Health Highlights: Feb. 14, 2004
FDA Delays Action on 'Morning-After' Pill Panel Urges More Mad Cow Testing Report Cites Safety Lapses in Canadian Web Pharmacies Olympics May Lower Suicide Rates Teen Abuse of Cold Medicine Increasing Milder Bird Flu Found in 3rd U.S. State
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
FDA Delays Action on 'Morning-After' Pill
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has delayed an application that could make the so-called "morning-after" contraceptive pill available without prescription, the Washington Post reports.
Barr Laboratories, the marketer of the pill called Plan B, announced Friday that the FDA wants another 90 days to review the application, which had been due for a decision by Feb. 20.
The agency told the company that it needed the additional time to review new information on the pill, especially on how likely teenagers are to use it, according to the Post.
Critics immediately criticized the delay, saying that the FDA was responding to political pressure instead of medical concerns. "It appears that the FDA is taking the advice of special interests over an expert, scientific panel that has said Plan B is safe and effective," the Post quotes Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), as saying.
An FDA advisory panel recommended 24-3 in December to make the drug available over the counter. But there is strong opposition among some members of Congress, 49 of whom wrote to President Bush last month urging that the pill's prescription-only status be preserved. The letter, authored by Rep. David Weldon (R-Fla.), says wider use could encourage sexual promiscuity and venereal disease, the Post reports.
Advocates of the switch say scientific studies have shown nothing of the kind, and are urging the Bush Administration not to yield to political pressure. In response to Weldon's plea, 76 other members of Congress have written their own letter to FDA Director Mark McClellan, urging him to base the agency's decision "upon the clear scientific evidence."
The morning-after pill was approved as a prescription drug in 1999. Each dose costs between $30 and $40, the newspaper says.
Panel Urges More Mad Cow Testing
Advisers urged the U.S. government on Friday to increase its testing for mad cow disease to learn how severe and widespread the problem is.
The New York Times reports that the panelists concluded that, without further testing, it was impossible to gauge the risk to humans who could be exposed by eating meat or through drugs, cosmetics, and dietary supplements that are derived from cattle.
"We have to know what the risk is, and whether we could contain it or whether we could stop it," the Times quotes Dr. Stephen DeArmond, a member of the Food and Drug Administration panel, as saying.
The Agriculture Department said it planned to test 40,000 cows in 2004, out of 35 million to be slaughtered, according to the account.
The panel said that blood donor rules appear to be OK for now, since there's only one documented case of a human contracting the human form of mad cow through a blood transfusion.
Report Cites Safety Lapses in Canadian Web Pharmacies
Canada's Internet pharmacies have a number of safety problems, such as not putting childproof caps on medicines and failing to notify customers about unsafe recalled drugs, says a report commissioned by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
The report also says that one pharmacy didn't do checks of patient history of drug allergies before sending medications, and another pharmacy improperly shipped drugs that required refrigeration.
The report's conclusions are based on inspections done two months ago of eight Canadian Internet pharmacies. The team of Minnesota inspectors didn't specify which Canadian Internet pharmacies made the mistakes, CBC News Online reports.
Pawlenty says his state could save hundreds of millions of dollars by importing Canadian drugs rather than purchasing drugs in the United States.
A spokesperson for the Canada's Internet Pharmacy Association says its member pharmacies will address the problems.
Olympics May Lower Suicide Rates
The Olympics may possess more than the power to entertain and inspire: They may also help lower suicide rates.
A study by British and Australian researchers found that suicide rates in Australia declined in the period before the Sydney Summer Games in 2000. The country's suicide rates then sharply increased after the Olympics, BBC News Online reports.
In a presentation to the Royal College of Psychiatry, the researchers say this decrease in suicide rates may be the result of a communal sense of well-being -- people uniting to prepare for the event and an economic boost -- created by the Olympics.
The study found that the decline in Australian suicide rates before the games was strongest in Sydney, particularly in men aged 55 to 64.
Teen Abuse of Cold Medicine Increasing
A sharp increase in the number of American teenagers abusing nonprescription cough and cold tablets is being described as an epidemic by medical professionals.
These products are back in style as recreational drugs because they're easily accessible and easier to use than ever before, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Some experts say that these cough and cold medicines should be sold only from behind the drugstore counter. There are about 120 cough and cold products that contain the cough suppressant DXM. All the products are safe when used as directed.
However, large amounts of DXM can cause tremors, slurred speech, seizures, and possibly death.
Last week, the Chicago office of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a parental advisory about the recent escalation of DXM abuse in the Chicago area. In 2003, U.S. poison control centers logged about 3,200 calls related to DXM, twice the number as in 2001.
Milder Bird Flu Found in 3rd U.S. State
Pennsylvania appears to be the third state to report a mild form of bird flu among poultry in less than a week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
The state agriculture department has canceled all poultry exhibitions after preliminary tests came back positive for avian influenza in a flock of chickens in Lancaster County. The neighboring states of Delaware and New Jersey reported similar outbreaks earlier in the week.
Federal and state health officials have said the domestic strain poses no known threat to people and is not the same deadly version that has killed 19 people in Asia and led to the slaughter of millions of fowl there.
The milder strain affecting the United States was first found at two poultry farms in Delaware and was later discovered in four live poultry markets in New Jersey. Delaware officials ordered the destruction of 80,000 birds, but no similar order was given in New Jersey.
The Asian outbreak, meanwhile, continues to fester as China has confirmed the presence of the much more deadly strain in seven more areas of the country, including Shanghai, the Associated Press reports. Known human cases have been confined to Thailand and Vietnam. The World Bank announced Friday that it was prepared to lend Vietnam $10 million to help its decimated poultry industry recover.