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Health Highlights: June 18, 2002

Abuse-Resistant Form of OxyContin Delayed X-ray Worker Cancers Dropped With Radiation Limits Vasectomy Won't Cause Prostate Cancer Illness Strikes Grand Canyon Rafters Bogus Drugs Becoming a Problem New Power Plants Threaten Health: Panel Toy Push Cars Pose Choking Hazard

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

Abuse-resistant Form of OxyContin Delayed

Undesired side effects have stalled clinical trials on a new form of the powerful painkiller OxyContin that was being designed to prevent abuse of the drug, reports the Associated Press.

The painkiller is a highly valued narcotic for treatment of severe pain from cancer or other illnesses, with just one pill offering 12 hours of relief. But if OxyContin is crushed and then chewed, inhaled, or injected, it brings on an intense high much like that of heroin. Its abuse has been linked to more than 100 deaths.

The drug's maker, Purdue Pharma, has been working on a possible solution to add an ingredient called naloxone, which would block OxyContin's effects if the pill was crushed or injected.

But the drug maker announced today that trials have found that the naloxone may also block the painkilling mechanism in those who take the drug correctly. The company won't seek Food and Drug Administration approval for the drug this year, as had been planned.

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X-ray Worker Cancers Dropped With Radiation Limits

Women who worked as X-ray technicians prior to 1940 were nearly three times more likely to die of breast cancer than those employed in such positions after 1960, reports a new study.

Research appearing in tomorrow's Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked at data on more than 69,000 women who had worked as X-ray technicians between 1926 and 1982.

The researchers found that the risk of dying from breast cancer was about 2.5 times higher among those who worked between 1940 and 1949, compared to those who started work after 1960, reports the Associated Press.

The researchers say the reductions in cancer deaths coincided with reductions in recommended radiation exposure limits over the time period evaluated.

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Vasectomy Won't Cause Prostate Cancer

A new study should put to rest any worries that men who get a vasectomy have a greater risk for prostate cancer. The research says that the procedure won't hurt your prostate health even a generation after you have it, reports HealthDay.

In the early 1990s, some researchers said they had discovered a link between vasectomies and a higher rate of prostate cancer. The reason for the connection wasn't clear.

But a study conducted in New Zealand, which has one of the world's highest vasectomy rates, compared 923 men with recent prostate cancer diagnoses to 1,224 randomly selected men in the same age group (40-74) who didn't have cancer.

They found no link between vasectomies and prostate cancer, and vasectomies didn't appear to cause any prostate problems even 25 years after the procedure -- and 38 percent of the men in this study had it done that long ago.

The findings appear in tomorrow's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Illness Strikes Grand Canyon Rafters

A mysterious illness has been wreaking gastrointestinal havoc in an unusually high number of people rafting in the Grand Canyon this month, reports the Associated Press.

Health officials are trying to determine the cause of the illness, which causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea for 24 for 48 hours. As of last Thursday, Grand Canyon National Park officials had reports of 19 such cases among rafters traveling on the Colorado River.

In the few days since then, the number of illnesses has jumped to 51 people.

Park officials say they are looking at high-use areas of the river where trips gather to launch and believe that the illness is highly contagious, even when good hygiene habits are practiced.

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Bogus Drugs Becoming a Problem

Thanks in large part to sales over the Internet, counterfeit drugs are no longer just a problem in developing countries, but are turning up with increasing regularity in the U.S., the Associated Press reports.

In just the last three months, the Food and Drug Administration has begun investigating at least six major cases of drug counterfeiting -- including a schizophrenia medication replaced with aspirin and anemia injections that were 20 times less potent than they should have been, the AP says.

The priciest new drugs make attractive targets for counterfeiters, and the problem has been compounded because drug companies haven't been required to tell the FDA about cases they discover. The agency is about to implement new rules to change that.

Counterfeit drugs have long been a problem in less developed nations; a recent study found that one-third of malaria pills sampled in Asia contained none of the actual medication, the AP reports.

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New Power Plants Threaten Health: Panel

Air quality in North America is almost certain to suffer if the United States, Canada, and Mexico build more than 2,000 proposed power plants, an international commission warns.

Most of the plants are proposed in the U.S., and would boost the continent's electricity output by 50 percent, reports the Associated Press. But the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation worries that many of the proposed plants would be powered by inexpensive -- yet highly polluting -- coal.

The panel, created by the three countries to study the environmental effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), is calling for more stringent emissions standards and closer cooperation.

NAFTA estimates say demand for electricity this decade is expected to rise 66 percent in Mexico, 21 percent in the United States, and 14 percent in Canada, the AP reports.

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Toy Cars Pose Choking Hazard

Radio Flyer Inc. of Chicago, is recalling 15,000 Little Wooden Push Cars for repair, the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. A child can pull the horn off the car's steering wheel, and a small part inside poses a choking hazard.

The company has received three reports of the horns being pulled off, but no injuries have been reported.

The Little Wooden Push Car is about 24 inches long, 14 inches wide, and 18 inches high. It has a natural wood body, a red steering wheel column, a red metal bar on the back, and a red plastic horn on the steering wheel. "Radio Flyer" is written on both sides of the car, which is recommended for children ages 1 to 3.

Toy stores, catalogues and Web retailers began selling the cars nationwide in February 1999 for about $60. Only push cars with horns are part of this recall.

Consumers should take the recalled cars away from children immediately and contact Radio Flyer to receive a replacement steering wheel. For more information, call Radio Flyer at 1-800-621-7613 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. (Central Time) Monday through Friday. The company can also be reached by e-mail at 218Repair@RadioFlyer.com.

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