July 19th, 2011
By: J.D. Heyes
No parent wants to lose a child, but when one dies from something that should be very preventable, the heartbreak and tragedy is compounded. Such is increasingly the case with prescription drugs – they’re killing our youth.
Sarah Shay and Savannah Kissick, of Morehead, Ky., best friends since high school, were both victims of what experts and the White House are describing as an epidemic of prescription drug deaths. Sarah died in 2006 at the tender age of 19; Savannah just three years later, at 22.
Since the medications they were using were prescribed by physicians, some experts believe they carry some sort of legitimacy. But the fact is they are being abused by young people just the same as drugs that are illegal – more so even, in some cases.
“I don’t think the kids have any idea how addicting the substance is,” Karen Shays told the BBC in an interview. “Before they know it, bam! They’re addicted.”
Drugs like Xanax, Oxycodone, Klonopin and Hydrocodone are routinely being abused more and more in Kentucky in particular, but in other parts of the nation too, by teenagers and young adults. So bad is the problem that the state has set up rehabilitation centers, where a huge number of addicts – more all the time – are being treated.
So bad is the addition that some kids have even turned to crime to feed it.
Some of the kids say they could have likely found other drugs to feed their habit, but prescription drugs were not only legal but much easier to get.
All in all, it’s sort of like Armageddon, but with prescription drugs – a sort of “Pharmageddon,” if you will, as evidenced by Kentucky’s overflowing jails, say state officials.
“I believe I can safely say that over 80 percent of the inmates in the Pike County regional detention center are in there for something dealing with their addiction to prescription drugs,” Dan Smoot, director of law enforcement with an organization called Unite – a new and innovative counterdrug that combines police investigations, treatment and education.
According to the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, in a recent report, the problem stretches beyond the borders of Kentucky – and it’s getting worse.
“A number of national studies and published reports indicate that the intentional abuse of prescription drugs, such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives, to get high is a growing concern — particularly among teens — in the United States. In fact, among young people ages 12-17, prescription drugs have become the second most abused illegal drug, behind marijuana,” said the study, called, “Teens and Prescription Drugs.”
“Though overall teen drug use is down nationwide and the percentage of teens abusing prescription drugs is still relatively low compared to marijuana use, there are troubling signs that teens view abusing prescription drugs as safer than illegal drugs and parents are unaware of the problem,” it said.
In particular, the study found:
- Teens are turning more and more away from illegal street drugs and instead are taking (and abusing) more prescription medications – so much so that new users of prescription drugs have caught up with new users of marijuana;
- Next to marijuana, the next most common thing kids use to get high are prescription drugs;
- Teens abuse prescription medications because they mistakenly believe that, since they are prescribed, they provide safe highs;
- Most teens get prescription drugs easily and free, usually from friends or relatives;
- The most commonly abused drugs by kids are OxyContin and Vicodin; and
- Adolescents are more likely to get hooked on prescription medication than are young adults.
The study found that teens most likely to abuse prescription medications live in the west and southeast. The most common abuse occurs in the following states: Arkansas (10.3 percent); Kentucky (9.8 percent); Montana (9.6 percent); Oregon (9.3 percent); Oklahoma (9.1 percent); Tennessee (8.9 percent); and West Virginia (8.9 percent).
“There’s a reason that prescription drugs are intended to be taken under the direction of a doctor: if used improperly they can be dangerous,” said a recent National Institute of Drug Abuse summary.
Abuse of prescription painkillers in general is not new. In fact, such abuse has risen 400 percent between 1998 and 2008.
But now it seems, our kids have made a startling discovery – that using prescription meds to get high – is too easy and too accessible. And it’s costing more of them their lives.
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By David Gutierrez
The FDA has announced that it is investigating reports of at least 775 serious side effects, including 30 deaths, associated with Tylenol and other over-the-counter drugs recalled by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary McNeil.
The side effects were reported by consumers who experienced them after taking products involved in one of four McNeil recalls in recent months. The FDA will determine whether the drugs were directly responsible for any of the incidents. Thus far, researchers have determined that most of the deaths were not caused by the drugs, a source close to a Congressional investigation said.
The first word of side effects came in November 2009, when McNeil recalled five lots of Tylenol Arthritis Pain 100 count with EZ-open cap, after consumers reported an unusual odor that caused nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. One month later, the company expanded the recall to include all lots of the product.
The next month, after reports emerged of consumers experiencing feelings of sickness associated with a strange odor from other McNeil drugs, the company recalled an unspecified number of Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and other over-the-counter products. The recall concerned drugs produced between January 1, 2008 and April 30, 2010.
In May 2010, McNeil issued a separate recall for 50 children’s versions of its over-the-counter pain, allergy, cold and cough drugs due to severe concerns over their safety and quality. According to the company, the recall was a precautionary measure, not an action taken “on the basis of adverse medical events.”
Operations have been suspended at the factory responsible for producing the drugs, and the FDA has released a 17-page report detailing more than 20 violations that took place there. The FDA is also investigating hundreds of serious side effect reports associated with the recalled children’s drugs, including seven deaths.
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched its own investigation into the drug recalls.
August 13th, 2010
By: Frank Jordans
The World Health Organization says the swine flu pandemic is over.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan says the world is now moving into the “post-pandemic” phase.
She told reporters on Tuesday that the pandemic has “largely run its course.”
Last week WHO said at least 18,449 people had died worldwide since the outbreak began in April 2009.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE.
earlier story is below.
The World Health Organization said it will likely decide Tuesday whether to declare the swine flu pandemic over, months after many national authorities started canceling vaccine orders and shutting down hotlines as the disease ebbed from the headlines.
The decision would be announced in the afternoon by WHO Director-General Margaret Chan after consulting with the global body’s emergency committee of top flu experts, said spokesman Gregory Hartl.
Chan can either decide to keep WHO’s pandemic alert at its current phase 6 level — the highest — or shift to the “post-peak” or “post-pandemic” stages. The latter two would effectively acknowledge that the pandemic is on hold or over.
The number of deaths from swine flu has fallen dramatically in recent months.
Last week, WHO said at least 18,449 people had died worldwide since the outbreak began in April 2009, though it noted that the true figure is likely to be higher. Still, lab-confirmed deaths globally increased by only about 300 in the past two months.
“We haven’t any pandemic anymore,” said Jean-Louis Zuercher, a spokesman for Switzerland’s Office of Public Health.
The Alpine nation gave local authorities permission in May to destroy expired swine flu vaccines after finding its stocks were full of unused supplies. A total of 20 people died from swine flu in Switzerland — out of almost 5,000 across Europe. That figure is far lower than the number of people who would normally die from seasonal flu every year, a fact that has been partly attributed to higher vaccination rates and some level of immunity among older people.
Prof. Angus Nicoll, flu program coordinator at the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said a decision to declare the pandemic over would be consistent with the Stockholm-based body’s recent findings.
While flu activity in the northern hemisphere is seasonally low, monitoring in southern hemisphere countries shows that few people are falling seriously ill from swine flu, said Nicoll.
Local spikes in flu deaths, such as seen recently in India, are likely due to better surveillance, he said.
Nevertheless, health officials around the world should prepare for a new type of seasonal flu to appear in the near future that will combine elements of the pandemic A(H1N1) strain, and older A(H3N2) strain and several lesser strains, said Nicoll.
“It looks sort of middle of the road at the moment,” he said.
Nicoll noted that high-risk groups such as pregnant women should continue to get vaccinated because swine flu has been shown to pose a particular risk to them.
Health authorities in Britain shut down their pandemic flu hotline in February and canceled vaccine orders by a third back in April as it became clear the pandemic strain would be less dangerous than feared. Worst-case scenarios had predicted up to 65,000 deaths in Britain. In the end there were 457 confirmed deaths from swine flu.
In Germany, authorities are meeting later this week to discuss who is going to pick up the bill for the 34 million doses of vaccines that were ordered and mostly not used.
August 4, 2010
The pentavalent or the five-in-one vaccine that has been recommended in India by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization actually killed children in Sri Lanka and Bhutan, warns an article in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
The report by a group, including paediatricians, professors, health activists and a former Indian health secretary, cautions against the introduction of the five-in-one vaccine that combines antigens against five diseases – diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DPT), hepatitis B and Haemophilus Influenzae type B (HIB) – in a single shot.
‘Our article describes how the World Health Organisation (WHO), in an elaborate cover-up, changed its own criteria for classifying adverse effects to say the vaccine was not responsible for the deaths in Sri Lanka,’ Jacob Puliyel, head of paediatrics at St Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi and key author, told IANS.
Former union health secretary K.B. Saxena, professors of community health in Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi Debabar Banerji, Imrana Qadeer and Ritu Priya, co-conveners of All India Drug Action Network Mira Shiva and Gopal Dabade and former adviser in finance ministry N.J. Kurian are the other authors of the report.
The authors point out that the pentavalent vaccine was withdrawn in Sri Lanka in April 2008 after 25 serious adverse reactions that included five deaths and Bhutan stopped its use within two months of introduction in July 2009 after eight deaths.
Bhutan has so far resisted pressure from WHO to restart immunisation but Sri Lanka reintroduced the vaccine this year after a WHO expert panel, which investigated the events, declared that the vaccine was ‘unlikely’ to have caused the deaths.
The panel, however, could not conclusively attribute the deaths to any other cause.
However, Puliyel and co-authors who obtained the full report of the investigation say the WHO panel in Sri Lanka did not follow the standard protocol of the UN agency for classification of adverse events following immunisation but instead used its own method.
The authors point out that the Sri Lankan deaths would have been classified as ‘very likely’ or ‘probably’ related to the vaccine, had the standard WHO classification been employed.
Changing its own criteria for classifying adverse effects following vaccination is ‘an elaborate cover up’ by WHO to remove any connection between pentavalent vaccine and the deaths in Sri Lanka, alleges Puliyel.
The authors also ask the wider question whether this new classification of adverse events adopted for Sri Lanka should be allowed to replace the standard WHO classification.
If so, deaths occurring following any vaccination will almost always be blamed on something else and not the vaccine and ‘lives may thus be put at risk,’ they say.
The article also questions the need for HIB vaccine in the country, saying WHO’s own studies have shown that the incidence of the disease in India is lower than projected and studies elsewhere in Asia show that the vaccine does not significantly reduce the burden of disease compared with placebo.
Another letter published in the same journal notes that there have also been three deaths in Pakistan — one child who died within half an hour of receiving the pentavalent vaccine and two others who passed away within 14 hours of the administration.
‘In no case was the vaccine blamed and no alternate cause of death was found for any of the deaths,’ says its author S.K. Mittal, chairman of paediatrics department at Pushpanjali Crossway Hospital in Ghaziabad, near Delhi.
Mittal says that although Pakistan reintroduced the vaccine on assurance from WHO that the deaths were not related to it, ‘the large cluster of ‘sudden deaths’ in Asia, following immunisation with pentavalent vaccine needs to be investigated dispassionately before more lives are lost’.
July, 16 2010
By: David Gutierrez
Women who take the antidepressant Paxil (paroxetine) while undergoing some breast cancer treatments are significantly more likely to die than women who do not take the antidepressant, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, and published in the British Medical Journal.
“These results highlight a drug interaction that is extremely common, widely underappreciated and potentially life-threatening, yet uniformly avoidable,” researcher David Juurlink said.
The researchers analyzed the medical records of 2,430 women over the age of 65 who had been treated for breast cancer with the drug tamoxifen between 1993 and 2005. Approximately 30 percent of these women took at least one antidepressant during the course of their cancer treatment.
The risk of death from breast cancer was significantly higher among women who took Paxil at the same time as tamoxifen. The risk increased by 25 percent in women with a 25 percent overlap in Paxil and tamoxifen treatment, and by 91 percent in women with a 75 percent overlap in treatment.
“In contrast, no such risk was seen with other antidepressants,” the researchers wrote.
Although the researchers could not say exactly why Paxil caused this effect, they believe that the antidepressant interferes directly with the action of tamoxifen. For the breast cancer drug to function, the body must first process it with an enzyme known as CYP2D6. Yet selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Paxil can inhibit the action of CYP2D6.
“Paxil is a fairly potent inhibitor of that enzyme,” Juurlink said.
Although Prozac (fluoxetine) also significantly inhibits CYP2D6, few women in the study were taking that drug.
The researchers emphasized that even women undergoing cancer treatment should not stop antidepressant treatment without the supervision of a doctor, because the withdrawal symptoms of such drugs can be dangerous.
April 15, 2010
By: Heidi Blake
Research published by The Lancet on Sunday said the number of women worldwide who die in pregnancy or childbirth fell by more than 35 per cent between 1980 and 2008 to 343,000 a year.
The findings contradict those of a separate World Health Organisation-led study which says the annual figure has remained steady at between 350,000 and 500,000 deaths.
Dr Richard Horton, the editor of The Lancet, disclosed that several maternal health organisations had asked him to delay publishing the figures until September, after a series of fundraising meetings.
Dr Horton said: ”The justification… was several fold: potential political damage to maternal advocacy campaigns; confusion among countries, policymakers, and the media given the difference between this maternal mortality estimate and the previous UN number; undermining progress on global commitments to maternal health; and the risk of an unproductive academic debate while women continued to die.
”Although well intentioned, these requests to slow the pace of scientific discussion for political considerations are likely to be far more damaging than fostering a serious debate about progress in reducing maternal mortality as and when new data appear.”
He has declined to name any individual or group who pressurised him.
The new research led by Dr Christopher Murray, from the University of Washington in Seattle, US, based its estimate on registration data, censuses, surveys and post-mortem evidence from 181 countries.
The findings suggested that maternal deaths had been declining at an annual rate of about 1.4 per cent between 1990 and 2008.
April 9, 2010
By: JoAnne Allen
Higher cigarette taxes can substantially curb smoking but states can make an even bigger dent by investing the new funds in programs to help people quit, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“None of the 15 states dedicated any of the new excise tax revenue by statute to tobacco control,” lead author Karen Debrot of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health wrote.
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causing nearly one in five deaths per year, according to the CDC.
All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have cigarettes taxes.
The national average state cigarette tax rose from $1.18 per pack in 2008 to $1.34 per pack in 2009, the CDC said in its weekly report on death and disease.
“A 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes can reduce consumption by nearly 4 percent among adults and can have an even greater effect among youths and other price-sensitive groups,” the CDC wrote in a commentary.
When combined with other tobacco control measures, “cigarette excise tax increases can be even more effective in reducing tobacco-related death and disease,” the report said.
State cigarette taxes range from a high of $3.46 per pack in Rhode Island to 7 cents per pack in South Carolina, the CDC said.
American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown urged all states to boost their tobacco taxes.
“Legislators can multiply the positive impact of a tax increase on both public health and their state’s fiscal health by dedicating a portion of the money to implementing tobacco prevention programs that have, in some cases, reduced youth smoking by up to 40 percent,” Brown said in a statement.
A separate report released by the CDC said imposing minimum price laws in states with low cigarette taxes could help control tobacco use and counter discounts offered by cigarette makers.
“Additional laws might be necessary to prohibit all retail price promotions (e.g., coupons or two-for-one offers) that can decrease cigarette retail prices to consumers,” the CDC said in a commentary.
February 9, 2010
By Lucy Johnston
Two children a year die after routine vaccinations, research has shown.
In some cases the Government has awarded parents up to £100,000 under its Vaccine Damage Payment Act 1979. In others, post mortem examin ations concluded that the injection was the most likely cause of death.
The figures, compiled by vaccine damage support group Jabs, come in the wake of last month’s decision by the General Medical Council that Dr Andrew Wakefield, who sparked the MMR controversy, acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly”. The research also found that it has become more difficult to get compensation for vaccine damage despite no drop in the number of children being affected.
There were 970 payments made between 1979 and 1994, about 65 a year, to parents of damaged children.
Since then there have been only 28 payments, approximately two successful claims a year. Critics say this is because the criteria for making a claim have become so strict. Peter Fletcher, former chief scientific officer for the Department of Health, is demanding an overhaul of the payment system.
He said: “We need to point out in easy language that vaccines have always had a level of adverse effects.
“However, it is hard to meet the standard of proof to win compensation and awards have been miserly.”
Julie Roberts, 40, whose daughter Stacey died after an MMR jab, said: “The Government should take responsibility. It has never given proper warnings of the risk and still doesn’t despite the evidence.”