Category Archives: Health

Loneliness linked to phantom cigarettes

By Calvin Palmer

Today’s online edition of The Guardian features an article about the loneliness epidemic sweeping the UK.

The article stresses the health risks associated with loneliness and cites a report that states loneliness is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

That assertion is linked to an article in the Mail Online, which proclaims social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic, according to research by Dr Julianne Holt-Lunstad, of Brigham Young University in Utah and data obtained from 300,000 people.

Alas, the Mail Online article does not specify just how loneliness can be equated with smoking 15 cigarettes a day. And why is it 15 cigarettes instead of say 10 or five?

Is there a body of knowledge that can precisely show the effects on a person’s health of each cigarette smoked on a daily basis?

And what if a person is lonely and smokes 15 cigarettes a day, does that mean they are effectively smoking 30 cigarettes a day?

It all sounds rather implausible to me and smacks of the kind of junk science that is used to support anti-smoking and anti-tobacco measures the world over.

A photograph accompanying the Mail Online article has the caption: Me, myself and I: Loneliness can be as damaging for your health as smoking, research shows [sic]

Clearly working for the Mail Online means you do not end a sentence with a full stop. I wonder how damaging that can be to a person’s health? It is certainly damaging to your reputation as a working journalist.

And why does the caption only mention smoking when alcohol was also mentioned in the study?

It strikes me the Mail Online, like most of the mainstream media, has an anti-smoking agenda.

What’s the betting that every person associated with that article reaching the public is a non-smoker? I will wager they all like a few pints of beer or a few glasses of wine, hence the link to alcohol being downplayed.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? Well, actually they do.

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British newspaper article on Florida’s pill mills fails to keep up with events

By Calvin Palmer

The Guardian newspaper today carried an article about the thousands of people flocking to the pill mills of Florida to obtain the powerfully addictive painkiller oxycodone.

The White House has described the abuse of prescription drugs as the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, pointing out that people were dying unintentionally from painkiller overdoses at rates that exceeded the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and the black tar heroin epidemic of the 1970s combined.

Florida is described as the epicenter of the oxycodone epidemic. Guardian writer Ed Pilkington states that 98 percent of all the nation’s doctors who handle the drug are located in Florida, which “has no comprehensive database recording prescription histories”.

Pilkington goes on: “Even more astonishingly its recently elected governor, the Tea Party favourite Rick Scott, has blocked the introduction of a database on grounds of cost.”

Now, I am no fan of Gov. Rick Scott but I do believe in accurate and fair reporting. I am from the old school of journalism.

Last Friday, if Pilkington had bothered to read or find out, Scott signed a bill aimed at cracking down on clinics that frivolously dispense pain pills.

“Florida will shed its title as the Oxy Express,” he said at a bill signing ceremony in Tampa.

Scott had concerns about the prescription drug monitoring database on the grounds of its effectiveness and privacy. But even he had the good sense to bow to the pressure from elected officials throughout the country to do something about the proliferation of pill mills in Florida.

State Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, one of the advocates for the database, said: “The governor has made a huge turnaround. He has signed a bill today that not only preserves the prescription drug monitoring database. It makes it better.”

The bill tightens reporting requirements to the database from 15 days to seven days, a change critics said the program needed to make it more effective.

The measure also increases penalties for overprescribing oxycodone and other narcotics, tracks wholesale distribution of some controlled substances, and provides $3 million to support law enforcement efforts and state prosecutors.

It also bans most doctors who prescribe narcotics from dispensing them, requiring prescriptions to be filled at certain types of pharmacies.

“The toll our nation’s prescription drug abuse epidemic has taken in communities nationwide is devastating and Florida is ground zero,” said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy after Scott signed the bill.

Even as far back as April, while testifying before a congressional committee with Kentucky Gov. Steve Bershear, Scott pledged to address the problem and give up his push to kill Florida’s prescription drug monitoring database.

So just how much research did Pilkington do for his article? Not a lot, it would appear. His article is lazy journalism at best; inaccurate and biased reporting at worst.

[Based on reports by The Guardian and The Miami Herald.]

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Medical journal endorses sale of cannabis in shops

By Calvin Palmer

An editorial in the British Medical Journal is likely to make Tea Party members knock over the milk jug and splutter with righteous moral indignation.

It was their great hero President Ronald Reagan who launched the all-out war on drugs and successive administrations have fought the good fight but to no avail.

The editorial suggests that that the sale of cannabis should be licensed like alcohol because banning it had not worked.

Banning cannabis has increased drug-related violence because enforcement made “the illicit market a richer prize for criminal groups to fight over”.

An 18-fold increase in the anti-drugs budget in the US to $18billion between 1981 and 2002 had failed to stem the market for the drug.

In fact cannabis related drugs arrests in the US increased from 350,000 in 1990 to more than 800,000 a year by 2006, with seizures quintupling to 1.1million kilograms.

The editorial was written by Professor Robin Room of Melbourne University, Australia.

“In some places, state-controlled instruments — such as licensing regimes, inspectors, and sales outlets run by the Government — are still in place for alcohol and these could be extended to cover cannabis,” Room wrote.

He argues state-run outlets could provide “workable and well controlled retail outlets for cannabis”.

Room draws the parallel between alcohol prohibition, which was adopted by 11 countries between 1914 and 1920, and the ban on cannabis.

Eventually prohibition was replaced with “restrictive regulatory regimes, which restrained alcohol consumption and problems related to alcohol until these constraints were eroded by the neo-liberal free market ideologies of recent decades”.

The editorial concludes: “The challenge for researchers and policy analysts now is to flesh out the details of effective regulatory regimes, as was done at the brink of repeal of US alcohol prohibition.”

Earlier this year, Fiona Godlee, an editor of the Journal, which is run by the British Medical Association, endorsed an article by Steve Rolles, head of research at Transform, the drugs foundation, which called for an end to the war on drugs and its replacement by a legal system of regulation.

Dr Godlee said: “Rolles calls on us to envisage an alternative to the hopelessly failed war on drugs. He says, and I agree, that we must regulate drug use, not criminalize it.”

It is patently obvious that the Eisenhower-era mentality to drug use is not only hopelessly outdated but also largely irrelevant to a great many people, far-right Republicans being a notable exception.

I guess state-run cannabis outlets would be another form of big government that they detest, although they do not seem to mind big government imposing its moral views on cannabis on the rest of society and spending a boatload of tax-payers’ money trying to fight an unwinnable war.

Drug use is so widespread, a fact the Tea Party largely ignores but then its members largely ignores most aspects of American life being so engrossed in their own greed and selfishness, only two options remain open to my mind.

Either the penalty for drug possession, even a single joint, should be death by hanging — not the cosy lethal injection that makes the Tea Party feel good about itself — or drugs should be openly available to those who seek them through licensed outlets so governments can make money out of them just as they do out of alcohol and tobacco.

[Based on a report by The Daily Telegraph.]

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Never let dangerous side effects get in the way of drug company profits

By Calvin Palmer

Drug regulators in Europe and the United States issued announcements today concerning Avandia, the controversial diabetes medicine made by British company GlaxoSmithKline.

The EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency, said the drug would no longer be available to patients in Europe, after recommending it be removed from the market.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration decided to severely restrict the drug’s use but stopped short of an outright ban.

The FDA said it was taking the step after data suggested “an elevated risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, in patients treated with Avandia”.

Under the restrictions, the one-time blockbuster medicine will now only be available to new US patients with type 2 diabetes if they are unable to control their glucose levels through other medications.

Existing diabetes sufferers taking Avandia will be allowed to continue to take the medicine if they so choose, the FDA statement said.

“The FDA is taking this action today to protect patients, after a careful effort to weigh benefits and risks,” said FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg. “We are seeking to strike the right balance to support clinical care.”

Avandia was once the biggest-selling diabetes medicine around the world, with sales reaching $3.2 billion in 2006. Its sales abruptly declined in 2007 after a study by Dr Steven Nissen, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist, found that it increased the risk of heart attacks. An advisory committee in 2007 decided that Avandia did increase heart risks but voted to keep it on the market.

Further studies heightened the controversy and in July another FDA advisory committee meeting was held. This time, a majority of experts — many of whom had supported Avandia’s continued sales in 2007 — recommended it should stay on the market in the United States but with greater restrictions on its sale.

“Allowing Avandia to remain on the market, but under restrictions, is an appropriate response, given the significant safety concerns and the scientific uncertainty still remaining about this drug,” said Janet Woodcock director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Doctors will now have to attest that their patients are eligible to be prescribed Avandia, and the patients will have to acknowledge that they are aware of the risks.

The FDA said it would require Glaxo to develop a restricted access program for Avandia under a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy.

Avandia, known generically as rosiglitazone, was approved in 1999. It helps control blood sugar levels in diabetics by making patients more sensitive to their own insulin. It is one of a class of three drugs, the first of which, Rezulin, was withdrawn because it caused liver damage. Actos, the last remaining drug in the class, appears safe in part because it seems to affect a different set of genes than either Rezulin or Avandia.

Avandia’s risks became known only after Dr Nissen analyzed data from myriad trials that GlaxoSmithKline had been forced to post on its Web site as a result of a legal settlement.

The FDA has instructed GlaxoSmithKline to conduct an independent assessment of the Record trial, a landmark study of Avandia’s heart effects that an FDA medical officer found was riddled with what he said were unpardonable errors that seriously biased the trial’s conclusions.

The US watchdog also halted Glaxo’s clinical trial comparing Avandia to the other most popular diabetes drug Actos, as well as standard diabetes medication.

Senate investigators found that GlaxoSmithKline spent years hiding from regulatory authorities clear indications that Avandia increased heart risks. In July, GlaxoSmithKline took a $2.3 billion liability charge related to legal cases involving Avandia and another medicine, Paxil.

But today’s announcements may increase the company’s legal exposure.

Plaintiff’s lawyers must be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of rich pickings.

“If the manufacturers of Avandia had told the full truth about the drug’s harmful effects to the medical community or the users of Avandia, patients would have been able to make an informed decision about the potential health risks of using the drug,” said Robert Brown, the head of Baron & Budd’s Miami office.

“While we respect the FDA for repeatedly reviewing this drug, there has been a suggestion of bias on the advisory panel. Regardless, we cannot sit idly by while large pharmaceutical companies hide the truth about dangerous drugs,” said Brown.

Especially when he stands to make a lot of money from successful lawsuits.

How can patients make any informed decisions regarding their healthcare when the motivating force at work with many physicians and drug companies is greed?

Physicians may well protest their innocence in this sordid affair but let us not forget the inducements they are offered by drug companies to prescribe drugs. I am not saying all physicians accept these incentives but clearly the greedy ones do and make no mistake a good many doctors in America are motivated by personal wealth rather than patient care.

All a patient can hope for is that they find a doctor who strictly abides by the medical code, “Do no harm,” a doctor who puts patient care before his or her own financial gain.

Such physicians do exist in the United States, whether they form the majority of the medical profession is open to debate.

[Based on reports by The New York Times, AFP and pharmiweb.com.]

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Custody battle sparked female lawyer’s shooting rampage, say German police

By Calvin Palmer

A female lawyer in southern Germany killed three people, including her estranged husband and young son, yesterday evening before being shot and killed by police.

The lawyer, 41,  killed her ex-husband when he came to pick up their five-year-old son after a weekend visit at her flat in Loerrach, a town close to the Swiss border.

She then set the flat on fire and ran out into the street, shooting at two people before entering the St Elisabethan Hospital, where she headed for the gynecology department and killed a male nurse.

It is reported that the woman, who had been separated from her husband since June, suffered a miscarriage six years ago in the same hospital.

Police said the nurse had stab wounds as well a bullet wound in the head.

“The woman opened fire at police as they arrived,” police said in a statement. “In the subsequent exchange of fire, a police officer was seriously injured and the woman was killed.”

Police have not released the identity of the woman.

Senior public prosecutor Dieter Inhofer speculated that “relationship problems may have been a trigger for the crime”, citing a custody dispute.

The Interior Minister of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Heribert Rech, praised the police for their quick response.

“The officers deployed prevented worse consequences through their determined intervention,” Rech said. “If the woman had remained armed and in action, there would surely have been more victims.”

Police chief Michael Granzow said the nurse who was killed and the two passers-by and the policeman who were injured were “random victims”.

This latest shooting has renewed calls for a firearms ban in Germany.

The woman apparently practiced target shooting and was the legal owner of several firearms.

“Firearms must be completely removed from private homes,” said Wolfgang Wieland of the Green Party.

Wieland added that gun control laws in Germany had been tightened incrementally after several shooting sprees in the country, most notably a 2009 school shooting in the southern town of Winnenden, but the strength of the firearms lobby prevented greater progress in blocking gun possession.

In March 2009, Tim Kretschmer, 17, took his father’s guns and killed 15 pupils at the Albertville secondary school before taking his own life.

His father, Joerg Kretschmer, was a member of a local shooting club and had licences for the guns but is now on trial in Stuttgart, charged with breaking gun laws by allowing his son to gain access to the weapons.

[Based on reports by Deutsche Welle and BBC News.]

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Man shoots Johns Hopkins doctor before killing his mother and himself

By Calvin Palmer

A man who became upset over the medical care his mother was receiving shot a doctor at Johns Hopkins Hospital this morning.

Paul Warren Pardus, 50, barricaded himself in his mother’s room on the eighth floor of the Nelson Building and police negotiators spent two hours trying to persuade him to surrender.

Police said Pardus, of Arlington, Virginia, was known to hospital officials as Warren Davis. Detectives are awaiting fingerprint analysis from the FBI to confirm his identity.

At 1:30 pm armed police stormed the room and found the mother, Jean Davis, dead in bed from a gunshot wound and her son dying on the floor.

The shooting and stand-off were sparked by a conversation between Pardus and an unidentified doctor over the care of his mother.

During the discussion, he became “overwhelmed by the news of his mother’s condition,” said Baltimore police commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, and pulled a semi-automatic handgun from his waist, shooting the doctor in the abdomen.

The doctor collapsed outside the doorway.

 “The suspect was seen running into his mother’s room, brandishing the handgun in the direction of his mother, who was confined to the bed,” said Bealefeld.

The doctor who has not been named was immediately taken to surgery and his condition was said to be stable.

Police are treating the incident as a murder-suicide.

Jacqueline Billy, a nurse who works in respiratory care, said she was on the seventh floor when the doctor was shot. She said she got in an elevator and accidentally went up to the eighth floor. She was greeted by police, guns drawn, who ordered her to shut the door.

“I was petrified, the door opened and there are a bunch of guns. You never expect that,” she said.

The Nelson Building, the main hospital tower, is home to orthopedic, spine, trauma and thoracic services.

With more than 30,000 employees, Johns Hopkins Medicine is among Maryland’s largest private employers and the largest in Baltimore. The hospital has more than 1,000 beds and more than 1,700 full-time doctors.

[Based on reports by The Baltimore Sun and  Associated Press.]

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Gainesville scores high for intolerance and stupidity

By Calvin Palmer

At the moment most of the world is equating Gainesville, Florida, with Pastor Terry Jones and his proposed burning of copies of the Koran on Saturday as a protest against the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York.

The 58-year-old minister’s International Burn A Quran Day has drawn condemnation from both within the United States and overseas, particularly Muslim countries.

Thankfully, Jones has seen the light and today called off his protest.

In Gainesville, intolerance and stupidity are not just confined to members of bizarre religious groups. Those qualities are also found in Gainesville City Commission, which last month passed a city ordinance banning smoking at Regional Transit System bus-stops.

The ordinance, passed on August 5, prohibits smoking within 20 feet of Regional Transit System open-air and semi-enclosed bus shelters.

RTS spokesman Chip Skinner said the ordinance was passed for the health of the public.

The ban on bus-stop smoking was introduced because the University of Florida has banned smoking on its campus and students were leaving the campus to smoke at bus stations, especially those around Shands.

The campus ban came into effect on July 1and the city acted in the light of public complaints, said Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodicasa.

RTS has put up signs about the new ordinance at the Rosa Parks Downtown Station and has ordered stickers to be placed on all bus stop signs, Skinner said.

No arrests will be made for violating the new ban but a warning will be given along with a $75 fine. Any law enforcement and code enforcement officer can enforce the new ban, he said.

Where does the stupidity of this ordinance come in? Well it does not apply to people on private property within 20 feet of a bus station or bus-stop. It also does not include people passing by in a motor vehicle, a non-motor vehicle or bicycle.

Just a minute, I thought the ordinance was introduced to protect the public’s health. Surely cigarette smoke from someone on private property, a passing car or someone riding a bike is just as harmful as that exhaled by someone standing at a bus-stop.

Imagine the scene where a smoker can be smoking on his front lawn within 20 feet of a bus-stop but if the smoker steps on to the sidewalk, he/she is suddenly violating an ordinance introduced to protect the public’s health.

And what is the situation if a person lights up a cigarette outside the 20-feet limit and then just allows the cigarette to burn whilst standing within the 20-feet limit. If the person does not take a pull on the cigarette, they cannot be deemed to be smoking. Or does the ordinance extend to the burning of tobacco within 20-feet of a bus-stop?

While Pastor Terry Jones’ misguided protest is guaranteed by the First Amendment, alas the rights of smokers to consume tobacco in the open air have no constitutional backing? The pursuit of happiness may well have been included in the Declaration of Independence but it failed to make it to the U.S. Constitution.

This Gainesville ordinance has nothing to do with the public’s health but more to do with pandering to the anti-tobacco lobby and health fascists, aided and abetted by junk science and pseudo scientists, who abhor tobacco and those who choose to smoke tobacco.

I came across more nonsense the other day in a radio advert by Tobacco Free Florida where the narrator alluded to the presence of cyanide in cigarette smoke.

Cyanide is an evocative word, after all hydrogen cyanide was used in the systematic extermination of Jews in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War

The anti-smoking lobby will assert that the presence of hydrogen cyanide in cigarette smoke puts non-smokers at risk. But how come no one has ever died of cyanide poisoning due to exposure to cigarette smoke? Why aren’t smokers keeling over dead 20 feet away from bus-stops in Gainesville after inhaling the hydrogen cyanide contained in their cigarettes?

Suddenly, Pastor Terry Jones does not seem such an isolated case of crass stupidity, bigotry and intolerance.

[Based on a report by The Gainesville Sun.]

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