Health Highlights: May 9, 2008

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

Marijuana Linked to Teen Mental Health Problems

Teens who've reported being depressed at some point in the past year are more than twice as likely (25 percent) to have used marijuana than those who weren't depressed (12 percent), according to a White House Office of National Drug Control Policy report to be released Friday.

The paper also said that marijuana use by teens increases their risk of developing a mental disorder by 40 percent and that teens who use marijuana at least once a month for a year are three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than those who don't use the drug, the Associated Press reported.

    • Marijuana Linked to Teen Mental Health Problems
    • Southern Metro Areas 'Hotspots' for Teen Driving Deaths
    • Campaign Seeks to Prevent Doctor Suicides
    • Pull Ortho-Evra Birth-Control Patch From Market: Public Citizen
    • U.S. Moves to Tighten Medicare Drug Plan Rules
    • Too Few People Know All Stroke Symptoms: Study

In addition, teens who smoke marijuana when feeling depressed are more than twice as likely as other teens -- eight percent compared with three percent -- to abuse or become addicted to marijuana, the report said.

The report authors analyzed data from about a dozen previous studies that examined marijuana use.

"Marijuana is a more consequential substance of abuse than our culture has treated it in the last 20 years. This is not just youthful experimentation that they'll get over as we used to think in the past," John Walters, director of the drug control policy office, told the AP.

Since 2001, marijuana use among American teens has decreased 25 percent. Currently, about 2.3 million children use marijuana at least once a month, according to the drug control office.


Southern Metro Areas 'Hotspots' for Teen Driving Deaths

The 10 worst "hotspots" for teen driving deaths are in the southern United States, according to an Allstate Insurance Company study that examined federal crash statistics for 50 of the nation's largest metro areas.

The worst metro areas for rates of fatal teen crashes are: Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Fla.; Orlando/Kissimmee, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Nashville, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Phoenix; Kansas City, Mo. and Kan.; Atlanta; Charolotte, N.C.; and Louisville, Ky.

The five metro areas with the lowest rates are: San Francisco/Oakland, Calif.; San Jose, Calif.; New York City (including Long Island and northern New Jersey); Los Angeles; and Cleveland.

The study also found that the rate of fatal teen crashes in rural areas of the United States is double the rate in cities and suburbs -- 51.5 per 100,000 teens per year, compared with 25. 4 per 100,000.

"We feel that state and federal leaders should enact uniform national standards for graduated drivers licensing laws. Further, we must have better conversations with teens about safe driving and set good examples through our own good driving behavior," George Ruebenson, president of Allstate Protection, said in a prepared statement.


Campaign Seeks to Prevent Doctor Suicides

An estimated 300 to 400 U.S. doctors commit suicide each year, which has prompted the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to launch an educational campaign designed to encourage troubled doctors to seek help.

The campaign includes a documentary called "Struggling in Silence," which will begin appearing on public television stations this week, the Associated Press reported.

The issue of doctor suicide "has really been swept under the carpet," said Dr. Paula Clayton, the suicide foundation's medical director.

The stigma of mental illness is heightened in a profession that values stoicism and bravado, some experts suggest. Many doctors worry that admitting they have psychiatric problems could ruin their careers, so they suffer in silence, the AP reported.

And when they feel they can't go on, doctors have easy access to prescription drugs and the knowledge to use them to commit suicide.


Pull Ortho-Evra Birth-Control Patch From Market: Public Citizen

The Ortho-Evra birth control patch exposes women to dangerous levels of estrogen -- posing a possible two-fold increased risk of blood clots -- and should be removed from the market within six months, says a Public Citizen petition filed Thursday with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Compared to women who use standard oral contraceptives, those who use the Ortho-Evra patch experience increased side effects such as breast discomfort, severe menstrual pain, nausea and vomiting, and are more likely to stop using a contraceptive. In addition, the patch doesn't improve birth control, according to evidence compiled by Public Citizen.

Since immediate removal of the Ortho-Evra patch from the market carries the risk that some users may not immediately replace the patch with another form of birth control, Public Citizen suggested a six-month phase-out period. During that time, the patch would be available for refill prescriptions to allow women time to meet with their health-care provider to discuss other forms of birth control.

"Women deserve a level of risk at least comparable to or less than the pill for their hormonal contraceptive. The absence of any evidence of a unique benefit combined with the considerable safety problems of high-dose, variable estrogen exposure in Ortho-Evra tips the balance of risks and benefits against its availability as a contraceptive." Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, said in a prepared statement.

The Ortho-Evra patch received FDA approval in 2001.

A spokeswoman for the maker of the patch -- Ortho Women's Health & Urology, a J&J company -- said, "Ortho-Evra is a safe and effective hormonal birth control option when used according to its labeling," the Associated Press reported.

"Hormonal birth control methods have benefits and risks," said Gloria Vanderham. "The approved labeling has always stated the known risks associated with its use."


U.S. Moves to Tighten Medicare Drug Plan Rules

Tighter controls on Medicare Advantage and Medicare prescription drug plan advertising and marketing are being proposed by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Door-to-door marketing and unsolicited telemarketing would be banned and there would be stricter limits on commissions for brokers and agents selling the plans under the proposed regulations, which would also forbid sales activities and limit promotional items in health provider waiting rooms and at health information fairs and community meetings.

The new rules were released Thursday and the public can comment on them until July 15. An agency spokesman said the regulations should be in place by Oct. 1, the Sentinel reported.

These plans can provide valuable benefit to seniors and "should not be undermined by the actions of a limited number of unscrupulous sales agents," said Kerry Weems, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


Too Few People Know All Stroke Symptoms: Study

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that only 44 percent of Americans know all five symptoms of stroke and only 38 percent know to call 911 if they think someone is having a stroke.

The analysis of 2005 data from 13 states and the District of Columbia showed that there was no improvement in the public's awareness of stroke symptoms since a similar study in 2001.

It also found significant disparities in awareness of stroke symptoms by race/ethnicity, sex, education level, and state. Blacks, Hispanics and people with lower levels of education were less aware of all five stroke symptoms and the need to call 911 than whites, women, and people with higher levels of education.

The findings appear in this week's issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC.

The five signs and symptoms of stroke include: sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or legs; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination; and sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Early recognition of these signs and symptoms and knowing to immediately call 911 can make the difference between life and death. May is National Stroke Awareness Month.