Health Highlights: Nov. 10, 2009

U.S. Should Review Marijuana's Legal Status: AMA Vets Struggle to Get Counseling/Substance Abuse Treatment: Survey Scientists Weigh Boundaries For Human-Animal DNA Trials Basketball Legend Abdul-Jabbar Treated for Leukemia Maclaren Strollers Pose Amputation Hazard

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

U.S. Should Review Marijuana's Legal Status: AMA

The American Medical Association wants the U.S. government to review marijuana's status as an illegal drug, a move that's considered important by supporters of medical marijuana.

"This shift, coming from what has historically been America's most cautious and conservative major medical organization, is historic," Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which seeks to reform U.S. marijuana laws, said in a news release. "Marijuana's Schedule I status is not just scientifically untenable, given the wealth of recent data showing it to be both safe and effective for chronic pain and other conditions, but it's been a major obstacle to needed research."

Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug that has no accepted medical use and is unsafe for use even under medical supervision. Heroin, LSD and PCP are among the other Schedule I drugs, MPP said.

On Tuesday, the AMA's House of Delegates adopted a new policy position urging "that marijuana's status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods."

But the policy authors added that this new position shouldn't be regarded as an endorsement of state medical marijuana programs.


Vets Struggle to Get Counseling/Substance Abuse Treatment

U.S. veterans face major barriers to getting mental health and substance abuse treatment, according to a survey released Tuesday by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

The findings come a year after the Veterans Mental Health Act was signed into law. The act requires the VA to partner with community behavioral health centers to increase capacity and expand mental health services to include marriage and family counseling.

The survey of council members across the United States identified problems that prevent veterans from getting treatment, including:

  • Access to Care: Nearly two-thirds of respondents said veterans and their families endure long delays to get initial appointments for crisis situations and have excessive waits between appointments.
  • Long Distances: Many veterans must travel long distances to the VA or a military base. For those in rural areas, travel times can be as long as five hours. Others lack access to a vehicle or public transportation, or may be unable to drive or take public transportation because of physical and mental limitations.
  • Stigma: Many veterans believe that seeking treatment from the VA or military will be noted in their personnel records, harm their careers and label them as "weak" or "crazy."
  • Lack of Family Involvement: The Act includes marriage and family counseling, but few veterans' family members are involved in treatment. These services are either not being provided or haven't been widely promoted.

"We don't fault the VA for these problems, but we are concerned that veterans and their families are not receiving the services they need in a timely manner," Jeannie Campbell, the National Councils executive vice president and a veteran, said in a news release. "We hope the VA sees our community behavioral health organizations as resources to extend and supplement their mental health and substance use treatment services."


Scientists Weigh Boundaries for Human-Animal DNA Trials

The controversial use of human DNA in animal experiments is the focus of a study by scientists with the Academy of Medical Sciences in England who plan to examine the issue and recommend boundaries.

This type of research -- such as growing human organs in animals or swapping animal genes with human genes -- has gone on for years, but rules about how much human DNA can be put into an animal are vague, the Associated Press reported.

"It sounds yucky, but it may be well worth doing if it's going to lead to a cure for something horrible," study group member Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell expert at Britain's National Institute for Medical Research, said at a media briefing in London.

"We are trying to work out what is reasonable," said study group chairman Martin Bobrow, who added that he and his colleagues recognize that experiments where animals are given human features or brain cells would upset some people.

"This is a classic example of science going too fast," David King, director of the independent watchdog group Human Genetics Alert, told the AP. "If you cannot firmly say exactly what it is you're creating, you should not do it."


Basketball Legend Abdul-Jabbar Treated for Leukemia

Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is being treated for chronic myeloid leukemia and has been given an encouraging prognosis.

While doctors haven't given him any guarantees, the NBA's all-time leading scorer said they told him: "You have a very good chance to live your life out and not have to make any drastic changes to your lifestyle," the Associated Press reported.

Abdul-Jabbar, 62, is taking an oral medication for the blood cancer. At the time of diagnosis last December, doctors told him the disease was treatable with proper medication and monitoring.

Now a special assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar has been able to maintain his normal level of activity of coaching, as well as his usual regimen and diet. He says he wants to raise awareness of chronic myeloid leukemia and its treatment, the AP reported.

"There is hope. This condition can be treated. You can still live a productive, full life," Abdul-Jabbar said.


Maclaren Strollers Pose Amputation Hazard

About 1 million strollers made by British company Maclaren are being recalled after about a dozen reports of children's fingertips being amputated by a hinge mechanism on the side of the stroller.

Children have been injured when getting into the strollers and also while seated in the strollers, which have been sold since 1999, ABC News reported.

The recall involves all models of Maclaren single and double umbrella strollers including Volo, Triumph, Quest Sport, Quest Mod, Techno XT, Techno XLR, Twin Triumph, Twin Techno and Easy Traveller.

Consumers should stop using these strollers until they get a hinge cover that can be ordered from Maclaren, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

For more information, contact the company at (877) 688-2326.

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