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Health Highlights: Nov. 9, 2006

Abuse of Cough Medicine Ingredient Sending Kids to Hospital FDA to Change Handling of Medical Device Safety Issues Medicaid Coverage of Anti-Smoking Therapies Must Rise: Experts '60 Minutes' Reporter Ed Bradley Dies of Leukemia Early Exposure to Smoking Increases Bladder Cancer Risk: Study Scientists Prompt Immune System to Fight Skin Cancer

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

Abuse of Cough Medicine Ingredient Sending Kids to Hospital

Over 12,500 Americans were treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments after taking dextromethorphan (DXM), an ingredient in many over-the-counter cough medicines, experts from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported Thursday.

Nearly half (5,581) of cases were attributed to nonmedical use, and of those cases, 48 percent occurred in patients between 12 and 20 years of age, the SAMHSA report found. This group had more than double the rate of DXM-related hospital visits as people in other age groups (7.1 vs. 2.6 visits per 100,000 people, respectively).

"This report shows that there can be severe, even life-threatening consequences associated with the misuse of some over-the-counter medicines," SAMHSA Acting Deputy Administrator Dr. Eric Broderick said in a statement.

According to the agency, DXM is considered safe at recommended doses, but in large amounts it can produce a hallucinatory high similar to psychotropic drugs. Adverse effects include blurred vision, poor coordination, abdominal pain and rapid heartbeat.

In May 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning on DXM abuse following the death of 5 teenagers who may have consumed pure DXM in powdered, capsule form.


FDA to Change Handling of Medical Device Safety Issues

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is looking at ways to change how it responds to safety issues involving medical devices such as pacemakers and stents.

Proposals include steps to improve the agency's sharing of safety information, along with streamlining and enhancing the way the FDA collects reports of possible medical device problems from doctors, manufacturers and other sources, the Associated Press reported.

The agency also wants all medical devices to be marked with numbers that would make it easier to track them in the event of a recall.

The FDA's handling of safety issues surrounding drugs and medical devices has been under scrutiny, which is likely to intensify now that Democrats have won control of Congress, the AP reported.

Last year, there was widespread criticism of the agency's handling of medical device safety issues after a number of high-profile recalls and safety warnings that affected more than 200,000 implantable heart defibrillators.

In related news, medical device companies said Wednesday they wanted a cut in the fees they pay the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when they submit their products for government approval.

FDA officials and medical device industry representatives are holding closed-door talks on the user-fee program, which was created to bring in more money to hire additional FDA staff to speed the approval process for medical devices, the Associated Press reported.


Medicaid Coverage of Anti-Smoking Therapies Must Rise: Experts

Dramatic increases in state Medicaid coverage for tobacco-dependence treatments are needed if the United States wants to achieve the 2010 objective of providing such coverage in all 51 state Medicaid programs, says an article in the current Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The article said that in 2005, 38 Medicaid programs covered some tobacco-dependence counseling or medication for all recipients, compared with 37 in 2003. An additional four states offered coverage only for pregnant women and only one state (Oregon) offered coverage for all medication and counseling treatments recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service guidelines.

Of the 41 million Americans enrolled in state Medicaid programs in 2004, about 29 percent were current smokers, the article said.

An editorial in the same issue of the MMWR recognizes the American Cancer Society's sponsorship of the Great American Smokeout since 1977. The event, held on the third Thursday in November, is meant to encourage people to quit smoking.


'60 Minutes' Reporter Ed Bradley Dies of Leukemia

CBS correspondent Ed Bradley, a 26-year veteran of the news magazine "60 Minutes," died Thursday of leukemia, the network announced.

Bradley was 65. CBS provided no other details of his illness, but the Washington Post reported that he had been ill for some time and had heart surgery about a year ago.

His coverage of stories ranging from brain cancer to the high school shootings at Columbine earned him many of television journalism's highest forms of recognition, including 19 Emmys, the George Foster Peabody Award, and the Alfred I. duPont Award, CBS said.


Early Exposure to Smoking Increases Bladder Cancer Risk: Study

People who start smoking at a young age or who are exposed to secondhand smoke during childhood have an increased risk of bladder cancer later in life, says a study funded by Cancer Research UK.

Researchers analyzed data on about 430,000 people in Europe and found that those who smoked before age 15 were three times more likely to develop bladder cancer later in life, while those who started smoking between the ages of 15 and 19 had a 1.5-fold greater risk, BBC News reported.

People exposed to secondhand smoke during childhood had about a 40 percent increased risk of bladder cancer. The study appears in the International Journal of Cancer.

"The indication in our study that early exposure to tobacco smoke might increase the risk of bladder cancer calls for further research and adds to the body of evidence suggesting that children are more sensitive to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) than adults," the study authors wrote.

Professor John Toy, Cancer UK's medical director, said the findings show the value of bans on smoking in public places, BBC News reported.


Scientists Prompt Immune System to Fight Skin Cancer

Papers outlining two methods of spurring the immune system to fight melanoma were presented this week at a European cancer research meeting in Prague, the Associated Press reported.

The papers, both by U.S. researchers, describe the first attempts to suppress the body's T-regulatory cells, which normally keep the immune system under control. Some experts believe that unleashing the immune system may benefit cancer patients.

In one study, researchers used a drug to knock out T-regulator cells in seven patients with advanced skin cancer and found that their immune systems mounted continuous attacks against the cancer. In five of the patients, tumors remained stable or shrank, the AP reported.

"It's like having permanent chemotherapy. You're inducing your own immune system to stick around and keep this cancer from growing," said researcher Dr. Jason Chesney of the J.G. Brown Cancer Center in Kentucky.

The second study by researchers in California described how blocking a protein on T-regulatory cells inhibited those cells enough for patients' immune systems to attack skin cancer. Of the 25 patients tested, 24 were alive after 17 months, and three were cancer-free, the AP reported.


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