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Health Highlights: May 11, 2011

Crash Deaths Cost U.S. $41 Billion a Year: Report Not Hard to Quit Smoking: Tobacco Company CEO Odor Triggers Another J&J; Drug Recall VA Must Overhaul Mental Health Care System: Appeals Court Anti-Psychotic Drugs Given to Nursing Home Patients With Dementia FDA Orders Follow-Up Studies of Metal-on-Metal Artificial Hips Appeals Court Begins Hearing of Health Care Law Case

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

Crash Deaths Cost U.S. $41 Billion a Year: Report

The annual estimated cost of motor vehicle crash deaths in the United States is $41 billion, according to a federal government report. The amount includes medical and work loss costs.

Half of the total yearly cost is in 10 states: California ($4.16 billion), Texas ($3.5 billion), Florida ($3.16 billion), Georgia ($1.55 billion), Pennsylvania ($1.52 billion), North Carolina ($1.5 billion), New York ($1.33 billion), Illinois ($1.32 billion), Ohio ($1.23 billion), and Tennessee ($1.15 billion).

The cost of crash deaths among children and teens up to 19 years old is nearly $856 million per year, according to the report by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The cost analysis was based on 2005 figures, the most recent year for which comprehensive data was available. It was released to coincide with the May 11 launch of the United Nations' Decade of Action for Road Safety.

"Deaths from motor vehicle crashes are preventable," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, said in an agency news release. "Seat belts, graduated driver's license programs, child safety seats, and helmet use save lives and reduce health care costs."


Not Hard to Quit Smoking: Tobacco Company CEO

It's not that hard to quit smoking, the CEO of cigarette maker Philip Morris International Inc. said at the company's annual shareholder meeting Wednesday in New York City.

Louis C. Camilleri was responding to a cancer nurse who noted that tobacco use kills more than 400,000 Americans and 5 million people worldwide each year. She also said one of her patients told her he had more difficultly quitting smoking than beating other addictions such as crack, cocaine and meth, the Associated Press reported.

Camilleri's response: "We take our responsibility very seriously, and I don't think we get enough recognition for the efforts we make to ensure that there is effective worldwide regulation of a product that is harmful and that is addictive. Nevertheless, whilst it is addictive, it is not that hard to quit... There are more previous smokers in America today than current smokers."

The comments are an example of the "most irresponsible form of corporate double-speak," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the AP.

"Study after study has documented the powerful addiction to cigarettes is one of the most difficult to overcome of any drug anywhere in the world," Myers said. "It is stunning in the face of overwhelming science for the leader of the world's largest private tobacco company to deny how difficult and addictive cigarettes are."


Odor Triggers Another J&J Drug Recall

Another drug recall prompted by a musty odor has been announced by Johnson & Johnson.

The latest recall covers five lots of the HIV medicine Prezista at the wholesale and pharmacy level in Austria, Canada, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom, the Associated Press reported.

It's believed that fewer than 2,000 bottles of the HIV pills are still in the marketplace in those countries, Johnson & Johnson said.

The odor is likely due to trace amounts of the chemical TBA on bottles that came from one supplier, according to the company. There haven't been any reported cases of serious patient harm, the AP reported.


VA Must Overhaul Mental Health Care System: Appeals Court

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been ordered by a federal appeals court to fix its mental health care system in order to better serve patients.

In its ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals noted that an average of 18 veterans a day commit suicide, it often takes weeks for suicidal veterans to get a first appointment, and that it takes the department an average of four years to fully provide the mental health benefits owed veterans, the Associated Press reported.

The court said the department's "unchecked incompetence" in dealing with the large number of veterans' mental health claims is unconstitutional.

"No more veterans should be compelled to agonize or perish while the government fails to perform its obligations," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the three-judge panel, the AP reported. "Having chosen to honor and provide for our veterans by guaranteeing them the mental health care and other critical benefits to which they are entitled, the government may not deprive them of that support through unchallengeable and interminable delays."

The appeals court ruling overturned a 2008 district court ruling that a lawsuit seeking a judicial order for an overhaul of the Department of Veterans Affairs was "misdirected."


Anti-Psychotic Drugs Given to Nursing Home Patients With Dementia

Many U.S. nursing home residents with dementia are being given potentially harmful anti-psychotic drugs, a federal government report says.

In 2007, more than 300,000 nursing home residents received the drugs, which are meant to treat mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But 90 percent of the prescriptions were for patients with dementia, even though the drugs aren't approved for that use, said the Health and Human Services inspector general, the Associated Press reported.

Giving anti-psychotic drugs to elderly people with dementia puts them at increased risk of death, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

While doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs they believe are necessary, the federal government can prosecute drug makers for promoting unapproved uses of drugs, the AP reported.


FDA Orders Follow-Up Studies of Metal-on-Metal Artificial Hips

All companies that make metal-on-metal artificial hips must conduct studies of patients who have received the devices, says an order issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The popular devices have been linked to high early failure rates and serious health effects in some patients. Among other things, the studies must examine whether the implants are shedding high levels of metallic debris that can cause soft tissue damage, The New York Times reported.

The order was outlined in a letter issued Friday to about 20 manufacturers.

The FDA wants information about the entire category of metal-on-metal implants, not any single company's device, Dr. William H. Maisel, deputy director for science at the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, told the Times.

The order is the broadest use of the FDA's power to order studies of medical devices after they've been approved by the agency, he added.


Appeals Court Begins Hearing of Health Care Law Case

Both sides in the legal fight over the new U.S. health care law faced pointed questioning during a two-hour hearing Tuesday before three judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va.

The court is the first appellate court to review the Affordable Care Act, which is being challenged on the basis that the requirement that most Americans obtain health insurance is unconstitutional. Three lower courts have upheld the act and two have ruled it unconstitutional.

During Tuesday's hearing, the judges focused on whether the decision not to purchase health insurance is a commercial activity that the Supreme Court has ruled can be regulated or as an activity that Congress has no authority over, The New York Times reported.

The judges also discussed whether Virginia's attorney general has legal authority to challenge the health insurance mandate, which would impose an obligation on individuals but not on states.

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