Health Highlights: Nov. 19, 2013

By on November 19, 2013

Health Highlights: Nov. 19, 2013

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Bill Could Give FDA New Powers Over Compounding Pharmacies

A bill to increase the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s control over compounding pharmacies was passed by Congress on Monday and experts say it will help improve drug safety.

The bill does not give the FDA complete authority over these pharmacies — which tailor-mix drugs for individual patients — but still provides significant safeguards and is supported by many public health advocates, according to The New York Times.

“It has very sharp teeth,” drug safety consultant Sarah Sellers said of the bill, which is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The bill began taking shape shortly after tainted injectable drugs from a compounding pharmacy in Massachusetts caused a meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people across the U.S. just over a year ago, The Times reported.


NYC to Ban Tobacco Sales to People Younger
Than 21

Legislation banning the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 is to be signed Tuesday by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The new law would make New York the first large city or state in the country to ban tobacco sales to young adults. City health officials hope that raising the legal age to 21 will slash smoking rates among young people. Most smokers get addicted to cigarettes before age 21, the Associated Press reported.

The legislation also bans the sale of small cigars in packages of less than 20 and boosts penalties for retailers that violate sales regulations.

Also on Tuesday, Bloomberg was to sign legislation meant to keep the price of tobacco high by prohibiting coupons and other discounts, and by making the minimum price of cigarettes $10.50 a pack, the AP reported.

The increase in the minimum age for buying tobacco products will simply drive teenagers to the black market, according to tobacco companies and some retailers.


Study Charges FDA Was Silent on Amphetamine-Like Compound in Supplements

U.S. government scientists found an amphetamine-like compound in nine dietary supplements but did not alert consumers, researchers say.

The Food and Drug Administration team tested 21 supposedly all-natural supplements and found that nine contained the compound beta-methylphenethylamine, according to an article in the Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis.

All 21 products list an ingredient called Acacia rigidula, which is a plant found in Texas and Mexico. The FDA scientists said they couldn’t find the amphetamine-like compound in verified samples of the plant, and also said that the compound appears to have never been tested for safety on humans, USA Today reported.

The supplements tested were marketed for things such as mood stabilization, weight loss and boosting energy. FDA officials would not comment on the study or release the names of the supplements that were tested or the nine found to contain the compound.

“This is a brand new drug being placed into a number of supplements under the guise of a natural ingredient,” Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, told USA Today.

He was part of another team of scientists who last month reported finding a methamphetamine-like compound in a pre-workout supplement called Craze. He’s dismayed that the FDA hasn’t issued public warnings about Craze or the nine supplements in the new study.

“The laws are incredibly weak, but the FDA is not moving as fast as it could to remove hazardous products,” Cohen told USA Today.


Positive Drug Tests Declining Among U.S. Workers

The percentage of American workers testing positive for cocaine and marijuana has declined sharply since 1988, but the use of prescription drugs appears to be a growing problem, according to a new study.

Quest Diagnostics Inc. reviewed more than 125 million urine drug tests administered to U.S. employees from 1988 to last year. They found that 3.5 percent of samples came back positive in 2012, compared with 13.6 percent in 1988, the Wall Street Journal reported.

However, positive tests for amphetamines — which includes prescription medicines such as Adderall — more than doubled between 2002 and 2012. Positive tests for the painkillers Vicodin and OxyContin rose 172 percent and 71 percent, respectively, from 2005 to 2012.

The analysis also uncovered higher levels of painkiller use when testing workers after they have been involved in an accident on the job, WSJ reported.

“Even when used under prescription, these drugs can have an impact on workplace safety,” said Barry Sample, director of drug-testing technology for Quest.

The data also showed that positive tests for methamphetamines fell after 2005, but recently started to rise again, especially among workers in safety-sensitive industries such as railroads and trucking.

The lower rate of positive tests for illegal drugs may be due to the fact that workers have become more adept at finding ways to pass urine drug tests. Labs are trying to develop oral swabs and hair tests to reduce the number of people who pass tests by substituting someone else’s urine, WSJ reported.


Medtronic Recalls Guidewires Used in Heart Procedures

About 15,000 Medtronic devices used in heart procedures are being recalled by the company because they have defects that could result in serious injury or death, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced.

The recalled products are guidewires. They are inserted through an artery and used to guide into place devices such as stents, the Associated Press reported.

The recall was implemented Oct. 21 after Medtronic was informed about four problems, including one patient who suffered cardiac arrest but was resuscitated, according to company spokesman Joseph McGrath.

The coating on the recalled guidewires could break off and possibly block a blood vessel. The coating is meant to help the wires slide through blood vessels more easily, the AP reported.

The FDA has classified the recall as Class I, a category reserved for products with reasonable potential to cause serious injury or death.

The recall covers certain lots of guidewires made since April. Medtronic said it has halted new shipments of the wires and alerted regulators worldwide about the problem, the AP reported.

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