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Medicine

Issue: "Iraq: Present and past," June 12, 2004

Border run Federal regulators are showing hints that they will lighten up on gray-market medicine sales from Canada. This follows Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson's speculation that Congress will soon adopt legislation allowing importation. So far, five states have joined the bandwagon, offering residents tips for buying prescriptions from across the border. Wisconsin, New Hampshire, North Dakota, ­Minnesota, and Rhode Island already have websites pointing people across the border for medications. A similar proposal passed the California assembly late last month. A few governors have even considered ­suggesting that consumers turn to Great Britain as an alternative to Canada. Some U.S.-based ­pharmacists have fought importation, saying that Canadian prices for some drugs are actually higher. Others are about the same, once shipping costs are added, and still others are only available ­domestically. The FDA still officially opposes importation, but has taken no action to date against people who fill their ­prescriptions in Canada. Some complain that the extra demand may cause shortages in Canada. One trade group, the Coalition for Manitoba Pharmacy, claims more than 40 percent of the drug supply for the western Canadian province was diverted across the border last year. Teaspoon of trouble Amid America's diet crazes, experts say people still consume too much salt. Even as the carbohydrates or fat go down, sodium intake tends to stay up. Too much salt is traditionally linked with hypertension, and the standard recommendation is that a person should eat no more than about one teaspoon per day. Food labels list a heaping teaspoon (2,400 milligrams) as a daily serving, but recent findings recommend only 1,500 milligrams per day. (By comparison, the Burger King Whopper contains 1,450 milligrams of sodium.) Yet the average person eats about twice the proper amount, according to Tulane University physician Paul K. Whelton. He co-authored a study that found high blood pressure on the rise among American children and ­adolescents. Americans tend not to pay attention to salt because, unlike calories and carbs, it doesn't affect weight gain. Food producers also say that strict salt restriction is ­unrealistic for many people. Another problem is that much salt is hidden in packaged food and restaurant meals. According to the Institute of Medicine, three-quarters of Americans' daily salt intake comes from these sources, not from salt shakers. Vital Signs • The controversial anti­depressant Serzone is going off the market as it faces mounting concerns over alleged liver failure. Manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb blamed declining sales, not safety risks. Serzone was linked to dozens of cases of liver failure and injury, including at least 20 deaths. • There is no evidence that vaccines preserved with thimerosol cause autism, according to a new review by the Institute of Medicine. The panel cited studies that tracked thousands of children since 2001 and found no link between the disorder and the once-common mercury-based shots. This contradicts a previous finding that found the connection medically plausible. • Two critically ill patients last month received experimental artificial hearts that use no wires or tubes that stick through the skin. The device, implanted as part of an FDA trial, is about the size of a softball and runs on batteries. The manufacturer, Massachusetts-based Abiomed, says candidates must be ­ineligible for conventional heart transplantation or other treatments-and likely to otherwise die within 30 days. • Men have a tiny risk of breast cancer, but one study found that obesity may increase the odds. The number of cases in the United States climbed by 26 ­percent between 1973 and 1998, according to findings published by the American Cancer Society. Since ­obesity is on the rise-and linked to several other cancers-experts suspect a possible connection.

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