause Symptoms Impact Female Executives: Survey Consumer Group Hands Out 'Bitter Pill' Awards Former Boston-Area Dye Factory Linked to High Cancer Rates Allergy Drug Shouldn't Be Given to Young Children: FDA

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

Huge Increases in Medicaid Drug Spending Recorded

Medicaid spending on outpatient drugs more than doubled from 1997 to 2002, from $11.6 billion to $23.7 billion, says a study released Wednesday by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The spending increase, an average of 20 percent a year, reflects both an increase in the number of prescriptions written for Medicaid enrollees -- from 301 million in 1997 to 429 million in 2002 -- and the rapid uptake of newer classes of drugs, which are often more costly, the study said.

Another factor is increased spending on behalf of disabled adults, including low-income people with serious mental illnesses.

From 1997 to 2002, there was a 50 percent increase (from 2.5 million to 3.7 million) in the number of Medicaid enrollees taking antidepressants, which contributed to a 130 percent rise in Medicaid spending on antidepressants during that period.

In 2002, antidepressants and other psychotherapeutic drugs were the largest category of drugs prescribed to Medicaid enrollees. Between 1997 and 2002, total spending for all psychotherapeutic drugs increased 127 percent.

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Menopause Symptoms Impact Female Executives: Survey

Menopause symptoms cause problems in the daily lives of many female executives in the United States, says a Harris Interactive survey released Wednesday.

The survey included 622 members, age 35 and older, of the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE), who are currently experiencing menopause symptoms, or have in the past.

Eighty percent of respondents said at least one of their symptoms was problematic in their daily lives. The most common symptoms were hot flashes (84 percent) and night sweats (77 percent).

The survey also found that 72 percent of the women experienced insomnia at least once per week and 88 percent of women with menopause-associated insomnia reported feeling more fatigue during the day, 62 percent said they're more irritable, and 44 percent said they can't do their job as well.

Thirty-one percent of the women said menopausal symptoms were either extremely problematic or problematic to their romantic lives and 28 percent said the symptoms were either extremely problematic or problematic to their overall emotional well being.

"NAFE conducted this survey of menopausal symptoms to foster an open discussion of a topic long considered taboo and to encourage women to talk with their doctors and find solutions that work for them," Betty Spence, NAFE president, said in a prepared statement.

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Consumer Group Hands Out 'Bitter Pill' Awards

Here are some awards that the "winners" may find tough to swallow.

The 2006 Bitter Pill Awards were revealed Wednesday by the Prescription Access Litigation Project (PAL), a U.S. national consumer organization that challenges high prescription drug prices in an effort to make them affordable for everyone.

The awards highlight overzealous and questionable marketing practices.

"Whether you're watching TV, reading a magazine, or browsing the Web, it's impossible to escape prescription drug advertisements," Alex Sugerman-Brozan, PAL director, said in a prepared statement. "A lot of money is riding on drug companies convincing consumers that they have insomnia, acid reflux, high cholesterol, allergies, depression, toenail fungus, and erectile dysfunction, and that they need to have expensive brand-name drugs to treat them."

The Bitter Pill Award recipients:

  • The While You Were Sleeping Award: For Overmarketing Insomnia Medications to Anyone Who's Ever Had a Bad Night's Sleep -- presented to Lunesta (Sepracor) and Ambien/AmbienCR (Sanofi-Aventis).
  • The "Got Cholesterol?" Award: For Overpromoting Expensive Brand-Name Statins - presented to Lipitor (Pfizer) and Crestor (AstraZeneca).
  • The Driven to Distraction Award: For Hawking an Attention Deficit Drug by Distracting Consumers with ADHD -- presented to Strattera (Eli Lilly).
  • The Fox Guarding the Hen House Award: For Pushing Toothless "Guiding Principles" on Drug Advertising -- presented to the drug industry's national lobbying group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
  • The Truth is Stranger Than Fiction Award: For Commissioning a Hackneyed Thriller to Scare Americans About Canadian Drugs -- presented to PhRMA.

A sincere "Real Deal" award was presented to MedVantx, for its efforts to provide consumers with safe, affordable generic alternatives to expensive, brand-name drugs.

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Former Boston-Area Dye Factory Linked to High Cancer Rates

The site of a former textile dye-making plant in Ashland, Mass., outside of Boston, is linked to a high cancer rate among some people who grew up in the area, says a seven-year study released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Health.

The study found that people who grew up in Ashland and swam or waded in waste lagoons or contaminated wetlands at or near the former Nyanza Inc. dye plant were two to three times more likely to develop cancer than people who had no contact with the water, the Associated Press reported.

Cancer rates were nearly four times higher for people who had contact with the polluted water and also had a family history of cancer.

The study included 1,387 people who were 10 to 18 years old while living in Ashland between 1965 and 1985. In this group, there were 73 cases of cancer and eight cancer-related deaths. About two-thirds of the cancer cases were diagnosed before the patient was age 35. Many of the cancers were rare forms, the AP reported.

The Nyanza dye plant operated from 1965 to 1978. The 35-acre site, which was added to the federal government's Superfund cleanup list in 1983, is surrounded by homes. Ashland Junior & Senior High School is nearby.

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Allergy Drug Shouldn't Be Given to Young Children: FDA

Children younger than 2 years old should not be given the antihistamine promethazine hydrochloride, says a U.S. Food and Drug Administration safety alert.

The alert, issued Tuesday, said there have been seven cases of death linked to the use of the drug and 22 reports of severe breathing problems in children younger than 2, the Associated Press reported.

Promethazine hydrochloride, also known as promethazine HCI, is sold by Wyeth under the brand name Phenergan and is also sold in various generic versions. The FDA warning covers all forms of the drug, including tablets, suppositories, syrups, and injectable liquids.

The FDA also said parents should use care when giving promethazine HCI to children older than 2. Labels on all versions of the drug have been upgraded to reflect the strengthened warnings, the AP reported.

Promethazine HCI was approved in 1951 and is used to treat hay fever, allergy-related stuffy or runny nose, and other minor allergies.

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