Health Highlights: July 17, 2018
Some Prescription Drugs May Become Available Without Seeing a Doctor: FDA Steep Rise Seen in U.S. Liver Cancer Deaths Antibiotics Overprescribed at Urgent Care Clinics First Smallpox Drug Approved by FDA
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Some Prescription Drugs May Become Available Without Seeing a Doctor: FDA
A new draft guideline from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suggests Americans could get widely used prescription medicines for cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma and migraine headaches without having to see a doctor.
The FDA says patients could use a mobile-phone app to help determine if they're able to obtain a medication without a prescription, Bloomberg News reported.
"Our hope is that the steps we're taking to advance this new, more modern framework will contribute to lower costs for our health care system overall and provide greater efficiency and empowerment for consumers by increasing the availability of certain products that would otherwise be available only by prescription," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
A regulation to make this approach official is expected next year, Bloomberg reported.
Gottlieb also said a similar approach could be used for the opioid overdose antidote naloxone. While naloxone is available without a prescription in most states, there are reports of limited access to the medicine.
Slightly more than half of U.S. adults (43 million people) who require cholesterol medications are taking them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Bloomberg reported.
The CDC also said that about one-third of adults (75 million people) have high blood pressure, but only about half of them have it under control.
Drugs used to treat life-threatening allergies, such as EpiPen, could benefit from similar nonprescription status, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Steep Rise Seen in U.S. Liver Cancer Deaths
Liver cancer death rates in the United States rose 43 percent between 2000 and 2016, a new federal government report shows.
During that same period, there was a drop in deaths from all cancers, CNN reported Tuesday.
Liver cancer death rates climbed among men and women aged 25 and older, and among whites, blacks and Hispanics. Only Asians and Pacific Islanders saw a decrease in deaths from liver cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
The rise in liver cancer deaths doesn't mean the disease has become deadlier, but rather that more Americans are developing liver cancer, CDC researcher Jiaquan Xu told CNN.
More than 70 percent of liver cancers are preceded by liver disease, which can be caused by obesity, smoking, too much alcohol, and hepatitis B and C infection, according to Farhad Islmai, scientific director of cancer surveillance research at the American Cancer Society.
"I think the main reason for the increase in liver cancer incidence and death rate in the U.S. is the increase in the prevalence of excess body weight and hepatitis C virus infection in baby boomers," Islami told CNN.
Xu added that lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of liver cancer.
"Some of these liver cancer risk factors like obesity, diabetes and excess consumption of alcohol, those things can be prevented," he told CNN.
Antibiotics Overprescribed at Urgent Care Clinics
Antibiotics are prescribed to nearly half of Americans who go to urgent care clinics with a cold, flu or other conditions that can't be treated with the drugs, a new study says.
That rate is three times higher than in conventional doctors' offices, according to the study published July 17 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Experts warn that unnecessary use of antibiotics puts patients at risk for serious side effects, and contributes to the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the Washington Post reported.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria could kill 10 million people a year worldwide by 2050, a British study predicts. That's more than the number of cancer deaths.
First Smallpox Drug Approved by FDA
The first drug to treat smallpox has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
A massive vaccination campaign led to the eradication of smallpox worldwide by 1980, but there are fears the highly contagious virus could be used in a terror attack.
The U.S. government has already stockpiled 2 million treatments of the new capsule drug, which is called TOPXX and is made by SIGA Technologies of New York, the Associated Press reported.
"This new treatment affords us an additional option should smallpox ever be used as a bioweapon," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
TOPXX is taken twice daily for 14 days, the AP reported.