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Health Highlights: Oct. 16, 2009

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

Marijuana Used by Nearly 4 Percent of Adults Worldwide: Study

Nearly 4 percent of adults worldwide use marijuana, say Australian researchers who analyzed data from the United Nations' office on drugs and crime.

In 2006, 166 million people ages 15 to 64 used cannabis. Use was highest among young people in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, but the drug is becoming increasingly popular in low- and middle-income nations, Agence France-Presse reported.

About 9 percent of people who ever use marijuana become dependent on it, said the study. The risk of addiction for nicotine is 32 percent, 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine and 15 percent for alcohol, they noted.

The researchers listed suspected negative health effects associated with regular cannabis use, including breathing and cardiovascular harm, psychotic episodes, poor school grades and car accidents, AFP reported.

The study appears in The Lancet.


Special Bracelets Don't Help Arthritis Patients

They may be popular, but magnetic wrist straps and copper bracelets don't relieve arthritis pain, says an English study.

It included 45 osteoarthritis patients, aged 50 and older, who used a copper bracelet, two types of magnetic wrist straps and a demagnetized wrist strap. They wore each of the devices in random order over 16 weeks, BBC News reported.

None of the patients reported any improvements in pain, stiffness or physical function, said the University of York researchers. The findings appear in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

"It appears that any perceived benefit obtained from wearing a magnetic or copper bracelet can be attributed to psychological placebo effects," said study leader Dr. Stewart Richmond, BBC News reported.

"People tend to buy them when they are in a lot of pain, then when the pain eases off over time they attribute this to the device," he said. "However, our findings suggest that such devices have no real advantage over placebo wrist straps that are not magnetic and do not contain copper."


Health Expenses Increase for Middle-Age Americans

Between 1996 and 2006, total health-care expenses for middle-age Americans nearly doubled, according to a U.S. government study.

Total health-care expenses for adults ages 45 to 64 were $370 billion in 2006, compared with an inflation-adjusted amount of $187 billion in 1996, says the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The study included all middle-age adults, except those in nursing homes or other institutions.

Among the other findings:

  • The proportion of middle-age adults who incurred medical expenses remained at about 89 percent, but average annual health-care expenses for those with expenses increased from $3,849 in 1996 to $5,455 in 2006.
  • Prescription medicines accounted for 15 percent of total expenses in 1996 and 25 percent of total expenses in 2006.
  • The proportion of total expenses for hospital inpatient care decreased from 36 percent to 26 percent.
  • There was a significant increase in the average cost per health service: doctor office visits, $128 to $207; inpatient hospital day, $3,005 to $3,491; emergency room visit, $563 to $947; dental visit, $195 to $265, and prescription medicines, $103 to $199.


FDA Offers Medicine Disposal Advice

A Web page that advises consumers how to dispose of certain medicines has been introduced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Included on the page are instructions for getting rid of a number of powerful opioids that could be harmful or deadly if taken by someone other than the intended patient. The FDA says these drugs should be flushed down a sink or toilet, United Press International reported.

Any medicines not listed on the Web site should be mixed with an unpalatable substance, such as coffee grounds, and then thrown away in the household trash.

"The FDA is working with other groups to improve the use of several drug disposal methods, including drug take-back programs," said Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, UPI reported. "However, for some potent medicines ... the FDA currently recommends flushing them down the sink or toilet to immediately and permanently remove them from the home."

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Posted: October 2009