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Health Highlights: Dec. 16, 2002

Court Upholds Michigan Bid to Control Drug Costs Nursing Applicants Turned Away Despite Shortages C-Section Deliveries Soar 'Tripping' on Cough Syrup is Back Teen Use of Drugs, Alcohol and Cigarettes Declining: Study FDA Approves Combination Vaccine for Kids Federal Govt. Launches Smallpox Site

Court Upholds Michigan Bid to Control Drug Costs

Michigan officials broke no laws when they tried to control health-care costs by limiting the types of prescription drugs available to low-income residents, the state's Court of Appeals has ruled.

The program, instituted in February, gives physicians the right to prescribe certain drugs to the estimated 1.6 million residents who receive state aid. The list of drugs was drawn up by a group of physicians and pharmacists appointed by Gov. John Engler, a Republican.

Other states, eager to limit their health-care costs, have been watching the legal challenge closely, the AP says.

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Nursing Applicants Turned Away Despite Shortages

Despite a nationwide nursing shortage, U.S. schools are turning away new recruits by the thousands because of a lack space, faculty and funding.

Nursing has regained some of the luster it lost a generation ago when more workplace opportunities opened up to women. But today, with nurses in demand, new graduates are getting multiple job offers with salaries that can run as high as $60,000, the Associated Press reports.

Too few aspiring nurses are getting the chance to train, however. Last year, U.S. nursing schools rejected 6,000 qualified applicants, according to a survey by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

Dorothy Detlor, nursing dean at Washington State University, said many unsuccessful candidates will switch career tracks. "A significant pool will be lost to nursing. It's a serious problem across the country."

According to a projection by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the country will be 800,000 nurses short by the year 2020.

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C-Section Numbers Soar

Almost one-quarter of babies born in the United States are now delivered by Caesarean section, the highest rate since the federal government began collecting statistics in 1989.

Experts are mixed in their reaction to the latest government numbers released this week. Proponents of the trend say that in the past, when C-sections were discouraged, a complicated labor sometimes ended with the fetus or the mother dying. C-sections bypass potentially traumatic labors and deliveries, the Washington Post reports.

However, critics argue that some doctors favor C-sections because they can work them into their schedules. Opponents of the procedure also claim soaring malpractice insurance rates have made obstetricians more wary of labor, and so they rush to perform surgery.

But often it's pregnant women who request C-sections, sometimes simply for convenience, other times to avoid muscle and ligament damage that can occur during labor and childbirth, the Post reports.

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'Tripping' on Cough Syrup is Back

"Robotripping" -- getting high on cold medicine -- appears to be back in vogue with U.S. teens.

Although cough syrup abuse has been around for more than 30 years, cases of teens overdosing on Robitussin, NyQuil, Benadryl and Coricidin seem to be increasing in frequency, addiction expert Dr. Drew Pinsky told ABC's Good Morning America.

The culprit ingredient in these over-the-counter medications is dextromethorphan, a common additive in cough suppressants that can cause hallucinations when taken in large quantities, Pinsky said.

Users can suffer psychosis, brain damage, and seizures. Last year, 14 people died from deliberate overdoses of cold medicine, according to Pinsky, and several hundred were hospitalized.

This news comes at the same time as a University of Michigan study that reports a downward trend in drug, alcohol, and tobacco use among American teenagers.

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Teen Use of Drugs, Alcohol and Cigarettes Declining, Study Finds

Use of illicit drugs, alcohol and cigarettes is declining among American teens, according to a University of Michigan study prepared for the U.S. government.

While the numbers are down, drug use among teens is still a nationwide problem, says Lloyd D. Johnston, who directed the study of 44,000 8th-, 10th- and 12th-graders from 394 schools nationwide. The 28th annual survey was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

An Associated Press analysis of the survey reports the following:

  • Cigarette smoking fell among each grade, continuing a 50 percent decline since 1996.
  • Percentages of 8th- and 10th- graders using illicit drugs fell to their lowest levels in almost a decade.
  • Marijuana use among 8th graders fell to its lowest level since 1994.
  • LSD use fell among all ages -- among 12th-graders, it fell to its lowest point in 28 years.
  • Use of cocaine and heroin remained about the same since last year's survey.

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FDA Approves Combination Vaccine for Kids

A combination vaccine that protects children against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and diseases that stem from the Hepatitis B virus has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The Pediatrix vaccine, produced by SmithKline Beecham, includes inoculations that are already available in the United States as separate vaccines, the agency says. But Pediatrix cuts down the number of shots needed in some cases from 9 to 3. The doses are recommended for infants at ages 2 months, 4 months and 6 months.

Side effects were similar to those from the separate vaccines, including pain, redness, swelling and fever. In clinical trials, incidence of fever was greater among those who received the combination vaccine than among recipients of the individual inoculations.

Pediatrix should not be given to infants less than 6 weeks old, the FDA says.

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HHS Launches Smallpox Web Site

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new Web site to inform the public about smallpox and President Bush's vaccination plan.

"I know from my own experience that this issue is complex and difficult, and we need to have answers easily available," said HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson in announcing the new site, www.smallpox.gov.

Thompson said the site would include comprehensive, up-to-the-minute information -- from "basic facts to fine detail."

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