Health Highlights: Dec. 9, 2003

New Hampshire, Boston to Buy Drugs From Canada Insulin, Morphine Among Drugs on Medication Errors List Whooping Cough Makes Big Comeback U.S. Targets Deceptive Diet Ads Gleevec Formally Approved for Rare Cancer

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

New Hampshire, Boston to Buy Drugs From Canada

The state of New Hampshire and the city of Boston plan to buy prescription drugs from Canadian suppliers, the Associated Press reports.

New Hampshire would become the first state to buy drugs from Canadian outlets, in violation of directives from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Gov. Craig Benson said the state would begin buying drugs for prison inmates and Medicaid recipients as soon as possible. His spokesman would not be more specific on when the buying would start, the AP says.

Boston officials said they plan to purchase prescription drugs for 15,000 city workers and retirees, the Boston Globe reports.

Mayor Thomas Menino was to formally announce the plan Tuesday, the newspaper says. Initially, the city estimates, the plan would cut about $1 million a year from its $61 million prescription drug bill, since the program would be voluntary and cover a limited number of drugs, according to the Globe.

New Hampshire's and Boston's plan would add yet another thorn to the side of the Food and Drug Administration, in its attempts to stop a growing number of municipalities and private citizens from importing less expensive Canadian drugs. The agency has been on the defensive since another Massachusetts city -- Springfield -- announced a plan five months ago to buy prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies.

The FDA says it can't regulate the quality of Canadian imports, which the agency says could be improperly labeled, unsafe, and even bogus. While the agency hasn't tried to stop Springfield from buying its drugs that way, it has tried to shut some of the Canadian drug brokers.

Springfield Mayor Michael Albano says the five-month-old program has already saved his city about $750,000 on the $18 million it spends each year on prescription drugs for its workers and retirees, the Globe reports.

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Insulin, Morphine Among Drugs on Medication Errors List

Insulin, morphine, two blood thinners and potassium chloride were five of the top six drugs involved in medication errors in 2002, United States Pharmacopeia reports.

Those five drugs traditionally top medication error lists. And they are among the drugs most likely to cause harm when used incorrectly, the non-profit organization tells the Associated Press.

The drugs were involved in more than 19,500 of nearly 192,500 medication errors reported voluntarily and anonymously to United States Pharmacopeia. The group works with government, industry and health professionals to set drug standards, says Diane D. Cousins, vice president of USP's Center for the Advancement of Patient Safety.

The errors reported to USP last year involved 1,400 products, up from 1,100 in 2001, Cousins told the news agency.

Most of the 192,500 errors did not cause injury, but 3,193 did. Twenty were fatal, the APsays.

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Whooping Cough Makes Big Comeback

Nearly 50 percent more babies developed whooping cough during the 1990s than in the 1980s, a new study says.

The study, in the Dec. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, says the greatest increases were seen in children less than 4 months of age, especially those who didn't receive whooping cough vaccines on schedule, HealthDayNews reports.

Whooping cough is another name for the disease pertussis. In its early stages, pertussis can easily be mistaken for the common cold. The first symptoms are a runny nose, low fever and a mild cough.

These symptoms generally last from one to two weeks, and then the second phase of the disease begins. This second stage can last from one to six weeks and is characterized by severe fits of rapid coughing. During these coughing spells, it's very difficult to breathe and the intense effort to inhale may cause the characteristic whooping sound.

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U.S. Targets Deceptive Diet Ads

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission wants the media's help in its war on deceptive diet ads. The agency is releasing an 18-page guide to help magazines, newspapers, TV and radio stations identify fraudulent weight-loss claims, the Washington Post reports.

The guide lists seven deceptive practices, including what it calls "scientifically infeasible" promises of weight loss no matter what or how much a person eats.

Americans spend an estimated $37.1 billion a year on diet products, the agency says, many of which are worthless and are promoted with claims that are blatantly false.

The FTC has stopped short of saying it would sue media outlets that knowingly run false claims, the Post reports. For now, the agency says compliance will be voluntary.

First Amendment experts contacted by the newspaper say a mandatory compliance program on the part of the media could raise constitutional issues. They include where the responsibility to quash fraudulent claims lies -- with the media or the advertisers themselves, the Post reports.

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Gleevec Formally Approved for Rare Cancer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted formal approval to the anti-cancer drug Gleevec as a second-line treatment for a rare form of leukemia.

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) is a life-threatening form of the disease that affects about 40,000 people in the United States. The drug was granted conditional "accelerated approval" to treat CML in May 2001, and formal approval was dependent on further studies confirming its long-term benefit.

The agency's accelerated approval program makes drugs for life-threatening diseases available earlier in the development process -- before all the clinical data proving their long-term safety and effectiveness are ready.

As required by the original approval, Gleevec manufacturer Novartis Phamaceuticals continued following CML patients, 95 percent of whom wound up achieving normal white blood cell counts after two years of study, the FDA says.

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