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Health Highlights: May 20, 2014

Drug Official Says U.S. Faces 'Heroin Crisis' Former NFL Players Sue League Over Drug Use Minnesota Bans Anti-Bacterial Chemical Triclosan in Soaps Denge Fever Causes Concern as Brazil Hosts World Cup

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

Drug Official Says U.S. Faces 'Heroin Crisis'

The United States is facing a "nationwide heroin crisis," a top federal drug official warns.

The number of heroin addicts and abusers increased 75 percent in the last four years, Assistant Secretary of State William Brownfield said Tuesday at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on U.S.-Mexican relations, the Associated Press reported.

While the U.S. has improved its ability to disrupt cocaine and methamphetamine supplies from Latin America, the amount of pure heroin entering the country has doubled, according to Brownfield, who heads the State Department's international narcotics and law enforcement unit.

Once mainly a problem in cities, law enforcement officials say heroin has spread to middle-class suburbs and rural areas, the AP reported.


Former NFL Players Sue League Over Drug Use

A lawsuit filed against the NFL by a group of retired players alleges that the league gave them dangerous narcotics and other painkillers so that they could play while injured, resulting in health problems later in life.

The players charge that the NFL obtained and administered the drugs illegally, and did not mention possible side effects. Some players claim they were never told they had broken legs and ankles and instead were given drugs to dull the pain, the Associated Press reported.

One player says he didn't received needed surgery, but was instead given anti-inflammatory medicines and skipped practices so that he could play in money-making games. Other players said they became addicted to painkillers after years of receiving the drugs for free from the league.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Tuesday, names eight players, including three members of the 1985 NFL champion Chicago Bears: Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon, the AP reported.

More than 500 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit, according to lawyers.

Last year, the NFL paid $765 million to settle a lawsuit accusing it of concealing known risks from players' concussions. No blame was assessed and no punitive damages were awarded to players, the AP reported.

The new lawsuit seeks unspecified financial damages and the creation of an NFL-funding testing and monitoring program to help protect players from painkiller-linked addiction, injuries and disabilities.

"The NFL knew of the debilitating effects of these drugs on all of its players and callously ignored the players' long-term health in its obsession to return them to play," said Steven Silverman, attorney for the players, the AP reported.

"I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL," plaintiff J.D. Hill, who spent 7 years in the NFL in the 1970s, said in a statement. "I became addicted and turned to the streets after my career and was homeless. Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL."

The lawsuit says Van Horne played an entire season with a broken leg and wasn't told about the injury for 5 years, "during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain," the AP reported.

McMahon says he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his NFL career but team doctors and trainers never told him about the injuries. Instead, he was given drugs and told to keep playing. He also became addicted to painkillers, according to the lawsuit.


Minnesota Bans Anti-Bacterial Chemical Triclosan in Soaps

A germ-killing ingredient that's widely used in products such as soaps, toothpaste and deodorants is being banned in Minnesota due to health and environmental concerns.

A bill to prohibit the use of triclosan in most retail consumer hygiene products was signed Friday by Gov. Mark Dayton and is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2017. Minnesota is the first state to take such action, the Associated Press reported.

Studies in lab animals have suggested that triclosan may disrupt hormones that play an important role in reproduction and development, while other research indicates that triclosan may contribute to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

An estimated 75 percent of anti-bacterial soaps and body washes sold in the United States contain triclosan, according to the Food and Drug Administration. The agency and other experts say there's no evidence that soaps with triclosan are more effective than plain soap and water in preventing the spread of diseases, the AP reported.

Other states and the federal government are likely to take action against triclosan, said state Sen. John Marty, one of the lead sponsors of the Minnesota bill. He added that many companies are likely to voluntarily remove triclosan from their products.

Extensive research has shown that triclosan provides important health benefits, according to the American Cleaning Institute, which urged Gov. Dayton to veto the bill, the AP reported.


Denge Fever Causes Concern as Brazil Hosts World Cup

A dengue fever epidemic in Brazil has public health officials concerned that some of the millions of soccer fans who come to see the World Cup will carry the disease back home with them.

Brazil, which had about 1.4 million cases of dengue fever last year, will host the World Cup from June 12 to July 13. The event will be held in a dozen cities throughout the country.

A team of scientists concluded that the dengue threat would be highest for tourists visiting the cities of Natal, Fortaleza and Recife, all located on the northeastern coast, The New York Times reported.

The researchers said that Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and Manaus were "medium risk" cities, and that the remainder of cities hosting the World Cup were low risk.

The fear is that some visitors could carry the virus that causes dengue fever back home, where it could spread if they are bitten by mosquitoes belonging to the genus Aedes, The Times reported.

The study was published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

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