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February 2008 Archives

More Heparin Blood-Thinner Meds Recalled

The manufacturer of blood-thinning medication heparin is recalling most of its heparin products after an increase in the number of patient deaths potentially linked to the drugs. Baxter International is expanding a recall originally announced on January 17, 2008, and is withdrawing all remaining doses of its multi-dose heparin sodium injection, single-dose vials, and HEP-LOCK heparin flush products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that the underlying cause of "adverse events" related to Baxter's heparin sodium is still unknown and is under investigation. The New York Times reports that federal investigators had found "'potential deficiencies' at a Chinese plant that supplied much of the active ingredient for the drug," and that deaths possibly linked to heparin have risen from 4 to 21.

Report: 1 in 100 Americans Incarcerated

One in every 100 adults in the U.S. is serving time in prison or jail, according to a report from the Pew Center on the States. Some key findings from the Pew Public Safety Performance Project report, titled "One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008":

  • One in 100 U.S. adults are in prison or jail;
  • One in 30 men aged 20-34 are incarcerated;
  • One in 53 people in their 20's is incarcerated;
  • Men are 10 times as likely to be incarcerated, compared to women.

The New York Times reports that in 2007, "states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections, up from $10.6 billion in 1987," and that in 2005 it cost an average of about $23,876 dollars per year to keep an inmate in jail or prison.

Crib Recall and Safety Warnings

About 24,000 wooden cribs manufactured by Munire Furniture, Inc. are being recalled, because faulty railings can present a fall hazard for children inside the cribs. According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) News Release, the cribs fail to meet federal safety standards for cribs, because mattress support spring brackets prevent the mattress from lowering to its lowest position, so that children inside the crib may crawl over the railing and possibly fall. CPSC advises consumers that, while no injuries have been reported, parents should stop using the recalled cribs and contact Munire Furniture to receive replacement spring brackets. CPSC is also reminding parents of the hazards of putting pillows, quilts, and other bedding in cribs.

Congress Holds Food Safety Hearing

Congress on Tuesday urged food company executives to do more to improve food safety, in the wake of recent recalls and illnesses related to beef products, spinach, peanut butter, baby food, and more. Reuters reports that food suppliers told a House Committee on Energy and Commerce subcommittee that they are putting in place "a series of initiatives to improve food safety at their facilities," but lawmakers warned industry executives they "have not done enough to prevent future recalls and unsafe products from reaching consumers." CNNMoney states that lawmakers called the food safety system in the U.S. "a mess" and "fragile."

Study: Anemia Drugs May Pose Death Risk

Anemia drugs like Aranesp and Procrit can increase the risk of death and blood clots, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). These drugs, called erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), are used in treatment of chemotherapy-associated anemia in certain cancer patients. The study, which looked at 89 clinical trials, found a 10 percent increase in risk of death and a 57 percent increase in risk of blood clotting (called venous thromboembolism) in patients being treated with ESAs. Aranesp is manufactured by Amgen, while Procrit is a product of Johnson & Johnson. On March 13, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will hold an advisory committee hearing on the safety of ESAs. In early January 2008, FDA issued an update on safety information related to ESAs.

SUV Crash Safety Ratings

The 2009 Nissan Murano has earned the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's "Top Safety Pick" award for mid-size sport-utility vehicles (SUVs). The 2009 Murano performed best in front, side, and rear impact tests of nine 4-door midsize SUVs. Among the SUVs tested by IIHS, the Mazda CX-7, Mazda CX-9, and Mitsubishi's Endeavor earned ratings of "good" for front and side impact protection. Hummer's H3 received the lowest rating ("acceptable") for front crashes, while the 2008 Jeep Liberty, Jeep Wrangler, and Kia Sorento received the lowest ratings for side-impact crashes. The IIHS reports that overall, SUV safety is improving: "In 2001 only half of the midsize models that were tested earned good ratings in the frontal offset test. In the latest evaluations, all but the Hummer H3 do."

Insurer Must Pay $9.3M to Cancer Patient

A health insurance provider must pay more than $9.3 million after wrongfully rescinding the policy of a Los Angeles woman who had been diagnosed with cancer. The order came as part of a binding arbitration award in a claim brought by breast cancer patient Patsy Bates against her former health insurer Health Net, Inc. According to the Arbitration Award, which includes more than $8 million in punitive damages, Bates had over $129,000 in unpaid medical bills. Arbitrator (and retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge) Sam Cianchetti wrote that "It is hard to imagine a situation more trying than the one Bates has had to endure." The Los Angeles Times calls the ruling "the first of its kind" and "the most powerful rebuke to the state's major insurers whose cancellation practices are under fire from the courts, state regulators and elected officials."

Employees May Sue Over 401(k) Mismanagement

Employees may file individual lawsuits against their employers over the mismanagement of 401(k) retirement investment plans, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday. In a unanimous decision, the Court determined that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) authorizes "recovery for fiduciary breaches that impair the value of plan assets in a participant's individual account" -- not just suits for actions that affect the entire plan. The Washington Post reports that over 50 million employees have almost $3 trillion invested in 401(k) plans.

Medical Device Lawsuits Limited

People filing lawsuits over the safety of federally-approved medical devices will face stricter legal hurdles, after a decision handed down today by the U.S. Supreme Court. In an 8-1 decision, the Court held that the Medical Device Amendments of 1976 bars most state law claims challenging the safety or effectiveness of a medical device that received market approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The case was an appeal of dismissal of a suit filed after a Medtronic catheter in a patient's coronary artery ruptured during heart surgery.

Supreme Court Won't Hear Domestic Spying Challenge

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a legal challenge to the federal government's warrantless domestic surveillance program. Under the program, the U.S. government may monitor certain international emails and telephone calls made by U.S. citizens, without first getting a court-issued warrant. In July 2007, a federal appeals court ruled that the groups challenging the law -- including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) -- had no standing to sue since they could not show that they had been harmed, and the Supreme Court today refused to take up a review of that decision.

Largest Beef Recall in U.S. History

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the recall of 143 million pounds of beef produced by a California slaughterhouse. U.S. officials are calling it the largest beef recall in U.S. history. Government investigation revealed that certain cattle at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Company in Chino, California were ill, disabled, or "nonambulatory" before being slaughtered, in violation of Food Safety Inspection Service regulations. The recall applies to all Hallmark/Westland raw and frozen beef products produced since February 1, 2006. According to the Associated Press, "Federal officials suspended operations at Westland/Hallmark after an undercover Humane Society video surfaced showing crippled and sick animals being shoved with forklifts." No illnesses have been linked to the recalled beef products, and federal officials are calling health risks related to the recalled beef "small."

CDC Finds Toxic Air in FEMA Trailers

Air quality testing of trailers provided to Katrina victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has revealed that many of the trailers contain toxic levels of formaldehyde. According to the Centers for Disease Control, testing of a cross-section of FEMA-supplied travel trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi showed many trailers contained formaldehyde levels well above typical levels of indoor exposure, and these levels could increase in warmer weather. Formaldehyde is released as a gas from adhesives that are used to make products such as particle board, plywood, and hardwood paneling. These materials are used extensively in mobile homes and travel trailers. Formaldehyde can irritate the skin, eyes, nose, throat, sinuses, and lungs -- causing itching, coughing, skin rashes, and difficulty breathing in some cases.

Bush Signs Economic Stimulus Act of 2008

President Bush has signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, a package of measures intended to stimulate economic growth. The plan includes new tax rebates for 128 million American households and investment incentives for businesses. At the bill signing ceremony in the White House's East Room, President Bush called the new law a "booster shot" for the economy, and stated: "The bill I'm signing today is large enough to have an impact -- amounting to more than $152 billion this year, or about 1 percent of GDP. The bill provides temporary tax incentives for businesses to make investments in their companies so that we create new jobs this year. The bill provides individual tax relief in the form of tax rebates. These rebates will amount to as much as $600 for individuals and $1,200 for married couples, with additional rebates for families with children."

Recall of Fentanyl Painkiller Patches

Painkiller patches containing the prescription medication fentanyl are being recalled, because a cut in the patch's drug reservoir may cause a harmful overdose of the potent painkiller. The affected patches are sold by PriCara under the Duragesic brand name. A generic version of the fentanyl patches is marketed by Sandoz Inc. The recall applies to all 25 microgram/hour fentanyl patches (brand name and generic) with expiration dates on or before December 2009. The recalled patches should be discarded immediately. PriCara is advising patients with recalled 25 mcg/hr Duragesic patches to call 800-547-6446, while patients with recalled 25 mcg/hr Sandoz Inc. should call 800-901-7236. In December 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Public Health Advisory on fentanyl patch misuse and risk of overdose.

First Class Stamp Increasing to 42 Cents

The cost of a one-ounce First-Class postage stamp will increase from 41 to 42 cents on May 12, the U.S. Postal Service announced Monday. Under a new law called the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, prices for mailing services will be adjusted annually each May. The Postal Service plans to provide 90 days' notice to consumers before the price changes each year, and is encouraging consumers to purchase "Forever Stamps," which will always be valid as first class stamps regardless of any future rate increases.

Key Lenders Announce Foreclosure Freeze

A new program announced today is aimed at helping all homeowners (not just subprime mortgage holders) avoid foreclosure and negotiate with lenders to stay in their homes. Under "Project Lifeline" -- announced by six of the biggest home loan servicers and the U.S. Departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development -- qualifying homeowners who are in imminent danger of losing their homes will be allowed to pause the foreclosure process for 30 days, during which they can negotiate more manageable repayment options with their lenders. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson stated that "Project Lifeline is aimed at homeowners who face a real risk of losing their home, but have not yet addressed the problem." Reuters reports that "The plan is being undertaken by six mortgage lenders that said they service about 50 percent of U.S. mortgages -- Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup, Countrywide Financial, Washington Mutual and Wells Fargo." In 2007, foreclosures were up 75 percent nationwide.

Blood-Thinner Heparin Linked to Serious Allergic Reactions

Baxter Healthcare Corporation, manufacturer of the injectable blood-thinning drug heparin, has temporarily stopped producing multiple-dose vials of the drug, after receiving reports of serious allergic reactions and low blood pressure in patients, according to a Press Release from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA reports that four people have died after receiving heparin (although the relationship to the drug is unclear), and 350 other adverse reactions so far this year have included difficulty breathing, nausea, and rapidly falling blood pressure that can lead to life-threatening shock. Heparin is frequently used before certain types of surgery, including coronary artery bypass graft surgery, and in kidney patients before they undergo dialysis. FDA states that about half of the more than one million multiple-dose vials of heparin sold each month in the U.S. are manufactured by Baxter.

February is Black History Month

The theme for Black History Month 2008 is "Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism." Known as the "Father of Black History," Woodson was an intellectual leader of the early twentieth century who created the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History and sought to educate society on the importance of cultural diversity in democracy. FindLaw's Black History Month page includes information and resources from the Library of Congress, the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History, biographical information on Carter G. Woodson, and much more.

Nebraska Court: Electric Chair Unconstitutional

Use of the electric chair in carrying out the death penalty amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment, according to a ruling issued today by the Nebraska Supreme Court. In its 6-1 decision in the appeal of Raymond Mata, Jr. -- convicted of murder and kidnapping in 2000 -- the court heard arguments for and against electrocution's continued use in the state, and concluded that "electrocution will unquestionably inflict intolerable pain unnecessary to cause death in enough executions so as to present a substantial risk that any prisoner will suffer unnecessary and wanton pain in a judicial execution by electrocution." The New York Times reports that Nevada is the only state that currently uses electrocution as its sole method of capital punishment, so today's decision effectively suspends all executions in the state.

Ariz. Employment Immigration Law Upheld

A federal judge in Arizona has upheld a new law in that state which prohibits businesses from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, and allows the state to suspend or revoke the business licenses of companies that violate the law. A number of business and civil rights groups argued that the law unconstitutionally allowed the state government to enforce immigration, but U.S. District Court Judge Neil Wake ruled that the Legal Arizona Workers Act does not abridge the federal government's power to control illegal immigration.

Companies Indicted Over Tainted Pet Food

A federal grand jury has indicted two Chinese nationals and the businesses they operate, as well as a U.S. firm and its CEO, for their roles in importing contaminated wheat gluten used in the manufacturing of pet food in the U.S. The contamination led to a nationwide recall of certain pet foods from companies like Menu Foods and Procter & Gamble, and is believed to have sickened thousands of animals, killing as many as 16. In March 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that testing of certain Menu Foods pet food had revealed the presence of a chemical used in the production of plastics. The chemical, called "melamine", was also found in testing of wheat gluten that was used as an ingredient in the affected pet food products. The New York Times reports that yesterday's indictment -- filed in Kansas City, the port of entry for the contaminated wheat gluten -- cites e-mails sent between the Chinese manufacturer and the American importer as proof that the tainted ingredient was intentionally mislabeled to avoid inspection.

Anti-Smoking Drug Linked to Psychiatric Risk

Chantix (varenicline), a prescription medication used to help patients stop smoking, may cause or exacerbate psychiatric illness, according to a Public Health Advisory issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is advising consumers to tell their health care provider about any history of psychiatric illness prior to starting Chantix, because Chantix may cause worsening of current psychiatric illness -- even if that illness is currently under control -- and may also cause an old psychiatric illness to reoccur. According to the FDA, 37 suicides and more than 400 cases of suicidal behavior have been linked to Chantix. The Associated Press reports that in November, the FDA "began investigating reports of depression, agitation and suicidal behavior among patients taking the popular twice-daily pill." Chantix is manufactured by Pfizer and was approved by the FDA in May 2006.

Voters Turn Out on Super Tuesday

Voters in 24 states today are casting their ballots in primary elections for the office of the President of the United States. With more states voting than ever before on "Super Tuesday," presidential primary ballots today will deliver 1,681 delegates to Democratic candidates, and 1,023 to Republicans. The total number of delegates needed to win each party's nomination is 2,025 for Democrats and 1,191 for Republicans. The Washington Post reports that "with Super Tuesday nominating contests taking place from New York to California, the candidates made last-minute appeals for support in the biggest round of primary voting in U.S. political history before scattering to their home states to cast their own ballots and await returns." On, you can find a useful State-by-State Guide to Super Tuesday. The Associated Press reports that weather could have an impact on voter turnout on Super Tuesday.

FDA Warns of Suicidality Link to Antiepileptic Meds

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning about an increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors (suicidality) in patients who take drugs called antiepileptics to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder, migraine headaches, and other conditions. The drugs that are subject to the warning include Depakote, Topamax, and Neurontin. FDA analysis of recent studies showed patients taking antiepileptics had about twice the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, compared with patients receiving placebo. FDA advises patients who are currently taking antiepileptic medicines to make no changes without first talking to their health care provider.