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Health Highlights: June 4, 2009

Puerto Rico Has High HIV Infection Rate: Study Big Differences Among States in Drug Abuse, Mental Illness: Report EPA Investigating Safety of Rubber Playgrounds, Sports Fields More Americans Doing Without Prescription Drugs

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

Puerto Rico Has High HIV Infection Rate: Study

In 2006, the rate of new HIV infections in Puerto Rico was 45 per 100,000 people, two times higher than in the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to a study published Thursday.

Injection drug use was the primary cause of transmission among the 1,440 people in Puerto Rico newly infected with HIV in 2006. The infection rate was 2.1 times higher among males than females. People ages 30-39 had the highest rates of infection, said researchers from the Puerto Rico Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the 50 states and Washington, D.C., most new HIV infections occur among gay and bisexual men and among younger adults. The differences noted in Puerto Rico highlight the need to tailor HIV-prevention efforts to meet local needs, the researchers said.

The study appears in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the CDC.


Big Differences Among States in Drug Abuse, Mental Illness: Report

Levels of substance abuse and mental illness vary widely among states, according to a U.S. government analysis.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration examined interviews with 135,672 people in 2006 and 2007. Among the findings:

  • The highest rate of marijuana use among those 12 and older was in Vermont (2.5 percent) and the lowest was in Utah (1.6 percent).
  • The highest rate of cocaine use among those 12 and older was in the District of Columbia (5.1 percent) and the lowest rate was in Mississippi (1.6 percent).
  • The highest rate of underage drinking was in North Dakota (40 percent) and the lowest was in Utah (17.3 percent).
  • The rate of people 18 and older who had experienced major depression in the past year was highest in Tennessee (9.8 percent) and lowest in Hawaii (5 percent).
  • In Iowa, the rate of current illicit drug use among those 12 and older was 5.2 percent, compared to 12.5 percent in Rhode Island. However, Iowa had one of the highest rates of people reporting alcohol dependence or abuse in the past year (9.2 percent).

"This report shows that while every state faces its own unique pattern of public health problems, these problems confront every state," Dr. Eric Broderick, acting administrator of SAMHSA, said in a news release. "By highlighting the exact nature and scope of the problems in each state, we can help state public health authorities better determine the most effective ways of addressing them."


EPA Investigating Safety of Rubber Playgrounds, Sports Fields

Concerns about the possible health effects of sports fields and playgrounds made from ground-up tires prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a study of air and surface samples at four fields and playgrounds with recycled-rubber surfaces.

Government documents say the study began last year, and the results are expected within weeks, the Associated Press reported.

The EPA launched the limited study at the urging of some of its own scientists, who said there were gaps in scientific knowledge about how repeated exposure to bits of shredded tires might affect children's health.

"From everything I've been able to see, I'm not sure there's an imminent hazard, but it's something we're investigating," Michael Firestone, EPA's head of children's health protection, told the AP. "It's critical to take a look at all the data together."

Communities across the country have expressed concerns about children touching, swallowing or inhaling lead, metals and chemicals like benzene and zinc from artificial fields and play areas.

Results of a New York state study released last week found no significant health or environmental concerns about leaching and breathable air above the artificial sports fields, the AP said. Other local studies examining artificial grass or tire-crumb play areas have reached similar conclusions. Several have recommended more research, the AP said.

But New York City has announced its new sports fields no longer will use tire crumbs.

The EPA's limited study won't be definitive, but, along with studies in New Jersey, California, Connecticut and New York, it could help determine whether more research is needed, the AP said.

The ground covering under the Obama family's new play set at the White House is made of ground-up tire mulch, which was recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association.


More Americans Doing Without Prescription Drugs

With the economic downturn, more Americans are unable to afford the prescription medications they need to manage life-threatening conditions, The New York Times reported.

Even with the Medicare drug benefit, the wide availability of low-cost generics and discounting by big chain stores, national surveys consistently show that as many as a third of respondents say they're not filling prescriptions because of cost. That's up from about a quarter of respondents three years ago.

The problem is common in hard-hit communities like Rocky Mount, N.C., where unemployment has doubled to 14 percent in a year.

Dr. John T. Avent, a physician at a low-income clinic, told The Times that at least 80 percent of his patients aren't taking prescribed medicines for conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

"They'll say, 'Well, Doc, I just couldn't afford it; I've been out of it for a month now,'" Avent said. "By that time, of course, their blood pressure is highly elevated and their hemoglobin A1C is two to three times what it should be."

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