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Health Highlights: May 19, 2011

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

Painkiller-linked Suicide Tries Among Older Women on Rise

The rate of emergency department visits for drug-linked suicide attempts by American women aged 50 or older jumped by 49 percent between 2005 and 2009, a new government report finds.

Much of the increase involved cases in which women were using prescription medications to treat pain, insomnia or anxiety, according to researchers at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

For example, rates of suicide-linked emergency department visits for women 50 or older who used anxiety/insomnia medications rose by 56 percent during the study period, from more than 32,000 cases to more than 50,500 cases, SAMHSA reported.

Rates of attempted suicide for older women that involved prescription narcotics used to relieve pain rose even more sharply. For example, emergency department visits tied to hydrocodone (Vicodin) jumped 67 percent, and cases linked to oxycodone (Oxycontin) more than doubled, the study found.

"The steep rise in abuse of narcotic pain relievers by women is extremely dangerous and we are now seeing the result of this public health crisis in our emergency rooms," SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in an agency news release.

"Emergency rooms should not be the frontline in our efforts to intervene," she added. "Friends, family and all members of the community must do everything possible to help identify women who may be in crisis and do everything possible to reach out and get them needed help."


Stop Sales of Highest Dose of Aricept: Public Citizen

Sales of the highest dose of the Alzheimer's drug Aricept (donepezil) should be halted because it isn't effective and can cause serious side effects, according to the U.S. consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and a prominent geriatrician.

In the U.S., a dose of 5 to 10 milligrams of Aricept is approved for patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's, while a dose of 10 or 23 mg is approved for patients with moderate to severe Alzheimer's. The 23-mg dose should be pulled from the market, Public Citizen demands In a petition filed Wednesday with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"Data show that the 23-mg dose of donepezil is significantly more toxic than the 10-mg dose. Combined with its lack of improved clinical benefits, this leads to only one conclusion: that the 23-mg dose should be immediately withdrawn from the market," Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, said in a news release.

That position is supported by Dr. Thomas Finucane, professor of medicine in the Division of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and staff physician at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

"The clearly increased risk of harm from Aricept 23-mg compared to Aricept 10-mg is so great, coupled with the lack of any evidence of improved benefit, that I believe it should not have been approved for sale to the families and caregivers of Alzheimer patients," Finucane said in the news release.


Deadly Virus Causing Worry for Horse Owners, Organizations

A deadly horse virus outbreak that began in Utah has spread into other states and is being closely monitored by horse owners and organizations.

So far, the highly contagious Equine Herpes Virus-1 has infected at least 17 horses in Utah, Colorado, California, Washington and Canada, and at least 3 horses have died, the Associated Press reported.

The airborne virus can be transmitted by touch or by sharing feed or equipment such as bits and brushes. It can also affect alpacas and llamas, but poses no threat to humans.

The infected horses were among about 400 that took part in a major horse event in Ogden, Utah earlier this month. Infected animals are being quarantined, a number of horse events have been cancelled, and owners of horses that attended the event are being asked to watch their animals for symptoms, the AP reported.


FDA Panel to Discuss Cholesterol Drug Trilipix

A meeting to discuss whether a key indication should be removed from the cholesterol drug Trilipix will be held Thursday by a panel of expert advisors to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Trilipix is approved for use with statins, the most widely-used class of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Trilipix, a type of drug called a fibrate, lowers blood fats called triclycerides and increases levels of "good" cholesterol, the Associated Press reported.

A large government study released in March found that taking Trilipix plus a statin didn't reduce heart attacks among diabetic patients, compared with taking a statin alone.

The FDA panel will consider a number of options for Trilipix, including adding information about the study findings to the label or revoking the drug's approval for use with statins, the AP reported.


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Posted: May 2011