Written by HealthDay News

Updated on June 12, 2022

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

Pharmaceutical-Related ER Visits Increase 21 percent: U.S. Study

Visits to U.S. hospital emergency rooms due to the misuse/abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs increased 21 percent from 2004 to 2005, says a report released Tuesday by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The number of emergency room (ER) visits was 495,732 in 2004 and 598,542 in 2005. Many of those visits were by people who'd misused or abused multiple drugs, said the report, Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2005: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits.

Anti-anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines, up 19 percent), prescription pain relievers (up 24 percent) and methadone (up 29) percent were among the most common causes of the ER visits.

"We are in danger of becoming a nation of pill poppers," John Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a prepared statement. "The data released today put in stark relief the message we've been trying to get out in recent years. Prescription drugs can be lifesaving medicines when used properly, but their misuse can lead to addiction, suffering, and even death."

From 2004 to 2005, the number of ER visits for illicit drug use or alcohol remained the same, the report said.

Of the 1.4 million ER visits in 2005, 31 percent involved illicit drugs only, 27 percent involved pharmaceuticals only, and 36 percent involved combinations of illicit drugs, alcohol and/or pharmaceuticals.

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FDA Supports Use of New Temperature Devices for Canned Foods

A proposed rule to allow food makers to use new alternative temperature-indicating devices (TIDs) for heat-processed, low-acid canned foods was issued Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

If finalized, the rule would allow food makers to use TIDs -- state-of-the-art equipment for measuring and recording temperatures -- instead of, or in addition to, conventional mercury-in-glass thermometers for processing low-acid canned foods such as corn, peas and potatoes, the FDA said.

In addition to amending current regulations for the processing of these foods, the proposal includes clarification of rules for measuring and recording temperatures during processing, along with other requirements such as record keeping.

"This proposal is designed to benefit both consumers and the food industry. It enables manufacturers to rapidly adopt technologically advanced temperature-indicating devices. And we believe that the proposed rule, after being finalized, would ensure that these devices are accurate," Robert E. Brackett, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Nutrition, said in a prepared statement.

There's a 90-day period to comment on the proposed rule, the FDA said.

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Heavier Men Less Likely to Commit Suicide

Overweight and obese men are less likely to commit suicide than leaner men, says a 16-year U.S. study that followed more than 45,000 male health professionals.

During the study period, 131 of the men committed suicide. The researchers found an association between increased body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) and decreased suicide rates. This held true even after the researchers factored in variables such as alcohol use, smoking, physical activity, marital status, and diet, The New York Times reported.

Men in the highest fifth of BMI were almost 60 percent less likely to commit suicide than those in the lowest fifth, said the study, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study authors suggested that the BMI/suicide link may be due to circulating levels of insulin, which may affect mood.

"It's a surprisingly strong relationship," lead author Kenneth J. Mukamal, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, told the Times. "But even though we see that heavier men are less likely to commit suicide, there are plenty of other studies that link obesity to poor health. Gaining weight is not the best way to improve anyone's mental health. I hope these findings will provide insight into new strategies to prevent suicide."

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Beta Carotene Pills Don't Prevent Macular Degeneration: Study

Beta carotene pills alone don't protect against the eye disease age-related macular degeneration, according to a U.S. study of more than 21,000 male doctors followed for an average of 12 years, the Associated Press reported.

Age-related macular degeneration, which affects more than 10 million Americans, is the leading cause of blindness among people 65 and older in the country. There is no cure. Carrots, long believed to sharpen eyesight, are rich in beta carotene.

The doctors in this study took either a pill with 50 milligrams of beta carotene or a placebo (dummy) pill every other day. After 12 years, there were 162 cases of macular degeneration in the beta carotene group and 170 cases in the placebo group, the AP reported.

The findings were published in the March issue of the journal Archives of Ophthalmology.

A previous study concluded that beta carotene, when taken with certain vitamins and zinc, may help prevent or slow vision loss in people with age-related macular degeneration, the AP reported.

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VA Medical Center Directors Told to Assess Facilities

In response to revelations about squalid conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, U.S. Veterans Affairs has told the directors of its 1,400 hospitals and clinics to report on the quality of their facilities.

The directive was issued in an internal memorandum sent March 7 by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson to VA medical center directors, the Associated Press reported.

In the memorandum, Nicholson said "recent events" compelled him to intensify efforts to improve conditions at VA outpatient centers and medical facilities.

"I am directing you hereby to conduct and supervise a full and immediate review of your facility's environments of care," Nicholson wrote. The directors were asked to file full reports by March 14, the AP reported.

The VA provides supplemental health care and rehabilitation to 5.8 million veterans.

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Unfertilized Mouse Eggs Used to Create Cloned Stem Cells

Japanese scientists have created cloned embryonic stem cells from unfertilized mouse eggs and say the breakthrough could help resolve the heated debate about the ethics of stem cell research.

The scientists conducted in vitro fertilization in mice. They found that eggs that had not been fertilized could still be used to create cloned embryonic stem cells, Agence France Presse reported.

This finding suggests that unfertilized human eggs that would have gone to waste during in vitro procedures could also be used to create cloned embryonic stem cells. The study was published in the journal Current Biology.

"Before our findings, it was believed that only fresh eggs could be used. But if incompetent eggs can be cloned, then scientists could be given eggs that failed to be fertilized and would have been abandoned in fertility clinics," study leader Teruhiko Wakayama, of the government-backed Riken research foundation, told AFP.

Embryonic stem cells can develop into various organs and nerves. Advocates of embryonic stem cell research say it can save lives by finding cures for many kinds of diseases, including diabetes and cancer. Opponents argue that the research destroys human lives.

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