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dresserfallikea-300x169Doctors, hospitals, insurers, politicians, and businesses may assail the civil justice system over sums it awards to people who have proven they have been harmed. But as significant as some judgments may be, they may be exactly what judges and juries decide may be required to get institutions and enterprises to stop stubborn wrongs.

Is $215 million enough in a federal case, for example, to get the University of Southern California to learn the hard lesson that it needs to listen and to act swiftly if  coeds and nurses complain about  inappropriate sexual behavior of  its student health service staff?

Is $46 million sufficient to get Ikea to fix, recall, and inform the public yet more about the dangers to children of pieces of its furniture that can tip over and kill kids — the latest victim being Jozef Dudek, 2?

boozengals-300x180Tipple much, much less in 2020. That might be a life-saving bit of advice for too many Americans to follow, especially because of new data on a worrisome spike in alcohol-related deaths.

As NBC News reported, based on published research by federal researchers:

“The yearly total of alcohol-related deaths for people ages 16 and over more than doubled, from 35,914 in 1999 to 72,558 in 2017. There were almost 1 million such deaths overall in that time. While middle-age men accounted for the majority of those deaths, women — especially white women — are catching up, the study found. That’s concerning in part because women’s bodies tend to be more susceptible to the effects of alcohol.”

hal9000-300x225In recent years, doctors, hospitals, and popular media have promoted emerging treatments to the public with enthusiasm that in each case would turn out to be overblown. Just consider the red-hot chatter that once surrounded regenerative medicine, precision medicine, gene therapy, or immunotherapy. And now, it may be the turn of artificial intelligence to be hyped hard in health care.

Caveat emptor, as Liz Szabo reported for the Kaiser Health News Service. She sets the stage, thusly, about developments in a field that might worry some who remember Hal 9000 from “2001: a Space Odyssey”:

“Health products powered by artificial intelligence, or AI, are streaming into our lives, from virtual doctor apps to wearable sensors and drugstore chatbots. IBM boasted that its AI could ‘outthink cancer.’ Others say computer systems that read X-rays will make radiologists obsolete. ‘There’s nothing that I’ve seen in my 30-plus years studying medicine that could be as impactful and transformative’ as AI, said Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and executive vice president of Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif. AI can help doctors interpret MRIs of the heartCT scans of the head and photographs of the back of the eye, and could potentially take over many mundane medical chores, freeing doctors to spend more time talking to patients, Topol said. Even the Food and Drug Administration ― which has approved more than 40 AI products in the past five years ― says ‘the potential of digital health is nothing short of revolutionary.’”

flavorvape-300x225The Trump Administration kicked off the new year with a whimper not a bang with yet another of its attempts to corral the health nightmare of e-cigarettes and vaping by the nation’s young, while not upsetting the industry too much.

Starting Feb. 1, the federal government announced it will forbid the sale of most flavored cartridges for e-cigarette use, notably those with popular tastes like candy, fruits, and mint.

At the same time, though, vendors still can sell menthol and tobacco flavorings. And they can peddle flavored vaping liquids if they are used in the open tank systems that most often are so big, they are limited to shops or stores.

zenmagnets-1-150x150Consumers may need to give a few seasonal gifts a second look about their safety and other health-related issues:

docprescriptionpad-300x238Although it’s always important to remember in research studies that associations don’t prove causation, findings from two separate works should raise serious concerns about doctors’ independence and judgment in prescribing drugs and reporting conflicts of interest about payments from makers of medical devices.

That’s because doctors who get money from drug makers in connection with a specific medication tend to prescribe that drug “more heavily” than colleagues who don’t get similar cash, ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site, has found.

And doctors who are among those receiving the highest compensation from surgical and medical device manufacturers show some of the biggest discrepancies between the sums they report for institutional conflicts of interest and what a federal database of payments shows, according to  physician-researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).

21md-261x300Consumers soon may need to be 21 or older to buy burning tobacco cigarettes or e-cigarettes, the key component of the national health nightmare of “vaping.”

Both the House and Senate have passed the higher age requirement and President Trump is expected to sign it, joining hundreds of states (including Maryland, as illustration shows) and cities that have sought to make it tougher for Americans to damage their health with the popular products.

The damage caused by smoking have been well proven for decades now, with the American Cancer Society reporting the nasty habit’s persistent toll:

gabapentin-300x158A widely prescribed drug, formally approved only for limited uses but now dispensed for many nerve-related conditions, can put patients at serious risk of breathing problems, especially if they are aged, suffer from all too common chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or may also be taking opioid pain killers or other medications that depress the central nervous system.

That’s a toughened new warning about gabapentin and pregabalin from the federal Food and Drug Administration, which says it will require new packaging and cautions for the drugs. They may be better known in their branded versions as Neurontin, Gralise, Horizant (gabapentin) or Lyrica and Lyrica CR (pregabalin).

The nerve meds have been subject to “growing” medical “use as well as misuse and abuse,” the FDA said in a statement, adding:

cpsc-150x150One of the nation’s top consumer protection agencies cozied up to the businesses it was supposed to watch over, leaving children and other consumers vulnerable to significant harms.

That’s the disturbing conclusion of congressional staffers reporting to Maria Cantwell, the ranking Democrat on a U.S. Senate committee with oversight responsibilities for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The Democratic staffers ripped the agency, headed by a Republican appointee who has since resigned, for its poor performance with high-profile cases involving Britax’s BOB jogging stroller, Fisher-Price’s Rock ‘n Play inclined sleeper, and the safety of residential elevators.

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Elite researchers — professors and staff with ties to 20 of the nation’s top universities and the respected National Institutes of Health — may be failing to be as candid as institutions and laws require about their potential professional conflicts of interest, notably the significant sums they get from Big Pharma and medical device makers.

ProPublica, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative organization, and the Los Angeles Times jointly scrutinized the experts’ required disclosures, finding they not only fall short. They may fail to give the public a fair view of the credibility of their findings. And, in California, they may be a unique rip-off of the state’s top university system. The “UCs” provide research faculty with costly facilities and other support, as well as sharing its global renown — in exchange for revenue the experts may earn outside the system.

In total, after examining records on tens of thousands of university scholars and NIH experts, ProPublica not only has made public its “Dollars for Profs” database, it also quotes federal watchdogs as estimating that with the NIH alone, conflicts of interest with agency grants amounts to $1 billion.

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