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Health Highlights: Aug. 10, 2005

Specialists Prescribing More OTC Pain Medicines Users of Suspended Drug Show No Sign of Deadly Disease: Report Medicare Drug Premiums Lower Than Expected FDA Delays Lycopene Decision Again Man Dies After Video Game Marathon Groups Ask for Probe of FDA Breast Implant Decision

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

Specialists Prescribing More OTC Pain Medicines

Specialists are prescribing more over-the-counter pain medications for people who have minor arthritis pain, a new survey of 250 orthopedic surgeons finds.

Seventy percent of specialists polled by Florida Hospital said they now recommended OTC pain drugs most often as a first course of treatment for minor arthritis, the hospital said in a statement. And 82 percent said recent negative news about some prescription pain relievers had had an effect on which medications they recommended.

Some 97 percent of the surgeons surveyed believed OTCs were an effective alternative to prescription pain relievers, the statement said.

When asked to rank the over-the-counter pain medications by brand, the survey found:

  • 58 percent preferred Aleve,
  • 35 percent preferred Advil,
  • 7 percent preferred Tylenol.

In the past year, the arthritis pain prescription drugs Vioxx and Bextra were removed from the market after studies showed that the medicines -- part of a family of drugs known as cox-2 inhibitors -- increased users' risk of heart attack and stroke. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that another cox-2, Celebrex, carry a warning, highlighting the potential health risks.


Users of Suspended Drug Show No Sign of Deadly Disease: Report

Nearly 2,000 people who took the now-suspended multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri in clinical trials have shown no signs of developing the deadly illness that led to the suspension, the drug's makers said.

Irish drugmaker Elan Corp. and the U.S. pharmaceutical firm Biogen Idec Inc. said they are taking "preliminary steps" to resume trials of the drug. Tysabri was withdrawn from U.S. markets in February over concerns that it could cause a rare brain disease called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML).

The companies have acknowledged that three clinical trial participants contracted PML, and two died. One participant who died had MS, and the other fatality was associated with a trial evaluating Tysabri in people with Crohn's disease, a gastrointestinal disorder, according to the Associated Press.

The companies said they had asked more than 2,000 people with MS who had taken the drug during clinical trials to have a neurological exam and an MRI scan for signs of PML. About 91 percent have complied, the companies told the AP.


Medicare Drug Premiums Lower Than Expected

The average premium for the new Medicare drug benefit will be $32.20 a month, about $5 less than previously estimated, the Bush administration said Tuesday.

That lower-than-expected premium for the benefit that starts next January is the result of heated competition between private insurers and should make the benefit more attractive to more people, Medicare officials said.

They also said that the first-year cost to the government for each person who signs up for the drug benefit will be about 14 percent lower than first estimated. The estimated cost will be $1,129 per person instead of $1,310, The New York Times reported.

The cost difference produce billions of dollars of savings to government, according to Health and Human Services secretary Michael O. Leavitt. However, officials won't estimate the total cost savings, which depend on total enrollment along with the cost for each beneficiary.

The cost of the new Medicare drug benefit has been the target of criticism. Liberal Democrats charge that the Bush administration concealed the costs from Congress, while conservative Republicans opposed the expansion of federal entitlement, The Times reported.

The number of people expected to sign up for the new drug benefit has dropped from an earlier estimate of about 39 million people down to 28 to 30 million people, Leavitt said Tuesday.


FDA Delays Lycopene Decision for Fifth Time

For the fifth time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has delayed a decision on a health claim petition on the link between lycopene, found in tomatoes, and a reduced risk of developing certain forms of cancer.

The health claim petition was submitted by San Diego-based American Longevity, which submitted studies to the FDA indicating that consumption of tomatoes, tomato-based products and lycopene supplements may reduce the incidence of prostate, lung and stomach cancers.

The FDA has requested an extension until Oct. 10, 2005. A decision was initially expected on Dec. 24, 2004, but there have been numerous extensions since then. In recent months, the FDA has cited a lack or resources as the reason for seeking extensions in its reviews of a number of other health claim petitions.

"To say that we are disappointed by this fifth request for an extension would be an understatement," Steve Wallach of American Longevity said in a prepared statement. "Every extension further delays our ability to get this important information out to the general public."


Man Dies After Video Game Marathon

A 28-year-old South Korean man apparently died of heart failure stemming from exhaustion after playing video games almost non-stop for 50 hours, police said.

The man, who recently quit his job so that he could spend more time playing video games, went to an Internet cafe in the city of Taegu on August 3 and began playing online battle simulation games, CBC News reported.

Over the next few days, the man only left his spot at the computer to take bathroom breaks or catch short naps on a makeshift bed. When he didn't show up at home, his mother asked some of his former work colleagues to find him.

When the colleagues found the man at the cafe, he told them he'd finish the game and go home He died a few minutes later.


Groups Ask for Probe of FDA Breast Implant Decision

A number of consumer advocate groups are asking Congress to investigate the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's decision to allow the return of silicone gel breast implants, the Associated Press reported.

The National Organization for Women and a dozen other women's and health groups contend that the agency is violating its own safety standards in allowing the implants back on the market. The devices were withdrawn 13 years ago over concerns that they could leak and cause chronic illness.

Last year, the FDA told implant makers to provide long-term data on the implants' durability, and on the consequences of silicone leaking into women's bodies, the wire service said. But when the agency last month OK'd Mentor Corp.'s petition to return the devices to the market, it based its decision on a company study that tracked implant recipients for only three years, the AP added.

The consumer groups also are urging the FDA to release details of its criminal investigation of Mentor in the late 1990s. The FDA closed the probe without taking any action against the company, which has denied that it underreported problems with the implants. An agency spokeswoman said the FDA is working on releasing details of the investigation, the wire service reported.

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