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Health Highlights: Oct. 30 2009

Obama Ends Ban on People With HIV/AIDS Entering U.S. Benjamin Confirmed as U.S. Surgeon General FDA Cites P&G; for 'Unlawfully Marketing' Cold Remedies Methadone Overdose a Danger for Medicaid Patients Dental Costs Lowest in Georgia and Ohio

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

Obama Ends Ban on People With HIV/AIDS Entering U.S.

President Barack Obama on Friday ended a 22-year-old policy barring people with HIV/AIDS from entering the United States.

Calling the original decision one "rooted in fear rather than fact," Obama said the ban's removal is "a step that will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, it's a step that will save lives," the Associated Press reported.

The United States was the first country to initiate such a measure, and today only 12 nations have such laws in place. "If we want to be a global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it," the president said.

The announcement came as Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009, providing assistance to more than 500,000 Americans, the AP said. Ryan White, of Kokomo, Ind., contracted HIV in 1984 via a blood transfusion at age 13 and died in 1990. His mother Jeanne attended the White House signing ceremony.

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Benjamin Confirmed as U.S. Surgeon General

Alabama family physician Dr. Regina Benjamin was confirmed Thursday as the new U.S. surgeon general. The Senate approved her by voice vote.

Benjamin, 53, became well-known for her efforts to rebuild her rural health clinic in Bayou La Batre, Ala., after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The clinic serves 4,400 patients who would have difficulty finding care elsewhere, the Associated Press reported.

Honors awarded to Benjamin, the first black woman to head a state medical society, include the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights and a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."

"My hope ... is to be America's doctor, America's family physician," Benjamin said when President Obama nominated her in July, the AP reported. "As we work toward a solution to this health care crisis, I promise to communicate directly with the American people to help guide them through whatever changes may come with health care reform."

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FDA Cites P&G for 'Unlawfully Marketing' Cold Remedies

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it had sent a warning letter to Procter & Gamble, telling the company that its Vicks DayQuil Plus Vitamin C and Vicks Nyquil Plus Vitamin C are illegally marketed combinations of drug ingredients and a dietary ingredient.

Both of the over-the-counter medicines, which contain vitamin C in addition to several drug ingredients, are marketed as treatments for cold and flu. The FDA said it cited the Cincinnati-based company to clarify that these single dosage form combinations of drug ingredients and dietary ingredients legally cannot be marketed because they have not been proven safe and effective, and because the agency previously determined that there is insufficient evidence to show that vitamin C is safe and effective in preventing or treating the common cold.

The FDA said the two products must first be evaluated and approved under the agency's new drug approval process to be legally marketed.

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Methadone Overdose a Danger for Medicaid Patients

Medicaid patients may be at high risk for overdose death caused by the opioid painkiller methadone, according to a study released Thursday.

The researchers looked at Washington, where the 2006 rate of opioid painkiller overdoses was significantly higher than in the rest of the country. Between 2004 and 2007, 1,668 people in Washington died of prescription opioid-related overdoses. Of those, 58.9 percent were male, 34.4 percent were 45 to 54 years old, and 45.4 percent were Medicaid clients.

The study found that Medicaid clients had a 5.7-fold increased risk of dying from a prescription opioid-related overdose. Methadone was involved in nearly two-thirds of those Medicaid client deaths.

It may be possible to minimize the risk by examining patterns of opioid prescribing to Medicaid clients and intervening with those who appear to misuse the drugs, the researchers concluded.

The study appears in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deaths involving prescription opioid painkillers are a major reason why the number of poisoning deaths in the United States nearly doubled from 1999 to 2006.

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Dental Costs Lowest in Georgia and Ohio

Dental care for people in Georgia and Ohio costs almost $150 less than the U.S. average of $607 a year, says a federal government study released Thursday.

The average annual expenditure for dental care in Georgia was $466, while in Ohio it was $474, said the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the other findings from the analysis of average annual dental expenditures in the 10 states with the highest populations in 2006:

  • The highest proportion of residents with dental expenses (52.5 percent) was in Michigan and the lowest was in Texas (30 percent).
  • The national average for out-of-pocket payment for dental care was 49 percent. People in Florida paid more (62.5 percent) and those in Pennsylvania paid less (42 percent).
  • Nationally, private insurers paid 43 percent of all dental expenditures.
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