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Tuesday
Sep202016

West Virginia Attorney General Investigates EpiPen Maker Mylan

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(CHARLESTON, W.V.) -- West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey announced Tuesday that he has asked a court to enforce a subpoena against Mylan, which makes the EpiPen, as part of his investigation into whether the pharmaceuticals company violated antitrust measures and committed Medicaid fraud.

The subpoena was initially issued on Aug. 26. According to Morrisey, “Mylan initially agreed to cooperate, but has since failed to respond to the majority of the subpoena.”

"I have a statutory responsibility to investigate any potential antitrust violation,” Morrisey said in a statement Tuesday. “Consumers lose when competition doesn’t flourish. My office owes it to consumers to be their watchdog and turn over every rock to ensure fair play."

Mylan has a manufacturing plant in West Virginia and participated in the state's Medicaid program in which the company paid rebates on EpiPens purchased by Medicaid users.

In a statement to ABC News, a spokeswoman for Mylan said the company has been cooperating with the investigation.

“Mylan has received an inquiry and request for information from the West Virginia Attorney General relating to EpiPen Auto-Injector," a spokeswoman said. "Mylan has been cooperating and continues to cooperate by providing information in response to the AG’s inquiry."

During Tuesday's news conference, Morrisey said the company's decision to increase the price for the EpiPen auto-injector, used to help counteract life-threatening allergic reactions, was "outrageous."

"We all want to know why Mylan has decided to increase its price to the point of causing hardship for some customers," he added.

Mylan has faced scrutiny after the price of a two-pack EpiPen soared, rising from approximately $100 in 2009 to around $600, according to medical literature and various pharmacies nationwide.

Morrisey is investigating if Mylan was issuing Medicaid rebates for EpiPens at "non-innovator" levels, which are typically used for generic drugs, rather than at "innovator" levels, which are used for name-brand drugs. Since EpiPen is a name-brand drug, the company could face Medicaid fraud action if they were paying lower level "non-innovator" rebates, according to the court documents.

Additionally the company is being investigated for possible antitrust activities, according to the court documents.

Mylan CEO Heather Bresch is expected to testify on Wednesday at a congressional hearing about the significant price increase for EpiPens.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Tap Water for Millions of Americans Contains the 'Erin Brockovich' Metal, Report Says

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A metal made famous by Erin Brockovich and the movie based on her story was found in drinking water at what some scientists say are unsafe levels for more than an estimated 200 million Americans, according to a report published Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization.

EWG analyzed the results of tests conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and found chromium-6 at levels at or above 0.02 parts per billion in 90 percent of 60,000 water samples the EPA had tested between 2013 and 2015, according to the report. That standard of 0.02 parts per billion has been set as a "public health goal" by the California Environmental Protection Agency. However, California’s current legal limit for drinking water is 10 parts per billion.

At certain levels and periods of exposure, chromium-6, also called hexavalent chromium, is known to cause health problems or cancer when inhaled. It has not yet been proven to cause cancer in humans when ingested. The 2000 movie portrays Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts, working on a 1993 class-action lawsuit representing residents of Hinkley, California, who reported a variety of health problems and cancers that they blamed on a power company’s contaminating its water with hexavalent chromium.

The EPA standard of 100 parts per billion measures all types of chromium in public drinking water and does not set a separate limit for chromium-6. Another form included in the EPA standard, chromium-3, is found naturally at low levels in foods.

The report released by EWG used a much stricter public health goal of 0.02 parts per billion recommended by the California Environmental Protection Agency. According to the California EPA, “for every million people who drink two liters of water with that level of chromium-6 daily for 70 years, no more than one person would be expected to develop cancer from exposure to chromium-6."

“Americans deserve to know if there are potentially harmful levels of a cancer-causing chemical in their tap water,” David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report, said in a statement. “But the test results on the EPA's website are hard to find and even harder to understand. So we compiled and sorted the data, and we found that the scope of the contamination is startling. It's long past time for the EPA to take action to protect Americans from chromium-6.”

The EPA has authority over the nation's drinking water and started looking at the health effects of chromium-6 in 2008. The EWG report alleges that the agency has taken too long to decide if a rule is needed to regulate chromium-6.

The EPA said in a statement Tuesday that it is evaluating the possible health effects from hexavalent chromium as part of the agency's risk assessment process for chemicals found in the environment. A version of that assessment is expected to be released to the public next year.

"Ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans is a top priority for EPA," an EPA representative said in a statement. "The agency has taken many actions to improve information on chromium and its potential health risks in drinking water. EPA and states are responsible for ensuring that public water systems are in compliance with the current standard for total chromium."

It's unclear why levels of chromium 6 are higher in some places than others. It can be a result of runoff from industrial operations but it can also be naturally higher in certain parts of the country, according to experts.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Water Testing After Sinkhole Leaks 'Slightly Radioactive' Water

iStock/Thinkstock(MULBERRY, Fla.) -- Scores of residents in Polk County, Florida have requested water quality testing after a fertilizer plant admitted a sinkhole on its property leached 215 million gallons of "slightly radioactive" water into the local Florida aquifer.

The Mosaic Company, which runs the plant, apologized Tuesday for waiting to notify the public about the Mulberry, Florida leak until late last week, despite learning about the seepage and informing government oversight agencies on August 27.

"I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner," Walt Precourt, a senior vice president of phosphates for Mosaic said to the Polk County Board of County Commissioners Tuesday. "We immediately took steps to remove as much water from the leaking process pond as possible and are now operating a recovery well to remove the rest of the water from the aquifer."

Despite Precourt's assurances that contaminated water in the aquifer system has not migrated off Mosaic's property, local residents have still been on edge.

"We just want answers on what the condition of the water is," Lithia, Florida resident Joyce Hunter told ABC affiliate WFTS.

In response, Mosaic said it is offering free, third-party testing of locals' drinking water well upon request; it has enlisted Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc. (ECT) to collect well samples.

Mosaic added that it would also provide free bottled water to residents upon request until the tests are complete.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 69 well water tests have been scheduled through ECT, according to Mosaic's website.

The fertilizer company anticipates testing will be complete by the end of the week, WFTS reported.

"We want our neighbors to not just be safe, but to have peace of mind," Mosaic said. "We continue to analyze the situation, and our response to it and we realize we could have done a better job in providing timely information to our neighbors and the broader community."

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said it has been monitoring the response and has coordinated wtih Mosaic to offer testing to residents.

"Monitoring to date continues to indicate that the process water is being successfully contained," department spokesperson Dee Ann Miller said in a statement, "and that there is no evidence of offsite movement or threat to offsite groundwater supplies. Groundwater monitoring will continue to ensure there are no offsite or long-term effects."

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep202016

FDA Launches Contest for Opioid Antidote App

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The opioid crisis has led health officials to search for new and innovative ways to save lives, with many state officials focusing on giving more people, including first responders and community members, access to a life-saving opioid antidote called naloxone.

Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced a competition to give opioid users a way to get access to naloxone via their phone.

The FDA, along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced the 2016 Naloxone App Competition on Monday in order to bring together computer programmers, public health researchers and other experts to help combat the opioid crisis. The goal is to create an easy-to-use app that will identify the closest provider of naloxone, whether it's a hospital, clinic or police station.

"With a dramatic increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S., there’s a vital need to harness the power of new technologies to quickly and effectively link individuals experiencing an overdose -- or a bystander such as a friend or family member -- with someone who carries and can administer the life-saving medication," FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf said in a statement Monday. "Through this competition, we are tapping public health-focused innovators to help bring technological solutions to a real-world problem that is costing the U.S. thousands of lives each year."

Rising rates of opioid use have led to skyrocketing numbers of deaths, with a 200-percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, there were 47,055 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., with 28,647 of these deaths resulting from some kind of opioid, according to the CDC.

Naloxone is available by prescription. But some states have allowed people without a prescription, including family and friends of opioid users, to obtain the drug. In Baltimore, the city health commissioner issued a standing order that essentially provided a citywide prescription for anyone who wanted to obtain the drug.

“The goal of this competition is to develop a low-cost, scalable, crowd-sourced mobile application that addresses this issue of accessibility,” Dr. Peter Lurie, associate commissioner for public health strategy and analysis at the FDA, said in a statement.

The winner of the contest will get $40,000.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Retired Teacher Gives Her Former Student Gift of Life

Tracy Bye(STEAMBOAT, Colo.) -- A Colorado teacher gave one former student the ultimate gift this month, after discovering she was his match for a life-saving donation.

Tracy Bye, 53, and Henry Howard, 29, both from Steamboat, Colorado, underwent a successful kidney transplant on Sept. 1.

"It's not just a gift to me, it's been a gift to my family," Howard told ABC News Tuesday. "For my wife to see that, the past couple of days of me feeling healthier [and] just getting a lot more precious time with my son, to be able to be present for him. Everybody thinks their kid is the best, but I think he might be. He's really special. The amount of life that [Bye] has given to us, we'll never be able to return her generosity."

Howard and Bye met in the late 90s at Soda Creek Elementary School in Steamboat Springs when Howard was a 5th grade student. Bye was not his teacher but the two worked together when Howard served as treasurer for the Student Council.

"I just remembered his energy," Bye told ABC News. "He was always smiling and always ready for the next thing. He had a lot of friends and he was one of those students that every teacher knew. He'd always say, 'Hello' to you and was a very good person."

Over the years, Bye said she became well-acquainted with Howard's family -- even working with his mother and sister, who both became teachers at Steamboat Middle School, where Bye retired last June after 30 years.

In November 2015, the principal at the middle school distributed a letter from Howard's mom, asking for the community to be tested for a match as her son's kidney donor. Howard had been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease three years before.

"I was just really tired," Howard said. "You have to work and provide for your family so everyday had been a struggle. In the back of my mind, the psychological factor was at any point, my kidneys could just shut down."

Howard said his family went and got tested, but were ruled out as matches.

Soon after, Bye underwent tests at University Hospital in Denver, where she was told she would be a compatible match.

"He just had a little boy named Elijah that's only 15 months old," Bye said. "I thought, 'If I could do this, and it might be able to help him be a dad and help him live, I will.' I made sure it was OK with our two sons and I went down to Denver and it was three days of testing. When they came back and said, 'This will work,' it was great. So I was like, 'Let's do it.'"

Since the Sept. 1 transplant, both Bye and Howard are doing well in recovery.

"I feel surprisingly great," Howard said. "Just barely two weeks out from the surgery and even now I can stay up late with my wife and spend more time with her. Throughout the day I feel this increased level of energy.

"I think the relationship that we were able to form through this experience was a gift within itself," he added of Bye. "There's really no words to express our gratitude in what she's given to us."

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Meet Professor Beauregard Tirebiter, the 1st Full-Time University Facility Dog in the US

Gus Ruelas/USC Photo(LOS ANGELES) -- The University of Southern California in Los Angeles has hired a new, furry staff member: a 2-year-old goldendoodle named Professor Beauregard Tirebiter.

The goldendoodle is the first full-time university facility dog in the U.S. according to USC News, a university news site run by USC's communications team.

He resides on the second floor of the university's student health center, where he provides affection and comfort to stressed students as a wellness dog, USC News wrote.

He even has office hours, a uniform and business cards -- though he has "trouble handing out the latter," USC News added.

The hope is that Professor Tirebiter will help create a sense of community on campus, in addition to providing therapeutic companionship, said Paula Lee Swinford, director of the Office of Wellness and Health Promotion at USC.

"We wanted to do something that would change our culture," Swinford told USC News.

Research suggests that positive interactions with dogs can create a sense of calm and well-being, said Olga Solomon, an assistant professor at the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy.

Petting a therapy dog can increase serotonin, beta-endorphin and oxytocin –- chemicals and hormones that make people happy –- and decrease cortisol, a stress hormone, Solomon told USC News.

For now, Professor Tirebiter is learning to get comfortable all over campus, in addition to some tricks, said Amanda Vanni, his handler who is also a health promotion specialist at USC's student health center.

"I’m teaching him how to do a 'Fight on' right now," she told USC News, referring to the school's official fight song.

"[W]e're working on a paw out in the air," she said.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Your Body: Troubles with Your Thyroid

iStock/ThinkstockBy DR. JENNIFER ASHTON, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor

Have you been feeling tired lately or gaining weight? Do you think your thyroid may be to blame?

The thyroid is one of the major hormonal glands in the body. When it is underactive, a condition called hyperthyroidism can cause fatigue, weight gain and even depression.

The condition can be easily diagnosed with a blood test called a TSH. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, most of the time it is. But there is now growing controversy about whether or not to treat a condition called subclinical thyroid dysfunction, when the TSH level is normal but increasing.

My prescription: Have a discussion about your situation with your doctor or healthcare provider.

As always, weigh the risks versus the benefits versus the options -- it's the smart medical thing to do.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Cookie Johnson: 'I Fell To My Knees' When Magic Revealed His HIV Diagnosis

ABC News(LOS ANGELES) — Magic Johnson's wife, Cookie Johnson, recalls the moment her NBA star husband told her the devastating news that he was HIV-positive.

"It scared me to death. I mean, I fell to my knees," she told Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts. "We both fell on our knees and we started crying."

It was Nov. 7, 1991, when Los Angeles Lakers star player Earvin "Magic" Johnson publicly announced his diagnosis and sent shock waves across the nation. Back at home, the news tested the strength of their marriage.

Cookie Johnson shares the story from her perspective in her new memoir, Believing in Magic.

"I didn't have time to get mad about whatever happened, you know, or start asking questions. [My mind] went to, he is possibly going to die,” Johnson told Roberts. "There wasn't a lot of knowledge back in 1991."

The couple wed on Sept. 14, 1991, just 45 days before Magic revealed his diagnosis to his wife. Johnson is adamant that she never wavered in supporting her husband.

"He said, 'If you want to leave, you know, I don't blame you. It's OK. I understand.' Then I said, 'Are you kidding me? No. I love you. I'm gonna stay here and help you live. I'm gonna stay here and we're gonna beat this thing. We're gonna figure out how to beat this thing,'" she recalled.

The newlyweds had also just found out she was pregnant with their first child, E.J., now 24. Johnson said she agonized while she waited for her test results for herself and her unborn child.

"I was scared to death about the baby. I mean, I had just found out I was pregnant so it was really early in the pregnancy," she said. "In those days, you had to wait almost 10 days to get your results back, so that was agonizing. And then, finally, the results came in and what they told me was that if the mother is negative, then the baby is automatically negative. And they didn't have to worry about trying to test the baby because, really, I mean, he hadn't really formed yet, actually. I mean, it was very early on.”

Johnson also shared her heartache as she waited behind closed doors as her husband made phone calls to the various women he had slept with.

"It was like, 'Who is he calling? You know, why is he in there so long?' she said. "That was a difficult day."

Magic credits Elizabeth Glaser, who founded the Pediatric Aids Foundation after she contracted HIV through a blood transfusion, for bringing out the courage in him to become a public advocate for HIV awareness.

“I think we both gotta give Elizabeth Glaser a lot of credit for our strength in helping us to really understand what we had to go through as a family and then myself, what I had to go through,” Magic said. “And she was dying at that time. But she was able to meet with both of us and really help us, you know, really calm us down. Help us understand, you know, "Look Earvin, you're gonna have to take a lot of meds, but it's about your attitude, your mindset."

"My doctor had told me that, but it's different hearing it from somebody who's actually going through it," Magic added. "And [Glaser] said, 'One thing I want you to do ... and that's be the face of it.' And she wanted me to go public. [Cookie and I] had a difficult conversation. It was tough, because Cookie was afraid of what might happen, the backlash if we went public. So we had a lot of conversations and a lot of long walks."

The couple turned their mess into their message, becoming advocates for HIV awareness programs, education and prevention, and the couple's relationship grew stronger, Johnson said. The Magic Johnson Foundation was formed in 1991 to address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities. Magic returned for the 1992 Olympic gold medal winning “Dream Team,” as well as another season for the Los Angeles Lakers for the 1995-96 team.

The NBA star credits his wife for her unconditional support.

"This woman here, God let me know why I married her, why he brought us together,” Cookie told Roberts. “I know when I come here [home], I'm not Magic. I'm Earvin. We're still those kids from Michigan. I'm only as good as Cookie.”

The couple recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and have raised three children together, Andre, E.J. and Elisa.

Cookie Johnson on Coming to Terms With Her Son Being Gay


The couple never kept it secret that their son, Earvin Johnson III, who goes by E.J., is gay, but Cookie and Magic Johnson explained how they came to terms with it.

“I have pictures of all the Little League stuff I put him in and the baseball teams and the football teams. And it just wasn't his thing. Ultimately you want your child to be happy,” she said.

“But I also knew that Earvin didn't understand. And I was still trying to figure it out. I'm not going to sit here and say that I understood that he was gay at that time, because I didn't. I just knew that this is what made him happy. And as time went on, it never changed.”

Magic said he had a change of heart after a tough conversation with his son.

“I had to come to realize that this is who he is, and he's going to be happy. And so why am I judging him?” Magic said. “I’m his father, so I got to be the first one to say, ‘It's OK and I love you. Now, how can I help you?’"

E.J. went public with his sexual orientation in 2013 and owned his public debut as the news was picked up by entertainment sites. E.J. went on to become a reality star of E’s Rich Kids of Beverly Hills and his own spinoff show, EJNYC, which premiered this summer.

“He has a combination of both of us,” Magic said. “The soul comes from her [Cookie]. He's very intelligent, and his mindset is like his dad's. So he never makes a quick decision. He knows what he wants. He knows how he wants it done. And he's gonna be just that. And that's what I love about him. E.J., when he walks in a room, this is the most confident guy."

“We know that religion says ‘no’ and I did have a big problem with that and I prayed about it a lot,” Cookie said. “I went to Bible study, talked to a Bible study teacher about it a lot. Ultimately, I just prayed to God and said, "God you revealed to me how you feel about this." And he was like, "Love your child." … And that's what I'm doing.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep202016

Study: 28 Percent of Adults 50+ Are Physically Inactive

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) — Thirty-one million, or 28 percent of, Americans 50 and over are inactive beyond the basic movements needed for daily life activities, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC examined nationwide patterns of inactivity among adults ages 50 and older by selected characteristics using data from the 2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The analysis showed that inactivity was higher for women compared with men and significantly increased with age: 25.4% of adults ages 50-64 were inactive, 26.9% for people 65-74, and 35.3% for people 75 years and older.

Kathleen B. Watson, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, and lead author of the report, concludes, “This report helps us better understand and address differences in inactivity among adults 50 years and older. More work is needed to make it safer and easier for people of all ages and abilities to be physically active in their communities.”

The CDC notes that people are more at risk of chronic disease as they age.  Physical activity can delay or prevent many chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, as well as some cancers, and reduce the risk of premature death.

The CDC recommends 150 minutes each week of moderate to vigorous physical activity, for at least 10 minutes at a time.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Sep192016

Concussion Symptoms Linked to Proteins in Spinal Fluid for First Time 

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Levels of certain proteins in the brain and spinal fluid of people who suffer continuing issues as a result of concussions are different from those who haven’t had concussions, according to a new small study published Monday in JAMA Neurology, raising the possibility that doctors may soon have objective markers to assess the severity of brain damage after head trauma.

The study is the first to examine biomarkers in the cerebrospinal fluid of athletes with post-concussion symptoms.

Researchers studied 31 people, 16 of whom were Swedish professional hockey players with post-concussion syndrome -- a condition in which patients experience symptoms such as headaches, mood changes and difficulty concentrating for extended periods of time after a head injury. Players were compared to 15 neurologically healthy individuals.

After sampling the cerebrospinal fluid of all participants, researchers found that compared to the neurologically healthy individuals or players whose post-concussive syndrome symptoms lasted for less than a year, players who had symptoms that lasted for more than year had higher levels of proteins called Neurofilament Light (NF-L) proteins -- found in the white matter of the brain -- suggesting injury to areas that contain nerve fibers connecting various structures within the brain.

NF-L proteins were also higher in players who reported having had more concussions and those who had more severe post-concussion symptoms.

Researchers also found that players with post-concussion syndrome had lower levels of amyloid-beta in their spinal fluid. Amyloid-beta is protein that can clump together to form plaques that are associated with Alzheimer's disease. The lower levels found in the study suggests amyloid is being deposited in the brain, as is the case in Alzheimer’s disease.

“These findings could inform decisions about whether to continue to play or not,” Dr. Michael DiGeorgia, director of the Neurocritical Care Center at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center, told ABC News. DiGeorgia was not involved in this study.

“It could affect decisions around post-concussion syndrome management. If you have higher levels of NF-L proteins or low levels of amyloid, you may be on a trajectory toward more serious neurologic illness. The second or third concussion should be taken even more seriously," DiGeorgia said.

Every year, there are between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of concussion usually resolved within days to weeks, but in about 10 to 15 percent of people, symptoms can last for more than 3 months, according to the CDC.

There is growing evidence that repeated mild traumatic brain injury -- often experienced by military personnel as well as those playing contact sports like football and hockey -- can lead to persistent long-term symptoms, including headaches, mood changes, and even a progressive neurodegenerative condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed posthumously by directly examining the brain with an autopsy.

“I’m not sure how soon this will be used in clinical practice,” DiGeorgia said, noting that the method examined in this study requires a lumbar puncture to draw a sample of spinal fluid.

"On the other hand, if you are a professional football or hockey player at high risk, I would think it may be worth an occasional lumbar puncture to see how levels of these proteins are being affected by head trauma," he added.

Until now, there haven’t been objective tools to measure the extent to which post-concussion symptoms are caused by injury to neurons in the brain. The diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome is based on symptoms reported by patients.

But the biomarkers identified in this study could possibly be used to assess the severity of brain injury in patients after concussions, as well as predict who might be at higher risk for developing CTE and potentially allow for behavioral modifications or other recommendations to prevent further deterioration.

“We now have increasing evidence that repeated mild traumatic brain injury can lead to significant and long-lasting structural changes in the brain,” DiGeorgia said. “We need to take all precautions necessary, not just for professional athletes, but amateur athletes, too -- kids playing soccer, high school football players. When anyone has any symptoms of concussions, we need to take that very seriously.”

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