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Health Highlights: April 21, 2005

Male Murder Rates Increase in 2003: Report Congress Investigates Harassment Charges at NIH U.S. to Get a Lot Grayer Over Next 25 Years FDA Probes Possible Link Between Epilepsy Drugs, Suicide Moms May Pass On Male Diseases Teens Favoring Household Meds Over Street Drugs

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

Male Murder Rates Increase in 2003: Report

There was a sharp increase in murder rates among young American males in six states from 2002 to 2003, and large increases in both murder and suicide rates among all males over the same period, according to a new federal report.

The data comes from the new National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS), which gathers information on violent deaths. This report compares preliminary 2003 data from the first six states that participated in NVDRS and contrasts it with data from 1993 to 2002 from the National Vital Statistics System.

States included in the report are: Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, South Carolina and Virginia. They accounted for 10 percent of suicides and 11 percent of homicides in the United States in 2002.

From 1993 to 2000, the murder rate for the six NVDRS states decreased 29 percent, from 7.0 to 5.0 per 100,000 people. During 2000 to 2002, the murder rate for the same states increased 6 percent, from 5.0 to 5.3 per 100,000 people, the report said.

In 2003, the six states recorded a total of 1,952 murders -- an additional increase of 4 percent. The largest rate of increase in murder rates was among males under 24 years of age, and young males accounted for nearly half the overall murder increase in 2003.

During 1993 to 2000, the suicide rate for the six states declined 13 percent, from 10.2 to 8.9 per 100,000 people. During 2000 to 2002, the suicide rate fell 0.3 percent but rose by 5 percent in 2003, the report said.

The findings appear in the Friday issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Congress Investigates Harassment Charges at NIH

Allegations by female officers of the U.S. National Institutes of Health that they were sexually harassed and their concerns about safety in human tests were dismissed have prompted investigations by congressional committees.

One woman at the country's top health research agency testified that hostility was so bad at the NIH that employees were scared to bring up concerns about safety in human experiments, the Associated Press reported.

Female officers have also detailed charges of sexual harassment, including profane e-mails and unwanted kisses. In one alleged incident, a male supervisor sent a red bra to a former female subordinate after the two had had a falling out, the AP said.

The Senate Finance Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee have launched investigations. The NIH said it's cooperating with Congress and is also doing its own investigation of sexual harassment allegations, the news service said.

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U.S. to Get a Lot Grayer Over Next 25 Years

The number of people 65 years and older in the United States will grow about 3 1/2 times faster than the general population over the next 25 years, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Thursday.

The report said 26 states will double their population of seniors by 2030, and in 10 states, seniors will outnumber schoolchildren. In six states -- Florida, Maine, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming -- seniors will account for more than one in four residents.

In Maine, for example, 24 percent of residents were younger than 18 and 14 percent were older than 65 in 2000. In 25 years, 27 percent of Maine's residents will be seniors and 18 percent will be younger than 18.

Increasing numbers of seniors will likely cause dramatic changes in political dynamics as there will be more competition for tax dollars to fund programs for young and old people,USA Today reported.

The Census Bureau projections are based on rates of births and deaths and immigration and migration patterns.

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FDA Probes Possible Link Between Epilepsy Drugs, Suicide

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking pharmaceutical firms that produce epilepsy drugs to check study data for any possible link between the medications and user suicide, USA Today reported Thursday.

The request mimics one made in 2003 when the agency investigated a link between certain antidepressants and suicide among young users. That review led to a "black box" warning being added to the drugs' labels last year.

Anti-seizure drugs are taken for ailments other than epilepsy. The top seller, Pfizer's Neurontin, is often prescribed for pain. The No. 2 drug, Ortho-McNeil's Topamax, also prevents migraines, the newspaper reported.

The New York law firm Finkelstein & Partners has filed more than 70 lawsuits against Pfizer, alleging that serious adverse effects were known as early as 1992 -- two years before Neurontin hit the market, USA Today said. The FDA is reviewing a report that FDA drug reviewers expressed concern that depression in people with epilepsy might worsen and lead to suicide, the newspaper said.

More than 10 million people have taken Neurontin, according to Pfizer. The drug's prescribing information includes a mention of "suicide gesture" as a rare side effect. A company spokesman said adverse event reports compiled over more than a decade "show no link between Neurontin and suicidal thoughts or behavior," USA Today said.

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Moms May Pass On Male Diseases

Atlanta scientists say they've found a gene carried exclusively from mothers that may predispose their male offspring to prostate cancer, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers at Emory University analyzed tissue samples from some 260 prostate cancer patients, finding abnormalities in a gene called CO1. The gene is involved in regulating whether "substances that can set the stage for cancer are produced in a cell," the AP said.

The abnormal gene was detected in 12 percent of those with prostate cancer, but in only one man without the disease, the wire service said.

The gene is contained within tiny structures called mitochrondria, which are little energy factories in cells. Mitochondria are inherited from mothers but not fathers, the AP said.

Results of the research were announced this week at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

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Teens Favoring Household Meds Over Street Drugs

American teens increasingly are turning to addictive painkilling drugs -- often available in their parents' medicine cabinets -- at the expense of trying "street drugs" like Ecstasy, cocaine, or crack, a new study finds.

The 17th annual study on teen drug abuse, released Thursday by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, found that one in five teens had abused a prescription painkiller such as Vicodin or OxyContin. A smaller percentage said they had experimented with street drugs, according to the Associated Press.

One in 11 teens reported abusing over-the-counter medications such as cough medicine, the survey found.

Among those who abused prescription drugs, only 48 percent said they saw "great risk" in their actions. Ease of access to these drugs was cited as a major factor, the survey found.

Teens who reported using marijuana fell to 37 percent last year from 42 percent in 1997. Ecstasy use fell from 12 percent to 9 percent over the same span, and methamphetamine use dropped from 12 percent to 8 percent.

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