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Antacids Like Prevacid, Nexium, and Protonix May Lead to Hip Fractures in Seniors

In light of a new study published this week, older people may be more willing to live with a little bit of heartburn. Today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assoctiation (JAMA) reports that seniors who chronically take antacids may be more susceptible to potentially dangerous hip fractures. The key finding: Anti-heartburn medication, known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), may work to reduce the body’s absorption of calcium, which in turn can lead to a loss of bone density. Popular PPIs include Prevacid, Nexium, Aciphex, and Protonix.

In the JAMA report, researchers led by the University of Pennsylvania’s Dr. Yu-Xiao Yang noted, “We found a significantly increased risk of hip fracture associated with long-term PPI therapy, particularly among long-term users of high-dose PPI…. Calcium malabsorption secondary to acid suppressive therapy may potentially explain the positive association. Calcium solubility has been believed to be important for its absorption. An acidic environment in the gastrointestinal tract facilitates the release of ionized calcium from insoluble calcium salts.” The team also said that “the increase in fracture risk surged from a modest level with regular-dose PPI therapy to a much higher magnitude with high-dose PPI therapy.”
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NIMH to Study Links Between SSRIs Antidepressants and Suicidal Behavior

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, has announced that it is funding five new research projects that will explore the connection between antidepressant drugs, especially serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and suicidal thoughts and actions. According to the NIMH, “the use of SSRIs in children and adolescents has become controversial” because of the “potential for SSRIs to prompt suicidal thinking” in those cohorts.

“These new, multi-year projects will clarify the connection between SSRI use and suicidality,” said NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel. “They will help determine why and how SSRIs may trigger suicidal thinking and behavior in some people but not others, and may lead to new tools that will help us screen for those who are most vulnerable.”
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Vioxx Decision Upheld, Award Reduced by Texas Court

The good news for Felicia Garza: A Texas judge certified the ruling of a state jury that held the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. liable for the Vioxx-related death of her husband. The bad news: The same judge decided that the initial damages awarded–to the tune of $32 million–violated state law and therefore reduced the award considerably, to $8.7 million.

Leonel Garza passed away in 2001 after suffering a heart attack that plaintiffs believe was caused by him taking the controversial painkiller Vioxx. This past April, a Texas jury ruled against Merck and awarded the deceased’s family $32 million in damages: $7 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. However, Judge Alex Gabert ruled that the award violated a 2003 state law that set strict limits on punitive and compensatory damages.
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Alcon Laboratories Recalls Eye Lubricant

Earlier this month, Texas-based Alcon Laboratories announced a voluntary recall of its Systane Free LIQUID GEL lubricant eye drops, citing possible mold contamination. According to a release posted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the recall is “in response to 11 consumer reports citing the presence of foreign material.”

The company said that the development of an infection is considered “unlikely” and that none of the reports included any incidents of fungal infections. “Alcon is absolutely committed to providing the highest level of quality eye care products,” said Kevin Buehler, Alcon’s U.S. senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “We took this voluntary action even though it is unlikely that eye infections would occur as a result of this issue.”
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Tobacco Companies Suffer Legal Setback

For the thousands of ill smokers who are seeking damages against the tobacco industry, Thursday’s decision by the Florida Supreme Court was a mixed bag. On one hand, the justices agreed with an appellate court’s decision to reverse the $145 billion in punitive damages awarded in 2000 in a landmark class-action suit against cigarette makers. The court also decided to decertify the class, saying that the remaining issues “are highly individualized and do not lend themselves to class action treatment.”

However, the 4-2 decision also delivered some promising news for the petitioners: Sick smokers will still be allowed to bring individual claims against the cigarette makers. In their decision, the justices said that “the class should be decertified without prejudice to the class members filing individual claims within one year of the issuance of our mandate.”
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White House Censors New York Times Op-Ed on Iran

In a rather bizarre turn, the New York Times ran what they called a “redacted version” of an opinion piece written about Iran by two former government officials. According to an accompanying commentary by the original piece’s authors, portions of their opinion were “blacked out by the Central Intelligence Agency’s Publication Review Board after the White House intervened in the normal prepublication review process and demanded substantial deletions.”

The writers are Flynt Leverett, former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council, and Hillary Mann, a former Foreign Service officer who participated in U.S. discussions with Iran from 2001 to 2003. They claim that CIA officials had said “they had concluded on their own that the original draft included no classified material, but that they had to bow to the White House.” The Times published a censored version of the original piece, blacking out the parts that the government deemed sensitive.
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Texas Nuclear Weapon Facility Under Scrutiny

In a letter sent last week to Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog, cited a number of “serious safety problems” at Pantex, a nuclear weapons assembly facility near Amarillo, Texas, run by BWX Technologies. The source of their information was an anonymous letter from a group of Pantex whistleblowers who claim to have a combined 189 years of experience at the plant.

The employees’ letter contained a slew of complaints: degraded conditions, production pressures that create an environment where “risks are not completely understood and considered,” dangerously long hours for engineers and other employees, organizational oversight failures, and a “distracted” group of senior executives.
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New PET Scan Said to Detect Alzheimer’s

Researchers at UCLA have discovered a new technology for examining the human brain, opening the door for advances in early detection of Alzheimer’s disease. The new imaging technique, known as positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, works by tracking the plaque and tangle accumulations in the brain that are associated with cognitive loss. The study was published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors of the study concluded that the PET scan “can differentiate persons with mild cognitive impairment from those with Alzheimer’s disease and those with no cognitive impairment.” The study included 83 volunteers with self-reported memory problems who had undergone neurologic and psychiatric evaluation in addition to PET scanning. The PET scan uses a molecular tracer that allows doctors to detect the presence of the abnormal proteins that lead to cognitive impairment.
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Vitamin D May Help Stave Off Multiple Sclerosis

According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), high levels of vitamin D in the blood may significantly reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS). The MS risk for those with the highest blood levels of vitamin D was shown to be 62 percent lower than for those who had the lowest levels of the vitamin. Researchers also said that the correlation between vitamin D levels and MS were strongest among those patients aged 20 and under–as high as a 91 percent risk reduction for those with significant vitamin D levels in their bloodstream.

MS is a chronic neurological disorder that affects the central nervous system, and while the exact causes of the disease are not known, researchers believe that environmental, viral, and genetic factors may each have an effect on developing the condition. Onset typically happens between the ages of 20 and 50.
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Northfield Laboratories Blood Substitute Fails in Clinical Trials

Illinois-based Northfield Laboratories delivered some unpleasant news to medical professionals and investors this week, announcing that its blood substitute, PolyHeme, did not prove to be effective in late-stage clinical trials. However, the company is claiming that “discrepancies in the initial data” and “protocol violations” may invalidate the results and they intend to re-examine the data before certifying the findings.

In its announcement of the findings, Northfield said that 712 patients were included in the randomized study: 349 in the PolyHeme group and 363 in the control group (which received the standard treatment of blood and saline). In the study population, there were 46 deaths (13.2 percent) in the PolyHeme group, compared with 35 deaths (9.6 percent) in the control group. These results fell short of the standard necessary to deem the product safe and effective.
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