Study: High Doses of Prescription Painkillers Up Risk of OD Death

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Prescription painkillers may be FDA-approved and doctor-recommended, but that doesn't protect patients from the risk of lethal, accidental overdose, especially for those prescribed high doses.

Adding to the growing concern over abuse and over prescribing of painkillers, a new study published Tuesday finds that those on high or maximum doses of prescription opioid pain relievers are at a significantly increased risk of accidental, lethal overdose.

The abuse and overuse of prescription painkillers and sedatives have become a major medical issue as the rate of overdose deaths from these drugs increased by a staggering 124 percent, according to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.  From 2004 to 2008, emergency room visits associated with prescription drug overdose more than doubled, and among those aged 45 to 54, these overdoses are now the second leading cause of accidental death, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"[The] CDC now estimates that there are 13,000 deaths a year related to unintentional overdoses involving opioids," says Dr. Richard Deyo, professor of Family Medicine and Internal Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University.

When it comes to chronic and/or severe pain, opioid painkillers, including morphine and morphine-like drugs such as OxyContin, Codeine, and Vicodin, are among the most powerful tools in a doctor's arsenal.  They are also among the most addictive and potentially dangerous, doctors note.

Because they are more likely to lead to addiction and abuse than other non-opioid painkillers, many physicians are reticent to prescribe them at all, referring patients instead to pain specialists, says Dr. Lloyd Saberski, medical director of Advanced Diagnostic Pain Treatment Centers in New Haven, Connecticut.

At the same time, other physicians are prescribing these painkillers without proper monitoring tactics such as requiring regular office visits, timely (not early) refills, and urine drug testing, according to a study published last month in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Tuesday's study only adds to the concern that these drugs are not being properly managed and patients not properly monitored.  The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at more than 150,000 veterans on opioid prescription painkillers and found a link between those who were given high doses and those who suffered accidental fatal overdoses.

The research suggests that adverse outcomes, especially accidental overdose, could be in part related to the high doses given to some patients, which should cause physicians to reconsider whether higher doses are really the answer to patients' pain complaints, says Dr. Timothy Collins, assistant professor of Medicine/Neurology at Duke University.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Can Strawberries Be Used to Treat Esophageal Cancer?

BananaStock/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- A new study suggests that strawberries could be an acceptable treatment for esophageal cancer.

The esophagus carries food and drink from the mouth to the stomach.  Cancer of the esophagus is one of the more common gastrointestinal cancers.

Research presented to the American Association of Cancer Research says freeze-dried strawberries may be an alternative to drugs for prevention of esophageal cancer.

Participants with pre-cancerous lesions of the esophagus consumed 60 grams of freeze-dried strawberries every day for six months.

The freeze-drying was crucial because removing water concentrates the fruit's cancer-preventative properties almost ten-fold.

Results showed 29 our of 36 participants had a decrease in the severity of pre-cancerous lesions.

The study authors concluded that frozen strawberries may slow down the progression of cancer of the esophagus.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Warning About Kids Getting CT Scans

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(CINCINNATI) -- Radiologists should take more care when youngsters come into emergency rooms for computed tomography, better known as CT scans, according to a new study.

That's because these kids are often exposed to radiation doses meant for adults, which can boost their chances of developing cancer later in life.

As it happens, children were five times more likely to get a CT scan in 2008 than 1995, during which time the numbers have soared from 330,000 to 1.65 million.

CT scans are usually administered for head injuries, abdominal pain and headache.  Due to improvements in technology, scans for abdominal pain shot up 21 percent over a four-year period.

According to the study by researchers at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, CT scans in youngsters should be monitored carefully so that doses are adjusted properly to their smaller physique.

In some instances, ultrasounds, which are safer, may be substituted for CT scans, usually in cases of diagnosing appendicitis.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


High Radiation in Japanese Fish Raises Concerns

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Are you green around the gills with Monday's news that Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co. is dumping tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean? Experts say there's no need for worry -- at least for now.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will require seafood imported from Japan to be checked for radiation before it enters the food supply. But even with the new screenings, no one in the U.S. government is saying "stop eating tuna."

"Other food products from this area, including seafood, although not subject to the Import Alert, will be diverted for testing by FDA before they can enter the food supply," the FDA said in a prepared statement. "FDA will also be monitoring and testing food products, including seafood, from other areas of Japan as appropriate."

More specifically, an FDA spokesperson told ABC News that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "is screening everything from Japan." However, screening does not entail testing all the seafood. In fact, the FDA inspects less than two percent of seafood, according to Winona Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

Since screening, the FDA confirmed finding three food products from Japan that contained radioactive isotopes, although they were "all too low to cause adverse events." So far, the FDA said that every piece of seafood that has been imported to the United States is safe.

Offshore from the Fukushima plant, the seawater is now testing at levels off the charts -- 7.5 million times more radioactive than the legal limit.

"I can't go out to fish because of the radiation," one Japanese fisherman told ABC News. "I cannot do anything."

But another fisherman said it was a "bad rumor" that the fish was unsafe to eat. "The fish are totally fine, I believe," he said.

Because of the elevated levels, the Japanese government also announced on Tuesday that it will, for the first time, enact radiation safety standards for fish.

"We're deeply sorry for discharging the radiated water," said Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano on Monday, "but it was necessary to prevent spreading higher radiated water into the ocean."

Even though radiation levels become diluted in large bodies of water, officials tested a sample of sand lance fish, often used for bait, and found that the species contained nearly double the levels of iodine 131 and cesium 137. The new regulation caps fish radiation levels at the same amount as vegetables -- up to 2,000 bequerels of iodine 131 per kilogram.

Edano said that government will strictly monitor the seafood and move forward after officials understand the full impact of the dumping.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


After Diagnosis, Renowned Pianist Teamed Up with Arthritis Foundation

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Since his Carnegie Hall debut in 1948, Byron Janis has been known as one of the world's greatest pianists. He was regarded as a child prodigy at the age of four and has played for several American presidents.

And even after he was diagnosed with a progressive and painful form of arthritis -- one that threatened to rob him of his career -- he played on.

In 1973, doctors diagnosed him with psoriatic arthritis. The legendary pianist was told by doctors "it doesn't get any better" and that "every concert had the potential of being a serious threat" to his health.

In 1985, former first lady Nancy Reagan announced that Janis had arthritis, and he has been a national spokesman for the Arthritis Foundation ever since.

Nearly 50 million Americans suffer from arthritis, and the condition is second only to heart disease as a cause of work disability, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Psoriatic arthritis is particularly problematic in people whose livelihood depends on fine motor activities of the fingers, such as musicians and surgeons, said Dr. Joan M. Bathon, professor of medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

"This is because psoriatic arthritis can cause what is called ankylosis of the joints, which means that the bones grow together at the joint, and thus movement of the joint are obliterated," said Bathon. "That means the pianist would not be able to bend a finger in order to press a key."

"Rest is usually the first recommendation for inflamed joints, so when Mr. Janis was still playing the piano, he likely worked through pain and stiffness until his arthritis was controlled with medications," said Dr. Joan Von Feldt, professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

The variety of psoriatic arthritis treatments include non-steroidal inflammatory drugs, oral system therapies and biologic agents.

"Psoriatic arthritis is a very variable disease," said Dr. Nortin Hadler, professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It tends to involve just a few joints and can wax and wane over time. Hence, the fashion in which it interferes with function is very individualized."

"For many patients, most of the time, modifying their activities serves them well," said Hadler. "For some with more joints involved with greater intensity, psoriatic arthritis can be a major challenge."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Soy Is Safe for Breast Cancer Survivors, Study Finds

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- Eating soy-based foods has been associated with a lower risk of developing breast cancer.  However, soy products contain chemicals called isoflavones that some fear might increase the risk of cancer recurrence among breast cancer patients.

Now, a new study appears to allay that fear.

More than 16,000 women were followed in a study presented to the American Association of Cancer Research.  According to the lead researcher, the results of the study indicate that "it may be beneficial for women to include soy food as part of a healthy diet, even if they have had breast cancer."

They study concludes that soy foods did not increase the risk of cancer recurrence or death in breast cancer survivors, so they need not fear eating soy products.

The authors stress their findings apply to soy foods, not to soy supplements.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Teen Birth Rate Fell to Record Low in 2009

E. Dygas/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Fewer teens are having babies in the United States -- but not few enough, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although teen births dropped 37 percent nationwide over the last two decades to an all-time low in 2009, the rate is still nine times higher than in other developed countries.

Despite the plunge, roughly 410,000 teen girls gave birth in 2009 at an estimated cost of $9 billion to U.S. taxpayers, according to the report.

"Many are enrolled in the Medicaid and WIC [Women, Infants and Children] programs to help them during pregnancy,” said Dr. Amy Thompson, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology specializing in teen pregnancy at the University of Cincinnati.

Only half of teen moms earn a high school diploma by age 22 compared with 90 percent of teens who don't have children, according to the report.

Black and Hispanic teens are two-to-three times more likely to give birth than white teens, according to the report. And girls born to teen parents are nearly 33 percent more likely to become teen moms themselves.

The report suggests fewer high school students are having sex, and more of them are using at least one method of birth control. The proportion of students who reported using two methods of contraception, such as condoms and the birth control pill, almost doubled from five percent in 1991 to nine percent in 2009.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New USDA Rule Could Prevent Thousands of Food Poisonings

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration said Tuesday it plans to order all U.S. beef, pork and poultry producers to keep their products off store shelves until government tests for pathogens prove the food is safe.

Until now, producers have been free to ship raw cuts of potentially contaminated meat and chicken to market before tests yield their results. The result has been inadvertent and preventable outbreaks of disease and costly recalls.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "Most establishments already do their own testing and holding of products," and many of the industry's largest producers, including Tyson Foods and Cargill, support the rule.

"We've had test and hold procedures in place at our plants for about ten years," said Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson. "While we don't typically favor more government regulation, we believe it makes sense in this case to mandate 'test and hold' for the whole industry."

But some smaller companies have opposed the change, saying they have a limited ability to refrigerate thousands of pounds of perishable goods while they await test results.

Vilsack said the new requirement to "test and hold" would prevent up to 25,000 cases of food sickness per year. He estimated 44 major recalls could have been prevented if the policy had been in place between 2007 and 2009.

The USDA says it inspects "billions of pounds" of meat, poultry and processed eggs every year, and conducts periodic tests for dangerous bacteria at meat plants and processing sites around the country. But the agency has waited years to make the "test and hold" policy mandatory -- despite repeated requests from the American Meat Institute and other groups to impose a uniform rule.

The new USDA policy won't take effect for at least a few months while terms of the regulation are finalized.

An estimated 48 million Americans, or one in six, get sick from food poisoning every year, according to the CDC. Of those, at least 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Vampire FaceLift' Uses Blood to Smooth Out Wrinkles

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  There's a new kind of cosmetic procedure available, and it doesn't require injecting any acids, fat or toxins into the body. The main ingredient in this wrinkle-removing procedure is a patient's own blood.

The technology is called Selphyl, and it involves injecting a mixture of blood products into the affected areas. It's also called the "vampire facelift," although calling it a facelift is not accurate. Selphyl is a nonsurgical procedure akin to filler injections, while a face-lift is the surgical repositioning of facial tissues that have become loose over time.

Dr. Andre Berger of the Rejuvalife Vitality Institute in Beverly Hills, Calif., said the procedure is becoming very popular.

"I think this whole recent theme in the entertainment industry ... of using vampire, Dracula themes, has definitely caused a lot of the interest out there," Berger said.

But today's bloodthirsty pop culture is just part of Selphyl's allure. Some of the more well-known cosmetic fillers -- Juvederm, Restylane and Perlane -- are artificial. There are also collagen fillers and fillers that use parts of a person's own body, such as fat fillers and Selphyl.

Selphyl is prepared by drawing a patient's blood, separating the platelets from the red blood cells, blending the platelets with a fibrin mixture and injecting it to the area a patient wants to augment. In about a day, the excess is gone, and several weeks later, the fibrin matrix builds up, yielding the final result.

The process by which Selphyl is injected as a facial filler is FDA approved, and it can be used on other parts of the body with wrinkles or decreased volume.

The use of cosmetic fillers is on the rise, and there's a growing demand for procedures that are noninvasive and nonsurgical. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons predicts that the number of cosmetic procedures performed will exceed 55 million, which is quadruple the number done in 2005. The group also predicts that 97 percent of those procedures will be nonsurgical.

Selphyl costs somewhere in the range of $1,100 to $1,500 per injection, which is much cheaper than a facelift.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Using Breast Milk to Detect Breast Cancer?

ABC News(AMHERST, Mass.) -- Breast milk could hold the key to determining whether or not women are at risk for developing breast cancer, according to a study presented at the American Association of Cancer Research's 102nd annual meeting Monday.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst assessed breast milk from 230 women who were scheduled for or had a breast biopsy and analyzed it for three common genes implicated in breast cancer.  They found that levels of one of the genes was extremely high in women whose biopsies revealed cancer.

The study's authors concluded that the preliminary findings could lead to breast milk being used as a screening for breast cancer in women.  Of course, the screening would be limited to lactating women, so it would not be useful for breast cancer detection in the general population. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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