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ohio-300x185With more than 4,000 overdose deaths last year alone and a fifth of its residents having received prescriptions for powerful painkillers, the state of Ohio has sued five Big Pharma companies, accusing them of mispresenting opioid drugs’ risks and fueling the medications’ epidemic abuse.

Ohio joins Mississippi in suing makers of increasingly lethal drugs like OxyContin and Percocet, whose addictive nature was hidden and downplayed by Big Pharma, critics say. The abuse of prescription opioids has fueled heroin use, with 33,000 Americans dying last year alone due to overdoses, federal and state health and law enforcement officials have said.

Fatal drug overdoses now exceed gun- or vehicle-deaths and they are matching the terrible tolls exacted at the height of the HIV-AIDS pandemic. Heartland America, and particularly white men, have been hard hit by the opioid drug crisis, with Ohio, Kentucky, New Hampshire and West Virginia recording the nation’s highest numbers of overdose deaths.

embarrass-300x172Health news readers look out: media organizations seem to be struggling with an outbreak of the whoopsies—as in, “Whoopsie, if we had more sense, we wouldn’t have put out the story you just read.”

The flare-up of embarrassing content, as chronicled well by the Healthnewsreview.org, a health information watchdog site, also seems to be a double problem for some media outlets that ironically have just warned their audiences about fake news.

As always, the dubious, low-value information concentrates on diet and nutrition topics — for instance, that small amounts of alcohol or coffee sway cancer risk or that eating chocolate makes your heart beat more regularly.

Blausen_0601_LaparoscopicGastricBanding-300x300They once got a ton of hype with radio, TV, and print ads, as well as billboard campaigns by proponents who later proved to be nothing less than sketchy. But the much-touted lap-band weight surgeries have fallen out of favor. The number of the procedures performed annually has nose-dived.

Researchers, based on a longer view, are finding that, among bariatric weight-loss options, lap-band surgeries offer some of the poorest results and result in frequent added procedures—at big costs, both economic and to disappointed, suffering patients.

Vox, the online news site, deserves credit for pulling together a painful review of what once was the most common way for overweight Americans, mostly women, to tackle one of the nation’s epidemic conditions: obesity.

hopkins-300x240It long has been a controversial bit of conventional wisdom. But big teaching hospitals may be a better place for older, sicker patients to go for care, a new study finds. They also may pay more for the treatment, as these institutions have become so large, bureaucratic, and revenue oriented.

Researchers at Harvard and hospitals in the Boston area published an observational study of 21 million Medicare hospitalizations, finding older, sicker patients had better 30- and 90-day mortality rates in 250 major teaching hospitals as compared with 894 institutions with minor teaching roles and 3,339 nonteaching hospitals.

When adjusting for factors that might affect results, the percentage of patients who died within 30 days of hospitalization—one quality measure— was 8.3 percent at major teaching hospitals, versus 9.2 percent at minor teaching hospitals and 9.5 percent at non-teaching hospitals, Stat, the online health information site has reported. That data means one fewer patient dies for every 83 the teaching hospitals treat.

D-vitaminsThe health care pendulum appears to have taken a bad swing to the extreme with vitamin D.  Too many Americans may be taking unnecessary tests to see if they’re deficient of this important nutrient. Too many of us are taking unneeded amounts of it.

Federal experts report that blood tests for vitamin D among Medicare beneficiaries, most 65 and older, increased 83-fold from 2000 to 2010. Testing rates rose 2.5-fold from 2009 to 2014 among those with commercial insurance.  Among a recent sample of 800,000 patients in Maine, nearly one in five had at least one test for blood levels of the vitamin over a three-year period. More than a third got two or more tests, often for vague complaints like malaise or fatigue. Labs and doctors are telling patients who have undergone tests and who have readings in the normal range of 20 to 30 nanograms of the vitamin per milliliter of blood that they suffer a deficiency.

This all is leading to what some experts are terming a “pandemic” of over-testing, faulty diagnosis, and excess consumption of a nutrient, based on sparse evidence and misplaced belief that, as the New York Times reports, “vitamin D can help turn back depression, fatigue, and muscle weakness, even heart disease or cancer. In fact, there has never been widely accepted evidence that vitamin D is helpful in preventing or treating any of those conditions.”

23andMetest-300x229Federal regulators have reversed themselves and approved a company’s controversial plan to sell direct to customers saliva-based tests that can predict their genetic risk for diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Officials of the federal Food and Drug Administration emphasized that the tests cannot show conclusively if individuals will develop conditions for which they may have genetic risk. They said any health test results should be discussed fully with doctors.

The FDA said it would keep close tabs on the online-order products of  23andMe, which previously had sought to market its saliva tests not only for consumers’ genealogies but also for their health interests. The FDA slapped down the firm’s first foray into health measurements:  23andMe in 2013 had charged $99 for a test that it claimed gave information, genetic and otherwise, on 240 conditions and traits. Regulators halted those tests, requiring 23andMe and others in the field  to prove their products’ accuracy and to clarify that users understood what they were paying for and any test data.

1-Britax-B-Agile-stroller-in-travel-system-mode-256x300Despite years of public and regulatory pressure, manufacturers continue to dump risky nursery products into the market, sending tens of thousands of children each year to emergency rooms for treatment. These injuries also increased markedly during the last years of a newly published study.

In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital said they scrutinized records on more than a million injuries of youngsters in emergency care for more than two decades (from 1991 to 2011), finding that 66,000 youngsters each year require treatment—almost an incident every eight minutes—due to issues with baby walkers, bouncers and changing tables.

Baby carriers, cribs and mattresses, and strollers caused the preponderance of injuries requiring ER attention, with 81 percent of the injuries affecting youngsters’ head, face, or neck. Most of the injuries were not major and were caused by toddlers falling from nursery products, which the researchers wrote are all too common:

repatha®-evolocumab-product-shot-5-HR-300x189With all the public attention now focused on soaring drug costs, Big Pharma just can’t seem to stay out of the spotlight. Drug makers are keeping up their eyebrow-raising actions, as are purveyors of so-called “stem cell” treatments, and it’s worth noting some of what’s happening with these:

Will insurers, MDs, patients pay for $14,000-a-year cholesterol fighting drug?

adderallIf aliens beamed down from another planet, how shocked might they be by modern patients’ willingness to ingest crazy stuff in the name of their health or well-being? Is it surprising or distressing that in the 21st century so many patients swallow so much hokum and downright dangerous thinking?

Let’s start with an excellent but deeply distressing New York Times Sunday Magazine story about “Generation Adderall,” a painful dissection of how many young people have become dependent, even addicted, to drugs that their parents started them on, in the name of improving their focus and academic performance. The author reports that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD or even shorter ADD, has risen as a diagnosis for young people, increasing from 3 to 5 percent of American school kids in 1990 to 11 percent now. The remedy for this, of course, has been prescribing drugs:

In 1990, 600,000 children were on stimulants, usually Ritalin, an older medication that often had to be taken multiple times a day. By 2013, 3.5 million children were on stimulants, and in many cases, the Ritalin had been replaced by Adderall, officially brought to market in 1996 as the new, upgraded choice for ADHD—more effective, longer lasting.

drugpriceBig Pharma’s dubious hype of its sometimes risky products marched on last week, with the industry racking up a half-billion in regulator penalties and settlements but no seeming end to its questionable strategies and tactics:

$465 million penalty, settlement for EpiPen maker

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