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Health Headlines - October 16

Posted Oct 15 2009 10:01pm

Health Expenses Increase for Middle-Age Americans

Between 1996 and 2006, total health-care expenses for middle-age Americans nearly doubled, according to a federal government study.

Total health-care expenses for adults ages 45 to 64 were $370 billion in 2006, compared with an inflation-adjusted amount of $187 billion in 1996, says the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The study included all middle-age adults, except those in nursing homes or other institutions.

Among the other findings:

  • The proportion of middle-age adults who incurred medical expenses remained at about 89 percent, but average annual health-care expenses for those with expenses increased from $3,849 in 1996 to $5,455 in 2006.
  • Prescription medicines accounted for 15 percent of total expenses in 1996 and 25 percent of total expenses in 2006.
  • The proportion of total expenses for hospital inpatient care decreased from 36 percent to 26 percent.
  • There was a significant increase in the average cost per health service: doctor office visits, $128 to $207; inpatient hospital day, $3,005 to $3,491; emergency room visit, $563 to $947; dental visit, $195 to $265; prescription medicines, $103 to $199.

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FDA Offers Medicine Disposal Advice

A Web page that advises consumers how to dispose of certain medicines has been introduced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Included on the page are instructions for getting rid of a number of powerful opioids that could be harmful or deadly if taken by someone other than the intended patient. The FDA says these drugs should be flushed down a sink or toilet, United Press International reported.

Any medicines not listed on the Web site should be mixed with an unpalatable substance, such as coffee grounds, and then thrown away in the household trash.

"The FDA is working with other groups to improve the use of several drug disposal methods, including drug take-back programs," said Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, UPI reported. "However, for some potent medicines ... the FDA currently recommends flushing them down the sink or toilet to immediately and permanently remove them from the home."

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Shame Boosts Hand Washing: Study

Shame can make people more likely to use soap to wash their hands after using the toilet, according to British researchers.

They studied peoples' use of soap in response to hygiene messages posted in service station washrooms and found that the highest rate of proper hand washing occurred when the message asked, "Is the person next to you washing with soap?" BBC News reported.

Overall, 32 percent of men and 64 percent of women washed their hands with soap. That increased by 12 percent in men and 11 percent in women when the message, "Is the person next to you washing with soap?" was flashed on an LED screen at the washroom entrance.

"What other people think -- what is deemed to be acceptable behavior -- is probably a key determinant in shaping behavior," said study leader Gaby Judah, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, BBC News reported. "It was interesting to see that, for men, the more people there were in the (washroom), the more likely they were to wash their hands with soap."

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

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Jury Awards $2.5 Million in Paxil-Birth Defects Lawsuit

Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline plans to appeal a $2.5 million verdict in a lawsuit that alleged the company's antidepressant drug Paxil caused birth defects.

While a Philadelphia jury found GlaxoSmithKline guilty of negligence, it did not find the company guilty of outrageous conduct and rejected punitive damages. The verdict is the first of about 600 similar Paxil lawsuits filed across the United States, the Associated Press reported.

This lawsuit was launched by a Philadelphia family whose son was born four years ago with a number of heart defects.

In 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warnings that Paxil may be associated with birth defects, the AP reported.

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