Tuesday February 8, 2005 1:29 PM ET
Health - Reuters

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Illinois attorney general accused 48 major drug makers of fraud for overcharging government health care programs, joining several other U.S. states filing similar suits, authorities said on Tuesday.

The lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago by state Attorney General Lisa Madigan "alleges that the people of Illinois overpaid hundreds of millions of dollars over the last decade or so," said her spokeswoman, Melissa Merz.

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By Anthony J. Brown, MD


NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Two new studies suggest that exposure to sunlight might not be as risky for cancer as is generally believed.

Scandinavian researchers show that high UV radiation exposure is associated with a reduced risk of lymphoma, while another team reports that sunlight-related melanoma skin cancers appear to be inherently less aggressive than those that arise in non-exposed areas.

Dr. Karin Elkstrom Smedby, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and colleagues investigated ultraviolet radiation exposure as a possible cause for the increasing rates of malignant lymphoma seen in recent decades.

Instead, the researchers found that high UV radiation exposure, as measured by frequent sunbathing and sunburns, cut the risk of the non-Hogkins type of lymphoma by up to 40 percent depending on the level of exposure.

The study involved 3740 patients with malignant lymphomas who were compared with 3187 matched "controls" from the general population. High UV radiation exposure also seemed to protect again the Hodgkin's type of lymphoma, but the association was weaker than with non-Hodgkin's disease.

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1991 Memo Warned of Mercury in Shots

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Los Angeles Times
February 8, 2005
By Myron Levin, Times Staff Writer


A memo from Merck & Co. shows that, nearly a decade before the first public disclosure, senior executives were concerned that infants were getting an elevated dose of mercury in vaccinations containing a widely used sterilizing agent.

The March 1991 memo, obtained by The Times, said that 6-month-old children who received their shots on schedule would get a mercury dose up to 87 times higher than guidelines for the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish.

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

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Merck Canceled an Early Study of Vioxx

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The New York Times
February 8, 2005
By BARRY MEIER


Merck & Company executives have long insisted that they never pursued a clinical trial to directly study the heart risks of the pain drug Vioxx because other tests they were conducting would supply those answers just as quickly.

But previously undisclosed company documents show that the drug maker was poised to begin a major cardiovascular study of the drug in 2002, and abruptly dropped the project just before it was set to start. The trial was scheduled to produce data by March 2004 but may have provided answers about Vioxx's risks even earlier if patients had shown ill effects.

It was not until September 2004 that Merck halted a separate study when patients in that trial experienced heart attacks and strokes at twice the rate of those receiving a placebo. At the same time, Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market.

In a statement, Merck said it had decided not to do the study because, among other things, it would have involved "high-risk" patients. The test in question would have involved patients with acute coronary syndrome, a condition characterized by chest pain from cardiovascular disease.

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SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
Tuesday, February 8, 2005
By ANDREW SCHNEIDER

Company and seven executives face criminal charges


MISSOULA, Mont. -- W.R. Grace & Co. and seven of its current or former executives have been indicted on federal charges that they knowingly put their workers and the public in danger through exposure to vermiculite ore contaminated with asbestos from the company's mine in Libby, Mont.

Hundreds of miners, their family members and townsfolk have died and at least 1,200 have been sickened from exposure to the asbestos-containing ore. The health effects also threaten workers, their families and residents everywhere the ore was shipped, including Seattle, and people living in millions of homes nationwide where it was used as insulation.

Yesterday, on the steps of the county courthouse here, U.S. Attorney Bill Mercer announced the 10-count indictment, alleging conspiracy, knowing endangerment, obstruction of justice and wire fraud.

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BBC News
4 February, 2005


Babies whose mothers use a type of anti-depressant during pregnancy are at risk of being born with withdrawal symptoms, research suggests.

Spanish research found use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) was associated with neonatal withdrawal syndrome, the Lancet reports.

The researchers say doctors should avoid prescribing SSRIs to pregnant women, or use them cautiously.

SSRIs have become a standard treatment for depression in the past seven years.

If you can avoid medication in pregnancy do. Dr Patrick O'Brien

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NY Times
February 4, 2005
By BENEDICT CAREY

In the wake of a yearlong debate over the risks of antidepressants to minors, an analysis of World Health Organization medical records has found that infants whose mothers took the drugs while pregnant may suffer withdrawal symptoms. The study challenges the assurances that many doctors have long given pregnant women with depression that taking the drugs would not affect their babies.

But experts said that the study, appearing today in the journal Lancet, was not definitive and must be weighed against the benefits of drug treatment. Untreated maternal depression can also harm a developing fetus, the experts said, and may lead to lasting childhood problems; all of the infants in the study recovered completely from withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours.

"This study is important in that it gives us a red flag that babies exposed to antidepressants during pregnancy should be closely observed, and may go through unusual behaviors at first," said Dr. Timothy Oberlander, a developmental pediatrician at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Oberlander was not involved in the research and does not conduct research or act as a consultant for pharmaceutical companies.

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February 4, 2005
By Alan C. Miller and Tom Hamburger, Times Staff Writers


Internal watchdog blames administration political appointees for 'compromising' studies on the proper emission levels in power plants.


WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general said Thursday that the Bush administration violated established scientific practices and regulatory requirements in drafting a controversial proposal to control mercury emissions from power plants.

The agency's internal watchdog determined that EPA officials failed to fully assess the health costs of mercury and understated how much emissions could reasonably be reduced.

The report was immediately cited by Bush administration critics as proof that the administration has risked the public's health for the benefit of coal-fired utilities — the largest producer of mercury emissions in the United States.

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Washington Post
Februrary 3, 2005
By Marc Kaufman

The Pentagon has taken a major step toward reviving its controversial program of giving anthrax vaccine to service members, invoking emergency provisions of the Project BioShield Act that allow use of unapproved drugs and vaccines.

The Department of Defense said use of the vaccine will be voluntary for now, in contrast with the mandatory program that was blocked by a federal judge in October on the grounds that the vaccine was never properly cleared for use by the Food and Drug Administration.

The special authorization follows determinations by the Defense Department and former Health and Human Services secretary Tommy G. Thompson that a formal anthrax emergency exists for troops stationed in some nations abroad.

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By: Angela Zimm

Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) -- GlaxoSmithKline Plc's Paxil, Eli Lilly & Co.'s Prozac and other antidepressants may cause convulsions and other withdrawal symptoms in newborns whose mothers took the drugs during pregnancy, according to a study in the Lancet medical journal.

Paxil, also known as paroxetine, was associated with two- thirds of the infant withdrawals from antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, in the study by researchers from the University of La Laguna, Spain. Drawing from reports on adverse drug reactions from a database operated by the World Health Organization, the study identified 93 cases of withdrawals in babies born to mothers who took the drugs.

``Paroxetine emerged as the most likely offending party,'' said Vladislav Ruchkin and Andres Martin of the Child Study Center at Yale University, in a commentary accompanying the study. ``And while there may be plausible explanations for such a distinction, it would be unwise to assume the other SSRIs are immune to the problem.''

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