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Health Highlights: Oct. 4, 2011

Injectable Contraception Increases African Women's Risk for HIV: Study Medicare Slow to Stop Prescription Drug Abuse: GAO Talk Therapy Helps Schizophrenia Patients: Study New Labels State Alcohol Content of Four Loko Drink

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

Injectable Contraception Increases African Women's Risk for HIV: Study

Injectable hormone contraceptives appear to double the risk that women will become infected with HIV, according to a large study of women in Africa.

It also found that the male partners of HIV-positive women who used injectable hormone contraceptives were twice as likely to become infected with HIV than the male partners of HIV-positive women who used no birth control, The New York Times reported.

The injections, which are given every three months, are used worldwide and are the most popular form of contraception for women in eastern and southern Africa. The finding that the injections have biological properties that make men and women more likely to become infected with HIV is alarming because many countries with high pregnancy rates also have high rates of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

"The best contraception today is injectable hormonal contraception because you don't need a doctor, it's long-lasting, it enables women to control timing and spacing of birth without a lot of fuss and travel," Isobel Coleman, director of the women and foreign policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Times.

"If it is now proven that these contraceptions are helping spread the AIDS epidemic, we have a major health crisis on our hands," she warned.

The study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, led the World Health Organization to schedule a meeting in January to discuss whether women should be advised that injectable contraception may increase their risk of getting or transmitting HIV, The Times reported.


Medicare Slow to Stop Prescription Drug Abuse: GAO

Medicare officials have been slow to recognize and act on evidence of drug abuse by a large number of beneficiaries, says a Government Accountability Office report to be presented Tuesday at a Senate hearing.

Investigators found that thousands of Medicare beneficiaries shop around for doctors and fill prescriptions for amounts of painkillers and other narcotics that far exceed what any patient could safely use, The New York Times reported.

The medications were obtained through Medicare's Part D prescription drug coverage program.

"Our analysis found that about 170,000 Medicare beneficiaries received prescriptions from five or more medical practitioners" for 14 types of drugs that are frequently abused, said Gregory D. Kutz, director of forensic audits and special investigations at the accounting office, The Times reported.

"Federal dollars intended to address the health needs of the elderly and the poor are instead being used to feed addictions or to pad the wallets of drug dealers. This is clearly unacceptable," said Senator Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee that's holding Tuesday's meeting.


Talk Therapy Helps Schizophrenia Patients: Study

A variant of cognitive behavioral therapy developed to treat depression can also help people with severe schizophrenia, a new study finds.

The therapy -- which focuses on defusing self-defeating assumptions -- was tried on people with schizophrenia who were isolated, withdrawn and believed to be beyond help. The therapy helped them become more active, social and employable, The New York Times reported.

The study by University of Pennsylvania researchers appears in the current issue of the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

The results appear impressive, according to a University of Maryland School of Medicine psychiatrist who was not involved in the study.

"This is a group of patients who have tried just about everything -- drug treatments as well as psychosocial ones -- and many clinicians and systems of care have essentially given up on them. If there's an intervention out there that can make a difference, I think that's an incredibly important development," Dr. Bob Buchanan told The Times.


New Labels State Alcohol Content of Four Loko Drink

The labels on super-size cans of a malt beverage called Four Loko will now inform consumers that one can contains as much alcohol as four to five cans of beer.

Chicago-based Phusion Projects agreed to relabel the 23.5-ounce cans of Four Loko under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, but did not admit any wrongdoing, the Washington Post reported.

Phusion had misrepresented the amount of alcohol in those cans as being the equivalent of one to two regular cans of 12-ounce beers instead of four to five cans, according to the FTC.

In recent years, fruity-tasting, high alcohol malt beverages have been linked to the deaths of teens in several states.

In late 2010, the FTC and the Food and Drug Administration warned Phusion and three other companies that the caffeine and other stimulants added to their malt beverages were dangerous because they can mask the feeling of intoxication, the Post reported.

All four companies have removed the stimulants from the products identified by federal officials.


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