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Today's Health Highlights: Dec. 17, 2001

Drug Seizures Up at U.S. Borders Doctors Call Off Rare Triple Transplant Government Considering Anthrax Shot for Civilians Gabon Ebola Outbreak Spreading Rapidly U.S. Government To Begin Marijuana Research

Monday,December 17 (HealthDayNews) -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of The HealthDay Service:

Drug Seizures Up at U.S. Borders

Just as some experts predicted, extra security at entry points into the U.S. has led to more seizures of illegal drugs, The New York Times reports.

It remains unclear, however, if the seizures are shrinking the supply of drugs enough to cause prices on the street to increase.

In October and November, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the total amount of drugs seized from trucks, ships and planes at all borders and ports rose by 66 percent over 2000.

"There has been a definite unintended consequence of the effort against terror: we are doing a better job of keeping illegal drugs out of the United States," said Robert C. Bonner, commissioner of the Customs Service.

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Doctors Call Off Rare Triple Transplant

Doctors called off an unusual triple transplant for a 19-year-old Oregon woman after one of the donated organs was found to be defective, the Associated Press reports.

Cystic fibrosis sufferer Brandy Stroeder was to have received a new lung, liver and heart. But doctors at a hospital in California discovered that the donated lung showed traces of pneumonia infection, and Stroeder returned home by Saturday after first learning of the potential operation on Friday.

Stroeder had been fighting the Oregon Health Plan, which serves the state's poor and refused to cover the procedure because officials considered it to be experimental. The United Network for Organ Sharing reports that only three patients have undergone similar transplants in the U.S.

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Government Considering Anthrax Shot for Civilians

A community effort raised money for the surgery, which may cost $250,000.

The government may make the anthrax vaccine now used by the military available to postal workers and others considered at high risk of exposure, according to The New York Times.

Although Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services is not expected to make a decision until next week, the Defense Department is scheduled to turn over 220,000 doses of the vaccine to the health department. The Food and Drug Administration has granted permission for the vaccine to be used in an experimental treatment program.

The vaccine would be reserved for a group of about 3,000 people who may have been exposed to large amounts of the germ. Once in the body, anthrax spores turn into bacteria. Although antibiotics kill the bacteria, they do not affect the spores and officials worry that remaining spores could become harmful.

Any vaccine program would be considered experimental and would require special consent from the patients, emphasized Katherine Zoon, a Food and Drug Administration official.

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Gabon Ebola Outbreak Spreading Rapidly

The Red Cross said today that an outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever in northeast Gabon is spreading "rapidly and unpredictably," according to a report from Agence France-Presse.

Officials, struggling to contain the disease, now have the added task of trying to track down an infected woman who traveled into neighboring Congo.

Eleven people have already died from the deadly disease out of 14 confirmed cases.

Earlier this week, the U.S. government ordered its employees to leave the region and urged American citizens not to travel to the affected region.

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U.S. Government To Begin Marijuana Research

For the first time in two decades, the government will begin research on the medical uses of marijuana, according to The New York Times.

The experiments, set to begin next year, will investigate whether smoking the weed can help patients who have multiple sclerosis as well as AIDS patients who suffer pain in their hands and feet. A third experiment is expected to be approved soon.

The Drug Enforcement Agency issued the approvals on November 28. The research, funded by the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research run by the University of California, will take place in California. As for supply: the researchers will use marijuana grown at the University of Mississippi under the auspices of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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