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Health Highlights: June 7, 2005

Ruling Limits Prosecutions of Medical Privacy Violations U.S. Begins Move to Electronic Patient Records Viagra Ingredient Approved for Blood Pressure Disorder Baltimore, Albuquerque Top Drug Misuse List Teens' Perception of Weight Affects Suicidal Tendencies Many Women Overestimate Breast Cancer Risk, Study Says

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

Ruling Limits Prosecution of Medical Privacy Violations

A recent U.S. Justice Department ruling limits the federal government's power to prosecute people for criminal violations of the law that guards the privacy of medical records.

The ruling states that the criminal penalties apply to insurers, hospitals, doctor and other health providers. However, the penalties don't necessarily apply to employees of insurers or health providers or to outsiders who steal personal health information, The New York Times reported.

The criminal penalties include a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison for the most serious violations.

The opinion, dated June 1, was written by the Justice Department's office of legal counsel and was prepared over the last 16 months to answer questions from the criminal division of the Justice Department and the Health and Human Services Department, the Times reported.

Some experts were surprised by the ruling. It means that a hospital can be held criminally liable if it sells patients' names to a firm for marketing purposes. But a hospital employee who did the same thing, contrary to hospital policy, could not be prosecuted.

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U.S. Begins Move to Electronic Patient Records

The U.S. government has made the first moves towards a national health care network that would eliminate paper patient records and create electronic files for all Americans.

Federal officials announced requests for proposals for the 10-year plan to establish a Web-based prototype for the electronic national health care network, which would enable doctors and hospitals to share patient records, USA Today reported.

The government also proposed that healthcare professionals establish standards to dictate how doctors and hospitals collect, store and ship patients' records. Officials also said that the electronic health files would have to be certified to meet security and data standards.

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Viagra Ingredient Approved for Blood Pressure Disorder

The active ingredient in the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat a dangerous form of high blood pressure called pulmonary hypertension.

The new drug, to be called Revatio, contains sildenafil, the ingredient that relaxes blood vessels among users of Viagra. The 20 mg. dose of Revatio, to be taken three times daily, is cumulatively higher than the daily formulation for Viagra, the Associated Press reported.

Pulmonary hypertension, though rare, can destroy the heart. Another oral treatment, Tracleer, was approved in 2001.

In clinical trials, people who took Revatio reported side effects similar to those of Viagra, including headache and flushing.

The Revatio approval came on the heels of last week's reports that the FDA is investigating whether Viagra and similar impotence drugs may contribute to a rare form of blindness.

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Baltimore, Albuquerque Top Drug Misuse List

The cities of Baltimore and Albuquerque had the highest death rates caused by drug misuse among 32 municipalities in six states that reported data two years ago to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the agency said Tuesday.

In 2003, the two cities had drug abuse death rates exceeding 200 deaths per 1 million population, the agency said. Another 14 areas had death rates that exceeded 100 deaths per million. The statistics reflected the first state participation in the federal Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN). Participation is voluntary, the agency said.

The typical drug abuse death involved multiple drugs -- an average of 2.7 per user, the agency said. Opiates, including prescription pain relievers and the street drug heroin, were abused more often than any other type of drug in 29 of the 32 metropolitan areas that participated, the agency said. Stimulants, prescription antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications called benzodiazepines were also commonly misused.

The six states that participated in the DAWN network in 2003 included Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Utah, and Vermont.

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Teens' Perception of Weight Affects Suicidal Tendencies

Teens who believe they're too fat or too thin -- even if it's not true -- are more likely to think about or attempt suicide, says a U.S. study in the June issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

The study of 13,601 students in Grades 9-12 found that, overall, overweight or underweight teens were only slightly more likely than normal-weight teens to think about or attempt suicide, the Associated Press reported.

However, teens who viewed themselves as either very fat or extremely skinny were more than twice as likely to have suicidal tendencies.

The study found that about 19 percent of all the teens said they'd considered suicide within the previous year and about nine percent said they'd attempted suicide, the AP reported.

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Many Women Overestimate Breast Cancer Risk, Study Says

Many American women greatly overestimate their risk of breast cancer, says a University of Michigan (U-M) Health System survey of 356 women.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in about 211,000 women in the United States each year, and the actual risk is 13 percent.

This survey found that 89 percent of the women overestimated their risk for breast cancer, according to a university prepared statement. The average estimate of risk was 46 percent, more than three times greater than the actual risk of 13 percent.

Many of the women felt relief when they learned the actual lifetime risk for breast cancer.

The study results may help doctors help patients who are particularly worried about their risk of breast cancer, the U-M researchers suggested.

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