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Health Highlights: June 18, 2005

Medical Marijuana Available in Oregon Again Number of Babies Born HIV Positive Plummets in Florida Guidant Recalls 38,000 Heart Defibrillators FDA Limits Access to Lung Cancer Drug People Over Age 50 Should Take Daily Aspirin: Study Boston and Boulder Lead U.S. in Marijuana Use

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

Medical Marijuana Available in Oregon Again

Oregon began issuing medical marijuana cards again on Friday, after the state's attorney general decided to ignore a Supreme Court ruling that would allow federal prosecution of those possessing the drug.

At the same time, the Associated Press reported, the state warned that those who participate in the program will not be protected from prosecution if the federal government decides to take action. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that federal drug laws supersede medical marijuana laws in the 11 states that have them. Oregon stopped sending out cards, but continued to process applications while Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers examined the legal ramifications of the ruling, the AP reported.

Myers concluded that the Supreme Court decision did not invalidate Oregon's medial marijuana program, so the state's Human Services Department on Friday began mailing out about 550 registration cards. The AP reported that more than 10,000 patients have registered for the state's medical marijuana program. A doctor has to state that a patient needs the drug for pain relief from cancer, glaucoma, AIDS or severe pain, among other things.

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Number of Babies Born HIV Positive Plummets in Florida

In a sign that the battle against AIDS is being won one at least one front, Florida reported Friday that the number of babies being born HIV positive has dropped dramatically in the past 10 years.

As a matter of fact, there have been no babies born HIV-positive so far this year in the state, the Associated Press reported. Florida Health Secretary John Agwunobi said the startling statistics show that more pregnant women are getting tested and that antiretroviral drugs used both during pregnancy and childbirth are making a difference.

"It's a huge AIDS success story," Florida Department of Health's HIV/AIDS Bureau Chief Tom Liberti told the AP.

The trend may be similar nationwide, although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't have figures that are as fresh as the Florida statistics. However, mother-to-baby transmission of the virus in 2000 was down about 80 percent from its peak in the early 1990s.

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Guidant Recalls 38,000 Heart Defibrillators

The FDA and Guidant Corp. are recalling 38,000 implantable cardiac defibrillators that may malfunction, the company announced Friday. Most of the devices have already been implanted, the Associated Press said.

Defibrillators shock an irregularly beating heart back into a normal rhythm. Guidant models recalled include the Prizm 2 DR, Contak Renewal, Contak Renewal 2, Ventak Prizm ADT, Vitality AVT, Renewal 3 AVT, and Renewal 4 AVT. The company said it has at least 45 reports of failure, resulting in at least two recent deaths, the AP reported.

The company has come under fire for failing to alert doctors to the potential problems, and for allegedly selling older models for months after redesigning the way they were made. Guidant told The New York Times that it continued to sell the older models because it believed the devices were reliable, HealthDay reported June 2.

Guidant advises anyone who received an affected model to see their doctors at least every three months, and to consult their doctor immediately if they've received a defibrillator shock, the AP said.

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FDA Limits Access to Lung Cancer Drug

The FDA has approved new labeling for the last-chance lung cancer drug Iressa (gefitinib), saying that after Sept. 15 the medicine should be limited only to patients who are already benefiting from its use, the agency announced Friday.

The AstraZeneca drug, approved in May 2003 for people with non-small cell lung cancer, failed to significantly extend survival among participants in 1,692-patient clinical trials. Only about 10 percent of users responded to it, the FDA said, noting that later research indicated the drug seemed to work better in people with a specific gene mutation.

Since Iressa's approval, a newer medicine -- Genentech's Tarceva (erlotinib) -- in the same class of drugs was shown to improve overall survival, the FDA said.

Some 4,000 Americans are taking Iressa, the Associated Press reported. It was approved under an FDA program that lets promising therapies sell before researchers ultimately determine whether they improve patient survival, the AP said.

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People Over Age 50 Should Take Daily Aspirin: Study

Daily, low-dose aspirin should be taken by people 50 years and older to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke, says an article in the British Medical Journal.

"The possibility that a simple, daily, inexpensive low-dose pill would achieve a reduction in vascular events, and might achieve reductions in cancer and dementia without the need for screening, deserves serious consideration," Peter Elwood, chairman of the Welsh Aspirin Group at Cardiff University in Penarth, Wales, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues concluded that by age 50, 80 percent of men and 50 percent of women reach a risk level for heart attack and stroke that requires daily aspirin. They said that between 90 percent and 95 percent of people could take low-dose aspirin without experiencing any problems, Bloomberg news reported.

The Welsh Aspirin Group was established by the Aspirin Foundation to promote the use of aspirin.

Colin Baigent of the Oxford Radcliffe Infirmary expressed concerns about the use of daily, low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke.

"A recommendation that aspirin be used for primary prevention of vascular disease in unselected people over a certain age could result in net harm, and we must have very good evidence to the contrary before instituting such a policy," Baigent wrote in the same issue of the journal.

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Boston and Boulder Lead U.S. in Marijuana Use

Boston and Boulder, Colo., lead the United States in marijuana use, while northwestern Iowa and southern Texas have the lowest marijuana use rates, according to a new federal government report.

The report, which looked at the regional use of drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and other legal and illegal substances, found that 5.1 percent of people in the United States reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days, the Associated Press reported.

In Boston, 12.2 percent of people reported using marijuana in the previous 30 days. The rate was 10.3 percent in Boulder County in Colorado.

The data came from 1999 to 2001 national surveys.

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