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Health Highlights: Sept. 15, 2006

AARP Campaigns for Foreign Drug Purchases Depression a Major Risk Factor for Suicide: Report Acupuncture Helps Back Pain: Study Too Much Lead in Toy Jewelry, Lawsuit Says FDA to Examine Drug-Coated Stents U.S. Obesity Rates Soaring: CDC

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

AARP Campaigns for Foreign Drug Purchases

Starting Sunday, AARP, the advocacy group for older Americans, will unveil a $500,000 advertising campaign in 14 states, designed to persuade the U.S. Senate to pass legislation that would let consumers buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

The Associated Press reported that the ads will appear in newspapers and on radio stations in cities such as Anchorage, Alaska; Baltimore; Des Moines, Iowa; and Indianapolis. AARP said the campaign will zero in on the home states of senators who've shown some support for cross-border purchases of U.S.-made medicines.

Price controls in other countries mean the drugs often cost less than in the United States. Drug companies say such price controls limit profits, threatening future drug development.

The bill backed by AARP, written by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has bipartisan support from 31 co-sponsors. It would allow consumers to buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and eventually from other countries, including Australia, Japan and nations within the European Union, the AP said.

While the new Medicare drug benefit has helped millions of seniors, AARP said millions more aren't yet eligible for the benefit.

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Depression a Major Risk Factor for Suicide: Report

Depression, particularly if combined with substance abuse, is a major risk factor for suicide, according to a new study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

About 10 percent of surveyed adults who had a major depressive episode actually attempted suicide, 14.5 percent made a plan to commit suicide, 40.3 percent thought about committing suicide, and 56.3 percent thought it would be better if they were dead, the agency said in a statement.

Add alcohol abuse to the equation, and the percentage of people who attempted suicide rose to nearly 14 percent, and nearly 20 percent among those who engaged in illicit drug use.

In 2004, 106,000 visits to the emergency room were attributed to suicide attempts, and if a mental disorder was diagnosed, depression was chief among them, SAMHSA said.

Nationwide, someone dies by suicide every 17 minutes. To mark Suicide Prevention Week from Sept. 10-16, SAMHSA said it has awarded 46 grants totaling $25.7 million for a broad range of anti-suicide programs. These include efforts by states and colleges to diagnose and treat youth depression and prevent substance abuse, the agency said.

SAMHSA offers a toll-free suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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Acupuncture Helps Back Pain: Study

Acupuncture is an effective and cost-justified way to treat lower back pain, British researchers have found.

Doctors at the University of York and Sheffield University studied 241 adults, some of whom had up to 10 acupuncture treatments for lower back pain while others underwent traditional pain therapy, BBC Online reported.

Those who had acupuncture had less pain and used fewer painkillers than other participants in the two-year study, the researchers wrote in the online version of the British Medical Journal. While the pain score differences were small, use of acupuncture still offered a "clinically worthwhile benefit," the scientists said.

Two percent of the population in the United Kingdom is said to use acupuncture in any given year, BBC Online reported.

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Too Much Lead in Toy Jewelry, Lawsuit Says

An environmental group says excessive lead in toy jewelry can cause developmental damage in children and wants the U.S. Environmental Protection agency to crack down on the sale of these products, the Associated Press reported.

The Sierra Club has sued the EPA in federal court, and the attorneys general of California and Illinois have sent letters to the agency in support of the suit, the wire service said.

"I don't think parents realize that these pieces of jewelry have the potential to be harmful," said Sierra Club spokeswoman Jessica Frohman. She said children could be exposed to harmful lead levels if they sucked on or swallowed the jewelry.

The EPA refused direct comment on the court case, but said it had a "comprehensive set of regulations" to protect children from lead exposure. But the agency does not have rules that specifically govern toy jewelry, an EPA spokesman told the AP.

Earlier this year, more than 70 U.S. retailers agreed to stop selling lead-based toy jewelry in California after the state attorney general and an advocacy group filed suit in 2004, the wire service said.

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FDA to Examine Drug-Coated Stents

Drug-coated stents used to open clogged arteries will be examined by an expert panel advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the possibility that the devices may produce deadly blood clots, the Associated Press reported.

Nearly 6 million people worldwide have had the metal-mesh tubes inserted since they were first coated in 2002 with a drug designed to prevent arteries from re-clogging, the wire service said. Two recent studies suggested a small but significant increase in heart-attack risk and death from blood clots among stent recipients.

While the FDA said it still believes the devices are safe, it wants the additional opinion of its expert advisers about whether further study is needed, the AP said.

The agency said it's also seeking the experts' recommendations on how long stent users should take anti-clotting drugs such as Plavix or aspirin.

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U.S. Obesity Rates Soaring: CDC

More than 60 percent of adults in the United States are now overweight or obese, according to a report issued Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly a quarter of American adults were classified as obese last year, a problem that has increased significantly over the past decade, the agency said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

While no state had an obesity rate of more than 20 percent a decade ago, 46 states reported obesity rates of 20 percent or greater last year, the agency said. And three states said 30 percent or more of its residents were considered obese.

"The magnitude of this rising obesity trend and its implications for the health of the nation calls for a strong, sustained, and effective response to alter the course of this epidemic, with the main focus being nutrition and physical activity," the report said.

Obesity has been linked to a variety of health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

The agency evaluated statistics from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System collected from all 50 states between 1995 and 2005.

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