Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Fact & Fiction," Dec. 21, 2002

The product is still available. Larry Cochran, acting chief executive of Mark Nutritionals, said the company has agreed to change its advertising to address the FTC's concerns. "We are moving forward with a new way to promote and advertise our product." | Chris Stamper

Attention grabber

The attention deficit disorder controversy could receive renewed attention next month. Eli Lilly plans to launch a new drug called Strattera, which unlike Ritalin and other medications is not a stimulant. The government, therefore, won't regulate it under the Controlled Substances Act.

Strattera won FDA approval after field trials showed it worked as well as Ritalin in fighting the disorder known as ADD or ADHD. Ritalin, Concerta, and other drugs require handwritten prescriptions with no refills. Patients will be able to refill Strattera over the phone. Its side effects, however, include decreased appetite, nausea, and vomiting.

As controlled substances, stimulants have won widespread criticism. Many parents claim their kids are dosed with drugs to make up for their school's failings. Others say that teachers treat boys as mentally ill just for being rowdy. Experts worry about abuse, as some kids have nicknamed their pills "vitamin R" and shared them with others, especially before exams.

Strattera's launch may reopen discussion of ADD--and whether it really is a medical condition. Lilly claims that 3 percent to 7 percent of school-age children and 4 percent of adults are afflicted. Symptoms include sloppiness, inattention, and fidgeting.

Medical analysts do not expect Strattera to replace Ritalin and other stimulants, but they predict that it will become a popular alternative. | Chris Stamper

A root of all kinds of evil

Robert Courtney was not your friendly neighborhood druggist. He diluted chemotherapy drugs that he sold to thousands of cancer patients, and this month a Kansas City judge sentenced him to up to 30 years in prison.

Mr. Courtney pleaded guilty to 20 counts of altering the cancer drugs Taxol and Gemzar. Authorities said he was able to pocket $780 from each dose of Gemzar by putting only a small fraction of the prescribed amount into an intravenous solution.

His scheme affected as many as 4,200 patients, 400 doctors, and 98,000 prescriptions. An attorney representing the victims called him a serial killer. "Your crimes are a shock to the civilized conscience," U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith told Mr. Courtney. "They are beyond understanding."

Over 400 plaintiffs filed civil lawsuits against Mr. Courtney. One plaintiff, Georgia Hayes, won over $2.2 billion. She won't see more than a fraction of that money. The federal government seized Mr. Courtney's assets, once estimated at $12 million, for a victims' fund.

Mr. Courtney was also ordered to pay $10.4 million in restitution and a $25,000 fine. "I have committed a terrible crime that I deeply and severely regret," he told the court before being sentenced. "I wish I could change everything." | Chris Stamper

'A new low'

Despite objections by some Christian leaders and groups, Planned Parenthood barreled ahead in its marketing of cards and other T-shirts featuring its controversial "Choice on Earth" holiday theme.

It means "abortion on earth," said Jim Sedlak of American Life League. The theme is "a grotesque mangling of the gospel story of Christ's birth," complained Family Research Council president Ken Connor. "The world's largest provider of abortions has sunk to a new low.

Planned Parenthood's Gloria Feldt said in a statement: "Planned Parenthood believes in every individual's right to make choices and live in peace with our planet, and wishes people of all beliefs a peaceful and safe holiday season." Assuming they survive the womb, that is. | Edward E. Plowman

Rumblings from Rome

With widely publicized allegations of sexual abuse against hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in the United States as a backdrop, the Vatican is drafting new guidelines for accepting candidates for the priesthood. Among other things, the guidelines are expected to address ordination of homosexuals. The majority of allegations involve priests preying on adolescent boys.

Release of the guidelines may still be months away, but leaks suggest that Rome will encourage seminaries to do better screening of applicants and to reject men with homosexual leanings. Ordination "of homosexual men or men with homosexual tendencies is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent, and from the pastoral point of view, very risky," warned a recently retired top Vatican official, Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez. | Edward E. Plowman

Office bound

Welsh bishop (and Welsh Druid) Rowan Williams officially took office this month as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, titular head of the world's 70-plus million Anglicans. In an interview with the London-based Church Times, he covered some of the hot topics.

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