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10/30/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Oct. 30, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

survey says

10/29/14 7:30pm

Divorced or Separated Women Report Higher Stress and More Drug Use Than Men

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Women who are separated or divorced experience more stress and are more likely to report they use drugs and alcohol to relax, according to a survey released on October 15.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index results included the participation of 131,159 American adults and were calculated using what Gallup calls a “Well-Being 5” score. This score includes five areas that are rated to measure overall well-being: purpose, financial, community, and physical well-being.

Thirty percent of men and women who are divorced or separated self-reported that they use drugs or medications, including prescription drugs, “almost every day” to help them relax, compared with just 17% of married men and women who do the same.

Women were more likely than men across all marital groups to report using drugs or medications to relax, but the gender disparity increased among those who were divorced and separated.

Women generally reported a better well-being than men regardless of their marital status, except for women who are separated. The survey found that stress level increased much more for women who are separated compared to men who are separated, the category where people rate their own well-being the lowest.

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By Victoria Kim

research study

10/29/14 5:30pm

Banned Drugs Still Found in Weight-Loss Supplements

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Twenty-seven dietary supplements that had been recalled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for containing dangerous drugs continue to be sold to consumers and still contain those banned substances.

Those are the findings in a recent study published by researchers from the Cambridge Health Alliance in the October 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Previous studies have shown that while recalled drugs can still be purchased in the United States—even through major online retailers like Amazon.com (3)—the JAMA report is the first to investigate whether these recalled supplements still contain the substances that led to their removal from the marketplace.

To determine this, the researchers obtained a list of 274 dietary supplements recalled by the FDA between 2009 and 2013. From that group, they analyzed the contents of 27 different brands of supplements, including those sold for sports enhancement, weight loss, and sexual enhancement.

They discovered that about two-thirds of the products still contained the ingredients that led to their initial ban, or in some cases additional substances. Among the drugs found in the supplements were sibutramine (or Meridia), a diet drug linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke; sildenafil, which is the active ingredient in Viagra; the antidepressant fluoxetine, or Prozac; and an array of anabolic steroids.

Though researchers were unable to accurately determine if the supplements had been manufactured before or after the FDA recall, they did note that the expiration dates for all of these items were more than a year after the recall date, which suggested that these were new drugs.

The FDA has stated that it is difficult to prevent supplements such as these from entering the United States because many are made and distributed by foreign manufacturers. But as the study showed, 13 out of the 20 supplements made by U.S. companies also contained pharmaceutical drugs after the recall. 

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By Paul Gaita

hep c drugs

10/29/14 3:30pm

Insurance Companies Will Only Pay for Expensive Hep C Drugs If Patients Are Really Sick

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Given the high cost of Gilead’s hepatitis C treatment drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni, insurance companies are on the verge of offering to pay for the ultra-treatment if a patient is ultra-sick. Such a financial decision to save their profits is bad news for the estimated 3.2 million Americans infected with the HCV virus. If a patient is not treated during the early stages of the viral infection, it is likely the chronic disease will permanently damage their livers.

The many patients whose livers are free from significant scarring now face an ugly reality. Since they won’t be sick enough to qualify for the drugs under the new insurance standards of treatment access, they are doomed to get sicker. Still, many public and private insurers are restricting access to treatment to those who already have serious liver damage. Since the treatment cost per patient is over $90,000 for either of the Gilead drug regimens, the insurance companies claim they simply are unable to shoulder the financial burden.

As the maker of the ultra-expensive HCV drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni, Gilead Sciences continues to refuse to comment. In a recent company brief about pricing policy, the company stated that "[t]he price of Gilead's hepatitis C treatments reflects the significant clinical, economic and public health value of these drugs."

"Everybody is trying to figure out how best to deliver needed treatments without blowing out resources because of the cost,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans. AHIP has been an outspoken critic of the high prices for the new hepatitis c treatment drugs. In an attempt to vet the potential patients, many state Medicaid programs are requiring that patients be free of drugs and alcohol for an extended period before they will be eligible for treatment consideration.

Insurers base their coverage decisions in part on practice guidelines issued by clinical groups such as the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease. Betraying infected Americans, the organization now recommends that only patients with advanced liver disease should be given priority treatment. "Limitations of workforce and societal resources may limit the feasibility of treating all patients within a short period of time."

The claim of such limitations remains hard on HCV infected Americans seeking the new treatments to gain freedom from the virus. Caught between a rock and a hard place, they are left only with the prospect that maybe the costs will drop and the drugs made more accessible. The other possibility is the release of competing drugs that lead to a big drop in price.

As one can imagine, such hopes are weak antidotes to the despair of knowing one has a deadly disease that is progressing. It is truly horrible for so many Americans to have the awareness that their HCV infection could be treated, but their insurance companies are denying them access to a cure.

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By John Lavitt

cartels

10/29/14 1:00pm

Mexican Mayor Responsible for Disappearance of Students Had Ties to Drug Cartel

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The fugitive mayor of the small city of Iguala in southern Mexico responsible for the recent disappearance of 43 students had a close connection to the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel. More evidence about the events leading up to the students’ disappearance has been uncovered following the arrests of Iguala police officers and the leader of the Guerreros Unidos, Sidronio Casarrubias.

Casarrubias said Mayor Jose Luis Abarca received a payment of two million to three million pesos, or $150,000 to $220,000, a few times a month from the cartel. The Guerreros Unidos bribed the mayor and local police with money earned from growing opium poppies and selling opium paste to be refined for heroin destined for the United States. The mayor and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, left town on the day of the students’ disappearance and are now fugitives, along with the Iguala police chief.

On September 26, Abarca ordered police to detain the protesting students because he suspected they were plotting to disrupt a speech by his wife. The students were picked up by police and taken to a police station, and then to Cocula, a nearby town.

According to Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam, at some point, the students were loaded on to a dump truck and taken, apparently still alive, to an area on the outskirts of Iguala where several mass graves were discovered. Casarrubias claimed that at this point, one of his lieutenants had told him the students were members or sympathizers of a rival gang.

The search for the missing students has uncovered a total of nine mass graves containing 30 sets of human remains. Murillo Karam said an initial DNA test confirmed they weren’t the bodies of the students, but officials are waiting for a second round of testing.

It was previously reported that the mayor’s wife, Pineda, had family ties to the cartel, but according to Casarrubias, she was in fact “the main operator of criminal activities” in Iguala. According to a federal official, the drug gang started trafficking more opium after income from marijuana dropped, possibly due to legalization of the weed in some U.S. jurisdictions. A total of 52 people—including police officers, city officials, and gang members—have been arrested thus far in the case.

Last week, Mexican authorities ordered the arrest of Abarca, his wife, and an aide, charging them with masterminding the attack. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto vowed to find those responsible, offering a $110,000 reward for any information about the missing students.

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By Victoria Kim

News

10/29/14 10:30am

Illinois Suburb Residents Protest Inpatient Rehab Center

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Residents of an Illinois suburb are outraged that a group of ex-drug offenders are moving into a rehab facility in their community, with some demanding that the entire operation be moved somewhere else.

Angry residents and parents in Englewood claim that Southwood Interventions didn’t notify them that 72 ex-offenders would be staying at the facility, which is located near an elementary school. Turkessa Cleaves, chairman of the school council, said nobody was given information on the nature of the crimes committed by the ex-offenders,

While most in attendance at a recent local school council meeting didn’t object to drug treatment programs themselves, they felt it should be placed in a more remote area and not in a residential neighborhood.

"All of this came to my attention by someone else and not Southwood Interventions and I have a problem with that," said Ald. Toni Foulkes. "There was no community meeting to let residents know anything and that was not right. I am not against drug treatment centers, but what sense does it make to bring people, who are trying to get off drugs, into a community with a drug problem?"

Walter Carlson, executive director of Southwood Interventions, reportedly told Foulkes that all the ex-offenders would be wearing ankle monitors during their stay. That didn’t seem sufficient enough for Foulkes, however, as she argued that "the guy accused of raping a Chicago State University student was wearing an ankle bracelet. That goes to show that a bracelet cannot prevent a person from committing a crime."

Other residents grumbled that they had been sexually propositioned by ex-offenders formerly housed at the facility and that they “suck up all the parking spaces on the block when they come for treatment.” But considering Southwood has been operating in Englewood for over 30 years, this is not a new issue that's being raised.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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