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Health Highlights: July 7, 2005

Canadian Experts Recommend Vioxx Return SARS Vaccine Trials Going Well, China Says Maker of Recalled Defibrillators Faces Tough Times: Report Limited Doctor, Pharmacist Training Linked to Rx Drug Abuse Increase U.S. Drug Makers Spend Big Money on Politics: Report Canadians Getting Fatter Too

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

Canadian Experts Recommend Vioxx Return

A panel of experts advising Health Canada is recommending that the agency allow the controversial painkiller Vioxx back onto the market, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Panel members voted 12-1 that Vioxx's benefits outweighed users' increased risks of cardiovascular problems, the wire service said. Merck & Co. withdrew Vioxx from world markets last September after studies revealed the drug doubled patients' risks of heart attack and stroke.

A Merck spokesman said the company hadn't decided whether to reintroduce the drug in Canada, but that talks with Health Canada were ongoing. Similar discussions are being held with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the spokesman said.

The Canadian experts also recommended that the Pfizer painkiller Celebrex continue to be sold, the AP said. But the panel gave thumbs down to the return of a third drug in the same class, Pfizer's Bextra. All three are Cox-2 inhibitors, which the panel said have similar risks to older painkillers in a class known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).

Ibuprofen, sold under the brand names Advil and Motrin, is a well-known NSAID. The Canadian panel surprised some observers, the AP said, when it recommended Thursday that ibuprofen be kept behind pharmacy counters and sold with more stringent warnings about risks of cardiovascular disease. Health Canada must now decide whether to accept the recommendations, the wire service said.

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SARS Vaccine Trials Going Well, China Says

Initial human trials in China of a SARS vaccine have gone well and testing is proceeding to a larger second phase, China's Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

The initial phase, begun in May 2004, involved 36 people in Beijing, all of whom have now developed antibodies against the disease without serious side effects, Xinhua said. More than 300 volunteers will take part in the second phase, although the Chinese government agency that's administering the trials didn't provide specific dates or locations, the wire service said.

The vaccine was produced by Beijing's Sinovac Biotech Co. in 2004, Xinhua said.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was first reported in China in February 2003 and soon spread to more than two dozen countries in Asia, Europe, North America and South America before the outbreak was contained. According to the World Health Organization, 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS, and 774 died. Since that time, there has not been another outbreak.

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Maker of Recalled Defibrillators Faces Tough Times: Report

Guidant Corp., which has recalled tens of thousands of faulty defibrillators that are supposed to jump-start failing hearts, is falling on tough times.

Securities fraud lawsuits filed this month and in June allege that six Guidant executives sold more than a half-million shares of stock while knowing about then-undisclosed flaws in thousands of the implantable devices, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced July 1 that defects in 42,000 defibrillators could be deadly, and thousands more may be prone to less serious component failures.

Analysts interviewed by the wire service were divided on the projected impact of the lawsuits, but said the legal actions weren't likely to derail a pending $24.5 billion acquisition offer from New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson. Guidant is located in Indianapolis.

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Limited Doctor, Pharmacist Training Linked to Rx Drug Abuse

Limited training for doctors and pharmacists in prescribing drugs may be a factor in the rapid growth of prescription drug abuse in the United States, suggests a new study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The study of 979 physicians and 1,030 pharmacists found that 40 percent of doctors said they received no training in medical school on prescribing controlled substances. It also found that 75 percent received no training in identifying diversion of prescription drugs for illicit purposes, and more than 50 percent received no training in identifying prescription drug abuse or addiction, the Associated Press reported.

Among pharmacists, 40 percent said they'd received no instruction since they were in pharmacy school in dispensing prescription drugs and almost 50 percent said they'd received no instruction since pharmacy school in identifying diversion of prescription drugs for illicit purposes or in identifying prescription drug abuse.

Prescription drug abuse in the United States has increased dramatically over the past decade, especially among teens, the study said. It noted that people can easily get prescription drugs from doctors, relative, friends and via the Internet.

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U.S. Drug Makers Spend Big Money on Politics: Report

The U.S. pharmaceutical industry has spent more than $800 million on lobbyists and political campaigns since 1998, says a report released Wednesday by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan political watchdog group.

The report said that over the past year, the drug industry hired nearly almost 1,300 lobbyists, including hundreds of people who formerly worked for regulatory agencies or congressional committees and dozens of former lawmakers, the Associated Press reported.

"It is astonishing to learn that no other interest has spent more money to sway public policy in this time period," said Roberta Baskin, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity.

In 2003, the drug industry spent about $116 million on lobbying and political campaigns. That's the same year Congress approved a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare, the report noted.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade group representing drug makers, labeled the report biased and one-sided, the AP reported.

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Canadians Getting Fatter Too: Study

Americans aren't the only ones losing the battle of the bulge: New research says two out of three Canadian adults and one of every three children are overweight or obese.

The Statistics Canada research found that the number of overweight and obese Canadians has increased from 48 percent to 59 percent over the past 25 years. That means that nearly 15 million Canadians are now overweight or obese, The Globe and Mail reported.

The rate of obesity among Canadian adolescents has tripled, from three percent to nine percent. There's a direct correlation between the likelihood of teens being obese and the amount of time they spend watching television or playing video games, Statistics Canada said.

One surprise finding was that seniors over age 75 are Canada's most overweight citizens. In that age group, one in four people are obese.

The findings were published in the journal Health Reports.

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