Health Highlights: June 19, 2008

FDA Sued Over Alleged Painkiller Risks PETCO Warehouse Cited for Unsanitary Conditions Drug Linked to Suicide Being Tested on Veterans With PTSD Scientists Renew Old Muscles Baby Bottle Makers Sued Over Bisphenol A Use Large Increase in Suicides By Elderly Japanese Rating System Being Introduced for U.S. Nursing Homes Endangered Dogs Cloned By Disgraced Stem Cell Scientist

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

FDA Sued Over Alleged Painkiller Risks

The painkiller propoxyphene, sold under the brand names Darvoset and Darvon, has too many health risks to be left on the market, a consumer advocacy group alleges in its lawsuit filed Thursday against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The drug, which also is sold generically, has been involved in the accidental deaths of more than 2,000 people who took it since 1981, Public Citizen said in its petition two years ago to ban the medication.

In its lawsuit, Public Citizen said the FDA broke the law when it failed to act on the petition within the required six months, the Associated Press reported.

The advocacy group has said that there are safer, more effective painkillers than propoxyphene, which the lawsuit says is addictive and can cause cardiac problems including a slowed heartbeat, the AP reported. It can also cause sedation and confusion among the elderly, according to Dr. Sydney Wolfe, Director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

None of the drug's manufacturer's immediately responded to the wire service's request for comment.

Some 22 million prescriptions for the drug are filled annually in the United States, the AP said.


PETCO Warehouse Cited for Unsanitary Conditions

On the order of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, federal marshals on Thursday raided a PETCO warehouse in Joliet, Ill., that serves 16 states.

The agency cited unsanitary conditions at the facility, which provides pet food products and supplies to PETCO retail stores in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The agency said it had no reports of pet illness or evidence that any of the products were unsafe. "However, the seized products were in permeable packages and held under conditions that could affect the food's integrity and quality," according to an FDA statement.

The agency said it inspected the facility twice in April and May, finding "widespread and active rodent and bird infestation."

It advised consumers who had any products from PETCO in affected states to thoroughly wash their hands with hot water and soap, and to thoroughly wash surfaces that may have come in contact with the packages.

If pets become sick after eating affected products, consumers should call their veterinarian and report such instances to the agency's state consumer complaint coordinator. A list of phone numbers is available at


Drug Linked to Suicide Being Tested on Veterans With PTSD

Veterans groups and some members of Congress say they're outraged over revelations that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are being recruited by the U.S. government for tests involving the anti-smoking drug Chantix, which has been linked to increased risk of suicide.

They're calling for an immediate halt to the tests and an investigation, ABC News reported.

"Nearly 40 suicides and more than 400 incidents of suicidal behavior have been linked to Chantix, yet the [Veteran's Administration] has chosen to continue the study and administer Chantix to veterans with PTSD," said Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA). "The VA must immediately suspend this study until a comprehensive review of the safety of the protocol is conducted."

"Our nation's veterans are not guinea pigs," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "It is unacceptable for even one veteran to have been misled about the possible side effects of Chantix."

The VA says the ABC News/Washington Post report about the study is "inaccurate and misleading."

"In our PTSD and smoking cessation study, our research is to learn if it is easier to stop smoking when smoking cessation treatment is combined with PTSD therapy, or whether the two therapies are more effective if they are provided separately," said a statement posted on the VA Web site, ABC News reported.

"In either case, patients are receiving treatment recommended by their own doctors using counselling with or without FDA approved medication that includes Varenicline (Chantix). Participation in this program is voluntary, and all participants are closely monitored clinically by mental health professionals who provide smoking cessation methods patients agree to use," the statement said.


Scientists Renew Old Muscles

U.S. scientists say they've found a way to renew old and tired muscles, and their research could lead to new treatments for age-related degenerative diseases, BBC News reported.

The University of California, Berkeley team was able to adjust biochemical signals in old mice to increase the ability of the rodents' stem cells to repair damaged muscle tissue almost as well as it occurs in young mice.

The findings appear in the journal Nature.

"We are one step closer to having a point of intervention where we can rejuvenate the body's own stem cells so we don't have to suffer from some of the debilitating diseases associated with aging," said researcher Dr. Morgan Carlson, BBC News reported.

The key is to find the right balance between the biochemical pathway that promotes healing and that which promotes aging, said lead researcher Dr. Irina Conboy.

"We need to find out what the levels of these chemicals are in the young so we can calibrate the system when we're older. If we can do that, we could rejuvenate tissue repair for a very long time," Conboy said.


Baby Bottle Makers Sued Over Bisphenol A Use

Five baby bottle makers are facing a lawsuit over their use of the chemical bisphenol A, the Associated Press reported.

In the suit filed last week in U.S. District Court, four Ohio parents allege the companies knew that bisphenol A was associated with health problems. The lawsuit cites scientific studies that concluded the chemical seeped from plastic bottles and sippy-cups into liquid.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages.

The five companies named in the lawsuit are: Ohio-based Evenflo; Illinois-based Avent America Inc.; Missouri-based Handicraft Co.; Connecticut-based Playtex Products Inc; and the Swiss company Gerber Novartis, the AP reported.

Company spokespeople either refused comment or weren't immediately available to return calls from the AP.

Tests on rats suggest that bisphenol A may be associated with brain and behavior changes, early puberty and possible precancerous changes in the prostate and breast, the wire service said.


Large Increase in Suicides By Elderly Japanese

The number of Japanese over age 60 who committed suicide increased by almost 9 percent in 2007. The 12,107 suicides among people 60 and older accounted for nearly 40 percent of all cases in the country, according to the National Police Agency.

Elderly people in Japan are increasingly plagued with worries about money and rising health care costs. Changes in the traditional family structure mean that many older adults are worried that no family members will be able to care for them. There's also concern among the elderly that the state will not be able to support them, BBC News reported.

Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Nationwide in 2007, the overall suicide rate rose 2.9 percent to 33,093. The main reasons for suicide were depression, illness and debt, according to the National Police Agency.

Japanese officials have introduced a number of measures to try to reduce the suicide rate, including workplace counseling and blocking Web sites that offer suicide tips, BBC News reported.


Rating System Being Introduced for U.S. Nursing Homes

A five-star rating system for U.S. nursing homes will be in place by the end of the year, the federal government announced Wednesday. The ratings, to be posted on the Internet, will provide consumers with an additional resource when selecting a nursing home.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plans to seek input from consumers and the nursing home industry to determine the criteria for the rating system, the Associated Press reported.

"The fact a home has a lower rating will likely put them on the path to improvement," said Kerry Weems, the agency's acting administrator. "I don't think we're going to see many people who are very anxious to put a loved one in a one-star home."

Also on Wednesday, federal officials said new regulations will require all nursing homes to have sprinkler systems by 2013, the AP reported. After that time, homes without sprinkler systems will not be allowed to care for Medicare clients.


Endangered Dogs Cloned By Disgraced Stem Cell Scientist

Seventeen clones of an endangered dog breed have been created by a South Korean team led by disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk. The Tibetan mastiff dogs were born in April, according to the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which refused to reveal the cloning success rate of the project, the Associated Press reported.

The cloning was done at the request of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Tibetan mastiff dogs are popular in China.

According to the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, all 17 dogs were cloned from two Tibetan mastiffs -- a female and a male - through six surrogate dogs. However, an official with another institute that did blind DNA tests for the foundation said the samples it tested were provided by Hwang's team, meaning it was unclear if the samples came from the original dogs, the cloned dogs, or a combination of both, the AP reported.

In 2005, Hwang and colleagues created the first known dog clone. But Hwang's reputation was later tarnished when it was revealed that he faked what had been hailed as breakthrough research involving embryonic stem cells.

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