Health Highlights: Aug. 19, 2009

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

More Patients Leaving Hospitals Against Medical Advice

An increasing number of patients are leaving U.S. hospitals against the advice of medical staff, according to a federal government report released Wednesday.

Between 1997 and 2007, the number of such cases increased by about 39 percent, from 264,000 to 368,000, said the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • More Patients Leaving Hospitals Against Medical Advice
    • FDA Launches New Tobacco Control Center
    • Grassley Wants Tougher Stance Against Medical Ghostwriting
    • Drug Abuse Up Among Those in Their 50s
    • Embryonic Stem Cell Trial On Hold
    • Nestle Starts Shipping New Cookie Dough Products

An analysis of cases in which patients left the hospital against medical advice in 2007 found that:

  • The top five reasons patients were in hospital were: chest pain with no determined cause (25,600); alcohol-related disorders (25,300); substance-related disorders (21,000); depression or other mood disorders (13,900); and diabetes with complications (12,500).
  • Medicaid and Medicare patients each accounted for about 27 percent of cases, uninsured patients accounted for 22 percent, and 19 percent of cases involved patients with private insurance.
  • Men were about 1.5 times more likely than women to leave the hospital against medical advice.
  • Patients in the Northeast had the highest rate of leaving hospitals against medical advice -- 2 per 1,000 population vs. a nationwide average of 1 per 1,000 population.

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FDA Launches New Tobacco Control Center

In an effort to reduce the hundreds of thousands of tobacco-related deaths in the United States each year, the new Center for Tobacco Products was launched this week by the Food and Drug Administration.

The center was created to oversee the implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, including establishment and enforcement of advertising and promotion restrictions, and reviewing premarket applications for new and modified-risk tobacco products.

It will use "the best available science to guide the development and implementation of effective public health strategies to reduce the burden of illness and death caused by tobacco products," according to an FDA news release.

The first director will be Dr. Lawrence Deyton, a clinical professor of medicine and health policy at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Deyton is an expert on veterans' health issues, public health and tobacco use.

"I am eager for the challenge of leading the tobacco team at FDA," Deyton said in the news release. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us at FDA to work hand-in-hand with the CDC, researchers at the National Institutes of Health, and public health leaders in the states to make progress in combating tobacco use the leading cause of preventable death in the United States."

Each year, cigarette smoking causes an estimated 438,000 deaths, or about 1 of every 5 deaths, in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, adults who smoke cigarettes die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.

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Grassley Wants Tougher Stance Against Medical Ghostwriting

A U.S. Senator wants stronger action against scientific papers written by ghostwriters who work for drug companies and against doctors at medical schools who attach their names to the papers, which are carefully crafted to boost drug makers' sales.

While medical ethics experts say the practice betrays public trust, many universities don't acknowledge the problem and haven't introduced new ethical rules or held faculty members to account, The New York Times reported.

Last week, Iowa Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley started putting pressure on the National Institutes of Health to get tough on medical ghostwriting. Grassley, who helps oversee funding for medical research, has led a long-running investigation of conflicts of interest in medicine.

The NIH underwrites much of the medical research in the U.S. and many doctors depend on federal grants to support their work. Attaching conditions to those grants could force universities to introduce new ethical standards, The Times reported.

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Drug Abuse Up Among Those in Their 50s

Between 2002 and 2005, the percentage of Americans ages 50 to 59 using illicit drugs increased from 5.1 percent to 9.4 percent, according to a federal government report released this week.

The increase occurred because some baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1964 -- continue to use drugs as they get older, said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Associated Press reported.

During that same five-year period, rates of illicit drug use among all other age groups remained the same or decreased, SAMHSA said.

The continued use of illicit drugs by aging baby boomers "is likely to put further strains on the nation's health care system," said Eric Broderick, the agency's acting administrator, the AP reported.

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Embryonic Stem Cell Trial On Hold

The first human trial using embryonic stem cells has been delayed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Geron Corporation announced Tuesday.

The company wants to study whether injecting nerve cells made from embryonic stem cells into the site of spinal injuries can help restore movement in paralyzed people. But the FDA refused to allow the study to proceed after Geron provided data from dose escalation studies in animals, Bloomberg news reported.

California-based Geron said it "will work closely with the FDA to facilitate their review of the new data and to release the clinical hold."

Thousands of people around the world have been treated with adult stem cells, with mixed results. But no approved trial has tested embryo-derived stem cells in humans, Bloomberg reported.

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Nestle Starts Shipping New Cookie Dough Products

New shipments of Nestle raw cookie dough products are being sent to stores in the United States, the first since E. coli fears prompted a major recall nearly two months ago.

The new Toll House cookie dough will feature a blue "New Batch" label and will include the warning, "Do not consume raw cookie dough," the Associated Press reported.

A Food and Drug Administration inspection of Nestle USA's factory in Danville, Va. has been completed. Last month, the FDA said the strain of E. coli found in a sample of cookie dough from the plant didn't match the strain associated with an outbreak that sickened people in 30 states.

While E. coli usually causes symptoms such as bloody diarrhea and dehydration, kidney failure can occur in the most severe cases, the AP reported.

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