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Health Highlights: July 8, 2005

U.S. Court Upholds Ruling Against 'Partial Birth' Abortion Ban Cheney Gets Good News From Pacemaker Exam Johns Hopkins Retains Top Hospital Ranking Screening Program to Gauge Health Effects of Teflon Chemical Critics Pan Price of New Heart-Failure Drug for Blacks Prescription Drug Abuse in U.S. an Epidemic: Report

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

U.S. Court Upholds Ruling Against 'Partial Birth' Abortion Ban

A federal appeals court in St. Louis on Friday upheld a lower court's ruling that the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reported.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a Nebraska district judge's earlier ruling that the law was invalid because it made no exception for the mother's health. Similar rulings were issued in separate cases by federal judges in New York and San Francisco.

In 2003, President Bush signed the law banning intact dilation and extraction, a later-term procedure that opponents refer to as "partial birth" abortion. But the law was never enforced due to a number of legal challenges.

Many legal experts think appeals over the partial birth ban eventually will reach the U.S. Supreme Court, the AP said.


Cheney Gets Good News From Pacemaker Exam

Vice President Dick Cheney got good news after Friday's routine inspection of the high-tech pacemaker that was implanted in 2001, the Associated Press reported. The device showed no irregular heartbeat and has never been activated, a spokeswoman said.

Cheney's appointment at George Washington University Medical Center included a physical exam, an electrocardiogram, and a stress test, the spokeswoman said. The pacemaker is designed to activate automatically if a person's heartbeat needs to be shocked back into a regular rhythm.

Cheney has had four heart attacks, though none as vice president. The heart device, called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, also was working fine when last inspected in May 2004, the wire service said.

Cheney is scheduled to undergo a colonoscopy later this month, his spokeswoman said.


Johns Hopkins Retains Top Hospital Ranking

For the 15th straight year, Johns Hopkins University Hospital has retained its spot atop U.S. News and World Report's ranking of the nation's best hospitals.

To make the magazine's 2005 honor roll, hospitals had to rank at or near the top in no fewer than six specialties. The rankings were compiled from votes by board-certified physicians randomly selected from a list of some 811,000 U.S. doctors provided by the American Medical Association.

Here are the magazine's top 10 hospitals for 2005:

  1. Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Baltimore
  2. Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
  3. Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  4. Cleveland Clinic
  5. ULCA Medical Center, Los Angeles
  6. Barnes-Jewish Hospital, St. Louis
  7. New York Presbyterian, New York City
  8. Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.
  9. University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle
  10. University of California, San Francisco Medical Center


Screening Program to Gauge Health Effects of Teflon Chemical

A screening program will be launched to check tens of thousands of people in West Virginia and Ohio to determine if their health has been harmed by drinking water containing the chemical ammonium perfluorooctanoate (PFOA), which is used to make Teflon.

The tests will begin this month for people who get their drinking water from public or private water supplies where concentrations of PFOA have been found, the Associated Press reported.

Those water supplies are near DuPont Co.'s Washington Works plant, along the Ohio River near Parkersburg, W. Va. About 80,000 people live in the area. Officials are hoping that at least 60,000 people take part in the screening, which is being paid for by DuPont as part of a class-action lawsuit settlement.

Teflon, a nonstick substance used in a wide variety of products including cookware and clothing, is one of DuPont's most popular products.

Residents who take part in the screening will receive $150 to answer a health questionnaire and an additional $250 if they provide a blood sample, the AP reported.

A federal scientific review board has said the chemical is "likely" to be carcinogenic to humans, but DuPont officials have disputed the draft report. The board has agreed to revise the draft to include opposing viewpoints before submitting it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by July 20, according to the news service.


Critics Pan Price of New Heart-Failure Drug for Blacks

The pricing system for a new heart-failure drug for black Americans is generating controversy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved BiDil as the first drug intended specifically for blacks. NitroMed, the company that makes Bidil, says it will sell the drug for $1.80 a pill, a price much higher than analysts had expected and nearly double the cost of other heart-failure drugs, The New York Times reported Friday.

Depending on the dosage required by individual patients, that means that BiDil treatment could cost from $5.40 to $10.80 a day. It's estimated that about 750,000 black Americans suffer from heart failure, the newspaper said.

NitroMed has established a program to help make BiDil affordable to the estimated 75,000 black heart-failure patients with no prescription drug coverage. Patients without drug coverage will be able to get BiDil for $25 a month and poor patients without drug coverage will get the drug free, the Times reported.

Some experts say NitroMed is charging too much for BiDil.

"I'm disappointed in the decision to price BiDil beyond the financial means of many patients who might benefit," Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Steven Nissen, who led an FDA advisory panel that approved the drug, told the Times.


Prescription Drug Abuse in U.S. an Epidemic: Report

The abuse of prescription drugs in the United States is an epidemic and teens are the fastest growing group of new prescription drug abusers, says a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

The three-year study found that 15.1 million people -- including 2.3 million teens -- abuse prescription drugs, more than the combined number of people who abuse cocaine, heroin, hallucinogens and inhalants, the Washington Post reported.

Many teens arrange parties where they swap prescription drugs that they've taken from home or bought off the street or over the Internet, the report said.

"Availability is the mother of abuse. When I was young my parents would lock their liquor cabinet. It may be parents should be thinking of locking their medicine cabinets," said Joseph Califano Jr., chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Despite the large number of people abusing prescription drugs, the issue hasn't attracted sufficient attention from physicians, pharmacists, parents or health and law-enforcement agencies, the report said.

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