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Health Highlights: Jan. 6, 2003

Angel Dust Makes a Comeback in D.C. Area Pfizer to Pay $6 Million for Misleading Antibiotic Promotion What's Your Happiness Rating? Back Injuries Aren't the Only Problem With Backpacks M.D. Insurance Rates Compromising Patient Care: Report 13 Tons of Frankfurters Recalled for Possible Listeria

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

Angel Dust Makes a Comeback in D.C. Area

PCP, a drug that induces an erratic and sometimes violent high, has again become a drug of choice among many users in the Washington, D.C., area.

After its initial popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, PCP, which can be snorted, smoked or eaten, was sidelined in favor of crack cocaine. But now, D.C. police say they saw the drug -- also known as angel dust -- four times as often in 2002 as in 2001, the Washington Post reports.

Users pay between $5 and $25 for a small vial of PCP solution. They then smoke cigarettes that they soak in the yellowish liquid. The result is four to five hours of an unpredictable high.

According to Theophus A. Brooks, who works with D.C. public school students on the Youth Gang Task Force, sometimes users are okay after they've smoked "dippers," but other times "you smoke it, and your mind snaps."

PCP users have often been reported as being violent with medical problems that include a sharp drop in blood pressure, muscular rigidity, convulsions, and even coma and/or death.

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Pfizer to Pay $6 Million for Misleading Antibiotic Promotion

Pfizer, the American pharmaceutical giant, has reached a $6 million settlement with 19 states regarding its misrepresentation of Zithromax, a best-selling antibiotic used to treat severe ear infections in children, the New York attorney general announced today.

Christine Pritchard, spokeswoman for Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, told the Associated Press that while the Pfizer-manufactured antibiotic works with fewer doses and fewer days, it isn't necessarily superior to other antibiotics. She also said that Pfizer's promotion of Zithromax excluded information about other factors doctors consider when prescribing treatment for ear infections.

About $2 million of the settlement will go toward public service announcements through March 2005, and $4 million will cover the cost of the states' investigations.

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What's Your Happiness Rating?

How happy you are depends on your personal answer to the simple equation: P + 5E + 3H = your happiness quotient. This latest mathematical conjugation comes from a pair of British researchers who interviewed 1000 people to draw up their formula.

In the equation, P stands for Personal Characteristics(life outlook, adaptability and resilience); E for Existence (health, financial stability and friendships); and H represents Higher Order needs (self-esteem, expectations, ambitions, and sense of humor.)

The researchers calculated participants' happiness quotients by reviewing their answers to a series of simple questions about their own personalities, attitudes and situations, the BBC reports. Each person ended up with a certain number rating out of 100. The higher the score, the happier they were.

Results also showed that men and women found happiness in different ways. For example, sunshine, family, and weight loss were big contributors to women's contentment, while romance, sex, hobbies, and victories by favorite sports teams ranked high with men.

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Back Injuries Aren't the Only Problem With Backpacks

Backpacks are more of a danger to children when they're on other kids' backs or on the floor, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Kids are more likely to be hurt by running into the canvas bags or by tripping over them, report researchers from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Despite growing concern about back problems caused by overloaded backpacks, just 23 percent of injuries among the 247 children studied were caused by wearing or taking off the packs, the scientists say.

The researchers studied backpack injuries among kids 6 to 18 years old that led to emergency room visits, as compiled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in 1999 and 2000, HealthDay reports. Study leaders acknowledge that their research did not account for injuries treated in doctors' offices.

The researchers say fewer backpacks stowed on the floor would mean fewer children landing down there, too. The injuries treated included cuts on the face and head, jammed fingers, shoulder strains and ankle sprains.

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M.D. Insurance Rates Compromising Patient Care: Report

Soaring malpractice insurance premiums for doctors are causing physicians to leave the states with the highest rates, compromising patient care, reports The New York Times. In some cases, doctors have seen their rates rise 80 percent in a single year.

Hospitals and clinics are closing entirely, or shutting down facilities that are most prone to malpractice lawsuits -- like trauma centers and maternity wards, the newspaper says. Nationwide, 20 percent of hospitals have had to cut back on services, and 6 percent have closed entirely or ended some services, according to an American Hospital Association survey cited by the Times.

Surgeons are picketing in West Virginia over the rising insurance rates, and a similar job action was just averted in Pennsylvania after the state offered a plan to help doctors cope with the rising costs.

Doctors cite multimillion dollar jury awards for the rate problem, and some 30 states are considering legislation that would cap such awards, the newspaper says. Malpractice attorneys, in turn, blame insurance companies, saying the insurers are raising rates to compensate for the falling stock market, the Times reports.

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13 Tons of Frankfurters Recalled for Possible Listeria

PRG Packing Corp. is recalling 26,400 pounds of "Sweet Meadow Farms" chicken frankfurters that may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service says. There are no reports of illness so far.

The 16-ounce packages bear the establishment code "P-5281" inside the USDA seal of inspection, and a sell-by date of "JAN 29."

The products, produced Nov. 27, 2002, were distributed to wholesalers and retail stores in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.

Eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes can cause listeriosis, with symptoms including high fever, severe headache, neck stiffness and nausea. The elderly, young children, and others with weaker immune systems are especially vulnerable.

Consumers with questions should contact Guillermo Gonzalez, company president, at 1-718-328-0059.

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