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Health Headlines - July 25

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:21pm

1,013 Americans Overdosed on Illegal Painkiller

Between early April 2005 and late March 2007, 1,013 Americans died after overdosing on an illegal version of the powerful prescription painkiller fentanyl, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report published Thursday.

"This was really an epidemic," report co-author Dr. Steven Marcus, executive director of New Jersey's poison control center, told the Associated Press.

The number of deaths slowed after a fentanyl operation in Toluca, Mexico was shut down by authorities in May 2006.

"It almost disappeared entirely. The shutting down of the Toluca facility was probably a major factor," lead author Dr. T. Stephen Jones, a consultant retired from the CDC, told the AP.

The study appears in the this week's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Fentanyl is often prescribed for cancer patients. Illegal versions of the drug are sold as a powder, often mixed with cocaine or heroin, and sometimes used as a heroin replacement, the AP reported.

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Bisphenol A No Threat to Human Health: EU Agency

The chemical bisphenol A -- used to make some hard plastics -- doesn't pose a threat to human health, according to a statement from European regulators cited by CBC News.

Some research in animals has suggested the chemical may pose a health risk. However, a scientific panel concluded that adults and children rapidly metabolize BPA and eliminate it from their bodies, the European Food Safety Authority said.

"This represents an important metabolic difference compared with rats," the authority said in a statement, CBC News reported. "EFSA will continue to monitor closely scientific findings regarding BPA and any related health effects."

BPA is used to make a number of products, including hard plastic water bottles, liners in cans, DVDs and CDs. In response to concerns about the chemical, Canada banned the import and sale of polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA.

The EFSA said that decision was based on limited evidence.

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Cancer Institute Director Warns Faculty and Staff About Cell Phone Use

Staff at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute have been advised to limit their cell phone use due to the possible risk of cancer. The unprecedented warning was issued Wednesday by institute director Dr. Ronald Herberman.

His caution is based on early unpublished data. But Herberman said people should take action now to protect themselves because it can take too long for science to provide clear answers, the Associated Press reported. No other major academic cancer research institution has issued this kind of warning about cell phone use.

"Really at the heart of my concern is that we shouldn't wait for a definitive study to come out, but err on the side of being safe rather than sorry later," Herberman said.

In a memo sent to about 3,000 faculty and staff, Herberman said adults should keep cell phones away from the head and use the speakerphone or a wireless headset. He also advised against the use of cell phones in public places because other people can be exposed to the phone's electromagnetic fields, the AP reported.

Because children's brains are still developing, they should use cell phones only for emergencies, Herberman said.

He cited unpublished data from a current 13-nation project called Interphone. Published results from the project, which involves countries mostly in Europe, focus on some 5,000 brain tumors. The U.S. National Research Council, which isn't part of Interphone, has criticized the project because it appeared to rely on people who already had brain tumors, asking them about their cell phone use.

A huge study on the subject, published in in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2006, followed 420,000 Danish cell phone users. It found no increased risk of cancer among participants, the AP reported.

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More Older Children Being Diagnosed with ADHD

The percentage of American children ages 12 to 17 diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been rising by about 4 percent each year, while the rate for children under age 12 has been holding steady, a new federal government report finds.

The study looked at the years 1997 through 2006 and found that the percentage of children ages 6 to 11 diagnosed with ADHD remained at about 7 percent during those years, but rose from just under 7 percent to nearly 10 percent for children ages 12 to 17, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers didn't investigate the reasons for the difference. Some experts believe it may be because doctors are increasingly considering the possibility of ADHD in older children with concentration problems, a trend that may be linked to increased marketing of ADHD medications to teens and adults.

"There are people out there being treated for ADHD that probably don't meet the diagnostic criteria," Scott Kollins, director of Duke University Medical Center's ADHD Program, told the AP.

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World's Largest Online Medical Encyclopedia Announced

The world's largest online medical encyclopedia is being created by the U.S. government and a number of medical schools, hospitals and health organizations. Medpedia will be free and available to the public when it launches later this year.

The resource will include easy-to-understand information about 30,000 diseases, thousands of medical procedures, and more than 10,000 prescription drugs, the Contra Costa Times reported.

Qualified doctors, biomedical researchers and clinicians are being urged to apply to become content editors for Medpedia.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, Harvard Medical School, and Stanford School of Medicine are among the participating organizations, the Times reported.

A sneak preview of Medpedia is available at www.medpedia.com.

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Fresh Water, Medical Care Concern Hurricane Victims

About 34 percent of people affected by Hurricane Katrina say they'd be very prepared if a major hurricane struck their community in the next six months, according to a Harvard School of Public Health survey conducted May 27 to June 23.

The survey included 5,055 people in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas in high-risk counties located within 20 miles of the coast.

Among respondents who were threatened or hit by Katrina, major worries in the event of a future hurricane are that they wouldn't have enough fresh drinking water (42 percent) and that they wouldn't be able to get needed medical care (41 percent).

The top concern among respondents who weren't affected by Katrina was that they would have problems getting gasoline for their cars (39 percent). That concern was expressed by 36 percent of respondents affected by Katrina.

Respondents who weren't affected by Katrina were much less likely than those who were affected by the hurricane to be worried about fresh water and getting needed medical care.

"The top concerns of people in high-risk hurricane areas -- having enough fresh water, getting medical care, and obtaining gas to evacuate -- are all things that public officials can plan for before the major storms of this season hit," Robert J. Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis, said in a Harvard School of Public Health news release.
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