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Health Headlines - January 26

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Growing Number of Drug Treatment Patients Started Using at Young Age

A growing number of Americans in treatment for drug abuse began using at least one of their problem drugs before they were 13 years old, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

In 2003, 14 percent of people (162,708 people) admitted for treatment began using drugs prior to age 13, compared with 12 percent (114,462 people) in 1993, the report said.

The number of patients who started using marijuana before age 13 increased from 20 percent in 1993 to 23 percent in 2003. The number of patients who began using opiates before age 13 increased from 4 percent in 1993 to 5 percent in 2003. Opiates include heroin and prescription pain killers.

The percentage of patient who used cocaine before age 13 declined from 5 percent to 4 percent, and there was also a decline in those who used stimulants (such as methamphetamine) -- from 10 percent to 9 percent.

"Age at first use is an important predictor of the potential for serious substance abuse problems later in life. The increase in the proportion of admissions for drug use before age 13 should be a wake-up call to parents to speak with their children early and often about the dangers of drug use," Charles Curie, SAMHSA administrator, said in a prepared statement.

Hospitals Need Better Records to Prevent Drug Errors: Alert

U.S. hospitals need to improve their record-keeping and communication in order to prevent drug errors that often occur when patients are discharged or transferred, says an alert issued Wednesday by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

Among the recommended improvements: medications and proper doses should be listed in a highly visible location on patient medical charts; that information should be communicated to doctors, nurses and patients during transfers between one hospital unit and another; discharged patients should be given an accurate list of their required medications and instructions for use, the Associated Press reported.

The alert was sent to more than 15,000 hospitals and healthcare organizations in the United States.

Poor record keeping means that patients being transferred or discharged are at risk of getting double doses of drugs, the wrong medication, or incompatible drugs, the commission noted.

It's estimated that medication errors result in the deaths of more than 7,000 hospitalized patients each year in the United States, the AP reported. According to the commission, breakdowns in communication were responsible for 63 percent of reported drug errors that caused death or serious injury.

Pregnancy Increases Snoring

Women are twice as likely than normal to snore during the late stages of pregnancy because their airways tend to be narrower, says an Edinburgh University study.

Researchers found that 41 of 100 pregnant women snored, compared with 17 of 100 non-pregnant women. The increased snoring among pregnant women may be linked with weight gain and pressure on the trachea and lungs caused by the distended abdomen, BBC News reported.

The study also found that women snorers had, on average, a one-centimeter greater neck circumference than non-snorers.

The researchers noted that as pregnant women's airways narrow, their blood pressure increases. High blood pressure is linked to pre-eclampsia. So this study supports previous data that pregnant women who snore have a greater risk of pre-eclampsia, the study authors said.

The findings appear in the European Respiratory Journal.

Slow Start for U.S. Health Savings Plans

So far, there's little proof that consumer-directed health savings plans advocated by the White House as a way to control rising medical costs are helping many people deal with the high price of health care, The New York Times reported.

For the most part, employers and workers have been slow to embrace health savings plans, designed to lower businesses' health care expenses and give individuals more control of their medical spending.

The early results seem to confirm the forecasts of those who criticized the health savings plans from the outset. These plans are increasing people's out-of-pocket health costs, which may make them less likely to seek routine preventive care that may head off major health problems later on, The Times reported.

"The savings accounts are not designed to help people pay for health care; they are designed to help employers unload their health care costs," said Pat Schoeni, executive director of the National Coalition on Health Care, which is lobbying for better, more affordable health care in the United States.

Bird Flu Vaccine Trials to Begin in Spring

Clinical trials to test a vaccine against the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus may begin as soon as April, according to an executive with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline.

David Stout, president of pharmaceutical operations, said the vaccine would be tested with two different boosters and initial results should be available about three months later, the Associated Press reported.

The clinical trials are designed to test the safety of the vaccine and to establish the dosage and schedule for core compounds. Production of the vaccine could begin by the end of the year.

Within the next few weeks, Glaxo will start production of its traditional flu vaccine for the next flu season.

"If a pandemic breaks out, we would be able to stop production of the traditional flu vaccine and start production of the pandemic vaccine. We could start production on a risk basis (without regulatory approval) if that was necessary," Stout told the AP.

Skeptics Question New Chinese HIV/AIDS Estimates

A new estimate puts the number of HIV/AIDS cases in China at 650,000, down from the official figures of 840,000 released in 2003 by the Chinese government.

The new tally, conducted with the World Health Organization and the United Nations AIDS program, may suggest a positive trend. However, some experts said they doubted the new figure was any more reliable than past estimates, The New York Times reported.

Even Chinese and International health officials who endorsed the new lower count warned that the rate of HIV infection in China is still increasing. There were 70,000 new cases in 2005.

Drug users and prostitutes are responsible for the majority of HIV transmissions in China, but this new report noted that the disease is spreading from those high-risk groups into the general population. That means an increased risk of broader infection in the country, The Times reported.

One critic of the new report said it's difficult to get an accurate count because many people in China are reluctant to reveal that they have HIV/AIDS.

"Frankly, in all of my experience, the quality of data and the accuracy of the information here is not high enough to have confidence in this new estimate," Odilon Couzin, of Hong Kong-based advocacy group China AIDS Info, told the Times.

Food Fact:
Broccoli vs. cancer.

The veggie's green pigment makes it a potent disease-fighter. Substances called isothiocyanates, found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, stimulate our bodies to break down potential carcinogens. Plus, ounce for ounce, broccoli contains as much calcium as milk. Vegetables in the crucifer family range widely in color, shape and flavor, from squat purple turnips to lanky, leafy nappa cabbage. Most crucifers are strong-flavored and require an assertive seasoning to bring out their best.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Buddy up!

Struggling to stick to your exercise program? Try working out with a partner. Adding a social aspect to your workout helps keep you both motivated and makes sessions more fun. Training with a friend provides mutual support for keeping a regular schedule and pushes you harder to meet your goals.

FAQ of the day:
Will carbs make me fat?

It certainly hasn't worked that way for traditional Asian societies, where carbohydrates can make up as much as 80% of the diet and obesity is rare. Excess calories from any source will lead to weight gain. As for carbohydrates, the key for weight control is to limit consumption of refined grains and sugars, which pack a lot of calories in a portion, and emphasize whole grains rich in fiber, and whole fruits and vegetables, which are very low in calories.
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