What Mercury Problem?

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Los Angeles Times
February 14, 2005
EDITORIAL

Later this month, Europe and other industrialized regions will grapple with the problem of mercury pollution. The United States, apparently, will continue to pretend it doesn't exist.

Like greenhouse gases, mercury is a global rather than local problem. The metal, a liquid at room temperature, vaporizes easily, traveling the world's air currents and settling into waterways, where it has become so common in ocean fish that pregnant women and young children, the most vulnerable, are warned to severely limit their consumption of seafood, and everyone is told not to eat too much swordfish and other predator fish. In humans, it turns into highly toxic methyl mercury, which can cause memory lapses and increase the risk of heart attacks.

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Los Angeles Times
February 10, 2005
By Julie Cart, Times Staff Writer

More than 200 Fish and Wildlife researchers cite cases where conclusions were reversed to weaken protections and favor business, a survey finds.

More than 200 scientists employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they have been directed to alter official findings to lessen protections for plants and animals, a survey released Wednesday says.

The survey of the agency's scientific staff of 1,400 had a 30% response rate and was conducted jointly by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

A division of the Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with determining which animals and plants should be placed on the endangered species list and designating areas where such species need to be protected.

More than half of the biologists and other researchers who responded to the survey said they knew of cases in which commercial interests, including timber, grazing, development and energy companies, had applied political pressure to reverse scientific conclusions deemed harmful to their business.

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The New York Times Business
February 11, 2005
By BARRY MEIER and STEPHANIE SAUL


At times, it is necessary to "neutralize" the opposition, or at least Merck & Company executives seemed to think so.

In 1999, the company's new pain drug, Vioxx, was beaten to pharmacy shelves by a competing drug, Celebrex. Merck apparently hoped that nationally known rheumatologists like Dr. Roy Altman could help it catch up.

At a dinner that year in Miami, a Merck executive asked Dr. Altman what it would take to win his support, the doctor recalled. Dr. Altman said he told the executive that he wanted to run a clinical trial involving Vioxx, and, later, Merck put up $25,000 for it.

"Show me the money," appeared on an internal Merck document near Dr. Altman's name. He said those were neither his words nor his intent. He also said his involvement in the trial did not affect his prescribing.

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DNC Daily News Central
HEALTH NEWS
By Ron Gara
11 February, 2005  03:20 GMT

St. John's Wort, an herb found among the vitamins and supplements at just about any drugstore or supermarket, often has been credited in popular literature as being effective in warding off depression. But, as in the case of many herbs and supplements, few scientific studies have been available to support that claim.

Now, researchers have concluded that a specially manufactured extract from St. John's Wort is at least as effective in treating depression as a commonly prescribed anti-depressant.

Their work has been published by bmj.com and has been made available to the public as of February 10.

At the end of the trial, half (61 out of 122) of those who took St. John's Wort found their symptoms in decline, while just a third (43 out of 122) of those taking Paroxetine (Paxil) went into remission.

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FDA backs away from antidepressant warning

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By Jim Polk
CNN
Wednesday, February 9, 2005 Posted: 8:50 PM EST (0150 GMT)

Change comes to light during murder trial of teen blaming Zoloft


CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) -- The Food and Drug Administration has backed off its warning that antidepressants such as Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac can cause suicidal actions among children and teens taking those prescription drugs.

In a revised warning posted last week on its Web site, the FDA changed the wording to say only that the drugs "increased the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in short-term studies of adolescents and children" with depression and other psychiatric disorders.

News of the FDA's warning change surfaced Wednesday in testimony in Charleston in the murder trial of 15-year-old Christopher Pittman.

The defense contends Zoloft drove him to kill his grandparents when he was 12.

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From Jim Polk
CNN
Wednesday, February 9, 2005 Posted: 4:30 PM EST (2130 GMT)


CHARLESTON, South Carolina (CNN) -- A child psychiatrist testified Tuesday that Christopher Pittman's behavior was so bizarre the night he shot and killed his grandparents that the boy was psychotic and not responsible for what he did in her opinion.

Dr. Lanette Atkins said the child, then 12, was suffering a "substance abuse mood disorder" caused by Zoloft, the anti-depressant prescription drug he was taking.

But under cross-examination, Atkins conceded she didn't reach that diagnosis until more than 2 1/2 years after the slayings and after a year and a half of sessions with Pittman.

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Doctor Performs Wrong Surgery

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Los Angeles Times
5:23 am PST, February 10, 2005

WILMINGTON, N.C. — A doctor may have performed the wrong type of gastric bypass surgery on more than 50 patients at a Wilmington hospital, officials said.

Dr. Steven E. Olchowski performed the surgeries between December 2000 and the spring of 2002 at New Hanover Regional Medical Center, which is facing eight malpractice lawsuits stemming from the weight-loss operations.

"We cannot be sure about any conversation in Dr. Olchowski's office between him and his patients," Dr. Samuel Spicer, vice president of medical affairs at New Hanover Regional, said Wednesday.

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Judgment Day For The FDA, Pfizer

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FORBES
Pharmaceuticals
Matthew Herper, 02.07.05, 11:10 AM ET

NEW YORK - Next Wednesday, Feb. 16, painkillers go on trial. The big question: Will the jury be tough enough?

A panel of academic scientists--who have not yet been publicly named--will meet to advise the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the safety of Cox-2 inhibitors such as Celebrex, Bextra and the withdrawn Vioxx. They will also delve into the safety of older anti-inflammatory medicines such as Aleve and Motrin. The task is so difficult that the FDA has allotted three days for the work, a clear sign of controversy. The last similar meeting was on the safety of breast implants. The three-day discussion will provide a climax to a debate about drug safety that began when Vioxx was pulled from the market for doubling the risk of heart attacks and strokes at high doses over long-term use.

It will be an especially important meeting for Pfizer, which makes Celebrex and Bextra. The meeting is likely to determine the future of those drugs--including whether they have a future at all. The discussion may also have an impact on Pfizer's potential liability.

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Psychologist Says Meds Made S.C. Boy Kill

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Associated Press
Friday, Feb. 04, 2005
By BRUCE SMITH


CHARLESTON, S.C. - A psychiatrist testified at a boy's murder trial Friday that the antidepressant Zoloft caused the 12-year-old to kill his grandparents with a shotgun and burn their house down.

"I think there is a very strong case to say the drug has caused a problem," said Dr. David Healy, an expert from Britain. "I'm saying at the time this murder happened, he did not have the capacity to know right from wrong."

Healy testified for the defense at the trial of Christopher Pittman, now 15. He is charged with killing Joe Pittman, 66, and Joy Pittman, 62, while they slept in 2001.

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Mercury Levels in Vaccines Eyed

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Health - AP Associated Press
Tuesday February 8, 2005 4:31 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - A memo from the drug maker Merck & Co. shows that its executives were concerned about high levels of mercury in children's vaccinations nearly eight years before health officials disclosed a similar finding, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
Six-month-old children who received shots could get a mercury dose up to 87 times higher than guidelines for the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish, according to the March 1991 obtained by the Times.

"When viewed in this way, the mercury load appears rather large," Dr. Maurice R. Hilleman, an internationally renowned vaccinologist, wrote to the president of Merck's vaccine division.

The memo came at a time when health authorities were recommending shots for children that contained an anti-bacterial compound called thimerosal, the Times reported. Thimerosal contains mercury and was once used in the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.

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