Review Category : Health

Largest US Supplier of Pharmaceuticals to Nursing Homes to Pay $124 Million Settlement

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The largest provider of pharmaceuticals and pharmacy services to nursing homes in the U.S., Omnicare Inc., agreed to pay a $124.24 million settlement on Wednesday after they allegedly offered improper financial incentives to nursing facilities in exchange for continued selection of Omnicare as the homes’ drug supplier.

The settlement was announced on Wednesday by the U.S. Justice Department. According to a release, Omnicare provided improper discounts in order to provide medication to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. The illicit agreements allowed Omnicare to claim reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid.

“Nursing homes should select their pharmacy provider based on the best quality, service and cost to the residents, not based on improper discounts to the nursing facility,” U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio Steven Dettelbach said.

Of the settlement funds, $8.24 million will go to various states which funded the Medicaid programs that were impacted by the improper activity.

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Bee-Friendly Gardeners May Accidentally Poison Bees, Study Says

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Over half of garden plants sold at some of the nation’s top big-box retailers are treated with a powerful type of pesticide linked to the ongoing global bee die-off, a study out Wednesday said.

As more gardeners make deliberate moves to attract the pollinators, their choice in plants may be inadvertently contributing to the mass deaths.

The report, from the Pesticide Research Institute and environmental group “Friends of the Earth,” sampled 18 Lowe’s, Home Depot and Walmart stores across the United States and Canada for neonicotinoids, or neonics, chemicals infused into plants from seeds.

Researchers found 51 percent of plants from these garden centers tested positive for levels considered by the groups to be fatal for honey bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Between 2006 and 2013 a full third of bees in the United States have mysteriously vanished in part of a global crisis known as Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD.

Neonicotinoids have not been exclusively fingered as the culprit, but their negative effects have been well documented alongside fungal infections, parasites, loss of habitat and climate change.

The USDA says some studies have relied on “unrealistic dosages” in their testing on bees or did not reflect “real world” conditions. Last week, the Obama administration announced a “Pollinator Health Task Force” to form a coordinated effort at researching and stemming CCD, and pointedly did not single out the commonly used chemicals.

Spokespersons for Lowe’s and Home Depot did not deny the use of the neonics in their plant products when asked by ABC News, but both pointed to those complex factors in weighing their next moves and waiting for the task force to reach a conclusion, expected in half a year.

Home Depot’s Ron Jarvis, Vice President of Sustainability, said that for a year the company had also been internally studying the impact of removing neonics from its shelves.

“We’ve had a number of our suppliers go neonicotinoid-free for 2014 and we are gauging that to the impact on the plants,” he said, adding, “We don’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction to this. We want to do the right thing, short-term and long-term.”

Jarvis said a large retailer making a blanket move could have “unintended consequences.”

A message left in the early afternoon to Walmart was not immediately returned.

Retailer BJ’s Wholesale Club has already pledged to eliminate or reduce use of neonics in their plant products, although they were not a subject for the study.

The European Union has already banned several variants outright. The chemical is used on nearly all corn production in the United States.

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CDC Panel Recommends Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine for Children

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control said on Wednesday that for children between the ages of two and eight, the nasal spray flu vaccine is preferred to the flu shot.

The decision was made by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which voted on the recommendation Wednesday. The panel is made up of immunization experts who advise the CDC.

According to a statement released by the CDC, the committee reviewed available studies, which suggest that the nasal spray flu vaccine is more effective in children in the given age group. However, if a nasal spray vaccine is not available, the flu shot should still be administered so that children’s vaccinations are not missed or delayed, the ACIP said.

Since 2010, the CDC and the ACIP have recommended that all children over the age of six months receive a flu vaccine in some form, with rare exceptions. Before the recommendation can be put into effect, the CDC director must approve it, which would allow the recommendation to be included in the upcoming flu season’s recommendations and a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report before becoming an official CDC policy.

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Fearing Memory Loss, Ex-NFL Player Pens Letter to Family

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Retired NFL player Ben Utecht has written a letter to his wife and daughters for the day he can no longer remember who they are, he told Congress Wednesday.

“I wrote the letter on a plane ride home with the brim of my hat over my eyes to hide the tears as they began to flow,” said Utecht, 32, who was a tight end for the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals before suffering a career-ending concussion in 2009.

Utecht said he spent eight months in rehab battling dizziness, amnesia, sleeplessness and night sweats after the injury, which was his fifth documented concussion. Now, his memory is fading away.

“What’s my greatest fear?” he said to Congress. “It’s to be trapped inside the coffin of my mind. To wake up one morning and not remember the faces and names of the people I cherish the most.”

Head injuries among professional athletes continue to spark lawsuits and fuel a burgeoning field of brain injury research. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain tied to repeated hits to the head. Its symptoms progress from confusion and depression to full-blown dementia.

Though it can only be diagnosed after the patient has died, researchers have spotted signs of CTE in the brains of dozens of deceased football players, including Junior Seau, 43, and Dave Duerson, 50, both of whom died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the chest.

The Senate Committee on Aging hearing in which Utecht spoke came a day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a reauthorization bill that would help individuals with traumatic brain injuries and their families get access to rehabilitation and other programs. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Utecht said he took his memory for granted after his retirement from the NFL until a moment of “mental darkness” in which he failed to recall being at his friend’s wedding despite appearing in several photos from the event.

“Page after page I was in disbelief,” Utecht said of flipping through the photo album. “Seeing myself in numerous pictures, as a groomsman and singing for them a song. To this day, I still have no memory of that event.”

Now, Utecht said he hopes to help “tackle” brain disease, and asked the Senators in the room to be his coaches and come up with a strategy.

“We can become world champions on a new gridiron — the field of our identity,” he said.

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Tommy Chong Supports E-Joints, If They Work

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Tommy Chong, half of the famous pot-smoking duo Cheech and Chong, said he’d be cool with electronic joints, if they actually work.

A Dutch e-cigarette maker claims to have created the electronic blunt, a battery-powered inhaler filled with liquid cannabis extract. Take a hit, and the device transforms the liquid into inhalable vapor as a bright green cannabis leaf lights up at the plastic joint’s tip, according to the website for the company, E-Njoint BV.

The liquid comes in six fruity flavors, according to the website. But it contains no THC — the chemical that gives marijuana its mind-altering properties — which begs the question: what’s the point?

Chong said pot without the buzz makes about as much sense as a three-wheeled car.

“One more wheel and you would have had something there,” he said. “Put me down as saying it’s a good idea, but they didn’t think it all the way through.”

Ilana Breslau, an addiction specialist therapist who practices in New York City, said she’s a little less cool with the e-joint concept if they actually contain THC.

“There can be very high concentrations of THC without users realizing how much they are taking in compared to when users smoke a joint or use a bong,” she said.

The Dutch device comes in disposable and rechargeable versions and costs about $12 a joint, according to the company’s website. It can be purchased from the website throughout Europe.

“Everyone should feel fine, because what we are doing is no crime,” E-Njoint CEO Menno Contant said in a statement. “As long as you don’t bother or disturb other people and stay within the legal boundaries, all is well.”

Repeated calls to E-Njoint BV were not immediately returned.

It remains to be seen whether electronic dope will become legal anywhere in the U.S. since marijuana use is governed differently from state to state. But Chong said he would welcome a legal, working version of an e-joint.

“It’s probably the healthiest way to go because there’s no burn product,” he said. “But I would miss the taste.”

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Why Would Luis ‘Cannibal’ Suarez Bite Someone?

Claudio Villa/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Uruguayan soccer player Luis “Cannibal” Suarez appeared to bite an opponent’s shoulder during Tuesday’s World Cup match against Italy. And he’s already been suspended twice for biting two other players in two other games.

So what’s with all the biting?

“Really, the cases where I’ve seen this tends to more so be in children,” said Dr. Harsh Trivedi, the chief medical officer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s behavioral health program.

Children who bite usually do so because they haven’t developed coping mechanisms to deal with their strong emotions, such as talking it out, finding an adult or walking away, Trivedi said.

“You really can’t take that into a professional soccer match and say it’s a justifiable reason why someone would bite,” he said.

Suarez likely didn’t think about biting the Italian player, Trivedi added, he was probably just overcome with emotion in the heat of the match.

Trivedi is less concerned about boxer Mike Tyson, who bit off part of his opponent’s ear in a 1997 fight. Because it only happened once, it doesn’t signify a pattern, Trivedi said.

But Suarez is a little more worrisome, he said.

“The fact that for him, this is the third time now that he’s done this in a match is the more concerning piece,” Trivedi said. “I haven’t come upon this as a repetitive behavior in an adult athlete.”

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Verizon Commercial Warns Against Telling Girls They’re Pretty

Fuse/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A commercial released earlier this month lends a theory to why so many girls grow up to steer clear of science and math.

Their parents are telling them they’re pretty — but maybe not telling them that they’re also pretty brilliant.

That’s not the only thing these girls are hearing. Social cues and seemingly innocent comments are sending young girls the message that they’re better off holding a tube of lipstick than a power tool.

The “Inspire Her Mind” ad by Verizon is part of a campaign to introduce more girls to the STEM fields.

It follows one little girl from toddler to teenager. Along the way, viewers hear her parents tell her “not to get her dress dirty” and that her solar system project has “gotten out of control.”

The commercial cites a statistic that while 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are female.

The take away for parents: encourage your daughter’s love of science and technology.

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Chubby Toes Be Gone! Foot Surgery to the Rescue

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — From peep-toes to sexy sling-backs, some women are obsessed with squeezing into fancy footwear.

Some are so taken with shoes that they’ve gone to extremes to look better in them, going under the knife to change the shape and size of their feet. Call it Cinderella surgery.

The surgeries can involve removing ugly bunions, painful corns or changing the length of toes. There’s even liposuction for toes to make chubby toes slimmer.

Dr. Suzanne Levine, a New York City-based podiatric surgeon and author of My Feet Are Killing Me, does a version of this surgery to keep her patients out of pain but still in heels.

Her patients often “have long second toes that are much too long and don’t fit into shoes properly and cause corns or painful inflamed bursas…but the majority of my patients, their feet are also hurting,” Levine said.

Angela Roy, a real estate broker, sought Levine out for surgery in December.

“I hated my feet. I was really embarrassed by the bunions,” Roy said. “I was really embarrassed by the corns and I just hated getting a massage. Hated anything that exposed my feet.”

Speaking about Roy’s treatment, Levine said, “When she came in, I think the challenge was that her foot was rather wide. It couldn’t fit into some of her shoes.”

Levine added: “Her foot did not exactly match her overall appearance. She said that she felt she was perfect up to her ankle.”

Six months after her full treatment, Roy is thrilled with her new feet.

“They look so much better and I’m not shy at all with my feet,” she said.

Not all doctors think cosmetic surgery for the feet is a good idea. Dr. Rock Positano, a New York foot specialist, is among them.

“To take a foot and to take a foot that’s functioning relatively well, and run the risk of causing other problems I think is ludicrous,” Positano said.

Levine maintains that her patients come first for pain relief, and second for cosmetic reasons.

For Roy, being able to slip into her favorite pair of Louboutins made the pain of surgery well worth it.

“Now I don’t have to squeeze into them, like really squeeze into them,” she said. “Now I just kind of go in, so like a glass slipper.”

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Woman Sets Out to Ban Surrogacy

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Jennifer Lahl is on a crusade to outlaw surrogacy, the process by which women lend their wombs to would-be mothers unable or unwilling to carry children themselves, and to men in same-sex relationships who want families.

“It always strikes me that the children are so absent in the discussions,” Lahl, 57, told ABC News. “It’s all about adults — who wants, who needs, who buys and what I can get.”

In gestational surrogacy, a woman carries a child that is not related to her, conceived through in vitro fertilization and implanted in her womb. The child may or may not be related to one or both of the intended parents.

In her new documentary, Breeders: A Sub-Class of Women, Lahl explores the issue of third-party reproduction, focusing on several women whose experiences point to what she sees as flaws in the surrogacy process. She argues that surrogacy has become a baby-buying operation that allows wealthy couples to exploit vulnerable women, often those of lesser means.

“It’s obviously expensive technology and people with financial means want what they want,” she told ABC News.

As a 20-year pediatric critical care nurse, Lahl said she also worries about the “primal wound” when a child is separated from its carrier.

“Surrogacy sets out from the beginning, on purpose, to separate the child from the birth mother,” she said.

But others say surrogacy is the sole option for some infertile and same-sex couples who want a biological child.

“We now have the medical technology to allow people to have a genetically linked child even if the woman cannot carry a pregnancy,” said Barbara Collura, executive director of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. “If there are women who want to be a gestational carrier and the legal framework exists to ensure the process is legal and ethical, why not let them be a surrogate?”

“Lahl is one voice and has been a loud voice,” Collura added. “But the voices of the multitude of gestational carriers and intended parents have not been heard.”

Lahl, an evangelical Christian, has been a vocal critic of assisted reproductive technology in two previous films: Exploitation, which looks at egg donation; and Anonymous Father’s Day, about sperm donation. She’s also critical of IVF, a process that she claims subjects embryos to an artificial selection process and poses health risks to both mother and baby.

An estimated 1,989 babies were born via gestational surrogacy in 2012, the last year for which there are statistics, according to the Society for Reproductive Technology. That’s up from 1,593 babies in 2011.

The process can cost up to $100,000, according to Collura — a price tag that includes the cost of in vitro fertilization, donor eggs and sperm and genetic testing (if needed), legal fees and compensation for the surrogate’s medical expenses and lost wages. Services that match intended parents with vetted gestational carriers add to the total bill, Collura said.

But intended parents say the high cost was worth the joy.

Jacey Spratt, a 38-year-old from Bethesda, Maryland, had twins born through gestational surrogacy after a strep infection left her unable to carry children, she said.

“The doctor advised surrogacy would be perfect,” said Spratt, whose college roommate offered to serve as her surrogate. “It was the culmination of technology and love.”

“We had legal contracts and covered all the bases,” Spratt added, explaining that the total bill for the pregnancy amounted to roughly $40,000 including IVF, legal fees and the surrogate’s medical expense. “Everyone along the journey was great…You need to see a picture of my daughters to see the happiness that this has brought to our lives.”

Guidelines published by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine state that a gestational surrogate is “generally compensated for the time and effort involved in fulfilling this role,” and recommend that the compensation be agreed upon in advance and “documented in the contract between the carrier and the intended parents.”

But some states have laws banning compensated and contracted surrogacy. In Indiana, contracted surrogacy is prohibited. In D.C., it carries a $10,000 fine. In Nebraska and Maryland, surrogacy is legal, as long as the carrier is not compensated.

California allows surrogacy for domestic partnerships. But in Tennessee, where same-sex marriage is illegal, only married couples can have surrogacy agreements, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Other states are currently wrestling with regulations.

In June, for the second year in a row, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal vetoed a bill to legalize compensated surrogacy for married, heterosexual couples.

In New York, legislators proposed the Child-Parent Security Act last session to overturn the current ban on surrogacy compensation. Right now, couples seeking surrogacy have to go to a state where it is legal.

Lahl says there should be an outright federal ban on surrogacy. In her film, she cites several examples of arrangements gone wrong.

Heather, an Arizona mother of two who agreed to be a surrogate, said she was asked by the intended parents to abort when the fetus was diagnosed with open lip schizencephaly. She says in the film that she did not want to “play god,” and found a family willing to adopt the boy. In the end, according to the film, the parents kept the baby, but the father was hesitant to even hold the boy at the birth.

One surrogate from New Jersey carried twins for her gay brother and his partner then ended up in a custody battle, according to the film. Another from Minnesota who carried a child for a same-sex couple and fought successfully to get visitation rights, said she was asked by the little girl years later, “Why did you give me away, when we look alike, but you kept the other children?”

But advocates for infertile and same-sex couples say with the right laws, deserving parents should be able to enjoy the families they can’t have biologically.

“Everyone wants gestational carrier surrogacy to be ethical and to follow all legal standards,” said RESOLVE’s Collura. “No one wants a bad outcome. I truly believe that if all parties are following the best medical, legal and mental health guidelines the best outcomes will occur.”

She also asks how gay men will be able to have families if they do not have the right to parent a biological child.

“Medical advances now allow people to see who were blind; people to walk who lost legs; and people to live lives that a few years ago no one thought was possible,” said Collura. “We have the medical technology to allow people to become parents and why should we simply ban it?”

“Banning gestational carrier surrogacy is a way of saying that certain people shouldn’t have children,” Collura added. “I am not sure that is what our country wants to tell people.”

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Intellectual Pursuits Important in Warding Off Dementia

iStock/Thinkstock(ROCHESTER, Minn.) — If your life has been filled with intellectual pursuits, congratulations. It turns out you may avoid a lot of grief during those coveted golden years.

Dr. Prashanthi Vermuri at the Mayo Clinic says people with at least a college education and working at jobs that demand a lot of brain power are better able to ward off dementia than those who didn’t go to college or held down less demanding jobs.

Vermuri based her findings on a study of nearly 2,000 Minnesota elderly residents, more than quarter of whom had the APOE4 gene variant, which is found in people with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

After asking a battery of questions about their backgrounds and having them taking tests to measure cognitive skills, the Mayo Clinic team concluded that “higher levels of educational, occupational, and cognitive activity are independently associated with a lower risk of dementia.”

Just as importantly, even those with the APOE4 gene variant delayed the onset of Alzheimer’s by eight-and-a-half years when they were among those in the top quarter of well-educated and intellectually challenged participants compared to the group in the lowest 25th percentile.

Yet, it’s not too late to change when people hit their midlife years from 50 to 65 if their education backgrounds were limited. Vermuri says that boosting cognitive skills at that late stage can help to delay the onset of dementia.
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