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Health Highlights: July 14, 2005

Rehnquist Discharged From Hospital, Denies Retirement Rumors NIH Cites Ethical Violations Among Scientists Use of Antipsychotic Drugs Rising in Nursing Homes: Report Painkiller Palladone Taken Off Market Experts Pan U.S. Government Web Site for Parents, Teens Groups Fight Over Children's Food Advertising

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

Rehnquist Discharged From Hospital, Denies Retirement Rumors

U.S. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was released from an Arlington, Va., hospital on Thursday after being treated for a high fever, the Associated Press said. Hours later, he issued a statement denying rumors of his pending retirement, the wire service said.

The 80-year-old Rehnquist suffers from thyroid cancer. He was hospitalized Tuesday evening for tests after complaining of a high fever, a court spokeswoman said. Rehnquist was first hospitalized in October for a tracheotomy that allowed him to breathe easier. He subsequently received chemotherapy and radiation.

"I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement," Rehnquist said in Thursday's statement obtained by the AP. "I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits."

Speculation about his future heightened earlier this month when fellow Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said she was retiring, creating the court's first vacancy in 11 years.

Rehnquist has been on the court for 33 years.

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NIH Cites Ethical Violations Among Scientists

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has cited 44 government scientists who it says violated conflict-of-interest regulations by consulting for pharmaceutical firms, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The agency investigated whether the scientists had properly listed their work for the drug companies on financial disclosure forms, whether their superiors had approved the work, and if they took personal leave to do private work, the wire service said.

Forty-four of 81 scientists investigated were found to have broken at least one NIH rule, while 37 others were found to be in compliance. The review was requested by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which had been investigating alleged instances of conflict of interest that may have happened between 1999 and 2004.

NIH has since banned employees from consulting with drug and biotechnology companies. Of the 44 scientists found to be in violation of ethics rules, 36 are still employed at the agency and have been referred for possible disciplinary action, the AP reported.

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Use of Antipsychotic Drugs Rising in Nursing Homes: Report

More than one in four Medicare beneficiaries who live in nursing homes were given antipsychotic drugs in 2000-2001, the highest reported rate in nearly a decade, the Commonwealth Fund said in a report released Thursday.

In 2001, the report found, the government program spent more than $3 billion for antipsychotics, more than it spent on antibiotics, cardiovascular drugs, or antidepressants.

While newer-generation antipsychotics, often referred to as "atypicals," have been shown to be effective in treating schizophrenia, they are increasingly being prescribed in nursing homes for conditions such as memory problems, nonaggressive behaviors, or depression without psychotic symptoms, the researchers said in a statement.

The report cited growing instances of excessive dosing, "duplicative therapy" that resulted from administering antipsychotic and conventional drugs at the same time, and other unspecified uses deemed inappropriate.

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Painkiller Palladone Taken off Market

Citing potentially fatal reactions when the narcotic painkiller Palladone is taken with alcohol, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday ordered a halt to sales of the drug.

Drug maker Purdue Pharma agreed to stop U.S. sales of Palladone while it holds further discussions with the FDA about the risk, the Associated Press reported.

Last September, the FDA approved Palladone for sale in the United States. However, data from a new study by Purdue Pharma indicates that taking the drug together with alcohol affects the drug capsule's slow-release function. This results in rapid movement of the drug into the bloodstream, which can lead to a potentially fatal overdose.

Labeling on Palladone does warn people not to drink alcohol when they're taking the painkiller, and there have not been any reports of serious reactions among users of Palladone, the FDA said.

About 11,500 patients have taken the drug, said Purdue Pharma, which has asked wholesalers and drug stores to return unsold Palladone capsules.

The company, which also makes the controversial long-acting painkiller Oxycontin, had limited initial Palladone sales to doctors experienced in prescribing opioid painkillers. The drug is for moderate to severe pain, caused by cancer or other conditions, in patients who need round-the-clock relief.

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Experts Pan U.S. Web Site for Parents, Teens

A U.S. government Web site for parents and teenagers contains inaccurate and misleading information about condoms, sexual orientation, the dangers of oral sex and single-parent households, say a team of medical experts who reviewed the site.

The team of three physicians and a child psychologist concluded that the incorrect information on the Bush administration's 4Parents.gov Web site may prompt riskier teen behavior or alienate some families, the Washington Post reported.

The Web site analysis was solicited by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) who sent a to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt saying: "A federally funded website should present the facts as they are, not as you might wish them to be. It is wrong -- and ultimately self-defeating -- to sacrifice scientific accuracy in an effort to frighten teens and their parents."

One of the experts, Temple University child psychologist Laurence Steinberg, told the Post he was disturbed by the site's negative messages about single parents and gays and concerned that the site had virtually no information on the dangers of teen alcohol consumption.

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Groups Fight Over Children's Food Advertising

Food manufacturers and consumer activists are battling over whether voluntary industry standards or government regulation is the best way to deal with concerns about food advertising targeted at children.

The two sides traded barbs the day before a two-day workshop examining the effectiveness of self-regulation efforts by the television industry. The workshop is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Trade Commission, the Washington Post reported.

The consumer group The Center for Science in the Public Interest asked the Food and Drug Administration to require health warnings on soft drinks, the biggest source of calories in the diet of Americans, the group said.

However, large food manufacturers countered that it's up to their industry to tighten voluntary advertising standards in order to address health concerns associated with food marketing to children.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association said companies shouldn't be permitted to pay to have their products displayed in children's television shows, the Post reported.

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