2013 Health Care Roundup: the Good and Bad News on Drugs, Food, Lifestyle, and Policy

Our 3rd annual health care news roundup highlights these news themes of 2013: concerns about prescription drugs, the potential of bioengineered treatments, concessions by industry to provide more information to the public, and the rocky rollout of Obamacare.

Concerns about drug safety and overprescribing:

Many news reports about traditional (chemical) prescription drugs this year focused on dangers of overprescribing and overuse. In October, the FDA recommended tighter control over hydrocodone-based pain killer prescriptions (like Vicodin and Lortab) and strengthened the warnings on those drugs’ labels. The CDC reported that prescription drug overdose deaths in women have increased 400% in 10 years. Also this year, a group of physicians urged fellow doctors to reevaluate their aggressive strategy of prescribing ADHD drugs to healthy children based on an ever-broadening definition of the condition.

Bioengineering success stories:

On the other hand, 2013 has seen a number of promising developments in biotechnology, with the notion of a “Bionic Man” seeming not as farfetched as it did in the 1970s. For example, 'Bionic retina' technology restores rudimentary vision for some and topped Cleveland Clinic’s 2014 list of medical innovations. Seniors may be ditching their external hearing aids for internally implanted cochlear implants. Surgeons may be able to repair bones and joints using a new synthetic cartilage replacement and an injectable liquid that can be used as scaffolding for new bone growth.

Food news included some stories featuring bioengineering technology as well—scientists introduced a lab-grown hamburger! Tasters said that it is a long way off from substituting for the real thing, but if the technique is perfected, it could someday help alleviate the worldwide demand for meat.

More information disclosure from industry:

In 2013, we noticed three significant examples of the health care industry conceding to public pressure for more information and transparency:  1) After three years of requests, Roche agreed to release its complete drug trials data for Tamiflu. Some say that dangerous side effects of Tamiflu were underreported.  2) Glaxo (GSK) announced that it will no longer pay its pharmaceutical sales reps commissions based on the number of prescriptions written and that it will stop paying doctors to promote its products.  We can expect similar changes in the near future from other companies, since under a provision of Obamacare, pharmaceutical companies will have to make public disclosures about incentives paid to doctors.)  3) An American Medical Association panel that sets recommended rates for physicians’ services said it will publish meeting minutes from now on and change doctor payment calculation methods.

Obamacare rollout problems:

In fall 2013, the Affordable Care Act’s insurance registration process began but was a debacle because of computer glitches and other logistical problems. Disagreement in Congress over Obamacare funding led to the federal government shutdown in October while the budget was debated.  By the end of 2013, however, more than one million people (still far short of projections) had signed up for insurance and extensions of deadline requirements had been granted.

Be Healthy!

2013 health-related research suggested a number of common sense ways to live better: walk more, go to bed earlier, try to get your nutrients from food rather than supplements, quit smoking, limit screen time (especially for kids!), and don’t text and drive!  Take a look at our year-end highlights list below, compiled from AskaPatient’s tweets over the course of 2013. May your 2014 be even happier and healthier than 2013. Cheers!

Click on the highlighted word to link to the news source.

Drugs and Treatments: The Good News

Radioimmunotherapy, historically used to treat cancer, may be a promising HIV cure.
'Drug holidays'--breaks from medication--could help some cancer patients live longer.
The Sapien device, which enters the heart via catheter, offers an alternative to open heart surgery.
Cochlear implants are becoming a viable alternative to external hearing aids among seniors.
Rice University bioengineers developed an injectable liquid that serves as scaffolding for new bone growth.
A new insulin inhaler could replace shots for diabetics as early as next year.
A Duke research team developed a synthetic cartilage replacement that’s close to the real thing.
The HPV vaccine has decreased the rate of the cancer-causing virus by 56% since being introduced in 2006.
Physical therapy can be just as good for a common knee injury as surgery.
Getting vaccinated against the flu could lower your heart attack risk.
HIV drugs may play a new role in cancer therapy through immunotherapy.
The FDA recommended tighter control over hydrocodone-based pain killer prescriptions.
Gazyva, for leukemia, was approved as first drug with breakthrough therapy designation.
27 new drugs were approved as treatments for athlete's foot, cancer, COPD, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, hepatitis, HIV.
HIV  may have been cured in a child.
The FDA approved eye
implants that can restore some vision.
Marijuana oil continues to show promise in treating patients with epilepsy but there are legal obstacles.

Drugs & Treatment: The Bad News

People are more likely to pass on generic pills if the color differs from pill color they had used before.
The growth in adult prescription use has led to increase in kids' poisonings.
Only 10% of adults with sore throat have strep but 60% of them receive antibiotic prescription.
Treating prostate cancer with hormone production could harm your kidneys.
Over 40 percent of parents give kids under four years old medicine they shouldn't.
High doses of painkillers like ibuprofen can increase heart attack risk.
Over-testing and over-diagnosis could mean patients are getting treatments they don't need.
Big, brand-name hospitals are not always best for surgery.
The CDC has noted an uptick in painkiller overdose deaths and hospital visits, particularly in women.
Herbal supplements were found to have contamination and fillers that aren’t listed on the label.
Long-term use of painkillers has been linked to erectile dysfunction.
Outcomes for weight loss surgeries at 'better' hospitals  are actually no better than outcomes elsewhere.
Genetic testing kit results may not be accurate; in November, FDA warned 23andme to stop their ads.

Food: The Good News

Beef is grown in a lab in hopes of some day alleviating the demand for meat.
Cancer center at U of Colorado has separated an active compound in grapes that is effective against cancer.
Vegetable fats can lower prostate cancer risk by 29%.
The FDA wants the acceptable levels of arsenic in apple juice to be the same as in water--10 parts per billion.
Caffeinated drinks could reduce the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Eating more than two servings of fruit daily cuts your aneurysm risk by 25%.
Drinking two cups of
water before a meal can help you slim down.
A safe dose of caffeine for an adult appears to be the amount found in 3 8-oz. cups of coffee.
Growing the number of low-calorie menu items means growing business for restaurants.
Scientists are working to understand the life-extending qualities of resveratrol, a chemical in red wine.
Pepsi plans to drop 4-MEI, a carcinogen, from their drinks by Feb. 2014. Coke already uses a modified caramel coloring.

Food: The Bad News

Carnitine, a chemical found in red meat, appears to damage the heart.
Imported rice could have dangerously high levels of lead.
Combining energy drinks with alcohol can mask the effects of alcohol, with negative consequences.
Not all the news about coffee is good: 28 cups a week appear to raise the risk of early death in young adults.
Traces of copper in foods have been linked to Alzheimer's.
Antioxidants might be of no help against strokes and dementia.
Schools are responsible for one third of children’s empty calorie intake, suggesting need for nutrition reform.
The Cinnamon Challenge fad could lead to lung damage.
Food companies alter flavors to make their foods addictive--even at the expense of your health.
Reviewers say that calcitonin salmon, used in osteoporosis drugs, could up patients' risk of cancer.
Salt could be a trigger behind autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.
Salmonella  outbreaks from Foster Farms chickens caused ongoing sickness in 23 states and Puerto Rico.
bullied by siblings can be just as damaging as being bullied in the schoolyard.
A slew of recent studies suggest that vitamin supplements aren't what they're cracked up to be.

Lifestyle: The Good News

Camping for a week could help reset your biological clock.
Walking three hours a week lowers the stroke risk in women.
Running and walking have the same heart benefits--as long as you walk enough.
Video games could help seniors stay healthier--both physically and emotionally.
Teen birth rates have reached historic lows.
The CDC reports that the adult smoking rate fell to 19% in 2011.
For the fourth year in a row, Hawaiians have the highest wellbeing index in the States.
Smokers over 65 who quit can lower their risk of cardiovascular disease faster than previously thought.
An active daily lifestyle during leisure time can improve cardiovascular health in older adults.
'Prancercise' went viral with its fun, low impact alternative to workouts at the gym.
Exercise lowers estrogen levels in older women, perhaps explaining its link to lower breast cancer risk.
E-cigarettes could be a viable smoking cessation tool for smokers in the future.
Pediatricians recommend limiting school-aged kids’
screen time (on all devices) to one or two hours a day.

Lifestyle: The Bad News

Researchers at Penn found that stress impacts fetal brain development.
Combining acetaminophen and alcohol can increase one's risk of kidney dysfunction by up to 123 percent.
Average instances of smoking in films rated G, PG, or PG-13 doubled from 2010 to 2012.
America has ceded the title of 'Most Obese Nation' to Mexico.
Study suggests middle aged women with more stress are more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s years later.
FDA said that menthol cigarettes are worse than normal cigarettes, but stopped short of limiting their sale.
Marijuana use doubles the risk of stroke in young adults.
Nearly 43 percent of teens text while driving, and the statistic only worsens with age.
Kids who went to bed later than 9 o'clock had lower reading and math scores in a recent study.

Health Care Policy & Practice: The Good News

CMS data shows decline in antipsychotic drug use in nursing homes.
Scientists have used data from major web search engines to determine unreported drug side effects.
The G8 countries announced a crusade find an effective treatment for dementia by 2025.
Maine passes first law of its kind that allows mail-order drugs from foreign pharmacies.
NEJM says drug companies should share more data from their clinical trials.
The FDA has loosened its restrictions on over-the-counter nicotine replacement products.
Obama announced the $100 million Brain Initiative, to map the human brain and combat disease.
Hospital lighting may play a major role in patient mood, pain level, and sleep quality.
Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented, but door still open on lab-generated genes.
Experts believe that a broadening definition of ADHD is causing over-diagnosis of the disorder.
GSK said it will stop paying doctors to promote its products, but new law will require changes anyway.
After 3 years of requests by the Cochrane Group, Roche said it will release Tamiflu drug trials data.
AMA panel said it will publish meeting minutes and change
doctor payment calculation methods.

Health Care Policy & Practice: The Bad News

Shorter testing periods for new drugs raise concerns that FDA is pushing drugs too quickly onto the market.
Cancer deaths have increased worldwide, especially breast and cervical cancer in poor countries.
In October, impasse over health law led to federal government shutdown.
Hospitals are finding that their most powerful antibiotics are less able to kill superbugs than in the past.
There is a critical shortage of primary care doctors in the US, with few new doctors entering the field.
Insurance companies dropped thousands of policyholders due to health law changes.
Pricing for medical procedures based on time exaggerated the length of many procedures.
Of 150 drugs banned internationally, 17% are available in US.
A loophole in Obamacare could mean trouble for those insured under self-funded college plans.

 -by Katie Rowley with list compiled by Thomas Williams.  Contact him and follow health news at Twitter.com/Askapatient

AskaPatient.com has been providing comparative drug information for consumers since 2000. Operated by Consumer Health Resource Group, LLC, AskaPatient has more than 100,000 patient reviews of prescription drugs.

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