<![CDATA[NBC New York - Health News - [NY Feature Page] Health]]>Copyright 2018http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/healthen-usThu, 20 Sep 2018 06:38:46 -0400Thu, 20 Sep 2018 06:38:46 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[New FDA Campaign Hopes to Scare Teens Away From E-Cigarettes]]>Wed, 19 Sep 2018 07:07:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18260466488784-Vaping-Teens.jpg

The federal government is hoping it can scare American teens away from e-cigarette use.

The Food and Drug Administration is rolling out a new campaign of videos aimed at graphically illustrating the dangers of e-cigarettes and so-called “vaping.”

Teen e-cigarette use rose to 12 percent in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that more than 2 million middle and high school students used the devices that year, making them the most popular cigarette problem in the group for the fourth straight year.

The campaign, called "The Real Cost," will feature posters in school bathrooms and advertisements on social media sites popular among children, like YouTube and Facebook. The FDA's Kathy Crosby said it would be "snarky and irreverent," with messages like, "Strangely enough, some kids come here to put crap into their bodies," according to NBC News.

The JUUL brand e-cigarettes have grown especially popular among teens, in part because of the easy to hide design and fruit-flavored liquid nicotine. That popularity led to a nationwide blitz by the FDA on retailers who sell to teens. The agency issues monetary penalties and sent warning letters to more than 1,300 retailers nationwide who sold to children, including eight in Connecticut.

Wolcott mom Christy Bisaillon says she’s encouraged her teen daughters not to try vaping, despite what their classmates are doing and the misconception among some teens that vaping is less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

“Say no just like a regular drug. It’s still nicotine no matter what it is” said Bisaillon. “They think it's not addicting. They think it's not ruining their health. I’m just hoping they stay away from it.”

Even as this anti-vaping campaign rolls out, the clock is still ticking for the makers of e-cigarettes. Last week the FDA gave the five major manufacturers of e-cigarettes two months to come up with a plan to keep their products away from kids.

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Scared of Heights? Spiders? Virtual Reality Therapy May Help]]>Tue, 18 Sep 2018 09:43:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18248608330021-Virtual-Reality-Phobias.jpg

Dick Tracey didn't have to visit a tall building to get over his fear of heights. He put on a virtual reality headset.

Through VR, he rode an elevator to a high-rise atrium that looked so real he fell to his knees.

"I needed to search with my hand for something solid around me," he said.

He told himself, "I must look stupid. Let's just stand up. Nothing's going to happen."

Virtual reality therapy can help people like Tracey by exposing them gradually to their greatest terrors. The technology is just now reaching the mainstream after 20 years of research. Equipment is lighter and more affordable, with tech advances spilling over from the gaming industry to help people fight disabling fears of flying, heights, spiders or dogs.

And the surge in products is bringing VR to more therapists' offices. Experts predict people with mild phobias will treat themselves successfully at home.

Research shows VR therapy can lead to real-world gains for people with phobias, and works as well as traditional exposure therapy, which slowly subjects patients to what causes anxiety for them.

For Denver librarian Nick Harrell, VR was a booster shot after traditional therapy for fear of flying. Panic drove him off a flight to Paris two years ago, forcing him to abandon a vacation with his girlfriend.

"I don't like being locked in the metal tube," Harrell explained. "I couldn't breathe. My chest was pounding."

With help from a therapist, Harrell first faced his fears through exposure therapy. Elevators, buses and trains were good practice for airplanes.

"Within a matter of months, I was flying again," Harrell said.

With VR recently added to his therapy, Harrell keeps fears in check. His health insurance covers the cost with a small copay.

But few people with phobias seek treatment. Too embarrassed to get help, many plan their lives around avoiding their fears.

Tracey of Oxfordshire, England, avoided heights, from ladders to breathtaking vistas. Escalators gave the 62-year-old retiree heart palpitations. His wife walked between him and steep slopes.

Tracey's VR therapy was part of a study. He was one of the first to try a VR world with an animated virtual coach. University of Oxford psychology professor Daniel Freeman developed the program for an Oxford spin-off with support from the National Health Service.

Freeman's team is now at work on a VR world where people with schizophrenia can practice being in a cafe, elevator or store.

"Many of our patients are withdrawn from the world," Freeman said. The fear-of-heights VR program shows you can automate treatment.

What is VR? Put on a headset and look around. You'll see a simulation of an interactive, three-dimensional environment. Look up and you'll see the sky; look down and your own hands and feet may come into view.

With exposure therapy, a therapist can accompany a person who's afraid of heights to a tall building. With VR, a patient learns to feel safe on a virtual high-rise balcony, without leaving the therapist's office.

Exposure works by gradually taking the oomph out of panic. Sweaty palms and pounding hearts ease. Fears shrink to manageable levels. By riding it out, a person learns the feelings are survivable.

The best studies on VR exposure therapy have been small with fewer than 100 patients. Increasingly VR therapy will be delivered at home via the internet, a still largely unstudied area, said Katharina Meyerbroker, a researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who has published reviews of research done in the field.

Harrell's therapist is helping field-test VR content for a company called Limbix, an arrangement between the company and the National Mental Health Innovation Center at University of Colorado's medical school.

Such ties are important for VR companies, which need scientific credibility to sell their products to therapists. Researchers gain too.

"We've all been piggybacking on this technology that was initially developed for video gaming," said Hunter Hoffman, a research scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle who developed an early VR therapy called Spider World two decades ago. He didn't license his arachnophobia project like other early researchers who've teamed up with companies to sell VR platforms and content.

Children may someday use VR to learn to cope with anxiety, said Stephen Whiteside, director of the Mayo Clinic Pediatric Anxiety Disorders Clinic, where a study targets kids with schoolwork anxieties.

In the VR scenario, a classroom teacher hands back a school paper with a bad grade.

"You hear the voices of other kids laughing and saying you didn't do so well," Whiteside said. "When I first watched it, I had a visceral response myself. It made you nervous."

The Mayo researchers say children prefer the VR experience to traditional exposure therapy. Next they'll test whether it works as well.

Whiteside said VR researchers everywhere must demonstrate benefits that outweigh treatment costs, which can reach $200 per session in some specialty clinics.

"The cheaper and more accessible it gets," Whiteside said, "the easier that will be."

VR therapy made life simpler for Tracey. After seven VR sessions, he now easily parks his car atop a multi-story garage. He stood on the flat roof of his house to clean his carport.

"I would never have dreamed of doing that before," he said. "I now know how much the fear of heights restricted my everyday life."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Oxford VR via AP]]>
<![CDATA[2 Million US Teens Are Vaping Marijuana, Survey Finds]]>Mon, 17 Sep 2018 12:05:37 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18260466488784-Vaping-Teens.jpg

A school-based survey shows nearly 1 in 11 U.S. students have used marijuana in electronic cigarettes, heightening concern about the new popularity of vaping among teens.

E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine, but results published Monday mean 2.1 million middle and high school students have used them to get high.

The devices are generally considered a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, despite little research on their long-term effects including whether they help smokers quit.

The rise in teenagers using them has alarmed health officials. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration gave the five largest e-cigarette makers 60 days to produce plans to stop underage use of their products.

Nearly 9 percent of students surveyed in 2016 said they used an e-cigarette device with marijuana, according to Monday's report in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. That included one-third of those who ever used e-cigarettes.

The number is worrying "because cannabis use among youth can adversely affect learning and memory and may impair later academic achievement and education," said lead researcher Katrina Trivers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students who said they lived with a tobacco user were more likely than others to report vaping marijuana.

It's unclear whether marijuana vaping is increasing among teens or holding steady. The devices have grown into a multi-billion industry, but they are relatively new.

It was the first time a question about marijuana vaping was asked on this particular survey, which uses a nationally representative sample of students in public and private schools. More than 20,000 students took the survey in 2016.

A different survey from the University of Michigan in December found similar results when it asked for the first time about marijuana vaping. In that study, 8 percent of 10th graders said they vaped marijuana in the past year.

"The health risks of vaping reside not only in the vaping devices, but in the social environment that comes with it," said University of Michigan researcher Richard Miech. Kids who vape are more likely to become known as drug users and make friends with drug users, he said, adding that "hanging out with drug users is a substantial risk factor for future drug use."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Watchdog: Foster Kids Are Overprescribed Psych Drugs]]>Mon, 17 Sep 2018 12:38:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/drugs10.jpg

Thousands of foster children may be getting powerful psychiatric drugs prescribed to them without basic safeguards, says a federal watchdog agency that found a failure to care for youngsters whose lives have already been disrupted.

A report released Monday by the Health and Human Services inspector general's office found that about 1 in 3 foster kids from a sample of states were prescribed psychiatric drugs without treatment plans or follow-up, standard steps in sound medical care.

Kids getting mood-altering drugs they don't need is only part of the problem. Investigators also said children who need medication to help them function at school or get along in social settings may be going untreated.

The drugs include medications for attention deficit disorder, anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Foster kids are much more likely to get psychiatric drugs than children overall.

"We are worried about the gap in compliance because it has an immediate, real-world impact on children's lives," said Ann Maxwell, an assistant inspector general.

Among the situations investigators encountered was the case of a 6-year-old boy diagnosed with ADHD, learning and speech disorders, outbursts of temper and defiance, and hair-pulling disorder. He had been put on four psychiatric drugs.

But a medication review questioned the need for some of the medications. Of the four, two were discontinued and one was reduced in dosage, investigators said. Two different medications were prescribed.

Investigators found no evidence that a treatment plan for the boy had been developed in the first place, before starting him on medication.

In another case, an 11-year-old boy had been put on two medications after being diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and behavior problems. But over a three-month period his foster mother had problems getting prescription refills. By the fourth month, the boy's life was out of control. His decline included stealing, lying, bullying and an in-school suspension.

Investigators found there was no requirement in that state for case workers to follow up with foster parents about medications. The lack of effective follow-up contributed to the boy's downward spiral.

"These children are at greater risk of not getting the medications they need, but equally important, they are at risk of getting powerful medications that they do not need," Maxwell said.

The inspector general is recommending that the HHS Administration for Children and Families develop a strategy to help states meet their existing requirements for prescribing psychiatric drugs to foster children, and to generally raise standards for case-by-case oversight.

In a formal response to the report the children's agency said it may need additional legal authority. The agency also said it is committed to making sure foster children get psychiatric medications only when medically appropriate. Officials noted that the inspector general's findings covered just five states.

Foster children come into the mental health system with added complications. Their most basic connections in life have been stressed or severed. They may have suffered neglect or abandonment. They may have witnessed or been a victim of abusive behavior or violence.

A 2010 study from the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute found that estimated rates of psychiatric drug use among youth in foster care are much higher (13 percent to 52 percent) than among youth overall (4 percent).

Compounding the challenge for foster children is the fact that responsibility for their well-being is often divided among foster parents, birth parents, relatives and case workers. That can increase chances for miscommunication and conflict, not to mention everyday problems going unaddressed until they escalate.

Caring for foster kids is a shared responsibility of state, local and federal agencies. The federal government provides grants to state programs and also covers health care for foster children through Medicaid, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on psychiatric drugs. Nationally, it's been estimated that about 120,000 children in foster care take at least one such medication.

The inspector general scrutinized a sample of 125 cases from each of five states with the highest overall percentages of foster children treated with psychiatric drugs. Those states were Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Virginia. The cases covered the period from October 2014 through March 2015. Investigators looked at each state's compliance with its own particular requirements for treatment planning and follow-up.

Maxwell said the finding that 34 percent of children did not have either treatment plans or follow-up monitoring translates to about 4,500 children in the five states examined. She said the national number would certainly be higher but the design of the inspector general's review did not allow for a simple extrapolation. Even among the five states cited there were wide differences.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: sharky1 - stock.adobe.com]]>
<![CDATA[Puerto Rican Government Abandons Bottled Water, Citing Taste]]>Wed, 19 Sep 2018 10:37:11 -0400Telemundo Puerto Rico shows what appears to be hundreds of boxes of water abandoned on a naval runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The water delivery, which was a surplus from FEMA, allegedly stalled due to complaints of the smell and taste. ]]>Telemundo Puerto Rico shows what appears to be hundreds of boxes of water abandoned on a naval runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The water delivery, which was a surplus from FEMA, allegedly stalled due to complaints of the smell and taste. ]]>https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pr_waterbottles.jpg

Puerto Rican government officials resorted to mass finger-pointing after CBS News recently reported that thousands of water bottles were abandoned on the taxiway of a naval base in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.

In a Facebook post written in Spanish, Thomas Rivera Schatz, Puerto Rico’s Senate president, called out Wanda Vázquez, the island’s secretary of the Department of Justice.  

"The discovery of a shipment of boxes containing potable water going to waste out in the open on Ceiba’s naval base possibly did not even provoke an investigation from the Department of Justice,” Rivera Schatz wrote on his Facebook page.

The Senate president also said it's necessary for someone to file a complaint regarding the incident.

"We are waiting for the great explanation ‘someone’ will offer, in some moment, that will justify everything,” he continued.

Viral images on social media show hundreds of boxes of water abandoned outside at the naval base Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba.

Following Hurricane Maria’s landfall last September, many residents were left without clean drinking water for weeks.

After falsely counting the death toll in the wake of the hurricane as 64, the government has since acknowledged the storm caused the deaths of almost 3,000 people on the island.

Clinicians linked 26 of those deaths to leptospirosis, a bacterial illness spread through contaminated water and soil, according to an investigative piece by CNN and the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo. That’s double the amount of deaths the illness caused in Puerto Rico in 2016.

As peak hurricane season approaches, Rivera Schatz said Puerto Ricans are once again preparing for the worst.

“This week, the people have massively resorted to buying potable water before the possible passage of a tropical storm that could become a hurricane, while there [on the naval base] waste thousand and thousands of bottles of water," the Senator leader added. "It is a real shame that this is occurring."

Puerto Rico’s Administrator of the General Services Administration, Ottmar Chávez, and Secretary of the Department of Public Safety Héctor Pesquera offered explanations about the situation.

“The Federal Agency for Emergency Management reported that it had an excess of bottled water in April 2018, and GSA made an application to take custody that was approved and executed upon in May 2018 through the U.S. GSA Surplus Property program,” Chávez explained during a press conference.  

In total, the administration requested about 20,000 pallets of the undistributed excess water, according to a press release written by a spokesperson for the Puerto Rican government.

“GSA took control of the inventory in May 2018 before I took over the agency's functions,” Chávez added. “Deliveries to two municipalities and the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Puerto Rico began that same month and continued through August 2018.”

Chávez said that after his agency delivered more than 700 pallets, recipients from the municipality of Barceloneta and the Corporation for Public Dissemination began sending complaints regarding the water’s smell and taste.

“Based on those complaints, we contacted FEMA to return the water to the federal GSA inventory,” the GSA administrator continued. “The secretary of the [Department of Public Safety] specified that, based on the compiled documentation, in no moment during the digital communication about the surplus water was it evident that the bottled water was spoiled.”

The DPS secretary further highlighted the island government’s lack of information regarding how FEMA stored and distributed the water.

“When GSA performed its merchandise survey, U.S. GSA photographs appeared to show bottled water in a warehouse,” Pesquera said. “We do not know when FEMA moved the inventory to the Roosevelt Roads Base in Ceiba.”

The secretary of DPS further explained that “the Government of Puerto Rico never received the water from FEMA for distribution during the emergency, and it was not until April 2018 that we were notified of its availability.”

Chávez has ordered an administrative investigation to analyze the internal processes associated with this matter and to discuss possible follow-up measures.

In a Facebook Live video, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello also questioned FEMA’s handling of the water and the distribution delay.

“If we had the water supply available since January, why was it not declared until months later, when the bottles of water could possibly be contaminated due to having them exposed outside of a warehouse for so long?” he asked. “The question is should these containers have been kept in some sort of warehouse or storage facility and if they distributed potentially contaminated water?”

Ultimately, the governor believes FEMA is responsible for causing the water to possibly spoil.

“I demand answers from FEMA, because the evidence establishes that this was water that belonged to FEMA, and they left out in the open for so long and did not make it available to those who needed it until a few months later,” Rosselo said. “I guarantee to the public of Puerto Rico that we are in a constant investigation of these events and there will be significant consequences.”

FEMA Spokesperson Lenisha Smith responded to Rosselo’s claims by saying the decision to store the water at the naval base aligned with the agency’s goal of providing “the maximum support to disaster survivors, while also being mindful of our responsibility as stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Smith claimed placing the water on the tarmac resulted in “millions of dollars of savings.”

“FEMA announced that the water would be available to any agency that needed it, and placed the water at the taxiway of Roosevelt Roads where it could be stored in an area that was free and secure,” Smith wrote in the statement. “The P.R. General Services Administration showed interest in this inventory and requested that it be transferred. Once the transfer of water took place, the water became property of the government of Puerto Rico.”

Photo Credit: Telemundo Puerto Rico]]>
<![CDATA[NBC 4 New York & NY Giants Health & Fitness Expo]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 18:17:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/225*120/300x160_HFE.jpg]]><![CDATA[Active Shooter Study: Semi-Automatic Rifles Deadlier ]]>Tue, 11 Sep 2018 12:14:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18249701961288-Active-Shooter-Study.jpg

Active shooters with semi-automatic rifles wound and kill twice as many people as those using non-automatic weapons, although chances of dying if hit in either type of assault are the same, a new analysis shows.

Researchers examined FBI data on nearly 250 active shooter incidents in the United States since 2000. Almost 900 people were wounded and 718 were killed.

One in four of these attacks involved semi-automatic rifles. These weapons automatically load each bullet after firing although firing requires pulling the trigger for each round.

Recent attacks involving semi-automatics include the shootings at Parkland High School, Orlando's Pulse night club and Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Semi-automatics, which include some assault weapons, often are thought of as being more lethal. Since they can fire rapidly, chances of being hit in those circumstances are high, the study shows.

But in active shooter attacks, which tend to occur in confined spaces and with an intent to kill, the results suggest all types of guns can be equally deadly, said lead researcher Dr. Adil Haider, a trauma surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Overall, 44 percent of people hit in active shooter attacks involving semi-automatic weapons died, the same as those wounded in non-automatic weapon attacks, showing that "the death rate if you got hit by a bullet was the same," Haider said.

"Active shooters are hell-bent on killing people," he said. "The big difference — and this is not such a big surprise — is if you give them a semi-automatic, they're able to shoot twice the number of people."

The average number of people wounded in semi-automatic attacks totaled nearly six, versus about three in attacks with a non-automatic weapon. Roughly four people were killed on average in semi-automatic attacks, compared with about two in other attacks, the study found.

The results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Haider said the study highlights a need to better track details on types of weapons used in active shooter attacks; FBI figures do not detail whether weapons used were semi-automatic so the researchers got that information from court and police documents and news media reports.

Semi-automatic rifles cause more deaths and injuries, but "firearms in general, regardless of the type, are extraordinarily lethal weapons," said Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, who was not involved in the research.

A longtime gun owner and sports shooting enthusiast, Crifasi said her understanding of gun culture brings a different perspective to gun research and safety. "The main thing is that there are gun owners like me ... who support common sense solutions to reducing gun violence," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Gave No Reason for 1/3 of Opioid Prescriptions: Study]]>Tue, 11 Sep 2018 10:20:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1251.jpg

New research shows that about one-third of doctors who prescribed opioids in the buildup to the opioid overdose epidemic gave no reason for doing so, according to NBC News.

In 29 percent of cases between 2006 and 2015, doctors's opioid prescriptions had no explanation for why they were written, a team from Harvard Medical School and the Rand Corp. reported Monday.

"Whatever the reasons, lack of robust documentation undermines our efforts to understand physician prescribing patterns and curtails our ability to stem overprescribing," said Dr. Tisamarie Sherry, who worked on the study, in a statement.

Federal agencies have said that inappropriate prescribing practices contributed to the crisis that saw 42,000 people die in 2016 alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been encouraging doctors to prescribe opioids only when necessary.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Lacks Votes — and Appetite — to End 'Obamacare']]>Tue, 11 Sep 2018 02:37:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/jkAP_18253844547904.jpg

Arizona's new senator says he'd vote to repeal the nation's health care law. That's one additional Republican ready to obliterate the statute because his predecessor, the late Sen. John McCain, helped derail the party's drive with his fabled thumbs-down vote last year.

It could well be too little, too late.

After years of trying to demolish former President Barack Obama's prized law, GOP leaders still lack the votes to succeed. Along with the law's growing popularity and easing premium increases, that's left top Republicans showing no appetite to quickly refight the repeal battle.

"I'm not going to be asking for another vote on that this year," No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said last week when asked if he favored reopening the issue in a postelection lame duck session. No. 3 House leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said, "We need to win this election and then get more seats next year." Each is their party's chief vote counter.

That means any serious push to annul the statute would almost certainly hinge on Republicans retaining House control and adding Senate seats in November's elections, neither of which is assured. If either goal eludes them on Election Day, President Donald Trump's ability to deliver on one of his top campaign promises would have to wait for a second term, if he gets one.

Republicans seemed to gain ground last week when Sen. Jon Kyl replaced McCain, who died in August from brain cancer. Kyl said in a brief interview that he would have backed the measure that McCain opposed, a pivotal vote that would have sustained the repeal drive.

"It seems to me that would have been a useful thing to do," Kyl said.

That bill failed 51-49. A "yes" from McCain would have meant a 50-50 tie that Vice President Mike Pence could have broken by casting his own vote.

Yet the two other GOP senators who also voted no, Maine's Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, haven't relented. With Republicans controlling the Senate 51-49, the GOP remains short of the 50 votes they'd need.

"I would still oppose outright repeal," Collins said in a short interview last week. In a written statement, aides said Murkowski "is not interested in another rushed, partisan process in the absence of a quality, comprehensive replacement" for the law.

Republicans have one fewer seat this year because Alabama Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in a December special election. Moore had defeated incumbent GOP Sen. Luther Strange in a party primary.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has ruled out revisiting the health care fight before November's midterm elections, citing the crush of spending and other bills facing Congress. He's displayed little desire to revisit the issue, which many Democrats are using in their election campaigns because Obama's law is widely accepted, especially provisions like requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Returning to the health care fight is a decision "I don't have to reach anytime soon and don't have time to facilitate, even if I was so inclined," McConnell told reporters last week. He has said he doesn't want to resume the fight unless he can win, and his House counterpart is also showing his focus is elsewhere.

"I haven't even thought about it," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

A lame-duck session would last barely over a month and likely be absorbed with lingering budget disputes and picking the new Congress' leaders.

That would leave scant time for health care work, such as resolving intractable disputes about what a replacement bill would look like.

Then they'd need an official cost estimate of any bill from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which could take weeks. They'd also have to take procedural steps to protect their bill from a Senate Democratic filibuster, which would otherwise essentially kill the measure by requiring Republicans to garner 60 votes to succeed.

"There's still a process that we have to go through, and people have to be aware of it," said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who opposes the health care program. "You don't just drop it from heaven like manna."

Explaining the diminished urgency, Cornyn cited Congress' repeal last December of the tax penalty on people who don't buy individual insurance. That requirement, aimed at prodding healthier people to buy coverage and stabilize health markets, was one of the law's least popular provisions.

Cornyn also mentioned Trump administration rules making it easier for people to buy short-term health care policies or association plans offered by groups of small businesses or self-employed people. Such packages could offer lower premiums but cover fewer benefits, and Democrats criticize them as undermining the consumer protections Obama's law was designed to enshrine.

Also easing pressure on Republicans to act are indications that insurance premiums, a major vexation for voters, are growing more slowly.

An analysis by the consulting firm Avalere Health and The Associated Press last week found a 3.3 percent average increase in proposed or approved premiums across 47 states and Washington, D.C., for 2019. The average increase nationally this year was about 30 percent.

Meanwhile, the House plans to vote this week on a bill easing requirements the law imposed on employers. The measure would make it easier for companies to provide health insurance for fewer workers, refund tax penalties firms paid for not covering employees and postpone a levy on expensive policies companies provide workers.

Further underscoring the effort's lack of traction, that measure seems certain never to emerge from Congress.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Cliff Owen/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Nutritionist-Approved Frozen Meals]]>Mon, 10 Sep 2018 13:49:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/stirfryGettyImages-112856093.jpg

If you're picking up a frozen meal from the grocery store, there are a few things you want to look for before stocking up, according to NBC News.

A meal that has less than 500 calories and no more than 600 milligrams of sodium is your best option. It should also have at least 10 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. This will ensure you stay full longer and won't be looking to snack a few hours later. 

Read the ingredients list. The first ingredient should be a whole food, for example, a protein like chicken, a fruit or vegetable or a whole grain. Avoid trans fats.

Here are seven nutritionist-picked meals to consider:


  • Sweet Earth Curry Tiger Bowl
  • Luvo Chicken Harissa Chickpeas
  • Evol Vegetable Enchiladas
  • Amy's Kitchen Brown Rice & Vegetables Bowl
  • Caulipower Margherita Pizza
  • Trader Joe's Wild Salmon
  • Gardein Asian Style Chick'n Fried Rice

Photo Credit: Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Explore Lifting Barriers to Living Organ Donation]]>Mon, 10 Sep 2018 07:53:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18250590512164-Living-Organ-Donors.jpg

Surgeons turned down Terra Goudge for the liver transplant that was her only shot at surviving a rare cancer. Her tumor was too advanced, they said — even though Goudge had a friend ready to donate, no matter those odds.

"I have a living donor — I'm not taking away from anyone. I'm trying to save my own life," she pleaded. Finally, the Los Angeles woman found a hospital on the other side of the country that let the pair try.

People lucky enough to receive a kidney or part of a liver from a living donor not only cut years off their wait for a transplant, but those organs also tend to survive longer. Yet living donors make up a fraction of transplants, and their numbers have plateaued amid barriers that can block otherwise willing people from giving. Among them: varying hospital policies on who qualifies and the surprising financial costs that some donors bear.

Now researchers are exploring ways to lift those barriers and ease the nation's organ shortage.

"We just want people to be given the chance to at least entertain this as a possibility," said Dr. Abhinav Humar, transplant chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where Goudge ultimately received part of friend Amy Aleck's liver.

Thousands of people die each year waiting for an organ transplant. Nearly 14,000 are on the waiting list for a liver transplant. Of 8,082 transplants last year, just 367 were from living donors, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which oversees the nation's transplant system. Living kidney donations are more common but still not enough to meet the need. About 95,000 people are on the kidney waiting list. Of 19,849 transplants last year, 5,811 were from living donors.

Also troubling, black and Hispanic patients are less likely than whites to receive a kidney from a living donor, and a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year found the disparity is growing.

One hurdle is economic. The transplant recipient's insurance pays the donor's medical bills. But donors are out of work for weeks recuperating. The U.S. Labor Department last month made clear that a donor's job can be protected under the Family Medical Leave Act. But that's unpaid leave — and donors lose income if their employer doesn't allow some form of paid time off. They also may have other expenses such as travel and hotel bills for visits to a far-away transplant center.

One study found more than a third of living kidney donors reported lost wages in the first year following donation. The median amount was $2,712, particularly difficult if asking economically disadvantaged friends or family for an organ.

"It's a strange thing to tell you that donors have to pay for the privilege of donating their kidneys. I think most of us would agree that's just fundamentally wrong," said Dr. Paige Porrett, a surgeon with the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn is one of half a dozen transplant centers testing whether reimbursing a donor's lost income could shorten the wait for a kidney.

"The community's in a real bind about how we can help them," Porrett said. "It's a fine line that it doesn't get misconstrued that we're paying people for their organs."

Another challenge: Living donation too often is considered as a last resort rather than a first choice, said Pittsburgh's Humar — especially for liver transplants. His hospital is trying to change that and last year performed more adult liver transplants from living donors than deceased ones, a milestone.

The liver is unique, able to regenerate a few months after donors give a piece. But it is a larger and riskier operation than donating a kidney.

And that sparks an ethical debate: Many people with failing livers aren't allowed onto the national waiting list for organs from deceased donors. That's because the scarce supply is rationed, given only to those with the best survival chances. But what if patients who don't qualify find a living donor? Should the donor be allowed to undergo a risky surgery if the recipient's predicted survival isn't quite as good?

Goudge, the California patient, had been fighting a rare condition called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma since 2001. A variety of treatments kept her cancer in check for years but eventually it overwhelmed her liver. While Goudge's condition isn't as aggressive as typical liver cancer, it was more advanced than transplant waiting list rules allow — and the first surgeons she consulted said living donation wasn't an option either.

Then she stumbled onto Pitt's program. Humar says living donation could allow transplants for many patients who otherwise would never get one — either because too many people are ahead of them on the waiting list or because they weren't listed. After extensive evaluation of both patient and would-be donor, Humar decided Goudge had a good enough shot at prolonged survival to justify the risk to her friend. In April, his team replaced Goudge's liver with a healthy piece of Aleck's. Both recovered well.

"She is truly a walking miracle for me," Goudge said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Family Photo via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Calif. Mom Shares Warning After Finding Glass Shards in Kid's Burrito]]>Tue, 11 Sep 2018 11:54:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Santee_Mom_Claims_Glass_Found_in_Burrito.jpg

A Santee, California, mother is warning people about a potential hazard after finding glass shards in her daughter's frozen burrito.

Tracey Brintle's daughter, Kayla, was eating a Tina's Beef and Bean Burrito that she bought from a local 99ȼ Only Stores about two weeks ago when she suddenly heard a crunching noise.

"It's a beef and bean burrito so you shouldn't be hearing anything," Brintle said. "And I saw what's left on her plate and I saw that there was glass."

Brintle immediately rushed her daughter to the emergency room, but her daughter was OK. Brintle reached out to both 99ȼ Only Stores in Santee, where she bought the burritos, as well as the maker of the burritos.

A representative from Tina's Burritos had told Brintle the company would send her a box to ship the burrito back to the company so it could test the food. The company has not sent the box since that conversation, though the company did call her again Friday to say a box was on its way.

Brintle said she wants to warn parents about the potential hazard because she doesn't want what happened to her daughter to happen to another child. She said she doesn't want to wait for the company to complete its testing before deciding to pull the batch from shelves.

"I'm sure that batch is still available in stores because I only bought it in the middle of August," Brintle said. "And it needs to be pulled off the shelves."

A spokesperson for Tina's said Brintle's incident was their only known complaint. 

"The matter has been escalated to the highest levels of our company. We are currently engaged in the process of a full and detailed investigation which we conduct in the case of receiving feedback of this nature," Customer Service Manager Lee Ann Vasquez said. 

The company's testing process includes both the burrito in question, once retrieved from the consumer, and other burritos in the same production run, Vasquez said. So far, their testing has not found any other problems. 

In addition to 99ȼ Only Stores, Tina's Burritos is also available at other grocery store chains, such as Smart & Finals, Food 4 Less and Vons.

The 99ȼ Only Stores in Santee said it's started the recall process but the company. Tina's has not recalled any burritos. 

<![CDATA[Convenience Shops Go Healthy as Millennials Choose Wellness]]>Sun, 09 Sep 2018 10:36:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18226715867958.jpg

In convenience stores spawned by the wellness wave, kombucha slushies take the place of corn-syrupy treats infused with red dye, tortilla chips are made of cassava flour instead of corn and there are vegan ice cream bars and a dizzying selection of organic produce and craft beer on tap.

Traditional corner markets have been notching up their healthier options in recent years, selling pre-made salads, nut milks and organic yogurts.

But a new crop of niche stores aimed at millennials who can afford to pay more have completely overhauled the shelves, making gluten-free and organic products their staples, not just the side dish, along with compostable straws and on-demand delivery. These shoppers also like to see their stores support what they consider worthy causes.

"We think of our stores as a human recharging station as opposed to the traditional convenience store, which tears down your health," said Lisa Sedlar, who's about to open her fourth Green Zebra Grocery in Portland, Oregon.

The store sells so much kombucha that it recently launched its own line of kombucha slushies with flavors including pineapple ginger and marionberry mint. It also offers itself as a pickup spot for customers who have pre-ordered weekly boxes of fresh produce from local farms.

There's even a store on Portland State University campus to satisfy late-night dorm cravings. That store attracts about 1,500 visits a day with coconut sugar and gluten-free flour in bulk bins, and other health-oriented goods.

Analysts say millennials, who are willing to pay a premium for higher-quality ingredients and want to support companies in line with their values, are a driving force behind the trend for stores that are popping up around the country from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

A 2018 report from EuroMonitor says convenience stores are changing their image to appeal to a more health-conscious generation, stocking up on gluten-free, grass-fed and organic products.

While "portability and grab-and-go convenience remain critical, millennial dietary habits stand to revolutionize a channel that has been anything but health-conscious in the past," the report says.

At least 200 stores fall into this category in the United States, said Jeff Lenard, a vice president with Advancing Convenience & Fuel Retailing. And while that's still a small segment of the 154,000 convenience stores in the U.S., he said it's likely to grow.

Everything at The Goods Mart in Silver Lake, California, is free of artificial flavors and dyes, nitrates and genetically modified ingredients. Customers choose from healthy snacks, $4 breakfast burritos and ugly fruit provided through a partnership with a local farmer, including avocados that cost only 50 cents.

There are no single-serve plastic bottles or plastic straws. Instead the coffee and slushies come in recycled paper cups with compostable paper straws, although many customers buy metal or glass straws at the cash register.

Customers can also donate up to 5 percent of their bill to charity, including a local homeless mission, says founder Rachel Krupa.

Experts predict those layered missions will give green convenience stores staying power.

"I don't believe it's a passing fad," said David Portalatin, food industry adviser for trend group NPD. "People bring the same demand for convenience but with a whole new set of food values to go along with it."

Choice Market in Denver even created its own delivery app for consumers who want their gourmet sandwich, organic produce and craft beer on demand. About 30 percent of the store's sales are delivery.

"It's such a big piece of our target market and how they shop," said CEO Mike Fogarty, who donates leftovers to a local food bank.

The response has been so strong that construction has started on two additional stores, including one in partnership with the Denver Housing Authority to service low-income neighborhoods lacking nearby grocery stores with healthier foods and fresh produce and to hire at-risk youth.

The checkout counter at Mendez Fuel in Miami is filled with the expected cigarettes, lottery tickets and mini bottles of whiskey, but there's also a large selection of high-end dark chocolate. Behind the cafe counter sits a massive prep bowl of leafy greens next to a woman pouring filling into handmade vegan empanadas.

A large line has formed waiting for orders off a menu that includes smoothies with algae, bee pollen, matcha and other superfoods. They also serve house-made, organic, cold-pressed juices and have a vast selection of craft beer.

Jay Mayorga, a 25-year-old barber who works nearby and follows a paleo diet, stops in about four times a week for a green smoothie or acai bowl and he usually grabs some jerky or a protein bar.

"Paleo is hard to find so I like that," he said.

The store has a large selection of vegan, paleo, keto and other healthy snacks including specialty nut butters, non-dairy cheeze puffs and grain-free tortilla chips.

Mendez Fuel owner Michael Mendez made an effort to stock the shelves with hard-to-find specialty diet items, including a $15 jar of dairy-free yogurt with 400 billion live probiotic cultures, $19 jars of high-end nut butters and $4 collagen protein bars.

"We're becoming a destination," Mendez said. "People are going out of their way to come to us because we have products that they can't find anywhere else."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky]]>
<![CDATA[Modest Premium Hikes as 'Obamacare' Stabilizes, Data Show]]>Fri, 07 Sep 2018 11:39:56 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Healthcare.gov-website.jpg

Millions of people covered under the Affordable Care Act will see only modest premium increases next year, and some will get price cuts. That's the conclusion from an exclusive analysis of the besieged but resilient program, which still sparks deep divisions heading into this year's midterm elections.

The Associated Press and the consulting firm Avalere Health crunched available state data and found that "Obamacare's" health insurance marketplaces seem to be stabilizing after two years of sharp premium hikes. And the exodus of insurers from the program has halted, even reversed somewhat, with more consumer choices for 2019.

The analysis found a 3.6 percent average increase in proposed or approved premiums across 47 states and Washington, D.C., for next year. This year the average increase nationally was about 30 percent. The average total premium for an individual covered under the health law is now close to $600 a month before subsidies.

For next year, premiums are expected either to drop or increase by less than 10 percent in 41 states with about 9 million customers. Eleven of those states are expected to see a drop in average premiums. In six other states, plus Washington, D.C., premiums are projected to rise between 10 percent and 18 percent.

Insurers also are starting to come back. Nineteen states will either see new insurers enter or current ones expand into more areas. There are no bare counties lacking a willing insurer.

Even so, Chris Sloan, an Avalere director, says, "This is still a market that's unaffordable for many people who aren't eligible for subsidies."

Nearly 9 in 10 ACA customers get government subsidies based on income, shielding most from premium increases. But people with higher incomes, who don't qualify for financial aid, have dropped out in droves.

It's too early to say if the ACA's turnabout will be fleeting or a more permanent shift. Either way, next year's numbers are at odds with the political rhetoric around the ACA, still heated even after President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans failed to repeal the law last year.

Trump regularly calls "Obamacare" a "disaster" and time again has declared it "dead." The GOP tax-cut bill repealed the ACA requirement that Americans have health insurance or risk fines, effective next year. But other key elements remain, including subsidies and protection for people with pre-existing conditions. Democrats, meanwhile, accuse Trump of "sabotage," driving up premiums and threatening coverage.

The moderating market trend "takes the issue away from Republican candidates" in the midterm elections, said Mark Hall, a health law and policy expert at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. "Part of the mess is now their fault, and the facts really don't support the narrative that things are getting worse."

Market stability also appears to undercut Democrats' charge that Trump is undermining the program. But Democrats disagree, saying the ACA is in danger while Republicans control Washington, and that premiums would have been even lower but for the administration's hostility.

"Voters won't think that the Trump threat to the ACA has passed at all, unless Democrats get at least the House in 2018," said Bill Carrick, a strategist for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., whose re-election ads emphasize her support for the health law.

As if seconding Democrats' argument, the Trump administration has said it won't defend the ACA's protections for pre-existing conditions in a federal case in Texas that could go to the Supreme Court. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Americans regardless of partisan identification said those protections should remain the law of the land.

In solidly Republican Arkansas, Democratic state legislator and cancer survivor Clarke Tucker is using the ACA in his campaign to try to flip a U.S. House seat from red to blue. Tucker, 37, says part of what made him want to run is the House vote to repeal the ACA last year and images of Trump and GOP lawmakers celebrating at the White House.

Business analysts say the relatively good news for 2019 is partly the result of previous premium increases, which allowed insurers to return to profitability after losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

"They can price better, and they can manage this population better, which is why they can actually make some money," said Deep Banerjee of Standard & Poor's.

Repeal of the ACA's requirement to carry insurance doesn't seem to have had a major impact yet, but Banerjee said there's "a cloud of uncertainty" around the Trump administration's potential policy shifts. Yet some administration actions have also helped settle the markets, such as continuing a premium stabilization program.

April Box of Spokane Valley, Washington, lives in a state where premiums could rise substantially since insurers have proposed an 18 percent increase. In states expecting double-digit increases, the reasons reflect local market conditions. Proposed increases may ultimately get revised downward.

Box is self-employed as a personal advocate helping patients navigate the health care system. She has an ACA plan, but even with a subsidy her premiums are expensive and a high deductible means she's essentially covered only for catastrophic illness.

"I'm choosing not to go to the doctor, and I'm saying to myself I'm not sick enough to go to the doctors," Box said. "We need to figure out how to make it better and lower the price."

Now in her 50s, Box was born with dislocated hips. She worries she could be uninsurable if insurers are allowed to go back to denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. She might need another hip surgery.

"It needs to be a level playing field for everybody," said Box. "We need to have universal coverage — that is really the only answer."

Tennessee is a prime example of the ACA's flipped fortunes.

Last year, the state struggled to secure at least one insurer in every county. But approved rates for 2019 reflect an 11 percent average decrease. Two new insurers — Bright Health and Celtic— have entered its marketplace, and two others —Cigna and Oscar— will expand into new counties.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander called that a "welcome step," but argued rates could have been even lower if congressional Democrats had supported a market stabilization bill. Democrats blame Republicans for the failure.

To calculate premium changes, Avalere and The Associated Press used proposed overall individual marketplace rate filings for 34 states and D.C., and final rates for 13 states that have already approved them. Data was not available for Massachusetts, Maryland and Alabama. The average rate change calculations include both on-exchange and off-exchange plans that comply with ACA requirements. The government isn't expected to release final national figures until later this fall.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Healthcare.gov]]>
<![CDATA[Hospital Groups Launch Own Company to Make Generic Drugs]]>Thu, 06 Sep 2018 06:17:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/civicaGettyImages-730138169.jpg

Several major hospital groups Thursday launched their own generic drug company to tackle chronic shortages and high prices.

The new company, Civica Rx, plans to start with 14 widely used hospital drugs long in short supply. The company isn't disclosing the drugs' names for competitive reasons, but they include a mix of generic pills, patches and injectable drugs for treating infections, pain and heart conditions, board chairman Dan Liljenquist said.

"The mission of Civica is to make sure these drugs remain in the public domain, that they're available and affordable to everyone," he said.

Drug shortages have been widespread for more than a decade, particularly for inexpensive generic drugs, due to manufacturers consolidating, stopping production of low-profit medicines and having to fix manufacturing problems.

Hospitals are particularly hard hit and frequently must scramble to find scarce medicines, often at huge price markups, or come up with workarounds that may not be as effective or safe for patients.

Besides creating a reliable supply for its 500 hospitals, Civica aims to reduce drug prices by about 20 percent. The drugs will be sold to nonmember hospitals as well, at slightly higher prices, Liljenquist said.

The company, based in the Salt Lake City area, plans to make some of the generics itself and hire companies to produce others, he said. It is aiming to get its first medicines on the market by mid- to late 2019.

Civica was founded and funded by three health foundations and seven hospital groups, among them Intermountain Healthcare, a 23-hospital system based in Salt Lake City where Liljenquist is chief strategy officer. Veterans Affairs and the American Hospital Association also are participating.

Chief executive of the not-for-profit company will be Martin VanTrieste, the retired head of manufacturing quality at biotech drugmaker Amgen.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tetra images RF, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Fact Check: Kavanaugh on the Affordable Care Act]]>Wed, 05 Sep 2018 21:10:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18247564205902-Kavanaugh-Hearing.jpg

Several Democratic senators have claimed that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s history shows he would be a danger on the court to the Affordable Care Act. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Aug. 28 on the Senate floor: “Judge Kavanaugh has written opinions skeptical of our health care law, reproductive rights, and even the contraception coverage requirement.”

The criticisms have focused on two dissents Kavanaugh wrote in cases challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate, and a third dissent in a case challenging the ACA’s contraception coverage accommodations for certain religious organizations. Also, Democrats have repeatedly stressed that a case in District Court in Texas could reach the Supreme Court and affect preexisting condition protections in the health care law. We’ll look at the facts.

What Democrats are saying: "There’s a Texas case where that’s being challenged right now, that’s moving up, it could likely go before the Supreme Court. Well knowing your record, it is right that these Americans, so many of them with preexisting conditions are asking whether the Supreme Court will be an institution that affirms and protects the rights of people with access to healthcare,” Sen. Cory Booker said during the first day of the confirmation hearings on Sept. 4. “We all know too many people who have set aside prescription drugs because they’re too high, because of what corporations are doing there. People who have put off going to see the doctor because a visit is too expensive, that is in the balance with this nomination.”

“Judge Kavanaugh, you wrote, for example, in Seven-Sky v. Holder that a president can disregard a law passed by Congress if he deems it to be unconstitutional, even if a court has upheld it,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in the Sept. 4 hearing.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a July 9 tweet: “Judge Kavanaugh’s own writings make clear that … he would welcome challenges to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.”

Also in a July 9 tweet, Sen. Elizabeth Warren described Kavanaugh as being “hostile to health care for millions.”

What Kavanaugh’s record shows: As an appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Kavanaugh issued dissents in two cases that challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty on their tax returns. (The Republican tax law signed in December 2017 eliminated the tax penalty, effective for the 2019 tax year.)

Seven-Sky v. Holder, 2011. The appeals court rejected this challenge to the ACA’s individual mandate. Kavanaugh dissented, but his objection concerned the jurisdiction of the court, not the constitutionality of the health care law.

Kavanaugh wrote that the court shouldn’t have heard the case because the Anti-Injunction Act said a tax must be assessed and collected before a suit against it could be decided. (The individual mandate didn’t go into effect until the 2014 tax year.)

He argued that what the law referred to as “penalties” were to be “assessed and collected in the same manner as taxes.” And he said he would “leave these momentous constitutional issues for another day – a day that may never come.”

Kavanaugh dissent, Seven-Sky v. Holder, 2011: Between now and 2015, Congress might keep the mandate as is and the President may enforce it as is. If that happens, the federal courts would resolve the resulting constitutional case by our best lights and would not shy away from a necessary constitutional decision. But history tells us to cross that bridge only if and when we need to. Unlike the majority opinion, I would adhere to the text of the Anti-Injunction Act and leave these momentous constitutional issues for another day – a day that may never come.

There are differing views on what Kavanaugh’s lengthy dissent may say about his stance on the ACA.

The Federalist, a conservative online publication, published opposing takes in early July.

One commentator called it a “roadmap to save Obamacare,” noting that Kavanaugh wrote that “this case could disappear by 2015 because, by then, Congress may fix the alleged constitutional shortcoming and ensure that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate provision fits comfortably within Congress’ Taxing Clause power.” In fact, the Supreme Court in 2012 in NFIB v. Sebelius upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate under the taxing clause.

But on July 3, The Federalist published a second analysis that said the “roadmap” claim was “nonsense.” Justin Walker, a former law clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy and Kavanaugh, and an assistant professor at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, wrote in that piece that Kavanaugh’s dissent was actually a “roadmap” for the Supreme Court dissenters in the NFIB v. Sebelius case.

Another former clerk for Kavanaugh, Sarah E. Pitlyk, wrote in the National Review that Kavanaugh said in his dissent that the taxing clause “has not traditionally authorized a legal prohibition or mandate.” And while “he ultimately determined that a challenge to Obamacare had to be brought later,” she said, “he left no doubt about where he stood.”

But Timothy S. Jost, an emeritus professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law and an expert on health care, wrote in a July 16 analysis of Kavanaugh’s record for the Commonwealth Fund that the Supreme Court nominee didn’t show “strong opposition” to the health care law in this case, or the one we’ll examine next.

“After a long discussion of the Tax Anti-Injunction Act in Seven-Sky, Kavanaugh concluded his opinion by musing about the possible invalidity of the mandate under Congress’s commerce power,” Jost wrote. “On the one hand, he entertained arguments that the mandate encroached on state authority and individual rights, but on the other, he suggested that it was a novel approach to providing safety-net services through the private sector. Seeing both sides of the argument, he concluded that the court should avoid a constitutional ruling until the case was properly before it.”

Klobuchar, and other Democrats, have highlighted one line in particular from Kavanaugh’s dissent, where he says: “Or the President might not enforce the individual mandate provision if the President concludes that enforcing it would be unconstitutional.” In a footnote, Kavanaugh says: “Under the Constitution, the President may decline to enforce a statute that regulates private individuals when the President deems the statute unconstitutional, even if a court has held or would hold the statute constitutional.”

Klobuchar framed this as an executive power issue, not explicitly a health care issue.

Jost told us in a phone interview that it’s “not unprecedented” for a president to take the position that a law is unconstitutional, but it is “very controversial” to hold that a president can refuse to enforce a statute after a court has upheld its constitutionality.

Our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact.com spoke with several legal experts about this issue, finding: “Experts generally agree that a president is not bound by a lower court’s decision when deciding a law is unconstitutional but diverge on whether the Supreme Court has the final say.”

Abbe R. Gluck, a professor of law and the faculty director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School, told us in an email: “[T]hat is indeed a very controversial position to take, one that embraces what I would say is a dangerously broad view of presidential power, especially in the case where a court has upheld the law in question.” But Kavanaugh’s statement doesn’t reveal much about his views on the ACA, she said, noting that “the footnote was dropped in the very same case in which Judge Kavanaugh actually rejected an early major constitutional challenge to the ACA.”

Sissel v. HHS, 2015. Schumer’s July tweet included a graphic that cited this case, saying: “Judge Kavanaugh argued that the D.C. Circuit Court should consider a claim that the ACA was unconstitutional. His fellow judges described it as a ‘flawed’ ‘misread’ of SCOTUS precedent.”

In Sissel v. HHS, an Iowa artist named Matt Sissel argued that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional because it violated the origination clause of Article 1, which says that legislation that raises revenue must originate in the House of Representatives. The three-judge panel for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against Sissel, and he requested the court reconsider the case en banc, meaning the full court would hear the case.

The appeals court again rejected the claim, saying, “The purpose of the ACA was to overhaul the national healthcare system, not to raise revenue.”

Kavanaugh dissented, joined by three other judges. He said the ACA was indeed “a revenue-raising bill subject to the Origination Clause.” But, he said, the ACA complied with the clause. “Although the original House bill was amended and its language replaced in the Senate, such Senate amendments are permissible under the Clause’s text and precedent,” Kavanaugh wrote.

He said he would grant the en banc hearing — so, Schumer is technically correct that Kavanaugh “argued that the D.C. Circuit Court should consider a claim that the ACA was unconstitutional.” But that ignores the fact that Kavanaugh went on to argue that the court should “rule for the Government on the ground that the Affordable Care Act originated in the House and thereby complied with the Origination Clause.”

The court’s opinion also did say that Kavanaugh’s reading of Supreme Court precedent was “flawed” — but Kavanaugh, along with his fellow dissenters, described the panel opinion as “flawed” as well. The disagreement was over whether the origination clause applied in the case, not whether the ACA was constitutional.

Kavanaugh argued that not ruling on the case would raise constitutional questions about the origination clause and the balance of power between the House and the Senate.

The Harvard Law Review wrote of the case: “Sissel sends a very strong message regarding the constitutionality of the ACA under the Origination Clause. Even the four dissenting judges reached the conclusion that the ACA is constitutional, likely indicating unanimity across the D.C. Circuit.”

The Texas case and preexisting conditions. As we wrote this summer, in their opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination, Democrats have highlighted a case filed in District Court in Texas, and the Trump administration’s decision to not defend the federal government in that case.

The Texas suit, filed by that state and 19 others, points to the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision that the ACA’s individual mandate to have health insurance was lawful under Congress’ power to tax. Since Congress has now eliminated the tax penalty associated with the individual mandate (starting in tax year 2019), the suit argues, the mandate itself is unconstitutional. Without the mandate, the suit says, “the remainder of the ACA must also fall.”

The Department of Justice has sided with the plaintiffs, but disagrees that the entire health care law must be eliminated. Instead, the DOJ said a finding that the mandate were unconstitutional would mean ACA preexisting condition provisions — provisions guaranteeing that those with medical conditions won’t be denied coverage or charged more based on health status — would have to be eliminated as well.

The case has a long way to go before the Supreme Court would have any potential impact. It would need to make its way through the District Court in Texas, which began hearing oral arguments on Sept. 5, then through an appeals court and then to the Supreme Court.

What Democrats are saying: “And he would not uphold the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate,” Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed this summer.

What Kavanaugh’s record shows: Kavanaugh sided with religious organizations in a case challenging the ACA’s requirement that insurance policies include coverage of birth control. There’s some nuance, though, to this dissent as well.

Priests for Life v. HHS, 2015. The plaintiff — a Catholic anti-abortion rights group — challenged the Obama administration’s accommodation to the ACA’s contraception mandate for religious employers. That accommodation, which pertained to nonprofits with religious affiliations and closely-held for-profit companies, said that women working for those groups could get contraception coverage paid for by the insurers, instead of their employers, if the employers notified the insurance companies or the Department of Health and Human Services of their religious objections.

The appeals court rejected the plaintiffs’ request for a rehearing en banc. Kavanaugh dissented, saying he would “rule for the plaintiff religious organizations.” But he also said that the Supreme Court ruling in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case “strongly suggests that the Government has a compelling interest in facilitating access to contraception for the employees of these religious organizations.” However, Kavanaugh said, the accommodation for the religious groups “is not the Government’s least restrictive means of furthering its interest.”

Jost, writing for the Commonwealth Fund, said that Kavanaugh acknowledged this “compelling interest” and “argued only that the government could have fulfilled that interest through an approach less restrictive of the rights of religious organizations.”

In addition to these cases, Jost includes one on abortion and another on Medicare coverage in his full analysis, finding that “[i]n none of these cases did Kavanaugh stake out a strong ideological position, for example, opposing abortion or the ACA. … This is not to say, however, that as a Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh might not effectuate major changes in law affecting controversial health policy issues.”

Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Major Opioid Maker to Pay for Overdose-Antidote Development]]>Wed, 05 Sep 2018 15:26:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1251.jpg

A company whose prescription opioid marketing practices are being blamed for sparking the addiction and overdose crisis says it's helping to fund an effort to make a lower-cost overdose antidote.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma announced Wednesday that it's making a $3.4 million grant to Harm Reduction Therapeutics, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, to help develop a low-cost naloxone nasal spray.

The announcement comes as lawsuits from local governments blaming Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, and other companies in the drug industry for using deceptive marketing practices to encourage heavy prescribing of the powerful and addictive painkillers. Last week, the number of lawsuits against the industry being overseen by a federal judge topped 1,000.

The Cleveland-based judge, Dan Polster, is pushing the industry to settle with the plaintiffs — mostly local governments and Native American tribes — and with state governments, most of which have sued in state court or are conducting a joint investigation. Hundreds of other local governments are also suing in state courts across the country.

The sides have had regular settlement discussions, but it's not clear when a deal might be struck in the case, which is complicated by the number of parties and questions on how to assign blame.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that drug overdoses killed a record 72,000 Americans last year, about 10 percent more than in 2016. The majority of the deaths involved opioids. But a growing number of them are from illicit synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, rather than prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin.

Governments are asking for changes in how opioids are marketed, and for help paying for treatment and the costs of ambulance runs, child welfare systems, jails and other expenses associated with the opioid crisis.

Polster is expected to rule in coming weeks on motions from drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies to dismiss the claims. Trials in some of the cases — being used to test issues common to many of them — are now scheduled to begin in September 2019.

Purdue agreed to pay $634 million in fines back in 2007 to settle charges that the company downplayed the risk of addiction and abuse of its blockbuster painkiller OxyContin starting in the 1990s.

It's facing similar accusations again.

Earlier this year, the privately held company stopped marketing OxyContin to doctors.

The naloxone grant is a way the company can show it's trying to help stem the damage done by opioids. "This grant is one example of the meaningful steps Purdue is taking to help address opioid abuse in our communities," Purdue President and CEO Craig Landau said in a statement.

Paul Hanly, one of the lead lawyers for plaintiffs in the lawsuits, said having more access to an overdose antidote would be good, but he questioned Purdue's motives.

"I think it's just a strategic move on their part to curry favor with the judge, and the public," he said.

Naloxone is seen as one major piece in overdose prevention strategies. Over the past several years, most states have eased access to the antidote for laypeople. First responders, drug users and others have taken to carrying naloxone to reverse overdoses. But the price of the drug has been a problem for state and local governments.

Pittsburgh-based Harm Reduction Therapeutics says it is trying to get its version to the market within two years.

"Combatting the ongoing crisis of opioid addiction will require innovative approaches to both prevention and medication-assisted treatment," Harm Reduction co-founder and CEO Michael Hufford said in a statement, "but it all starts with making sure lives are not lost from overdose."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF]]>
<![CDATA[Pediatricians Recommend Flu Shot Versus Nasal Spray]]>Tue, 04 Sep 2018 19:11:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fluvaccineGettyImages-92811553.jpg

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends flu shots for children of all ages, citing higher effectiveness of the shot versus nasal spray. But for children who refuse needles, FluMist nasal spray is available. 

Additionally, some evidence suggests Flucelvax and FluBlok, the only two egg-free vaccines on the market, may work better than the older vaccines grown in eggs. Dr. Richard Zimmerman, who advises the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Influenza Committee, said the major hospital group will only be buying egg-free formulations this year.

"The egg-free vaccines appear to have perhaps a 10 percent higher effectiveness over the traditional egg-based vaccines,” Zimmerman said in an interview with NBC News. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone over the age of six months get a flu vaccine but they "do not recommend one flu vaccine over another."

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[More Sick in Honey Smacks Salmonella Outbreak: CDC]]>Tue, 04 Sep 2018 17:36:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/honeysmacks.jpg

Another 30 people have been reported sick due to an outbreak of salmonella linked to Honey Smacks cereal, and federal health officials said Tuesday that some stores are still selling the recalled product, NBC News reported.

No one should be buying or selling any form of Honey Smacks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Consumers should check their homes and throw away any Honey Smacks cereal, the FDA reiterated.

“Since the last update on July 12, 2018, 30 more illnesses have been reported, bringing the total to 130 cases from 36 states,” the CDC said in a statement.

Thirty-four were sick enough to be hospitalized, although no deaths have been reported. Three more states have been added to the list of places where cases have been reported: Delaware, Maine and Minnesota.

In July the Food and Drug Administration said despite the wide-ranging recall, some boxes were still sitting on store shelves.

Kellogg's, who produces Honey Smacks, issued a voluntary recall in June for the cereal that was distributed across the U.S.

After the CDC found salmonella in Honey Smacks samples, customers were warned that they should avoid all Honey Smacks. The CDC tweeted, "Do not eat this cereal." The agency advised people to stop eating the cereal and throw it out, regardless of its package size or expiration date. It also advised retailers to stop selling and serving all Honey Smacks.

Salmonella is a common cause of food poisoning and it can live and grow even on dry foods such as breakfast cereal.

People usually get sick 12 hours to three days after they eat something contaminated. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.

Consumers seeking more information, including images of these products, can visit kelloggs.com/honeysmacksrecall or call 1-800-962-1413 from Monday – Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET as well as Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. ET.

To report adverse reactions or other problems with FDA-regulated products, contact the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for the state in which you reside. Please Note: There is not a Consumer Complaint Coordinator in each state. Please visit the FDA site for more information.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Trump's Pollution Rules Rollback to Hit Coal Country Hard]]>Mon, 03 Sep 2018 10:30:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18225531605518-coal-fired-power-plant.jpg

It's coal people like miner Steve Knotts, 62, who make West Virginia Trump Country.

So it was no surprise that President Donald Trump picked the state to announce his plan to roll back Obama-era pollution controls on coal-fired power plants.

Trump left one thing out of his remarks, though: northern West Virginia coal country will be ground zero for increased deaths and illnesses from the rollback on regulation of harmful emission from the nation's coal power plants.

An analysis done by his own Environmental Protection Agency concludes that the plan would lead to a greater number of people here dying prematurely, and suffering health problems that they otherwise would not have, than elsewhere in the country, when compared to health impacts of the Obama plan.

In Grant Town, Knotts, a coal miner for 35 years, isn't fazed when he hears that warning, a couple of days after Trump's West Virginia rally. He says the last thing people in coal country want is the government slapping down more controls on coal — and the air here in the remote West Virginia mountains seems fine to him.

"People here have had it with other people telling us what we need. We know what we need. We need a job," Knotts said at lunch hour at a Circle K in a tiny town between two coal mines, and 9 miles down the road from a coal power plant, the Grant Town plant.

The sky around Grant Town is bright blue. The mountains are a dazzling green. Paw Paw Creek gurgles past the town.

Clean-air controls since the 1980s largely turned off the columns of black soot that used to rise from coal smokestacks. The regulations slashed the national death rates from coal-fired power plants substantially.

These days pollutants rise from smoke stacks as gases, before solidifying into fine particles — still invisible — small enough to pass through lungs and into bloodstreams.

An EPA analysis says those pollutants would increase under Trump's plan, when compared to what would happen under the Obama plan. And that, it says, would lead to thousands more heart attacks, asthma problems and other illnesses that would not have occurred.

Nationally, the EPA says, 350 to 1,500 more people would die each year under Trump's plan. But it's northern two-thirds of West Virginia and the neighboring part of Pennsylvania that would be hit hardest, by far, according to Trump's EPA.

Trump's rollback would kill an extra 1.4 to 2.4 people a year for every 100,000 people in those hardest-hit areas, compared to under the Obama plan, according to the EPA analysis. For West Virginia's 1.8 million people, that would be equal to at least a couple dozen additional deaths a year.

Trump's acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist whose grandfather worked in the coal camps of West Virginia, headed to coal states this week and last to promote Trump's rollback. The federal government's retreat on regulating pollution from coal power plants was "good news," Wheeler told crowds there.

In Washington, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said Trump's plan still would result in "dramatic reductions" in emissions, deaths and illness compared to the status quo, instead of to the Obama plan. Obama's Clean Power Plan targeted climate-changing carbon dioxide, but since coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, the Obama plan would have curbed other harmful emissions from the coal-fired power plants as well.

About 160 miles to the south of Grant Town, near the state capital of Charleston, shop owner Doris Keller figures that if Trump thinks something's for the best, that's good enough for her.

"I just know this. I like Donald Trump and I think that he's doing the right thing," said Keller, who turned out to support Trump Aug. 21 when he promoted his rollback proposal. She lives five miles from the 2,900-megawatt John Amos coal-fired power plant.

"I think he has the best interests of the regular common people at the forefront," Keller says.

Trump's Affordable Clean Energy program would dismantle President Barack Obama's 2015 Clean Power Plan, which has been caught up in court battles without yet being implemented.

The Obama plan targeted climate-changing emissions from power plants, especially coal. It would have increased federal regulation of emissions from the nation's electrical grid and broadly promoted natural gas, solar power and other cleaner energy.

Trump's plan would cede much of the federal oversight of existing coal-fired power plants and drop official promotion of cleaner energy. Individual states largely would decide how much to regulate coal power plants in their borders. The plan is open for public review, ahead of any final White House decision.

"I'm getting rid of some of these ridiculous rules and regulations, which are killing our companies ... and our jobs," Trump said at the rally.

There was no mention of the "small increases" in harmful emissions that would result, compared to the Obama plan, or the health risks.

EPA charts put numbers on just how many more people would die each year because of those increased coal emissions.

Abboud and spokeswoman Ashley Bourke of the National Mining Association, which supports Trump's proposed regulatory rollback on coal emissions, said other federal programs already regulate harmful emissions from coal power plants. Bourke also argued that the health studies the EPA used in its death projections date as far back as the 1970s, when coal plants burned dirtier.

In response, Conrad Schneider of the environmental nonprofit Clean Air Task Force said the EPA's mortality estimates had taken into account existing regulation of plant emissions.

Additionally, health studies used by the EPA looked at specific levels of exposure to pollutants and their impact on human health, so remain constant over time, said Schneider, whose group analyzes the EPA projections.

With competition from natural gas and other cleaner energy helping to kill off more than a third of coal jobs over the last decade, political leaders in coal states are in no position to be the ones charged with enforcing public-health protections on surviving coal-fired power plants, said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

"Our state is beholden to coal. Our politicians are beholden to coal," Stockman said outside Trump's West Virginia rally, where she was protesting. "Meanwhile, our people are being poisoned."

And when it comes to coal power plants and harm, Schneider said, "when you're at Grant Town, you're at Ground Zero."

Retired coal miner Jim Haley, living 4 miles from the town's coal-fired power plant, has trouble telling from the smokestack when the plant is even operating.

"They've got steam coming out of the chimneys. That's all they have coming out of it," Haley said.

Parked near the Grant Town post office, where another resident was rolling down the quiet main street on a tractor, James Perkins listened to word of the EPA's health warnings. He cast a look into the rear-view mirror into the backseat of his pickup truck, at his 3-year-old grandson, sitting in the back.

"They need to make that safe," said Perkins, a health-care worker who had opted not to follow his father into the coal mines. "People got little kids."

AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed from Washington.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: J. David Ake/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Amid Opioid Crisis, Researchers Aim to Put Pot to the Test]]>Mon, 03 Sep 2018 04:45:51 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-99037655+%281%29+weed+edited.jpg

Despite anecdotal and historical accounts of pot’s painkilling properties, scientific evidence that it works better than traditional painkillers is hard to come by. But Dr. Jeffrey Chen, director of UCLA's Cannabis Research Initiative, wants to change that, NBC News reported

The United States classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with no medical use, like heroin and cocaine. And as a 2015 article in the journal Current Pain and Headache Reports points out, high-quality clinical studies of pot’s effectiveness are limited. 

"The public consumption of cannabis has already far outpaced our scientific understanding," Chen said. “We really desperately need to catch up.”

Now, with one of the first academic programs in the world dedicated to the study of cannabis, researchers hope to conduct a high-quality study using opioid patients. The study aims to find out which combination “produces the most good,” according to Edythe London, a distinguished professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the UCLA school of medicine who designed the study.

Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[1 in 10 Kids Diagnosed With ADHD: Study]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 18:35:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/anonymous-kid-toy-trucks.jpg

More than 10 percent of U.S. kids have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), up from 6 percent 20 years ago, researchers reported Friday.

It’s not clear why, but it’s startling, said Dr. Wei Bao of the University of Iowa, who helped lead the study.

“It is very common now – one in 10 kids,” Bao told NBC News.

The team used surveys covering more than 180,000 children aged 4 to 17 between 1997 and 2016. The surveys were in-person with a parent or guardian and asked whether the child had ever been diagnosed with ADHD.

“Over the 20-year period from 1997 to 2016, we found a significant increase in the prevalence of diagnosed ADHD from 1997-1998 to 2015-2016,” they wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Open Network.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Pediatricians Change Guidelines for Babies in Car Seats]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 17:39:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/carseatGettyImages-127238301.jpg

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for young children in car seats: They should remain rear-facing until they reach the maximum height and weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

The update is a departure from the previous recommendation that babies remain rear facing until the age of 2. Because the new guidelines are now based on the size of the child, some children will remain rear facing even after turning 2.

The AAP said all infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing car seats for "as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed" by the seat's manufacturer.

While there is new research on car safety for children, the guideline that has not changed is rear facing is safer. 

Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ominous FDA Update on Blood Pressure, Heart Drug Recalls]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 12:05:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/080618bloodpressire.jpg

The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the agency has launched a "major operation to investigate and address" the "troubling" finding of a cancer-causing agent that may be contaminating a growing number of medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

In a joint statement Thursday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), said they have developed a multidisciplinary task force to investigate trace amounts of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a "probable human carcinogen," detected in some generic versions of the medication valsartan.

The initial recall in July has now been expanded to include five manufacturers and other companies who repackage the affected valsartan products under a different name, and officials warned Thursday more products may need to be recalled. A third-party supplied the valsartan contained in the recall. The FDA recently updated the list of products affected and the list of those unaffected

"At the same time, the FDA is working to make certain that patients have access to the treatment that they need," the joint statement said. "Currently, more than half of all valsartan products on the market are being recalled. But prescribers can find a similar replacement product within the same class to substitute for patients who require this medication."

The FDA said it is working with companies to take "swift action" to pull any products found with unacceptable amounts of NDMA from the U.S. market. The agency also said manufacturers would not have been testing for NDMA in valsartan because there was no anticipation such levels would be evident. 

"Recognizing these risks is based on a deep understanding of the chemistry involved in drug manufacturing, and the theoretical risk that an impurity could be a by-product of an essential step used in the manufacture of an active ingredient," the statement said. "When these impurities are identified, there are ways to re-engineer manufacturing processes to find pathways that don’t create these by-products."

It continued: "As we develop a better understanding of the root cause of NDMA formation, and develop a way to detect NDMA in valsartan or other ARBs, we can ensure that appropriate testing is performed in the future."

The FDA also said that while millions of Americans take blood pressure medication, the risk of many of them developing cancer because of the NDMA exposure is fairly low. CDER toxicologists and chemists estimated that if 8,000 people took the highest valsartan dose from NDMA-affected medicines every day for four years, which is the period of time officials believe the affected products have been on the U.S. market, there may be one extra case of cancer beyond the regular average cancer rate of Americans. 

Patients are urged to look at the drug name and company name on the label of their prescription bottles to determine whether a specific product has been recalled. If the information is not on the bottle, patients should contact the pharmacy that dispensed the medicine to find out the company name.

If a patient is taking one of the recalled medicines, they should follow the recall instructions each specific company provided, which are available on the FDA’s website.

If a patient's medicine is included in the recall, he or she should contact his or her health care professional to discuss treatment options, which may include another valsartan product this recall doesn't affect or an alternative option.

The agency encourages patients and health care professionals to report any adverse reaction to the FDA’s MedWatch program.

In the meantime, the FDA said it will continue to improve its procedures for guarding against such impurity risks. 

"We will use the information that we learn from our investigation into valsartan to strengthen our oversight," the statement said. 

Read more about the agency's probe and NDMA here. 

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cheese and Yogurt Help Protect Against Dying, Study Finds]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 07:28:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/910571610-Yogurt-Cheese.jpg

Eating dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt, is linked with a lower mortality rate, according to a new study reviewed by NBC News.

Consuming any dairy was associated a 2 percent lower risk of death by any cause, while dairy diets of mostly cheese was associated with an 9 percent lower risk, according to the research presented Tuesday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology. Dairy consumption also slightly lowered the risk of death by stroke.

The researchers reviewed data from U.S. federal health and nutrition surveys conducted between 1999 and 2010.

"This was a study of an eating pattern — which is really what we need to be focusing on, eating patterns as opposed to individual foods or food groups," said University of Alabama at Birmingham nutrition science professor Beth Kitchin in an email. She was not affiliated with the study.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Johner RF]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Nurse Fired Over Post About Young Measles Patient]]>Thu, 30 Aug 2018 16:24:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles-vaccine.jpg

A Houston nurse who posted protected health information about a young patient with measles to a Facebook page related to the anti-vaccine movement is no longer employed at Texas Children’s Hospital, the facility said in a statement Thursday.

The nurse, who has not been identified, posted to the page that despite the fact that the young patient was “super sick,” was admitted to the ICU and "looked miserable," the nurse was still opposed to vaccines, NBC News reported.

The nurse was investigated and ultimately dismissed for privacy violations, but her anti-vaccine stance concerns others in the medical field.

Dr. David Persse, director of the Houston Health Department, was dismayed that a medical professional would be opposed to childhood vaccinations. "She is one of the few people who has seen firsthand how devastating these diseases can be, and she has still taken this position against vaccines," Persse said in an interview.

Measles has been eliminated in the United States through vaccination, but every year, cases are imported from other countries. People who are not vaccinated or who are incompletely vaccinated can become infected and carry the virus with them. It will spread if there are pockets of other unvaccinated people.

Photo Credit: Leo Correa/AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Hundreds of Nasal Products for Kids, Adults Recalled]]>Thu, 30 Aug 2018 11:09:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ucm616192.jpg

An over-the-counter health and beauty product manufacturer supplying medicines to retailers across the country has expanded its voluntary nasal product recall to include all nasal products and baby oral gels -- amounting to hundreds of items -- over concerns of microbial contamination that could pose life-threatening infection risk for vulnerable users.

Product Quest, which first announced a recall of some bottles of CVS Health's 12 Hour Sinus Relief Nasal Mist, said this week it was pulling all lots of nasal treatments and baby oral gels made in its Florida facility. The recall amounts to hundreds of nasal allergy and congestion treatments used by both children and adults.See the full 65-page list of recalled items here.  

Product Quest recalled the items as a precaution after finding Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a kind of bacteria, in some of its CVS products. Frequent use of the contaminated product could result in infections, which could be life-threatening for users with cystic fibrosis or people who are immuno-compromised, according to the FDA.

Product Quest said there is no known microbial contamination associated with the nasal products and gels added to the recall, but it was pulling them out "an abundance of caution" and said retailers who shelve the products should dump them as well. There have been no reports of illnesses connected to the recall, "to the best" of the manufacturer's knowledge, a statement said. 

Product Quest says it is notifying its customers by oral and written communication and is arranging for return and or replacement of all recalled products. Consumers/distributors/retailers that have a recalled product should stop using it immediately and return it to the place of purchase. 

Consumers with questions can contact Product Quest Manufacturing LLC at 704-939-4342, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., EST. Consumers should contact their physicians or health care providers if they have experienced any problems that may be related to taking or using these drug products.

Photo Credit: Food and Drug Administration ]]>
<![CDATA[Rubber Critter Toys Recalled for Excessive Lead Paint Levels]]>Thu, 30 Aug 2018 10:54:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rubber-critters-recall.jpg

Tens of thousands of rubber critter toys in the shapes of animals are being recalled for excessive lead levels in their orange and yellow paint. 

BSN Sports sold the 31,200 recalled units nationally through catalogues and online at Amazon.com, Athleticconnection.com, Bsnsports.com, Esportsonline.com and Usgames.com from February 2017 to June 2018, according to a recall notice posted Wednesday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

The toys, which the notice says are "primarily used to play physical education tossing games," are shaped like an octopus, alligator, chicken, frog, pig, penguin or cow.

"Consumers should immediately take the recalled rubber critter toys away from children," the recall notice said.

Lead is especially dangerous to children because their bodies absorb the toxic element more than adults' bodies do, and a child's nervous system is also more sensitive to lead's effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The toys, which were made in China and imported and distributed by BSN Sports, sold for about $10 for an individual rubber critter or up to $145 for a set, according to recallrt.com/rubbercritters. Sets ranged from two to 24 critters. 

BSN Sports said it was contacting all known purchasers directly but those who bought the critters can also request a merchandise credit by calling 1-888-847-8816 between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CT on weekdays. Those who want refunds can also register at recallrtr.com/rubbercritters.

Photo Credit: BSN Sports]]>
<![CDATA[Legal Marijuana Industry Tries to Shake 'Stoner' Stereotypes]]>Wed, 29 Aug 2018 11:05:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18239772786553.jpg

Michelle Janikian, who writes about marijuana for publications like Herb, Playboy and Rolling Stone, says after she tells someone what she does for a living, she usually spends the rest of the conversation "trying to act so friendly and mainstream" so they don't think she's stoned.

Adam Salcido relates that after he went to work a couple of years ago for a Southern California company that helps organize weed-infused events like Hempfest and Cannabis Cup, he had to reassure his family he wouldn't turn into a drug addict.

Stoner stereotypes die hard.

But with a multibillion-dollar industry beginning to flower — marijuana is now legal in some form in 30 states — cannabis advocates are pushing to dispel the idea that people who toke up still live on the couches in their parents' basements and spend their waking hours eating Cheetos and playing video games.

MedMen, a flashy, upscale chain of dispensaries that brands itself as the Apple store of pot shops, recently rolled out a $2 million ad campaign that, for lack of a better description, might be called the "anti-stoner offensive."

Photos of 17 people — including a white-haired grandmother, a schoolteacher, a business executive, a former pro football player and a nurse — are being splashed across billboards, buses and the web by the company that has dispensaries in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York. Each photo has the word "stoner" crossed out and in its place a description of their job.

People can find their biographies on the website www.forgetstoner.com, where they can also learn why they use weed. Reasons range from treatment of medical conditions like migraines and anxiety to simply enjoying the high.

"What we're saying is the very definition of a stereotype is defining a person by one bad mention," says Daniel Yi, MedMen's senior vice president of communications and a former Los Angeles Times reporter. "They're also a grandmother. They're also a father, a son, a brother."

Judd Weiss, CEO and founder of cannabis company Lit.Club, believes the industry needs to do still more. He suggests marketing products in a way that makes them look more than just respectable, but as the herbal equivalent of a fine bourbon or scotch.

Thus, he says, Lit.Club's vape pens are packaged in a way "that won't embarrass you at the opera." They look sleek and stylish, with inspirational phrases like "Light A Path" printed on each one. He compares the aroma and flavor of his company's pre-rolled joints to something similar to a fine brandy.

"Very much like the Tesla, we want to be seen as luxury quality but affordable," he said.

The website Leafly, which is sometimes called a Yelp for discerning potheads, has taken out ads in The New York Times and staged promotional events at gatherings like the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, to extol the virtues of marijuana. Better sex and better health are two claims it focuses on.

Still there is pushback from some who believe realities about pot are being glossed over by slick marketing.

"It is not a controversial claim to say that marijuana could be addictive for some people, that it could produce mental illness, that it's tied to impaired driving, that it makes you not motivated, that you're more likely to drop out of school if you're a kid using," said Kevin Sabet, president of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a former drug policy adviser to presidents Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush.

Sabet accuses the cannabis industry of enticing children with edibles and cookies in an attempt to become another "Big Tobacco," although he also acknowledges there is evidence that marijuana has some medicinal value.

It was edibles that brought Cindy Paul of Billings, Montana, to a Portland, Oregon, pot shop a few weeks ago to sample marijuana for the first time in 25 years. A casual if closeted smoker during her school days, Paul, 55, said she decided to indulge again while vacationing with her daughter in a state where it's legal and where she can acquire it in a form she doesn't have to inhale.

"I do think it has medicinal qualities," she said, adding, "I'm not using it for that. I'm using it to have a good time. I don't think it's any different than having a beer."

To bring more people like Paul into the fold, branding expert Robert Miner says the marijuana industry needs to use movies and TV shows to change negative perceptions.

Those lovable stoners Cheech and Chong were fine back in the day when it came to rebuffing the idea that anybody who smoked pot was headed for Reefer Madness. But the mainstreaming of marijuana, he said, demands a new message.

"For that larger portion of the cannabis-consuming population, that same silly bumbling stereotype that led to a wider acceptance is now an impediment to their being open about their cannabis consumption," said Miner, whose firm, Miner & Co. Studio, works with TV networks and other media in image building.

One show that presents a more modern take on marijuana is HBO's "High Maintenance." It features a bicycle-riding pot dealer who interacts with a variety of average New Yorkers, from empty-nesting Boomers to workaholic Millennials. The only thing any have in common is they buy marijuana from him and, as they do, pull him into their daily lives.

It's one of Janikian's favorite shows, and she'd like to see more like it. But for now the writer who divides her time between New York and Mexico will continue to remain circumspect about her marijuana use.

She sometimes uses a topical cream to curb anxiety and after a hard day's work she likes to smoke a joint to unwind like any "random normal person" would have a glass of wine.

But she knows those random normal people are often skeptical.

"It's like, 'Oh, you just want to smoke weed,' " she says, laughing. " 'Stop lying.'"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP]]>
<![CDATA[STDs Set New Record, Continuing Rapid Rise in US, CDC Says]]>Tue, 28 Aug 2018 13:35:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/475150913-Condom-Safe-Sex.jpg

Nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States last year, far more than the STD record set in 2016, NBC News reported.

The new data come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said Tuesday that the number of cases in 2017 surpassed the previous record by more than 200,000.

There have been recent increases in STDs among heterosexual men and women and among pregnant women and their babies, said Dr. Gail Bolan, head of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention.

"Usually there are ebbs and flows, but this sustained increase is very concerning," Bolan said. She and others suspect that newer drugs that made HIV less lethal and infectious may have contributed to declining condom use.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF]]>
<![CDATA[50 Adult Meds Added to National Recall With 32 Kids' Items]]>Tue, 28 Aug 2018 11:27:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Dr+King+Bio+Recall.jpg

King Bio has announced it is pulling all of its water-based products across all brands, amounting to more than 50 products intended to treat virtually every ailment from migraines to allergies, amid a national recall over concerns about possible purity issues.

The company's founder, Frank King, announced the expanded recall in a statement on the website Monday. Nearly three dozen children's medicines have already been recalled over the microbial contamination fears. 

King Bio, a North Carolina-based company that makes homeopathic drugs, first said last week that a small percentage of its products produced between Aug. 1, 2017 and April 2018 tested positive for the microbial contamination.

The company said use of the medicines could result in increased or life-threatening infections. There have been no reports of illnesses, according to the FDA, and King Bio issued the recall "out of an abundance of caution."

There were still no reported illnesses as of Monday, and King Bio said it was notifying its distributors and customers by letter to arrange for return and/or replacement of all the affected medicines.

The recalled products are used to treat dozens of conditions, including allergies, migraine, anxiety, bed wetting, chicken pox, common colds, nosebleeds, sore throat and teething. Products meant for use on pets are also being recalled. They were sold nationwide between August 2017 and July 2018.

"We are truly sorry for the inconvenience or concern our recall may have caused, but we felt this was the right thing to do to maintain your trust," King said in a statement. "Thank you for your continued loyalty and confidence in our King Bio products."

Customers are urged to stop using the affected products immediately and contact King Bio by email at recall@kingbio.com or call the company at 866-298-2740, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. ET to 3:30 p.m. ET. Consumers who believe they may have been sickened by one of the recalled products should contact their physician or healthcare provider. 

See a list of 32 the affected kids' medicines below. For a complete list of UPC and Lot numbers click here. Find all the recalled adult medicines here.

• DK Attention & Learning Enh.
• Chicken Pox Symptom Relief
• Children's Appetite & Weight
• Children's Appetite Enhance
• Children's Cough Relief
• Children's Fever Reliever
• Children's Growth & Development
• DK Newborn Tonic
• DK Nosebleed Relief
• TonsilPlex
• Children's Ear Relief Formula
• DK Teething
• DK Colic Relief
• Tummy Aches
• Kids Multi-Strain Flu Relief
• Kids Stress & Anxiety
• Kids Sleep Aid
• Kids Bed Wetting (NP)
• Kids Candida - 4-ounce bottle
• Kids Attention & Learning (SCRX)
• Bed Wetting Prevention (SCRX)
• Chicken Pox Symptom Relief (SCRX)
• Childrens Cough (SCRX)
• Children’s Ear Formula (SCRX)
• Children’s Fever Reliever (SCRX)
• Children’s Growth & Development (SCRX)
• Colic Relief (SCRX)
• Newborn Tonic (SCRX)
• Teething (SCRX)
• Tummy Aches (SCRX)
• Children’s Apetite & Weight (SCRX)
• Children’s Appetite Enhancer (SCRX) 

Photo Credit: Dr. King's by King Bio]]>
<![CDATA[Cigarette Butts Are Biggest Source of Ocean Trash: Advocates]]>Mon, 27 Aug 2018 09:07:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/680792025-cigarette-butts-beach.jpg

As coastal cities ban plastic straws and California and Hawaii consider following suit, activists are trying to raise awareness about cigarette butts, a much greater source of ocean pollution, NBC News reported.

The filters have been the most-collected item on the world's beaches for 32 consecutive years of the Ocean Conservancy's annual beach cleanup, more than plastic wrappers, eating utensils, bottles and containers combined.

Among those arguing that cigarette butts should be banned are the international Surfrider Foundation, a California lawmaker and leading tobacco industry academic Thomas Novotny.

"It's pretty clear there is no health benefit from filters. They are just a marketing tool," said Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University. "It's also a major contaminant, with all that plastic waste. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can't continue to allow this."

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra, File]]>
<![CDATA[Aspirin Disappoints for Avoiding First Heart Attack, Stroke: Study]]>Mon, 27 Aug 2018 07:56:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/689227195-Aspirin-.jpg

Taking a low-dose aspirin every day has long been known to cut the chances of another heart attack, stroke or other heart problem in people who already have had one, but the risks don't outweigh the benefits for most other folks, major new research finds.

Although it's been used for more than a century, aspirin's value in many situations is still unclear. The latest studies are some of the largest and longest to test this pennies-a-day blood thinner in people who don't yet have heart disease or a blood vessel-related problem.

One found that aspirin did not help prevent first strokes or heart attacks in people at moderate risk for one because they had several health threats such as smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Another tested aspirin in people with diabetes, who are more likely to develop or die from heart problems, and found that the modest benefit it gave was offset by a greater risk of serious bleeding.

Aspirin did not help prevent cancer as had been hoped.

And fish oil supplements, also tested in the study of people with diabetes, failed to help.

"There's been a lot of uncertainty among doctors around the world about prescribing aspirin" beyond those for whom it's now recommended, said one study leader, Dr. Jane Armitage of the University of Oxford in England. "If you're healthy, it's probably not worth taking it."

The research was discussed Sunday at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich. The aspirin studies used 100 milligrams a day, more than the 81-milligram pills commonly sold in the United States but still considered low dose. Adult strength is 325 milligrams.

A Boston-led study gave aspirin or dummy pills to 12,546 people who were thought to have a moderate risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke within a decade because of other health issues.

After five years, 4 percent of each group had suffered a heart problem — far fewer than expected, suggesting these people were actually at low risk, not moderate. Other medicines they were taking to lower blood pressure and cholesterol may have cut their heart risk so much that aspirin had little chance of helping more, said the study leader, Dr. J. Michael Gaziano of Brigham and Women's Hospital.

One percent of aspirin takers had stomach or intestinal bleeding, mostly mild— twice as many as those on dummy pills. Aspirin users also had more nosebleeds, indigestion, reflux or belly pain.

Bayer sponsored the study, and many researchers consult for the aspirin maker. Results were published by the journal Lancet.

People with diabetes have a higher risk of heart problems and strokes from a blood clot, but also a higher risk of bleeding. Guidelines vary on which of them should consider aspirin.

Oxford researchers randomly assigned 15,480 adults with Type 1 or 2 diabetes but otherwise in good health and with no history of heart problems to take either aspirin, 1 gram of fish oil, both substances, or dummy pills every day.

After seven and a half years, there were fewer heart problems among aspirin users but more cases of serious bleeding, so they largely traded one risk for another.

The same study also tested omega-3 fatty acids, the good oils found in salmon, tuna and other fish. Supplement takers fared no better than those given dummy capsules — 9 percent of each group suffered a heart problem.

"We feel very confident that there doesn't seem to be a role for fish oil supplements for preventing heart disease," said study leader Dr. Louise Bowman of the University of Oxford.

The British Heart Foundation was the study's main sponsor. Bayer and Mylan provided aspirin and fish oil, respectively. Results were published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Other studies are testing different amounts and prescription versions of fish oil, "but I can't tell people go spend your money on it; we think it's probably better to eat fish," said Dr. Holly Andersen, a heart disease prevention specialist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell who was not involved in the study.

The new research doesn't alter guidelines on aspirin or fish oil, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association spokeswoman. They recommend fish oil only for certain heart failure patients and say it's reasonable to consider for people who have already suffered a heart attack.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[THC Found in Breast Milk Up to 6 Days After Pot Use: Study]]>Mon, 27 Aug 2018 09:55:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marijuanaAP_18235522395657.jpg

Marijuana's main mind-altering ingredient was detected in nursing mothers' breast milk in a small study that comes amid evidence that more U.S. women are using pot during pregnancy and afterward.

Experts say the ingredient, THC, has chemical properties that could allow it to disrupt brain development and potentially cause harm, although solid evidence of that is lacking.

The new study involved 50 nursing mothers who were using pot and provided breast milk samples to researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Lab testing found small amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical that causes marijuana's "high," in 34 of 54 samples up to six days after they were provided. Another form of THC and cannabidiol, a pot chemical touted by some as a health aid, were detected in five samples.

The study authors said "it is reasonable to speculate" that exposing infants to THC or cannabidiol "could influence normal brain development," depending on dose and timing.

The results echo findings in case reports from years ago, when pot was less potent than what's available today, said study co-author Christina Chambers, a pediatrics professor. It's not known if the amounts detected pose any risk, but she said her research team is studying children whose moms' were involved to try to answer that question.

Two small studies from the 1980s had conflicting results on whether pot use affects breastfed infants. One found no evidence of growth delays; the other found slight developmental delays in breastfed infants, but their mothers had used pot during pregnancy too.

Most pediatricians encourage breastfeeding and its health benefits for infants, but "they're stuck with a dilemma" with infants whose mothers use pot, Chambers said.

A new American Academy of Pediatrics report recommending against pot use while pregnant or nursing acknowledges that challenge.

"We still support women breastfeeding even if using marijuana but would encourage them to cut down and quit," said Dr. Seth Ammerman, a report co-author and Stanford University pediatrics professor.

"In counseling patients about this, it's important to be nonjudgmental but to educate patients about the potential risks and benefits," Ammerman said, to ensure "a healthy outcome for themselves and their baby."

The study and report were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has similar advice.

The academy report says its advice is based on theoretical risks to developing brains, but it acknowledges conflicting evidence and a dearth of research. Some studies have linked pot use during pregnancy with lower birth weights or preterm birth, along with developmental delays and learning difficulties in older children. But additional factors including women's use of other drugs during pregnancy complicated the results, the report says.

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in nine states and Washington, D.C., and for medical use in 31 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As more states legalize marijuana, its use is increasing along with the "false impression" that it is safe, the academy's report says. Ammerman said caution makes sense, given the uncertainties.

According to U.S. government data, about 1 in 20 women report using marijuana during pregnancy. Estimates for use among breastfeeding mothers vary, but a study in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, put the number at almost 20 percent among women in a government supplemental food program.

The report, study and a journal editorial all said more research is needed.

Last year, a federal advisory panel said lack of scientific information about marijuana poses a public health risk.

Research has been hampered by federal government restrictions based on its view that marijuana is an illegal drug.

That has contributed to a stigma and shaded doctors' views, said Keira Sumimoto, an Irvine, California, mother who used marijuana briefly for medical reasons while pregnant and breastfeeding. She said smoking a joint daily helped her gain weight when she was sick before learning she was pregnant, and eased childbirth-related pain, but that she quit because of backlash from marijuana opponents.

She said her daughter, now 8 months old, is healthy and advanced for her age.

Sumimoto runs @cannabisandmotherhood, an Instagram account that she says aims to present truthful information about marijuana so women can make their own choices.

She said she agrees with advice to be cautious, but that the academy's stance is "is just a little too much."

"The fear is taking over and the need and want to understand this plant is being ignored by the stigma," Sumimoto said. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Weight-Loss Drug Seems Safe for Heart, Study Finds]]>Sun, 26 Aug 2018 11:13:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/WeightAP_18093712630899.jpg

For the first time, a drug has been shown to help people lose weight and keep it off for several years without raising their risk for heart problems — a safety milestone that may encourage wider use to help curb the obesity epidemic.

The drug, Belviq, has been sold in the United States since 2013 and is the first of several new weight-loss medicines to complete a long-term heart safety study now required by federal regulators to stay on the market.

"Patients and their doctors have been nervous about using drugs to treat obesity and for good reason. There's a history of these drugs having serious complications," said study leader Dr. Erin Bohula of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

With this study, Belviq has been convincingly shown safe for the heart, she said.

Although Belviq did not raise heart risks, it didn't lower them either, as many had hoped it would. The weight loss it produced was fairly modest — after 40 months, Belviq users had shed 9 pounds (4 kilograms), twice as much as those on dummy pills.

It may be that weight loss alone is not enough to lower heart risks, or that there needs to be more to do that, some doctors said.

Results were discussed Sunday at a European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Belviq's maker, Eisai Inc., sponsored the study and many of the researchers consult or work for the company.

Worldwide, 13 percent of adults are obese and 39 percent are overweight, raising their risk for a host of health problems. Diet and exercise are the first steps doctors recommend, but medicines also can be considered for people with dangerously high weight who cannot drop enough pounds by other means.

Several popular diet medicines were previously withdrawn from sale after they were found to raise the risk for heart valve damage, suicidal thoughts or other problems, prompting the new requirement for heart safety studies.

Belviq is an appetite suppressant that works by stimulating brain chemicals to give a feeling of fullness. It costs roughly $220 to $290 a month in the United States.

Researchers tested it in a study of 12,000 people who were either obese or overweight with heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. They were given Belviq or dummy pills to take twice a day and offered lifestyle and diet advice.

At one year, 39 percent on Belviq and 17 percent on dummy pills had lost at least 5 percent of their starting weight. Several previous studies also found the drug effective for weight loss.

After about three years, 6 percent of each group had suffered a heart-related problem or death.

Fewer people on Belviq developed diabetes — 8.5 percent versus 10.3 percent on dummy pills.

Serious side effects were similar, but more on Belviq stopped taking their pills because of them — 7 percent versus 4 percent. Common side effects included dizziness, fatigue, headache and nausea.

Dangerously low blood sugar happened in 13 people on Belviq versus four in the other group; all but one case involved people also taking diabetes medicines, which lower blood sugar.

Tests for heart valve damage were done on 3,270 participants but no big differences in rates were seen. Suicidal thoughts or behavior were reported in 21 people on Belviq versus 11 on dummy pills, but more on the drug had a history of depression and the difference was so small it could have been due to chance, Bohula said.

In a commentary, two of the journal's editors, Drs. Julie Inglefinger and Clifford Rosen, said there might be alternatives to Belviq. Liraglutide, when used to treat diabetes, also causes weight loss and lowers heart risks, though it hasn't been tested for cardiac safety at the dose used for weight loss.

For now, Belviq "may be best used on a cautious basis, according to the needs of individual patients," they write.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Sison]]>
<![CDATA[Have Food Poisoning? Here's When to See a Doctor]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 15:13:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/FOODPOINSONING.jpg

If you eat contaminated food, symptoms may not show up for hours or days. Here's when you should go see a doctor.]]>
<![CDATA[No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe, Health Experts Warn]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 11:19:34 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/183*120/GettyImages-719519832.jpg

So much for a glass of wine a day for your health's sake — all alcohol consumption is bad for you, according to a damning report. 

The global study, which claims to be the most comprehensive of its kind, pours cold water on previous reports that espouse the protective effects of alcohol under some conditions. 

While researchers acknowledged that moderate drinking can protect against heart disease and diabetes, they said that the risks of cancer and other illnesses outweigh those benefits and have called for a change in medical guidance. 

"The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising," said the report published in The Lancet medical journal. 

The majority of national guidelines suggest that one or two glasses of wine or beer per day are safe for an adult's health. However, the report's authors said, "Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none." 

The study, which was carried out by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, looked at levels of alcohol use and its health effects on those aged between 15 and 95 in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016. 

It found that alcohol led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016 and was the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability among those aged 15 to 49, accounting for 10 percent of all deaths. 

The greatest proportion of alcohol-related deaths among young people were tuberculosis, road injuries and self-harm, the report found. Meanwhile, for those aged over-50, the biggest killer was cancer, particularly among women.

Current drinking habits pose "dire ramifications for future population health," the reports authors said, urging people to rethink their approach to drinking alcohol.

The study claims to go beyond prior research because of the range of factors considered, including insights from 592 studies and 28 million people worldwide. 

It forms part of a wider Global Burden of Diseases study, a research project based at the University of Washington that compiles data on the causes of illness and death in the world.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[23andMe Will No Longer Let App Developers Read Your DNA Data]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 10:33:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/23andme.jpg

23andMe, which provides DNA testing kits for consumers, is telling outside app developers that they'll no longer have access to the company's raw genomic data. 

Developers of health apps, weight loss services and quantified self tests have been able to use 23andMe's anonymized data sets since 2012, when the company announced the opening of its application programming interface (API). The idea was to "allow authorized developers to build a broad range of new applications and tools for the 23andMe community," the company said at the time

But on Thursday, 23andMe sent an email to developers, informing them that the API was being disabled in two weeks and that apps will only be able to use reports generated by the company and not the hard data. 

"We're updating our API program to focus on apps that build on the interpretations and results we provide to our customers," 23andMe said in the email, which was viewed by CNBC. 

23andMe is one of the largest makers of at-home DNA tests, which start at $199. More than five million people have sent in a spit sample in exchange for information about their ancestry, as well as some personalized health reports, like whether they're at greater risk of developing breast cancer. 

The company works with pharmaceutical developers aiming to use genetic information to identify new drugs, and with academic researchers on genetics studies. 

The API is currently being used by dozens of developers, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information is confidential. It's caused controversy for 23andMe in the past. In 2015, Wired reported on an application that was using the API to block people from websites and apps based on personal characteristics like their gender and ancestry. 

Developers will now be much more limited in how they access 23andMe's rich data and potentially in the services they can offer consumers. The company acknowledged changes to the program in an email to CNBC. 

"Moving forward, we will only partner with developers building applications that leverage the data based on 23andMe reports," the company said. "Our hope is to bring added value to customers' overall experience. We're notifying existing developers and any impacted customers now in order to help them prepare for the changes to our program." 

Raw data will still be available to research partners. 

Privacy concerns
23andMe hasn't said if the move is designed to retain control over its data or in response to concerns about user privacy. The company had plans several years ago to launch an app store, according to two people familiar with the matter, but opted not to move forward with the project because of challenges with vetting third-party developers. 

At-home DNA testing companies have been at the center of a privacy firestorm in recent months. 

Earlier this year, police arrested a suspect in the decades-old Golden State Killer case based on genetic information, when investigators used an open-source service called GEDmatch to look for potential matches to DNA samples from the crime scene. The case involves 12 deaths and at least 50 rapes in California between 1974 and 1986. 

23andMe customers can still choose to upload their genetic information to a service like GEDmatch and share it online or with a particular developer.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:

Photo Credit: AP, File
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Fertility Doctor Who Used Own Sperm Surrenders License]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 08:32:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18051840147764.jpg

A retired Indianapolis fertility doctor who lied about using his own sperm to impregnate possibly dozens of women surrendered his medical license Thursday to a state board that also barred him from ever seeking its reinstatement.

After an attorney for Dr. Donald Cline surrendered his expired license to the Indiana Medical Licensing Board, the 7-member panel voted to prohibit the 79-year-old Cline from ever applying for a license in Indiana again.

Indiana's supervising deputy attorney general, Laura Iosue, asked the board before the vote to consider the impact of Cline's actions.

"It's particularly egregious. The important thing is that Dr. Cline doesn't practice anymore," she said.

Cline, who retired from practice in 2009, was given a one-year suspended sentence in December after pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice. He'd used his own sperm to impregnate as possibly dozens of women after telling them the donors were anonymous.

No other charges were filed against Cline because Indiana law doesn't specifically prohibit fertility doctors from using their own sperm.

Cline was charged after lying to investigators, and he had faced up to three years in prison on each count. The charges stemmed from two confirmed cases of paternity, but children of women treated by Cline have said DNA tests show he's likely the biological father of as many as 20 of them .

Cline apologized "for the pain my actions have caused" during his December sentencing, although he didn't specify how often he used his own sperm in procedures. But court documents state that he told one of his biological daughters, Jacoba Ballard, that he had done so about 50 times in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ballard said at Thursday's hearing that Cline's actions have "affected me in every possible way."

"He's portrayed as this man that's remorseful," she said.

A total of 10 people who believe Cline is their biological father attended Thursday's hearing with their mothers.

Many of Cline's former patients and their children are now focusing on persuading Indiana lawmakers to pass a measure that would deem a fertility doctor's use of his own sperm as a crime.

Matt White, who learned as an adult that the "anonymous" sperm donor who impregnated his mother was actually Cline, called the surrender of Cline's already expired license "a slap on the wrist." But he said he appreciated the board barring Cline from ever seeking to seek reinstatement of his license.

"That was a small victory," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Marion County, Ind. via AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Friday Night Lights Start to Dim on High School Football]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 09:30:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/849343576-High-School-Football.jpg

Fewer high school students are joining football teams, even though more students are playing high school sports on the whole, NBC News reported.

Participation in football has declined 7 percent since the 2009-2010 school year, after the dangers of concussions started to be reported, and the decline has accelerated in recent years, according to new data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Even in Texas, where high school football stadiums can dwarf other states' college stadiums, parents are having doubts about their kids playing the game, and enrollment is down slightly from its peak seven years ago.

"When you sit there and the doctor's doing the test and he's having a hard time repeating back basic numbers," said the father of a boy who quit the team at Carroll High School near Dallas, "I mean, that's certainly eye-opening as a parent."

Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Russians Pushed Divisive Content Over Vaccines: Researchers]]>Thu, 23 Aug 2018 17:54:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/VaccineRussia.jpg

Russian trolls weren’t just trying to cause division in U.S. politics. A new study shows they were also trying to sow discord in one of the country's most heated debates around public health: vaccinations.

NBC News reports Russia-linked social media bots pushed divisive rhetoric and misinformation on Twitter on both sides of the vaccine debate, according to research led by George Washington University and published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

"These trolls seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society," the study's authors said.

Photo Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster, File]]>
<![CDATA[Pot Vs. Pills for Pain Relief ]]>Thu, 23 Aug 2018 13:34:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_potpain0823_1500x845.jpg

Medical marijuana could be the answer to overcoming the nation's opioid epidemic, but so far the only evidence cannabis can relieve pain comes from patients. That's because the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, highly restricting research. ]]>
<![CDATA[32 Children's Medicines Recalled Over Contamination Concerns]]>Thu, 23 Aug 2018 15:48:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/King+Bio+Recall.jpg

King Bio is recalling 32 children's medicines due to a possible microbial contamination.

The North Carolina-based company, which makes homeopathic drugs, announced Wednesday that a small percentage of its products produced between Aug. 1, 2017 and April 2018 have tested positive for the microbial contamination.

The company said use of the medicines could result in increased or life-threatening infections. There have been no reports of illnesses, according to the FDA, and King Bio issued the recall "out of an abundance of caution."

The recalled products are used to treat dozens of conditions, including bed wetting, chicken pox, common colds, nosebleeds, sore throat and teething, and were sold nationwide between August 2017 and July 2018. 

Customers are urged to stop using the affected products immediately and contact King Bio by email at recall@kingbio.com or call the company at 866-298-2740, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. ET to 3:30 p.m. ET., to make arrangements for a return and replacement of the product. Consumers who believe they may have been sickened by one of the recalled products should contact their physician or healthcare provider. 

All of the recalled products listed below come in 2-ounce bottles except for Kids Candida, which comes in a 4-ounce bottle. Products marked "SCRX" are only used by professionals. For a complete list of UPC and Lot numbers click here

• DK Attention & Learning Enh.
• Chicken Pox Symptom Relief
• Children's Appetite & Weight
• Children's Appetite Enhance
• Children's Cough Relief
• Children's Fever Reliever
• Children's Growth & Development
• DK Newborn Tonic
• DK Nosebleed Relief
• TonsilPlex
• Children's Ear Relief Formula
• DK Teething
• DK Colic Relief
• Tummy Aches
• Kids Multi-Strain Flu Relief
• Kids Stress & Anxiety
• Kids Sleep Aid
• Kids Bed Wetting (NP)
• Kids Candida - 4-ounce bottle
• Kids Attention & Learning (SCRX)
• Bed Wetting Prevention (SCRX)
• Chicken Pox Symptom Relief (SCRX)
• Childrens Cough (SCRX)
• Children’s Ear Formula (SCRX)
• Children’s Fever Reliever (SCRX)
• Children’s Growth & Development (SCRX)
• Colic Relief (SCRX)
• Newborn Tonic (SCRX)
• Teething (SCRX)
• Tummy Aches (SCRX)
• Children’s Apetite & Weight (SCRX)
• Children’s Appetite Enhancer (SCRX) 

Photo Credit: Dr. King's by King Bio]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Extends EpiPen Expiration to Cover Shortages]]>Wed, 22 Aug 2018 07:01:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epiAP_16272622879970.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that people can use some expired EpiPens for a few months longer to help cover spot shortages that have put some parents into a panic at the beginning of a new school year, NBC News reported.

Some batches of the devices, which inject lifesaving medication to stop severe allergic reactions, can be used for four months beyond their expiration, the FDA said. The affected devices hold the 0.3-milligram dose. The FDA said it reviewed data from Mylan, which sells EpiPen, showing that the product is still effective beyond the expiration date.

"We are doing everything we can to help mitigate shortages of these products, especially ahead of the back-to-school season," the FDA’s Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Suit: Hospital Honored Patient's Request for No Black Nurse]]>Sun, 19 Aug 2018 13:44:17 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nurseGettyImages-97769656.jpg

A nurse is suing a Michigan hospital for allegedly honoring a patient's request to not be cared for by a black woman.

Teoka Williams filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, alleging that the health system violated federal and state civil rights laws by barring her from caring for a patient because of her race.

Williams, who has worked as a registered nurse at Beaumont for 10 years, said she overheard a patient in October 2017 request to not have a black woman as a caregiver. Williams said she reported the comment to her clinical manager, who then restricted her from caring for the patient.

Williams' suit contends that she complained to the hospital's human resources department about the issue. Williams alleges she was told that "patient requests are honored all the time and the next time it happens she would simply be taken off the assignment altogether."

Beaumont Hospital declined to comment on pending litigation. But the health system issued a statement saying that its "highest priority is providing a safe environment that is free from discrimination for both our patients and staff, and delivering care with compassion, dignity and respect."

Williams' attorney Julie Gafkay said health care institutions shouldn't accommodate patients' requests at the expense of employees' civil rights.

Gafkay said the lawsuit "is about being denied the opportunity to do your job duties based on your race, and being segregated from your job duties based on your race." She said the health system "accommodated racism and allowed a patient to discriminate against a very good and valuable employee."

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as court costs and attorney fees.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[EpiPen Shortage Has Parents Struggling as Schools Open]]>Fri, 17 Aug 2018 19:40:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epiAP_16272622879970.jpg

Brenda Thiel and Alyssa Wachtler live on opposite sides of the country. But they've got at least one thing in common: both have sons with severe nut allergies. And when they made their usual back-to-school trips to the pharmacy to procure their EpiPens for the new year, they were told the same thing.

"The pharmacist literally walked up to me and said, 'I'm really sorry, we do not have any epinephrine here,'" Thiel, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, told CNBC. "He said there's a shortage, and you're not going to be able to find EpiPens anywhere."

The lifesaving allergy medicine has had manufacturing disruptions since May, but allergy sufferers and caregivers may find it especially hard to find now, as parents try to stock up to send their kids back to school. EpiPen prescriptions typically spike in August, when parents buy multiple packs to give to their kids' teachers, nurses and sports teams.

"In my busy pediatric clinic, we've noticed there are a number of patients calling in wondering where they can procure their EpiPens, since most pharmacies are having trouble keeping them in stock," said Dr. Stacy Dorris, of the department of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

It's a problem across the country. CNBC called two dozen pharmacies, from Boston to San Francisco, and nearly each one said it had no EpiPens, or very few, in stock. Some said the back-order date keeps getting pushed back, while others said it wasn't clear when more would be made available.

Patient advocacy group FARE, or Food Allergy Research & Education, said it heard from 600 people in 43 states in a survey about EpiPen availability, and more than 80 percent indicated they either couldn't fill or could only partially fill their prescriptions.

"We've heard there are widespread shortages of EpiPen," said Wells Fargo analyst David Maris, who estimates the product drew $1 billion in revenue in 2016 for drugmaker Mylan. (The company now reports financial results differently, making it difficult to ascertain how the EpiPen is performing, he said.)

"It's clearly a headwind," Maris said. "And no one's talking about how soon it will be cleared up."

New Jersey-resident Wachtler, whose 6-year-old son, Hudson, is starting first grade this year, is among parents who struggled to secure an EpiPen. She said she had to call eight to 10 local pharmacies before she found one that had a set of EpiPens in stock that were covered by her insurance.

"I said, 'Put it on hold! I will be there in the morning!'" Wachtler told CNBC. "And I rushed over and got the last box."

While EpiPen is marketed by Mylan, it's manufactured by a subsidiary of Pfizer. Mylan says it's "exploring several options with Pfizer that would help stabilize supply," while Pfizer cites "delayed shipments due to process changes," and the supply of "third-party components" for the disruptions.

The Pfizer subsidiary, Meridian Medical Technologies, received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration in September, citing "significant violations of current good manufacturing practice requirements" at its Missouri plant. Pfizer spokesman Steven Danehy said that the warning letter didn't restrict supply at the time it was received, but that "there has been some impact on manufacturing capacity" as a result of new processes it put into place to fix the issues the FDA cited.

The EpiPen isn't the only option for allergy sufferers, though it is by far the most dominant. There is an identical authorized generic version also sold by Mylan, but at half the price, but it too faces manufacturing issues.

Amneal Pharmaceuticals makes the Adrenaclick, a similar epinephrine auto-injector, while private drugmaker Kaleo makes the Auvi-Q, a smaller, rectangle-shaped device that talks the user through how to use it.

The Adrenaclick faced its own manufacturing issues earlier this year, but Amneal spokesman Mark Donohue said this week that the epinephrine auto-injectors are available. The Adrenaclick is also made by Pfizer, he said.

"While we experienced intermittent supply of products from our third-party manufacturer throughout the second quarter and during the month of July, we are receiving shipments," Donohue said.

The Auvi-Q hasn't had similar manufacturing problems, but it has another characteristic that may make it hard for some patients to procure: a list price of $4,500 for two auto-injectors. If it's covered by insurance, many can get the device without a copay. But it's not always covered.

That was the case for Thiel. Her 12-year-old son, Dylan, just started seventh grade, and is carrying his own epinephrine auto-injector for the first time.

After fruitlessly calling multiple local pharmacies to try to find the EpiPen, Thiel said she asked her pediatrician to write a prescription for the Auvi-Q. But her insurance, provided by the government as her husband has retired from the military, doesn't cover it. Finally, after an appeal, Thiel said the insurer agreed to cover it just one time.

"This has been about a month of me calling and asking and trying to get help," Thiel said. "Just trying to make sure I can have his medicines for him to go to school."

Back in New Jersey, Wachtler said she could also get the Auvi-Q, but that the staff members at her son's school aren't trained on how to use it.

"I feel most safe sending my son to school with the EpiPen or the EpiPen generic, knowing that the faculty is trained in how to administer that medication in case of an emergency," Wachtler said.

Mylan supplies EpiPens to schools through its EpiPen4Schools program. But even that system may face delays in supply, Mylan spokeswoman Lauren Kashtan said.

Just this week, a new competitor to the EpiPen was cleared to enter the U.S. market : a directly substitutable generic copy from Israeli drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals. It will be the first direct generic competitor sold by a company other than Mylan. (Mylan introduced the authorized generic in late 2016 after an uproar over the escalating price of the branded EpiPen, and it now commands about half the U.S. market, according to data from Wells Fargo. Mylan's branded EpiPen holds another 25 percent.)

It's unlikely, though, that the new competitor will solve the problems parents are facing as they send their kids back to school. Teva said in a statement that it's applying its "full resources to this important launch in the coming months." It didn't specify a launch date, or a price.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt's Dorris notes that in a bind, recently expired EpiPens can be used in an emergency situation, though it's not recommended if nonexpired products can be obtained.

And she stressed that, though many may feel concerned about their ability to obtain an EpiPen, it's not a good idea to hoard them.

"On each epinephrine auto-injector, there is an expiration date," Dorris said. "If it's not expiring soon, it's probably best to wait and not rush the pharmacies right this moment. Give people time and space to get the epinephrine auto-injector they need for school."

"It's something just as a culture, as Americans," she concluded, "we need to do for each other right now."

This story first appeared on CNBC.com More from CNBC:

*NYU will offer a free ride to all medical students

*'Ambien tweeting' is becoming a popular excuse

*Thyroid medication recalled after failed inspection at Chinese manufacturer

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Weed Killer in Your Cereal? Maybe, But Don't Panic]]>Fri, 17 Aug 2018 11:13:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cereal2.jpg

Social media feeds have been swamped by news that the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group found traces of the pesticide glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, in certain popular breakfast cereals like Cheerios. While the headlines have alarmed parents, there are several reasons not to panic, NBC News reported.

Research by the EWG, which actively campaigns against glyphosate, was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, the amounts found were far below the allowable limits, and most experts in the field say there’s very little evidence that glyphosate causes cancer or any other health problems.

Glyphosate also made headlines because a California jury ordered Roundup maker Monsanto to pay $290 million in damages to a groundskeeper with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Still, American juries do not necessarily rule based on scientific evidence, and they are not required to.

Click here for the full story on NBCNews.com

Photo Credit: PA Images via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Any Given Sun Day: NFL Tackles Skin Cancer With Sunscreen Drive]]>Fri, 17 Aug 2018 08:18:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18216532311043-NFL-Skin-Cancer-Initiative.jpg

The toughest opponent for many NFL players and coaches during the blazing hot days of training camp sits far above the football field.

The sun's powerful ultraviolet rays are a leading cause of skin cancer, and shade is rare at most practice sites. So, slathered-on sunscreen, big bucket hats, long-sleeved T-shirts and slick sunglasses serve as lead blockers.

"I do it regularly, being red-haired with freckles, Irish heritage," Dolphins offensive tackle Sam Young said of using sunscreen. "I go to a dermatologist once a year to make sure everything is good."

Young doubles up on the protection by also wearing long sleeves during practice, despite steamy conditions that are more suited for lounging at the beach than playing on a football field.

"To me, it's not worth the risk," said Young, who grew up in South Florida and has family members who have had skin cancer. "I try to be as practical as I can about it. Sleeves mean one less thing to have to worry about."

And, there are plenty of concerns for those who spend so many hours on sun-splashed fields.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The organization estimates there will be 5.4 million new cases of non-melanoma this year among 3.3 million people, and 91,270 new cases of melanoma — a more serious and aggressive form of skin cancer. Melanoma is usually curable, however, when detected in its early stages.

The NFL and American Cancer Society teamed up this summer to launch an initiative as part of its "Crucial Catch" campaign in which free sunscreen is being provided to players, coaches, fans, team employees and media at camps around the country. Some sites — such as at Jets and Giants camp — have several receptacles where people can get sunscreen from a dispenser, while packets of lotion are being handed out at others.

"One of the things we try do here that we haven't done before (is) to look at the skin cancer part of it," first-year Lions coach Matt Patricia said, "and see if there's anything you have questions about as a person, 'Hey, this doesn't look right,' or, 'What do you think about this?'"

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he's had a spot "removed or checked on" in annual skin cancer checks during physical exams. He and some of his assistants normally wear long shirts under their T-shirts during practice — despite the Georgia heat and humidity.

"We all remind one another," Quinn said. "For the players and for the coaches, we always have the lotion that we need or the spray to use. They're pretty mindful."

Well, some are.

Plenty of players acknowledge they often hit the field focused more on picking up blocks than putting on sunblock.

"I probably should, but I'm just too lazy," said Washington rookie wide receiver Trey Quinn, who was "Mr. Irrelevant" as the last player selected in this year's draft. "Hopefully my mom doesn't see this. She'd probably recommend with my pale skin to wear a little sunscreen, but it's available to us and it's up to us to be adults and make decisions for ourselves."

Most players and coaches don't usually reapply sunscreen during practice, although the American Cancer Society recommends doing so after two hours in the sun.

Jets defensive end Henry Anderson usually remembers to put lotion on his arms before practice — not that it stays on long.

"Sometimes, I'll get a little red because O-linemen are rubbing your arms and rubbing your skin and stuff," he said. "I guess it does the job. I still get kind of burned here and there, but I just don't really want to wear sleeves out to practice in this weather."

The American Cancer Society says the lifetime risk of melanoma is higher for people who are white, especially those with fair skin that freckles or burns easily. But people of all skin colors are vulnerable, and sun damage can occur at any time of year.

Broncos linebacker Justin Simmons, who is black, recently wore tights and a long-sleeve shirt while practicing in the elevated altitude of Colorado. He also regularly wears sunscreen.

"When you're out here, yeah, you have to," Simmons said. "I just tan easy — very rarely does my skin break. But you have to put it on. You're so much closer to the sun. It may feel a little bit more humid, like where I'm from in South Florida, and may not feel as humid here. But you're so much closer and the sun is beaming on you.

"You have to protect your skin."

Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, Texans owner Bob McNair and Jaguars coach Doug Marrone are among some in the NFL community who have been successfully treated for melanomas.

But there have also been several who have been devastated by skin cancer, including former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who lost his wife Kaye to melanoma in 2010. Former NFL assistant coach Jim Johnson died from that form of cancer in 2009, while former coach Buddy Ryan and former NFL player and coach Jack Pardee also dealt with it.

"Down in Houston with Mr. McNair, he would always remind us, 'Hey, make sure you put sunscreen on. It's important,'" said Titans coach Mike Vrabel, a Texans assistant the past four seasons. "It's something that he went through, and as you're out there every single day, just being conscious of it."

Vrabel's quarterback certainly is. Marcus Mariota grew up in Hawaii, so he's used to sunny days.

He doesn't use sunscreen, but wears a long-sleeved hoodie at practice, something he started doing last year.

"But today was a steamer," Mariota said recently. "I did consider putting on sunscreen. It's just slippery and messy. I'm not a big fan."

That's a common sentiment among players, particularly in the heat and humidity of training camp.

"I don't like doing it," Giants backup quarterback Davis Webb said. "I don't want it slipping on my hands, so I am not putting it on at practice. When I golf or I'm at the beach, I like to throw it on."

Dolphins rookie kicker Jason Sanders grew up in sunny Orange County, California, but is using sunscreen this summer for the first time in his football career.

"I get my upper arms to prevent the farmer's tan, and my neck, too," he said. "I get it on my ears and neck, but stay away from my face because I sweat a lot out here. I would say two out of three days I put sunscreen on. Some days when I kick, I don't want to be all lathered up. You can feel it when you're sweating this much. I don't want to get it anywhere near my eyes."

Just as long as it gets on every other exposed area.

Between blocks and screens, NFL players and coaches are doing everything under the sun to protect themselves.

"I think we can always get more information on all of that topic in general," Patricia said. "But (it's) something we have to be conscious about when we're out in the sun that long."

AP Pro Football Writer Teresa Walker and AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan, Pat Graham, Larry Lage, Brett Martel, Charles Odum, Stephen Whyno and Steve Wine contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves Teva’s Generic EpiPen After Yearslong Delay]]>Thu, 16 Aug 2018 14:35:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/EpiPen+May+14+2018.jpg

U.S. regulators cleared the first generic competitor to Mylan's EpiPen, after a yearslong delay that many said contributed to the emergency allergy drug's rapid rise in price. 

Teva Pharmaceuticals received Food and Drug Administration approval for generic versions of both the EpiPen and EpiPen Jr, the agency said in a statement Tuesday. 

The products are the first competitors cleared by the FDA that are direct generic copies of the EpiPen and could be substituted for the brand-name product by a pharmacist. Other versions of epinephrine auto-injectors, such as the Adrenaclick and Auvi-Q, are on the market, but aren't considered EpiPen generics. 

Teva shares rose 6 percent to $37.66 on the news. 

"This approval means patients living with severe allergies who require constant access to life-saving epinephrine should have a lower-cost option, as well as another approved product to help protect against potential drug shortages," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the statement. 

Mylan introduced its own authorized generic form of the EpiPen in late 2016, after an uproar about the branded version's price, which rose more than 400 percent over a decade. The authorized generic, identical to the original except without the brand name, cost half the price: $300 for a two-pack. 

Teva could seek to compete by pricing its generic version even lower; typically, it takes multiple generic copies of a medicine entering the market to see prices collapse substantially. 

The Israeli company's application for a generic EpiPen was rejected by the FDA in early 2016, just before the rising price of Mylan's product exploded into a major news story heading into back-to-school season, when parents often stock up for kids with allergies. 

Though the key ingredient in the EpiPen, epinephrine, has been available for decades and is no longer covered by a patent, generic copies of the device have struggled to reach the market because the product is technically a drug-device combination, and the delivery device proved hard for generic competitors to copy to a degree that would satisfy regulators. 

The FDA issued guidance in November 2017 to try to make it easier for generic copies of complex medicines like the EpiPen to reach the market, saying some design differences may be approved as substitutable products, as long as those differences don't affect patients' ability to use the product the way it's intended. 

The FDA said Teva's generic products are expected to produce the same clinical effect and have the same safety profile as the EpiPen and EpiPen Jr. There are small differences in design, the regulator said, but they won't affect safety or efficacy.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. Here is more from CNBC: 

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<![CDATA[Smokers Better Off Quitting, Even With Weight Gain: Study]]>Thu, 16 Aug 2018 13:02:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/874373226-Cigarette-butts.jpg

If you quit smoking and gain weight, it may seem like you're trading one set of health problems for another. But a new U.S. study finds you're still better off in the long run.

Compared with smokers, even the quitters who gained the most weight had at least a 50 percent lower risk of dying prematurely from heart disease and other causes, the Harvard-led study found.

The study is impressive in its size and scope and should put to rest any myth that there are prohibitive weight-related health consequences to quitting cigarettes, said Dr. William Dietz, a public health expert at George Washington University.

"The paper makes pretty clear that your health improves, even if you gain weight," said Dietz, who was not involved in the research. "I don't think we knew that with the assurance that this paper provides."

The New England Journal of Medicine published the study Wednesday. The journal also published a Swedish study that found quitting smoking seems to be the best thing diabetics can do to cut their risk of dying prematurely.

The nicotine in cigarettes can suppress appetite and boost metabolism. Many smokers who quit and don't step up their exercise find they eat more and gain weight — typically less than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), but in some cases three times that much.

A lot of weight gain is a cause of the most common form of diabetes, a disease in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal. Diabetes can lead to problems including blindness, nerve damage, heart and kidney disease and poor blood flow to the legs and feet.

In the U.S. study, researchers tracked more than 170,000 men and women over roughly 20 years, looking at what they said in health questionnaires given every two years.

The people enrolled in the studies were all health professionals, and did not mirror current smokers in the general population, who are disproportionately low-income, less-educated and more likely to smoke heavily.

The researchers checked which study participants quit smoking and followed whether they gained weight and developed diabetes, heart disease or other conditions.

Quitters saw their risk of diabetes increase by 22 percent in the six years after they kicked the habit. An editorial in the journal characterized it as "a mild elevation" in the diabetes risk.

Studies previously showed that people who quit have an elevated risk of developing diabetes, said Dr. Qi Sun, one the study's authors. He is a researcher at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

But that risk doesn't endure, and it never leads to a higher premature death rate than what smokers face, he said.

"Regardless of the amount of weight gain, quitters always have a lower risk of dying" prematurely, Sun said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[How to Ease Kids' Anxiety About School Safety]]>Thu, 16 Aug 2018 12:07:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_113156084.jpg

Given the number of high-profile school shootings last year, both children and adults may be feeling anxiety about school safety. As many kids head back to school, knowing how to speak with them is key in helping to alleviate fear and worry about their personal safety. Here’s where to start, according to Parent Toolkit.

Create a sense of normalcy and return to a routine. Children can feel safer when things are "normal" and they may open up about their thoughts. If they don't open up, encourage them with open-ended questions and let them lead the conversation. Know their concerns and worries are valid and recognize them.

As most schools have active shooter drills or other safety practices, discuss with children why this is necessary and identify any adults they can turn to in those moments. 

Remember to keep these discussions age-appropriate. For elementary school kids, stay brief and simple and remind them they will be OK. For middle schoolers, prepare for more specific questions. For high schoolers, be ready to discuss more opinions and identify reputable online sources to seek information.

<![CDATA[How to Pack a Stress-Free School Lunch]]>Thu, 16 Aug 2018 09:13:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cafeteria1.jpg

With the school year starting again, it’s time to start to think about the routine of packing school lunches. For many time-pressed parents, this is a formidable task.

But it doesn’t need to be. I’m a registered dietitian and a clinical instructor at Georgia State University, and I have a few easy suggestions. The first has to do with the food itself, and the others are about organizing the meal.

Packing a powerful lunch
Research has shown that a balanced lunch of complex carbohydrates and protein offers children energy and brain fuel to help them get through a day of learning. For the main course, pair a complex carbohydrate, such as whole grain breads, crackers, pasta, beans, fruit, milk and yogurt, with a protein as your child’s main course. Some examples include a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, beans with rice and salsa, peanut butter and jelly, tuna salad on crackers, yogurt and granola or cottage cheese with fruit.

When considering complex carbohydrates, look for three to five grams of fiber per serving. Two slices of whole wheat bread usually contains three grams of fiber or more. A piece of fruit is a good way to get in complex carbohydrates, satisfy a sweet craving and avoid sweets with added sugars. Keep in mind that research suggests children should eat less than 25 grams of added sugar per day.

Next, concentrate on selecting fruits and vegetables that are in season. The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that school-aged children have at least two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables per day. In-season fruits and vegetables, which are at their taste peak and are more abundant, are good choices. Choose fruits and vegetables that will not brown quickly or get smashed in the lunch bag.

Include a few snacks that your child can eat along with lunch or during snack time at school. Good snack choices include easy-to-open items such as granola bars, trail mixes, string cheese with a piece of fruit, individual yogurts or cottage cheeses, and pretzels and hummus. Be sure to check for added sugars in yogurts and trail mixes, keeping in mind the recommendation for less than 25 grams.

Do not forget hydration. A water bottle for the day along with milk or a low-sugar – 10 grams or less per serving – juice box or pouch is a good option. Many juice companies offer options that are lower in sugar or include a serving of vegetables blended in with 100 percent fruit juice.

The logistics of lunches
Start your kids off early by involving them in the planning and shopping for the ingredients needed to pack their school lunches. Allow young packers to grab the side items to go into their lunch, such as fresh fruit and granola bars, while you pack the main, more labor-intensive food items.

Utilize the time to role-model healthy nutrition by packing your lunch for work with your child. Set aside time in your daily routine for lunch-packing so that it doesn’t creep up during stressful times such as running out the door in the morning. Assembly lines are a fun way to involve the whole family in packing lunches. A job can be created for all ages and cooking abilities.

Invest in reusable lunch containers. They may have more upfront cost, but overall the containers reduce waste and save money otherwise spent on lunch baggies. Firmer plastic or glass containers can also help to prevent browning and smashing of lunch items. Kids can have an added allowance opportunity of cleaning out their lunch boxes and containers to have them ready for the next day!

When shopping for lunch items, shop in bulk for nonperishable items such as granola bars, crackers and snacks and look for buy-one-get-one-free deals at your local grocery store. If concerned about fruits browning or bulk items going to waste, consider the cost benefit of prepackaged items that have longer expiration dates and will not brown. Examples include fruit squeeze pouches, single guacamole or hummus packets, peanut butter packet and yogurts.

Do not feel like your child needs something different each day. School is often a stressful time, and the lunch period is usually 20 minutes or less with the focus being on little talking and more eating so that kids can get back to learning on a full stomach. Often, lunch is “comfort food” from home for kids, and they enjoy having a routine lunch that they can count on during their school day.

If shopping, preparing and packing lunches is too overwhelming, you cannot go wrong with the National School Lunch Program. Often, you can save money and have more nutrition than packing a lunch from home. Farm-to-school initiatives and better overall nutrition have made school lunches a healthy, affordable option for families. When considering the financial impact of packing lunch from home versus buying school lunch, be sure to fill out your federal eligibility application for free or reduced meal eligibility.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Read the original article here

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Measles Sickens 107 From 21 States in First Half of Year]]>Wed, 15 Aug 2018 16:00:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-927424104.jpg

More than 100 people from 21 states were reported to have contracted measles in the first half of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

There have been a total of 107 cases of measles between Jan. 1 and July 14, 2018. The cases were reported in D.C. and states including California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The majority of people who have contracted measles were unvaccinated, the CDC says

Because measles is common in other parts of the world, including some countries in Europe and Asia, travelers with measles can bring the disease in the U.S. The disease can spread within the U.S. when it reaches a community with groups of unvaccinated people.

Symptoms of measles include high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. A rash also forms three to five days after symptoms begin. The disease very contagious and can spread through coughing and sneezing

The U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases in 2014 with 667 reported cases from 27 states. It was the greatest number of cases since elimination of the disease was documented in the U.S. in 2000.

There was also a large, multi-state outbreak in 2015. It was linked to an amusement park in California, likely originating from a traveler who got infected abroad before visiting the park. A total of 188 people from 24 states and D.C. were reported to have gotten measles.

In 2017, 118 people from 15 states and D.C. A total of 86 people from 19 states contracted the disease in 2016.

Photo Credit: Karl Tapales/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Adele Shares Story of Friend Who Had Postpartum Psychosis]]>Wed, 15 Aug 2018 12:14:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17043839922714.jpg

Adele had a message for new moms when she shared the story of her best friend, who suffered a serious mental illness after giving birth to her first child.

In a Tuesday Instagram post, the singer urged new moms to "talk about how you’re feeling because in some cases it could save yours or someone else’s life."

Adele offered the advice with a photo of herself and the friend, new mom Laura Dockrill. She said Dockrill suffered from postpartum psychosis after childbirth, which Adele wrote was "the biggest challenge of her life in more ways than one."

Postpartum psychosis is a rare mental illness that can affect women after childbirth, according to the U.K.'s National Health Service. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, mania, depression, restlessness and confusion.

It is unlike postpartum depression or other mood changes that can come after giving birth. The NHS says postpartum psychosis should be treated as a medical emergency, and going without treatment could lead to the mother neglecting or harming herself or her baby.

Postpartum psychosis affects 1 to 2 in 1,000 women after childbirth, according to the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health in Boston.

In a candid blog post that Adele shared on her Instagram page, Dockrill described her time with the disease as "hell" and said that after she returned home with her newborn, "I felt like I had pushed out my personality as well as a baby."

She suspected something was wrong but encouraged herself to "stridently continue" anyway.

Still, she wrote, "I didn’t recognise myself and I felt like an intruder in my own life, like a fraud and a complete failure. ... I thought I was going to hurt myself in some horrendous way and I was doing everything to try and avoid that plus I didn’t want my family to see me crumble away before their eyes and watch me turn into an anxious wreck."

Dockrill said she couldn't eat or drink, her skin became "so pale it looked blue" and she suffered from severe anxiety attacks.

In an interview with BBC's Radio 1 Newsbeat, Dockrill said it was Adele who called attention her severe symptoms.

"She recognised it in me," Dockrill told the station. "I was on the phone FaceTiming her and she was the first one to detect what I might have."

With the help of "family, an incredible psychiatrist, medication ... and psychotherapy," Dockrill said she is "healed and recovering more and more each day."

"I am happy, confident and strong," she wrote. "I am myself."

Along with Adele's advice, Dockrill offered her own: "Take care of yourselves, be patient with others and above all be kind. If anybody is suffering don’t delay on talking to somebody, it can escalate and easily get out of hand."

She warned that "mental health is no joke" and that mental illness is "nothing to be embarrassed about."

Photo Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File
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<![CDATA[FDA Recalls Are Reminder China Controls Much of Drug Supply]]>Wed, 15 Aug 2018 12:41:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/140409167-Generic-drug-generic.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration has recalled certain drugs in recent days, one out of precaution and one due to possible contamination, and the warning has served as a reminder of a drug market that's increasingly outsourced to other countries, NBC News reported

Recent recalls include blood pressure drug Valsartan and thyroid medications Levothyroxine and Liothyronine. The FDA said some Valsartan batches around the world have been contaminated with a potentially cancer-causing chemical. No product sold in the U.S. has been found to be contaminated, but the generic versions could have the potential to generate the chemical. Still, the danger only lies in lifetime exposure and patients can continue taking the drug until they confirm its unaffected or they switch to an alternative.

But the case does illustrate the challenges the FDA must overcome in regulating the drug market and how vulnerable the U.S. is when it depends on other countries, especially China, to make essential drugs. The FDA has ways of ensuring product safety, such as regularly sending inspectors to scrutinize Chinese facilities. The thyroid medications were recalled out of precaution over what the FDA said were deficiencies in the manufacturer's practices.

However, no inspection would have found the potentially cancer-causing chemical, a byproduct of processing foods such as bacon as well as a water contaminant.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Toxic Compounds Showing Up in Public Water Systems]]>Mon, 13 Aug 2018 05:14:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/PAAP_18222604883108.jpg

Lauren Woeher wonders if her 16-month-old daughter has been harmed by tap water contaminated with toxic industrial compounds used in products like nonstick cookware, carpets and fast-food wrappers. Henry Betz, at 76, rattles around his house alone at night, thinking about the water his family unknowingly drank for years that was tainted by the same contaminants, and the pancreatic cancers that killed wife Betty Jean and two others in his household.

Tim Hagey, manager of a local water utility, recalls how he used to assure people that the local public water was safe. That was before testing showed it had some of the highest levels of the toxic compounds of any public water system in the U.S.

"You all made me out to be a liar," Hagey, general water and sewer manager in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Warminster, told Environmental Protection Agency officials last month.

At "community engagement sessions" like the one in Horsham, residents and state, local and military officials are demanding that the EPA act quickly — and decisively — to clean up local water systems testing positive for dangerous levels of the chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The Trump administration called the contamination "a potential public relations nightmare" earlier this year after federal toxicology studies found that some of the compounds are more hazardous than previously acknowledged.

PFAS have been in production since the 1940s, and there are about 3,500 different types. Dumped into water, the air or soil, some forms of the compounds are expected to remain intact for thousands of years; one public-health expert dubbed them "forever chemicals."

EPA testing from 2013 to 2015 found significant amounts of PFAS in public water supplies in 33 U.S. states. The finding helped move PFAS up as a national priority.

So did scientific studies that firmed up the health risks. One, looking at a kind of PFAS once used in making Teflon, found a probable link with kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypertension in pregnant women and high cholesterol. Other recent studies point to immune problems in children, among other things.

In 2016, the EPA set advisory limits — without any direct enforcement — for two kinds of PFAS that had recently been phased out of production in the United States. But manufacturers are still producing, and releasing into the air and water, newer versions of the compounds.

Earlier this year, federal toxicologists decided that even the EPA's 2016 advisory levels for the two phased-out versions of the compound were several times too high for safety.

EPA says it will prepare a national management plan for the compounds by the end of the year. But Peter Grevatt, director of the agency's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, told The Associated Press that there's no deadline for a decision on possible regulatory actions.

Reviews of the data, and studies to gather more, are ongoing.

Even as the Trump administration says it advocates for clean air and water, it is ceding more regulation to the states and putting a hold on some regulations seen as burdensome to business.

In Horsham and surrounding towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and at other sites around the United States, the foams once used routinely in firefighting training at military bases contained PFAS.

"I know that you can't bring back three people that I lost," Betz, a retired airman, told the federal officials at the Horsham meeting. "But they're gone."

State lawmakers complained of "a lack of urgency and incompetency" on the part of EPA.

"It absolutely disgusts me that the federal government would put PR concerns ahead of public health concerns," Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens declared.

After the meeting, Woeher questioned why it took so long to tell the public about the dangers of the compounds.

"They knew they had seeped into the water, and they didn't tell anybody about it until it was revealed and they had to," she said.

Speaking at her home with her toddler nearby, she asked, "Is this something that, you know, I have to worry? It's in her."

While contamination of drinking water around military bases and factories gets most of the attention, the EPA says 80 percent of human exposure comes from consumer products in the home.

The chemical industry says it believes the versions of the nonstick, stain-resistant compounds in use now are safe, in part because they don't stay in the body as long as older versions.

"As an industry today ... we're very forthcoming meeting any kind of regulatory requirement to disclose any kind of adverse data," said Jessica Bowman, a senior director at the American Chemistry Council trade group.

Independent academics and government regulators say they don't fully share the industry's expressed confidence about the safety of PFAS versions now in use.

While EPA considers its next step, states are taking action to tackle PFAS contamination on their own.

In Delaware, National Guard troops handed out water after high levels of PFAS were found in a town's water supply. Michigan last month ordered residents of two towns to stop drinking or cooking with their water, after PFAS was found at 20 times the EPA's 2016 advisory level. In New Jersey, officials urged fishermen to eat some kinds of fish no more than once a year because of PFAS contamination.

Washington became the first state to ban any firefighting foam with the compound.

Given the findings on the compounds, alarm bells "should be ringing four out of five" at the EPA, Kerrigan Clough, a former deputy regional EPA administrator, said in an interview with the AP as he waited for a test for PFAS in the water at his Michigan lake home, which is near a military base that used firefighting foam.

"If the risk appears to be high, and you've got it every place, then you've got a different level" of danger and urgency, Clough said. "It's a serious problem."

Problems with PFAS surfaced partly as a result of a 1999 lawsuit by a farmer who filmed his cattle staggering, frothing and dying in a field near a DuPont disposal site in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for PFAS then used in Teflon.

In 2005, under President George W. Bush, the EPA and DuPont settled an EPA complaint that the chemical company knew at least by the mid-1980s that the early PFAS compound posed a substantial risk to human health.

The EPA in the past "didn't have much of a hammer to come down on a bad existing chemical," said Lynn Goldman, the agency's assistant administrator over toxic substances in the 1990s, now dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

But Congress has boosted the agency's authority to regulate problematic chemicals since then. That includes toughening up the federal Toxic Substances Control Act and regulatory mandates for the EPA itself in 2016.

For PFAS, that should include addressing the new versions of the compounds coming into production, not just tackling old forms that companies already agreed to take offline, Goldman said.

"Otherwise it's the game of whack-a-mole," she said. "That's not what you want to do when you're protecting the public health." 

Associated Press video journalist Joseph B. Frederick contributed to this report. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke/AP]]>
<![CDATA[436 Confirmed Sick After Eating McDonald's Salad]]>Fri, 10 Aug 2018 11:33:48 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1260.jpg

The CDC is now reporting that 436 people have been diagnosed with an intestinal illness after consuming salads at McDonald’s restaurants. 

The laboratory-confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis have been reported in 15 states after customers ate salads at the restaurant’s locations.

In its initial announcement July 13, the CDC reported 61 cases. As of last week, there were 395 cases. 

Over 200 cases have now been reported in Illinois and Iowa alone, with 219 cases confirmed in Illinois.  

The most common symptom of the illness is watery diarrhea. Other symptoms include appetite loss, intestinal pain, nausea, and fatigue.

McDonald's released a statement regarding the outbreak, saying "McDonald's is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality control." 

Earlier this summer, McDonald’s removed the lettuce blend from 3,000 identified restaurants and distribution centers that had received it.

Affected restaurants were located in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Missouri. 

Reported illnesses started on or after May 20. 

In an update Thursday, the CDC said "at this time, there is no evidence to suggest that this cluster of illnesses is related to the Cyclospora outbreak linked to Del Monte fresh produce vegetable trays."

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[EPA Broke Law, Ignored Science on Harmful Pesticide: Court]]>Fri, 10 Aug 2018 00:28:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ag-workers-pesticides.jpg

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Trump administration endangered public health by keeping a widely used pesticide on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies' brains.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.

A coalition of farmworkers and environmental groups sued last year after then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos, which is widely sprayed on citrus fruit, apples and other crops. The attorneys general for several states including California, New York and Massachusetts joined the case against EPA.

In a split decision, the court said Thursday that Pruitt, a Republican forced to resign earlier this summer amid ethics scandals, violated federal law by ignoring the conclusions of agency scientists that chlorpyrifos is harmful.

"The panel held that there was no justification for the EPA's decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children," Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the court's opinion.

Michael Abboud, spokesman for acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, said the agency was reviewing the decision, but it had been unable to "fully evaluate the pesticide using the best available, transparent science."

EPA could potentially appeal to the Supreme Court since one member of the three-judge panel dissented from the majority ruling.

Environmental groups and public health advocates celebrated the court's action as a major success.

"Some things are too sacred to play politics with, and our kids top the list," said Erik Olson, senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The court has made it clear that children's health must come before powerful polluters. This is a victory for parents everywhere who want to feed their kids fruits and veggies without fear it's harming their brains or poisoning communities."

The attorneys general of California and New York also claimed victory.

"This is one more example of how then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt skirted the law and endangered the health of our children — in this case, all because he refused to curb pesticide levels found in food," Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California said in a statement.

Chlorpyrifos was created by Dow Chemical Co. in the 1960s. It remains among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with the chemical giant selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year through its subsidiary Dow AgroSciences.

Gregg Schmidt, a spokesman for Dow, said chlorpyrifos is a critical pest management tool used in countries around the world.

"We will continue to support the growers who need this important product," Schmidt said.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a family of organophosphate pesticides that are chemically similar to a nerve gas developed by Nazi Germany before World War II.

As a result of its wide use as a pesticide over the past four decades, traces of chlorpyrifos are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of the pesticide.

Under pressure from federal regulators, Dow voluntarily withdrew chlorpyrifos for use as a home insecticide in 2000. EPA also placed "no-spray" buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.

In October 2015, the Obama administration proposed banning the pesticide's use on food. A risk assessment memo issued by nine EPA scientists concluded: "There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos."

Federal law requires EPA to ensure that pesticides used on food in the United States are safe for human consumption — especially children, who are typically far more sensitive to the negative effects of poisons.

Shortly after his appointment by President Donald Trump in 2017, Pruitt announced he was revering the Obama administration effort to ban chlorpyrifos, adopting Dow's position that the science showing chlorpyrifos is harmful was inconclusive and flawed.

The Associated Press reported in June 2017 that Pruitt announced his agency's reversal on chlorpyrifos just 20 days after his official schedule showed a meeting with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. At the time, Liveris headed a White House manufacturing working group, and his company had written a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump's inaugural festivities.

Following the AP's report, then-EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said that March 9, 2017, meeting on Pruitt's schedule never happened. Bowman said the two men had instead shared only a "brief introduction in passing" while attending the same industry conference at a Houston hotel and that they never discussed chlorpyrifos.

However, internal EPA emails released earlier this year following a public records lawsuit filed by The Sierra Club suggest the two men shared more than a quick handshake.

Little more than a week after the conference and before Pruitt announced his decision, the EPA chief's scheduler reached out to Liveris' executive assistant to schedule a follow-up meeting.

"Hope this email finds you well!" wrote Sydney Hupp, Pruitt's assistant, on March 20, 2017. "I am reaching out today about setting up a meeting to continue the discussion between Dow Chemical and Administrator Scott Pruitt. My apologies for the delay in getting this email into you — it has been a crazy time over here!"

Subsequent emails show Hupp and Liveris' office discussing several potential dates that the Dow CEO might come to Pruitt's office at EPA headquarters, but it is not clear from the documents whether the two men ever linked up.

Liveris announced his retirement from Dow in March of this year.

Pruitt resigned July 6 amid more than a dozen ethics investigations focused on such issues as outsized security spending, first-class flights and a sweetheart condo lease for a Capitol Hill condo linked to an energy lobbyist.

Bowman, who left EPA in May to work for GOP Sen. Joni Ernest of Iowa, declined to comment on her earlier characterization of the March 2017 interaction between Pruitt and Liveris or what "discussion" the internal email was referring to.

"I don't work for EPA anymore," Bowman said.

Current EPA spokesman James Hewitt said, "We stand by our statement from last year."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Told of Patient's Fatal Overdose Prescribe Fewer Opioids, Study Says]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 14:21:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1251.jpg

In a novel experiment, doctors got a letter from the medical examiner's office telling them of their patient's fatal overdose. The response: They started prescribing fewer opioids.

Other doctors, whose patients also overdosed, didn't get letters. Their opioid prescribing didn't change.

More than 400 "Dear Doctor" letters, sent last year in San Diego County, were part of a study that, researchers say, put a human face on the U.S. opioid crisis for many doctors.

"It's a powerful thing to learn," said University of Southern California public policy researcher Jason Doctor, lead author of the paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

Researchers used a state database to find 861 doctors, dentists and others who had prescribed opioids and other risky medications to 170 people who died of an overdose involving prescription medicines. Most states have similar databases to track the prescribing of dangerous drugs, where doctors can check patients' previous prescriptions.

Most of the deaths involved opioid painkillers, many taken in combination with anti-anxiety drugs. On average, each person who died had filled prescriptions for dangerous drugs from five to six prescribers in the year before they died.

Half the prescribers received letters that began: "This is a courtesy communication to inform you that your patient (name, date of birth) died on (date). Prescription drug overdose was either the primary cause of death or contributed to the death."

The letters offered guidance for safer prescribing. The tone was supportive: "Learning of your patient's death can be difficult. We hope that you will take this as an opportunity" to prevent future deaths.

Then the researchers watched what happened over three months.

Letter recipients reduced their average daily opioid prescribing — measured in a standard way, morphine milligram equivalents — by nearly 10 percent compared to prescribers who didn't get letters. Opioid prescribing in the no-letter group didn't change.

Recipients put fewer new patients on opioids than those who didn't get letters. They wrote fewer prescriptions for high-dose opioids.

The strategy is original, helpful and could be duplicated elsewhere, said pain medicine expert Dr. David Clark of Stanford University, who wasn't involved in the study. He was surprised the letter's effect wasn't larger.

"It may have been easy for physicians to feel it was somebody else prescribing who got the patient in trouble," Clark said, adding that changing even one patient's care takes time, requiring "very difficult conversations."

Opioid prescribing has been declining in the U.S. for several years in response to pressure from health systems, insurers and regulators.

Yet deaths keep rising. Nearly 48,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses last year, according to preliminary numbers released last month, a 12 percent increase from a year before.

Now illegal fentanyl, another opioid, is the top killer, surpassing pain pills and heroin. Lead author Doctor said reducing the number of prescribed opioids will, over time, close off a gateway to illicit drugs by shrinking the pool of dependent people.

The study didn't analyze whether the deaths were caused by inappropriate prescribing or whether the prescribing changes resulted in patients doing better or worse.

That's a flaw in an otherwise careful study, said addiction researcher Dr. Stefan Kertesz of University of Alabama at Birmingham, who has raised red flags about policies that cause doctors to take patients off opioids too fast and without a plan for treating addiction.

Patients can fall into despair or contemplate suicide if they are involuntarily tapered off opioids without support, he said.

"What actually happens to patients should be our concern, rather than just making a number go down," Kertesz said.

Study co-author Dr. Roneet Lev, chief of emergency medicine at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, discovered her own name in the data.

Lev prescribed 15 opioid pain pills to an ER patient with a broken eye socket, without knowing the patient got 300 painkillers from another doctor a day earlier. Lev didn't get a "Dear Doctor" letter because the patient's death fell outside the timeline of the study, July 2015-June 2016.

Still, she felt the impact and believes she could have done better. Said Lev: "It was an opportunity to look at all the records on that patient and say, 'Wow, I'm really worried about you.'"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[Amazon Has Plans to Open Its Own Health Clinics for Seattle Employees]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 13:10:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/amazAP_17349203322627+copy.jpg

Amazon's ambitious plan to bring down the costs of health care is getting an early test in a familiar place: its Seattle headquarters. 

The company is in internal discussions to open primary care clinics in its main headquarters, according to two people familiar with the matter. The early plan is to hire a small number of doctors to start a pilot clinic later this year for a select group of employees and then expand it to more workers in early 2019, said the people, who asked not to be named because the plans are confidential. 

Amazon is taking a leading role among American companies in pushing for ways to bring down health costs, which are skyrocketing as insurers pass on the expenses associated with emergency room visits and providers that overcharge. By steering workers to urgent care and preventative care and by offering guidance on diet and exercise, companies are hoping to keep their employees healthier and out of the hospital. 

In January, Amazon announced a partnership with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to improve the quality of care and bring down costs. To run the joint venture, the group recently appointed Atul Gawande, who has spoken out about the importance of "regular, ongoing care," calling it "the greatest source of value in modern medicine," in a 2017 report

Amazon was previously looking to outsource its clinics and brought vendors in to pitch their services. After numerous rounds of discussions, Amazon ultimately decided to develop clinics internally, one of the people said. Providers including Crossover Health and One Medical offer on-site or nearby services for other companies, including those in the technology sector. 

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment. 

The move would echo Apple, which is developing clinics for its employees and their dependents. An Apple subsidiary called AC Wellness Network has already hired more than 40 people for those clinics. 

Amazon started its effort by hiring primary care experts, beginning last year with Christine Henningsgaard, who was previously vice president of operations at One Medical. In January, the company brought in Martin Levine from Iora Health, a primary care group with clinics in Seattle. 

Amazon could be using the local clinics to create a prototype before expanding them outside its employee base, said Michael Yang, a health investor at Comcast Ventures. Amazon has a history, Yang said, of testing new ideas with its own workers before scaling them out. The Amazon Go store, a small grocery in downtown Seattle that lets shoppers put items in their bag and walk out without waiting in line, is one example. Amazon has recently announced plans to open stores in Chicago and San Francisco. 

A big question with clinics, Yang added, is whether Amazon will make them available to its many thousands of warehouse workers, who have separate needs from the company's high-paid engineers and salespeople. 

"Dropping a package on your foot or throwing out your back after manual labor is a very different set of issues from the employee working at headquarters," he said. 

Disclosure: Comcast Ventures is a division of Comcast, the owner of NBC Universal, parent of CNBC and CNBC.com.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC: 

Photo Credit: Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP, File
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<![CDATA[CVS Health Nasal Sprays Recalled Due to Contamination]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 11:52:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ucm616192.jpg

Certain bottles of CVS Health’s 12 Hour Sinus Relief Nasal Mist have been recalled after they were found to have had a microbiological contamination, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

The nasal mist, manufactured by Product Quest, was found to have Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Frequent use of the contaminated product could result in infections, which could be life-threatening for users with cystic fibrosis or people who are immuno-compromised, the FDA said on its website.

"To the best of Product Quest’s knowledge, the company has not received any reports of adverse events related to this recall," the FDA said.

The affected nasal sprays come in .5-ounce white bottles. They are packaged in a carton with expiration date September 2019 and lot number 173089J printed on the side. The products have orange labels with “Sinus Relief” in white letters and “CVS Health” in the left corner.

The FDA urges customers with the recalled product to return it to the store where it was purchased or to discard it.

Photo Credit: Food and Drug Administration ]]>
<![CDATA[Inducing Labor at 39 Weeks Reduces Risk of C-Sections: Study]]>Wed, 08 Aug 2018 23:33:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pregnancyGettyImages-136810371.jpg

Inducing healthy first-time mothers at 39-weeks pregnant instead of waiting for them to go into labor does not raise the risk of a cesarean delivery, according to a new study. In fact, it lowers it.

The results of the study, to be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, overturn the longtime view that inducing labor raises the risk for a C-section, and prompted two leading OB-GYN doctor groups to say it's now reasonable to offer women like those in the study that option.

As NBC News reports, the notion that inductions can lead to C-sections was based on past data comparing a woman who goes into labor spontaneously with a woman who is induced at the same point in her pregnancy — which could be before the 39th week, if complications developed, or when the woman was overdue and had gone past 40 weeks.

For the new study, more than 6,100 women at 41 hospitals were randomly placed in two groups: one had labor induced at 39 weeks; the other waited for labor to start on its own and were induced only if a problem developed or they hadn't delivered by 42 weeks.

Those induced at 39 weeks had lower rates of maternal and fetal complications, including fewer C-sections (19 percent vs. 22 percent); lower frequent preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy condition, and hypertension (9 percent vs. 14 percent); and fewer newborns who needed respiratory support (3 percent vs. 4 percent).

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Mom Fails Drug Test After Eating Poppy Seed Bagel]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 15:22:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_poppyseedbagelmom_1920x1080.jpg

Some of you may remember the claim that when you eat poppy seeds, your drug test comes back positive. One Maryland woman paid the price for her breakfast choice the morning her daughter was born. WBAL's Theo Hayes reports]]>
<![CDATA[Could EPA Proposal Lead to New Uses for Asbestos?]]>Wed, 08 Aug 2018 05:56:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/asbestosGettyImages-53246562.jpg

Decades-old research has identified asbestos as a dangerous carcinogen, but the Environmental Protection Agency is now proposing a framework that could allow new uses for the toxic chemical in manufacturing, NBC News reported

The proposal, known as a "significant new use rule," was released in June. It details how companies can find new ways to use asbestos that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some of the products that could now involve it include adhesives, sealants and pipeline wraps. 

Asbestos-related disease advocacy groups have come out as strongly critical of the proposal, arguing that use of the chemical is undeniably dangerous. The EPA said the new rule "would prohibit companies from manufacturing, importing, or processing for these new uses of asbestos unless they receive approval from the EPA."

Strict regulations on asbestos have been imposed in the United States, rather than a ban — a move made by dozens of other developed nations. The chemical was used in construction until the 1970s, when research linked it to lung cancer and mesothelioma, among other diseases. 

Photo Credit: Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Experts Question Benefits of Fluoride-Free Toothpaste]]>Tue, 07 Aug 2018 13:17:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/toothbrush1.jpg

Dental health experts worry that more people are using toothpaste that skips the most important ingredient — fluoride — and leaves them at a greater risk of cavities.

Most toothpastes already contain fluoride. While health authorities recognize fluoride as a cavity blocker, the internet is dotted with claims, often from "natural" toothpaste marketers and alternative medicine advocates, that fluoride-free toothpaste also prevents cavities.

Dental authorities disagree.

"It's really important to debunk this idea that brushing your teeth stops decay. You need to have the fluoride," said Damien Walmsley, a scientific adviser to the British Dental Association and dentistry professor at the University of Birmingham.

That view was underscored this week by an article in the dental journal Gerodontology that reviewed the scientific literature on cavities. Its primary conclusion is that, without fluoride, oral hygiene efforts have "no impact" on cavity rates.

The idea that just brushing teeth doesn't stop cavities has largely been accepted among individual researchers for decades, but not always by the public. Dentists generally recommend fluoride for cavity fighting, but even some of them continue to believe that the mechanics of wiping your teeth clean of plaque also reduces cavities. The review findings, published Monday, gave pause to at least one dentist.

"It violates certain principles we've been taught and that we teach and that we believe," said Richard Niederman, a dentist and professor at New York University who saw an advance copy of the study and found the findings credible. "What it says to me is that the toothbrush is just a delivery system."

Few studies of the question have been carried out in recent years because the value of fluoride has been widely accepted for decades. In the review, University of Washington researchers looked for high-quality studies since 1950 and found just three. They were carried out in the U.S. and Great Britain and published from 1977 to 1981. They involved a total of 743 children aged 10 to 13 years who flossed and brushed for up to three years.

When the studies were evaluated statistically as a whole, there was no significant cavity reduction from simply brushing or flossing without fluoride.

Dentist J. Leslie Winston, oral care director for Crest-toothpaste maker Procter & Gamble, said the review "serves as an important reminder."

"Despite a large body of scientific evidence, there are growing numbers of consumers who believe that all toothpastes are the same and that as long as you clean your teeth effectively with a toothbrush or other device which cleans in-between the teeth, you can prevent decay," he said in a statement.

The market share for fluoride-free toothpaste is closely held company data. Industry sources estimate it at no more than 5 percent of all toothpaste sold, but with projected growth of over 5 percent annually. On Monday, Tom's of Maine antiplaque and whitening toothpaste, which is fluoride-free, was listed as the second-best selling toothpaste on Amazon's online buying platform.

Paul Jessen, a brand manager at Tom's of Maine, said "the products that don't contain fluoride that we offer do not promise that benefit" to fight cavities. He said his company's customers generally understand this.

Yet customer comment on Amazon's website sometimes indicates otherwise, with many reviews insisting that the company's fluoride-free toothpaste does fight cavities. "If you brush regularly with or without fluoride, you reduce the risk of cavities," asserts one customer.

Oral care companies themselves also stray into such claims. The website of Revitin non-fluoride toothpaste says it "strengthens your teeth against tooth decay."

Gerald Curatola, the dentist who founded Revitin and now serves as chief science officer, called the review "misleading." He said that the latest science suggests that a healthy mix of oral bacteria is key to dental health. "I don't think fluoride makes a difference at all," he said.

However, referring to his company's decay-fighting claim, he added: "After this call, I'm probably going to remove that from the website, because I don't think that should be on there, because I didn't know that was on there."

Jeff Davis, the CEO of Sheffield Pharmaceuticals that sells toothpaste with and without fluoride, said it's "pretty established" that fluoride is what helps reduce cavities. But he said some people worry about the harmful effect of too much fluoride and so choose fluoride-free toothpaste.

Even without fluoride, dentists say there's some value in brushing. Philippe Hujoel, the dentist and University of Washington professor who led the dental review, said oral hygiene without fluoride might produce real cavity-fighting effects too small to detect in a study, or adults might conceivably benefit where the children in the studies did not.

And toothbrushing did reduce swollen gums in Hujoel's review. Brushing the teeth may also dislodge stuck food and help patients recover from oral surgery.

Dentist Matthew Messina, a spokesman for the American Dental Association, said mechanical brushing can also help avoid decay that sometimes forms, especially in older people, at the normally hidden roots of teeth, which was outside the scope of this review.

"The study is important," he added, "because the study is supporting what we've been contending for a long time." The ADA recommends using fluoride toothpastes.

The review also cited a 2009 analysis of studies involving 60,000 people that found fluoride rinse prevents cavities about as well as fluoride toothpaste.

In 2016, The Associated Press reported on the poor scientific evidence for the benefits of flossing. As a result, the federal government removed its long-standing flossing recommendation from Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The review raises questions about how cavities form. Cavities have long been thought to develop in a poorly cleaned mouth when acids left by food start to wear away tooth enamel. The idea is that clean teeth do not decay. This review, though, argues for an alternate model: cavities grow in tiny crevices in the enamel that can't easily be reached with a toothbrush or dental floss alone.

Despite the clear benefit of fluoride, some studies have also challenged the belief that fluoridated drinking water stops dental decay as well as fluoride toothpaste or rinses. In any event, it makes sense to combine fluoridated water and dental products for amplified protection, said Niederman, the NYU dentist.

Some dentists also said the most effective way to prevent cavities is simply to reduce sugars in the diet. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Expands Recalls of Blood Pressure, Heart Drugs]]>Mon, 06 Aug 2018 13:34:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/080618bloodpressire.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expanded its voluntary recall of several medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure over concerns that an active ingredient in the drugs could be contaminated with a cancer-causing agent.

The agency reported that traces of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a "probable human carcinogen," was found in the active ingredient valsartan in the recalled products. The FDA noted not all products containing valsartan are contaminated and being recalled. A third-party supplied the valsartan contained in the recall. 

The FDA updated the list of products included in the recall and the list of those unaffected

"FDA is working with drug manufacturers to ensure future valsartan active pharmaceutical ingredients are not at risk of NDMA formation," the FDA said. "The agency reminds manufacturers to thoroughly evaluate their API manufacturing processes, and changes to those processes, to detect any unsafe impurities."

Patients are urged to look at the drug name and company name on the label of their prescription bottle to determine whether a specific product has been recalled. If the information is not on the bottle, patients should contact the pharmacy that dispensed the medicine to find out the company name.

If a patient is taking one of the recalled medicines, they should follow the recall instructions each specific company provided, which will be available on the FDA’s website.

If a patient's medicine is included in the recall, they should contact their health care professional to discuss their treatment options, which may include another valsartan product this recall doesn't affect or an alternative option.

The agency encourages patients and health care professionals to report any adverse reaction to the FDA’s MedWatch program.

"The FDA’s review is ongoing and has included investigating the levels of NDMA in the recalled products, assessing the possible effect on patients who have been taking them and what measures can be taken to reduce or eliminate the impurity from future batches produced by the company," the FDA said in a news release.

The presence of NDMA is "thought to be related to changes in the way the active substance was manufactured," the agency said.

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[2 Injured at Gordon Ramsay's Las Vegas Restaurant]]>Sat, 04 Aug 2018 12:01:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/RamsayBoltonRestaurant.jpg

Two patrons of chef Gordon Ramsay's newest restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip were taken to a hospital for treatment for injuries involving a drink.

Caesars Entertainment confirmed to The Associated Press Friday that two people were injured at Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen Thursday.

"The particular type of specialty drink served at Hell’s Kitchen is served at the finest restaurants worldwide without incident. But, out of an abundance of caution, Hell’s Kitchen has removed the drink item at issue from the menu" said a statement from Caesar's Palace.

The company would not specify the drink. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports it was a flaming tiki-style cocktail called Rum Donkey.

The online menu shows the ingredients are Cruzan Single Barrel Rum, falernum, brown sugar, ginger beer and torched passion fruit.

Clark County Fire Deputy Chief Jon Klassen says the department transported two people to the hospital, but firefighters didn't have to extinguish any fire. He had no information on the extent of the customers' injuries or status.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision for Chase Sapphire Preferred, File]]>
<![CDATA[Rat Lungworm Parasite Infected 12, Including Toddlers: CDC]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 15:50:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/t-gondii.jpg

Twelve people in the continental U.S., including some toddlers, have been infected in recent years by a parasite called rat lungworm, which has the capacity to get into people’s brains, federal health officials said Thursday.

Because the parasite can be found across several states and often doesn’t cause severe symptoms, some additional cases might have gone unreported, NBC News reported.

After rat lungworm infected two people in China who ate raw centipedes last month, the parasite made headlines. People in the U.S. can catch it by eating snails or vegetables out of a home garden, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Six of the cases identified by the CDC since 2011 were in people living in the southern U.S., including Texas, Tennessee and Alabama, the CDC said. The rest were in travelers who may have eaten the parasite overseas.

Photo Credit: CDC/ Dr. L.L. Moore, Jr.]]>
<![CDATA[Man's Limbs Amputated After Contracting Infection From Dog Saliva ]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 17:24:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Dog+Lick+Amputation.jpg

A Wisconsin man had part of his arms and legs amputated after a medical emergency caused by a bacteria found in dog and cat saliva.

Greg Manteufel began feeling ill in late June and within hours went into septic shock, according to a GoFundMe account created to raise money to help the family through his recovery. 

He was admitted to the hospital, where doctors said Manteufel had contracted an infection caused by bacteria commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats, called Capnocytophaga canimorsus.

His wife, Dawn Manteufel, told a local news station her motorcycling-riding, loving 48-year-old husband had been around dogs his entire life, but that doctors suspect a lick may have caused the infection.

Though the bacteria is most often transmitted to humans through dog bites, the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health reported rare cases where scratches, licking or other contact with dogs or cats transmitted it.

The bacteria seeped into Manteufel's bloodstream and caused sepsis, or blood poisoning from the infection, and within days of being admitted to the hospital, doctors were forced to amputate both of his feet, the GoFundMe page details.

A second surgery removed more of Manteufel’s legs, up to his kneecaps. He then later lost both of his hands up to his mid-forearm.

Dawn Manteufel reported her husband told doctors to “take what you need but keep me alive.”

Manteufel will need several more surgeries, but family members reported he was "so thankful to be alive today and is taking one day at a time."

The GoFundMe page for the Manteufel family has raised over $67,000 of its $100,000 goal as of Thursday morning. It notes that the recovery will be a long process, including months of surgeries and the need for prosthetics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes adults 40 years old and older are more likely to contract an infection, and risk factors include alcoholism and weak immune system related to cancer, HIV and diabetes. Another key risk factor is not having a spleen.

The agency also reported that Capnocytophaga can cause serious illness in pregnant women and their fetuses. Infection during the last few weeks of gestation can lead to inflammation of the membranes surrounding the fetus, and sepsis, a bacterial infection in the bloodstream or body tissues, in the newborn. It has also been linked to low birth weight.

Capnocytophaga infections are rare, and doctors told Dawn Manteufel her husband's case is a "crazy fluke," The Washington Post reported.

Photo Credit: Dawn Manteufel via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Google Glass Helps Kids With Autism Make Eye Contact: Study]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 10:16:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/autism-google-glass-study.jpg

Most children with autism who wore Google Glasses equipped with facial expression-interpreting software made improvements in holding eye contact with their families, according to a study published Thursday.

The lead author of the Stanford University School of Medicine study, Dennis Wall, told NBC News that the Superpower Glass trial — the first outside of a laboratory — used technology that turns emotion reading into a game that's "an opportunity for fun and engagement."

Donji Cullenbine said her 9-year-old son Alex didn't make much progress through therapy. But when he took part in the trial, he was suddenly making frequent eye contact.

"It was thrilling," she said. "I tried to incentivize him to look at me for so many years, but had no movement. Then in two weeks, it was like a flip switched. He said, 'Mommy, I can read minds.'"

Photo Credit: Steve Fisch/Stanford University School of Medicine]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Reminds People Condoms Aren't Meant to Be Reused]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 09:03:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-73504525.jpg

Health officials are reminding people that condoms are not reusable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tweeted on its sexually transmitted disease site that condoms are for single use. Officials say they needed to tweet the message because people are washing or reusing condoms instead of throwing them away.

The agency also says condoms have expiration dates.

The CDC says correctly using condoms can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. They also can protect against other diseases that may be transmitted through sex, such as the Zika virus.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Image Source, File
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<![CDATA[Abortion-Rights Activists Brace for New Wave of Restrictions]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 07:49:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18208525938212-abortion-rights-protest-supreme-court.jpg

Abortion-rights advocates are intensifying efforts to make it easier for women to get abortions amid a new wave of state-level bans and restrictions expected to occur under a reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court.

The efforts include boosting financial aid for women needing to travel long distances to get an abortion, and raising awareness about the option of do-it-yourself abortions.

The sense of urgency stems from the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sometimes provided the decisive vote in support of abortion rights, and the possibility that Brett Kavanaugh, nominated by President Donald Trump to replace him, would give the court an anti-abortion majority.

Advocates anticipate new limits on abortion access in red states that are emboldened by the prospect of a more solidly conservative court. The Republican-led states want more latitude in the courts to impose far-reaching abortion restrictions while hoping that a lawsuit on the issue makes its way to the Supreme Court and is the case that ultimately overturns Roe v. Wade — the 1973 establishing a nationwide right to abortion.

Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said that since Kennedy's retirement announcement on June 27, there has been a surge of donations to help the network assist low-income women in paying for their abortions. There are 70 funds in 38 states, currently assisting about one-fifth of the 150,000 women who inquire about assistance each year.

"Without a doubt we're moving into a bleaker time," Hernandez said. "People who haven't been paying attention are realizing what is at stake, and wanting to get involved."

If Roe were overturned, abortion-rights advocates anticipate that 20 or more states would ban most abortions. Women in those states might face long and costly interstate journeys to reach an abortion provider, or they could avail themselves of information about how to self-induce an abortion.

The two main abortion-inducing drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, are legally available only through authorized medical professionals in the U.S., and numerous states have placed restrictions on medical abortions. In many places abroad, misoprostol is widely available, even over the counter in pharmacies in some countries, and has been used extensively for self-induced abortions in countries such as Brazil that have restrictive laws.

For American women, the most likely means of obtaining misoprostol is via an online purchase from a foreign provider. That method is considered difficult to prevent, even in states with laws explicitly banning self-induced abortion.

A 2-year-old California-based organization, the Self-Inducted Abortion Legal Team, is expanding its operations this summer, convinced that the ongoing push for tougher abortion restrictions will prompt more women to consider the self-induced option.

Jill Adams, the team's founder and chief strategist, said a top priority is to provide legal advice and support for any women who face possible prosecution for do-it-yourself abortions. Her group plans to launch a help line this fall that will provide callers with basic advice and, if warranted, connect them with an attorney in their area.

Her team and its allies are advocating that states avoid such prosecutions, a goal recently backed by two major medical associations.

Dr. Jamila Perritt, a Washington, D.C.-based obstetrician-gynecologist who provides abortions, says she has counseled some women who opted for self-induced abortions, and is grateful that they now have relatively safe and effective means of doing that, thanks to the abortion pill.

"Whatever happens with the Supreme Court, there are safer options now that we didn't have 40 years ago," she said.

Anti-abortion leaders are troubled by the positive talk about self-induced abortion.

"This kind of effort is dangerous and highly irresponsible," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee. She evoked the potential difficulties of women who used that method and then suffered serious side effects.

Tobias said her organization does not favor criminal action against women who self-abort, and instead would prefer targeting those who make the medicine available.

Many of the abortion-related topics now being discussed in the context of the Supreme Court vacancy will be summarized in a book being written by journalist and activist Robin Marty, titled "Handbook for a Post-Roe America." It is scheduled for publication on Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Marty describes the book as "a step-by-step guide explaining what any person can do once abortion becomes illegal or inaccessible in the U.S." It covers possible legislative action, ways of supporting women who need to cross state lines for abortions, and the key factors involved in considering a self-induced abortion.

"The internet will be a great way to find information, but it's a double-edged sword because it leaves a trail," Marty said. "How do you access these things online without being able to be tracked?"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Cliff Owen/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Undermining Obamacare Violates Constitution: Lawsuit]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 06:07:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/acaGettyImages-869078956.jpg

A new lawsuit being filed Thursday argues that President Donald Trump’s efforts to make good on his promise to "let Obamacare implode" on its own violate the U.S. Constitution, NBC News reported.  

Trump has “waged a relentless effort to use executive action alone to undermine and, ultimately, eliminate the law,” the complaint says, according to a draft obtained by NBC News. The lawsuit is being filed in Maryland federal court by the cities of Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati and Baltimore.

The suit specifically argues that he is violating Article II of the Constitution, requiring the president to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Since his first executive order directing federal agencies to claw back as much of the Affordable Care Act as possible, Trump’s directives have increased health coverage costs and depressed enrollment, the complainants say.

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Congo Announces 4 New Ebola Cases in Eastern Province]]>Wed, 01 Aug 2018 11:34:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18161484493496.jpg

Congo's health ministry says at least four new cases of Ebola have emerged in the country's east, just a week after an outbreak in the northwest was declared over.

The ministry says there is no indication the two epidemics separated by more than 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) are related.

The North Kivu health division notified the ministry on Saturday of 26 cases of hemorrhagic fever, including 20 deaths in North Kivu province. The ministry says four of six samples sent to the capital for analysis came back positive for Ebola.

The new cases are in eastern Mabalako health zone within the Beni region.

Congo on July 24 declared the end of an Ebola outbreak that began in May in northwest Equateur province. Those 54 Ebola cases included 33 deaths.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Sam Mednick, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Admin. OKs Short-Term Health Plans With Coverage Gaps]]>Wed, 01 Aug 2018 15:27:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/200*120/080118healthcvarefov.jpg

Consumers will have more options to buy cheaper, short-term health insurance under a new Trump administration rule, but there's no guarantee the plans will cover pre-existing conditions or provide benefits like coverage of prescription drugs.

Administration officials said Wednesday the short-term plans will last up to 12 months and can be renewed for up to 36 months. With premiums about one-third the cost of comprehensive coverage, the option is geared to people who want an individual health insurance policy but make too much money to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

"We see that it's just unaffordable for so many people who are not getting subsidies and we're trying to make additional options available," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. "These may be a good choice for individuals, but they may also not be the right choice for everybody."

Buyers take note: Plans will carry a disclaimer that they don't meet the ACA's requirements and safeguards. And there's no federal guarantee short-term coverage can be renewed.

Democrats immediately branded Trump's approach as "junk insurance," and a major insurer group warned that consumers could potentially be harmed. Other insurers were more neutral, and companies marketing the plans hailed the development.

It's unclear how much mass-market appeal such limited plans will ultimately have. State insurance regulators also have jurisdiction, and many states may move to impose their own restrictions. Federal officials said they anticipate a slow take-up, not sweeping changes.

Unable to repeal much of "Obamacare," the Trump administration has tried to undercut how it's supposed to work and to create options for people who don't qualify for financial assistance with premiums.

Officials are hoping short-term plans will fit the bill. Next year, there will be no tax penalty for someone who opts for short-term coverage versus a comprehensive plan, so more people might consider the option. More short-term plans will be available starting this fall.

A major insurer group expressed strong concerns.

"The broader availability and longer duration of slimmed-down policies that do not provide comprehensive coverage has the potential to harm consumers, both by making comprehensive coverage more expensive and by leaving some consumers unaware of the risks of these policies," said Justine Handelman of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, whose members are a mainstay of ACA coverage.

But President Donald Trump has been enthusiastic. "Much less expensive health care at a much lower price," he said, previewing the plans at a White House event last week. "Will cost our country nothing. We're finally taking care of our people."

The administration estimates that premiums for a short-term plan could be about one-third the cost of comprehensive coverage. A standard silver plan under the Obama law now averages $481 a month for a 40-year-old nonsmoker. A short-term plan might cost $160 a month or even less.

Short-term insurance has fewer benefits. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of current plans found none that covered maternity, and many that did not cover prescription drugs or substance abuse treatment — required under the Obama law. They can include dollar limits on coverage.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Democrats will "do everything in our power" to block the administration. It wasn't immediately clear how that might happen.

Short-term plans have been a niche product for people in life transitions: those switching jobs, retiring before Medicare eligibility or aging out of parental coverage.

Azar said they're tailor-made for the "gig economy."

Some in the industry say they're developing "next generation" short-term plans that will be more responsive to consumer needs, with pros and cons clearly spelled out. Major insurer UnitedHealthcare is marketing short-term plans.

Delaware insurance broker Nick Moriello said consumers should carefully consider their choice.

"The insurance company will ask you a series of questions about your health," Moriello said. "They are not going to cover anything related to a pre-existing condition. There is a relatively small risk to the insurance company on what they would pay out relative to those plans."

Nonetheless, the CEO of a company that offers short-term plans said they're a "rational decision" for some people.

"It's a way better alternative to not being insured," said Jeff Smedsrud of Pivot Health.

Smedsrud said most plans restrict coverage for those who have sought treatment for a pre-existing condition over the past five years.

Short-term plans join "association health plans" for small businesses as the administration promotes lower-cost health care options that cover less.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that roughly 6 million more people will eventually enroll in either an association plan or a short-term plan. The administration says it expects about 1.6 million people to pick a short-term plan when the plans are fully phased in.

About 20 million are covered under the Obama law, combining its Medicaid expansion and subsidized private insurance for those who qualify.

Enrollment for the law's subsidized private insurance is fairly stable, and HealthCare.gov insurers are making money again.

But a recent Kaiser Foundation analysis found turmoil in the unsubsidized market after two years of double-digit premium increases forced many consumers to drop out or seek other coverage.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: HHS via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mosquitoes in Yonkers Test Positive for West Nile: Officials]]>Wed, 01 Aug 2018 02:49:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/MOSQUITO+NY+ONLY+PEXELS.jpg

Health officials in Westchester County say mosquitoes in the area have tested positive for West Nile virus.

The Journal News reports the Westchester County Health Department confirmed two batches of mosquitoes collected in Yonkers tested positive for the virus. There were 134 batches tested in the county.

According to officials, there were three reported cases of West Nile virus in the county last year.

Westchester County Commissioner of Health Sherlita Amler said in a statement residents should remove standing water that sits near their homes. Amler added that people spending time outdoors should use repellents "from dawn to dusk."

Most people don't develop any symptoms, but those who do may have fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea. In rare cases, people develop severe illnesses like meningitis, which can be deadly.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA['Medicare for All' Would Cost $32.6T Over 10 Years: Study]]>Mon, 30 Jul 2018 13:13:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17265758349692-Bernie-Sanders-Medicare-for-All.jpg

Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for all" plan would boost government health spending by $32.6 trillion over 10 years, requiring historic tax hikes, says a study released Monday by a university-based libertarian policy center.

That's trillion with a "T."

The latest plan from the Vermont independent would deliver significant savings on administration and drug costs, but increased demand for care would drive up spending, according to the analysis by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia. Doubling federal individual and corporate income tax receipts would not cover the full cost, the study said.

Sanders' plan builds on Medicare, the popular insurance program for seniors. All U.S. residents would be covered with no copays and deductibles for medical services. The insurance industry would be relegated to a minor role.

"Enacting something like 'Medicare for all' would be a transformative change in the size of the federal government," said Charles Blahous, the study's author. Blahous was a senior economic adviser to former President George W. Bush and a public trustee of Social Security and Medicare during the Obama administration.

Responding to the study, Sanders took aim at the Mercatus Center, which receives funding from the conservative Koch brothers. Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch is on the center's board.

"If every major country on earth can guarantee health care to all, and achieve better health outcomes, while spending substantially less per capita than we do, it is absurd for anyone to suggest that the United States cannot do the same," Sanders said in a statement. "This grossly misleading and biased report is the Koch brothers response to the growing support in our country for a 'Medicare for all' program."

Sanders' office has not done a cost analysis, a spokesman said. His 2016 presidential campaign website cites an estimated price tag of $1.38 trillion a year for an earlier version of the plan, but other studies have projected much higher costs.

Sanders' staff found an error in an initial version of the Mercatus report, which counted a long-term care program that was in the 2016 proposal but not the current one. Blahous corrected it, reducing his estimate by about $3 trillion over 10 years. Blahous says the report is his own work, not the Koch brothers'.

Also called "single-payer" over the years, "Medicare for all" reflects a longtime wish among liberals for a government-run system that covers all Americans. With Republicans in charge of Congress and the White House, it has little chance.

But Sanders' idea has broad rank-and-file support among Democrats, and polls show it also appeals to many independents. Looking ahead to the 2020 election, Democrats are debating whether single-payer should be a "litmus test" for national candidates.

The Mercatus analysis estimated the 10-year cost of "Medicare for all" from 2022 to 2031, after an initial phase-in. Its findings are similar to those of several independent studies of Sanders' 2016 plan. Those studies found increases in federal spending over 10 years that ranged from $24.7 trillion to $34.7 trillion.

Kenneth Thorpe, a health policy professor at Emory University in Atlanta, authored one of the earlier studies and says the Mercatus analysis reinforces them.

"It's showing that if you are going to go in this direction, it's going to cost the federal government $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion a year in terms of spending," said Thorpe. "Even though people don't pay premiums, the tax increases are going to be enormous. There are going to be a lot of people who'll pay more in taxes than they save on premiums." Thorpe was a senior health policy adviser in the Clinton administration.

The study found that the plan would reap substantial savings from lower prescription costs — $846 billion over 10 years — since the government would deal directly with drugmakers. Savings from streamlined administration would be even greater, nearly $1.6 trillion.

But other provisions would tend to drive up spending, including coverage for nearly 30 million uninsured people, no deductibles and copays, and improved benefits, including dental, vision and hearing.

The Mercatus study also takes issue with a key cost-saving feature of the plan — that hospitals and doctors will accept payment based on lower Medicare rates for all their patients. Medicare rates are currently about 40 percent less than private insurance, according to the analysis.

The study found lower U.S. health care spending under Sanders' plan would drop over time — about $300 billion lower in 2031.

However, the study found that potential savings would vanish if hospitals and doctors aren't willing to accept lower fees for patients who are now privately insured. In that case, the U.S. would spend about $400 billion more in 2031.

Costs have been a stumbling block for state efforts to enact a single-payer system, including in Sanders' own state of Vermont.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Teen Infested With Hookworms After Trip to S. Florida Beach]]>Sat, 28 Jul 2018 10:13:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072618+kelli+dumas+michael+dumas+hookworms.jpg

A Tennessee woman says her son became infected with hookworms after a visit to a South Florida Beach.

Kelli Dumas posted photos of her 17-year-old son Michael's infected feet to Facebook after he visited Pompano Beach during a mission trip last month. She said he was buried in the sand and became infected, along with four other people on the trip.

Hookworms are often contracted by coming into contact with soil that has been contaminated by animal feces. Walking on the soil barefoot can lead to contracting the hookworms, according to the CDC

"He was buried in the sand for fun and it has become our nightmare," she wrote.

The Florida Department of Health in Broward County on Friday said it launched an investigation after receiving four reports of animal-associated hookworm infections.

Kelli Dumas said the painful hookworms have required a number of medications that have cost more than $1,300. Her son has also had to visit a pediatrician four times as well as a dermatologist.

She told NBC 6 her son is still under doctor's care "and will be for a long time."

"Never be buried in sand or allow your children to be either! I am only showing a few pictures because it is so disturbing," she said. "He is in pain."

Photo Credit: Facebook/Kelli Dumas
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<![CDATA[Why the Food Recalls Might Not Stop With Goldfish and Ritz ]]>Mon, 30 Jul 2018 08:54:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072619recallsplit.jpg

Bill Marler arrived at his Seattle home one night this week and began searching through the cupboard for something to eat. Toward the back, the food poisoning attorney spotted a bag of Goldfish, then remembered news reports about a new recall. Sure enough, he owned one of the more than 3 million packages that had been recalled on Monday. 

The back-to-back recalls of household staples Goldfish and Ritz crackers, along with earlier recalls of the Kellogg's cereal Honey Smacks and other cases, have prompted social media users to question which snacks are safe to eat. The short answer: we don't know yet, though no one has fallen ill from consuming recently recalled snack products linked to one supplier of whey protein.

Pepperidge Farm issued its voluntary recall for four types of its Goldfish crackers after the whey powder manufacturer Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) announced a recall of its own due to the “possible presence” of salmonella. Another company, Mondelez, recalled several of its Ritz cracker products over the weekend for the same reason.

Last week, Flowers Foods recalled its Swiss Rolls sold under various brand names. The company mentioned the whey powder ingredient in a news release. A Hungry Man frozen dinner also used AMPI's recalled powder. 

AMPI spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt noted that "all products shipped into the marketplace tested negative for Salmonella as part of AMPI’s routine testing program.”

But because "additional product tested positive for Salmonella under AMPI’s routine test and hold procedures," the recall was a precautionary move. 

"At AMPI, we are dedicated to producing dairy products that meet the highest quality and safety standards," Schmidt said. "We will continue to work cooperatively with the FDA." 

In a high-profile recall not linked to AMPI, Kellogg's flagged Honey Smacks last month due to the possible presence of salmonella. Seventy-three people became ill after eating the cereal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whey powder isn't an ingredient in Honey Smacks, Kellogg's said in an email to NBC. 

Marler, who represents some of the people who fell ill from salmonella after consuming Honey Smacks, said companies that alert customers before anyone gets sick have adopted the best approach to managing the issue.

With Ritz, Goldfish, Swiss Rolls and Hungry Man — products the FDA has linked to AMPI — there haven’t been any reported illnesses. Other manufacturers who use AMPI's whey powder might begin issuing recalls in the coming days, Marler predicted, based on how past recalls have played out. 

"I would expect it to be potentially dozens of products," Marler said. "This kind of recall is the system working properly. It's common and actually a good thing."

Here's how the system operates: ingredient and product testing is not regulated or required by the government. Companies often test their products according to their own food safety plans, said Martin Bucknavage, a senior food safety associate at Penn State’s college of agricultural sciences.

When an ingredient supplier identifies possible contamination, it contacts the manufacturers it works with. The supplier also files a report with the FDA explaining the recall using the agency's reportable food registry portal.  

In AMPI's case, the powder they provide for dairy and baked products is also a common ingredient used to coat cereals and other snacks, said Randy Worobo, a professor in Cornell’s department of food science. 

AMPI declined to release its complete list of whey powder customers,  confirming only that four manufacturers it works with have issued voluntary recalls as of Wednesday. It said it doesn't release proprietary customer lists.

An FDA spokesman said the agency had the list but wouldn't provide it. NBC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine which companies receive whey powder from AMPI. 

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC. Food is the cause of 1 million of those illnesses and 380 deaths. 

In 2007 and 2008, Peanut Corporation of America discovered salmonella contamination in its ingredients that were used in other manufacturers’ products but didn’t immediately issue a recall, according to The New York Times. Nine people were killed and more than 700 were reported ill as a result.

Companies that issue voluntary recalls before anyone gets sick will likely be viewed by customers in a positive light, said Tom Meyvis, an NYU marketing professor who studies consumer behavior.

“There’s an advantage to [the recall being connected] to one supplier,” Meyvis said.

Marler, the food poisoning attorney in Seattle, said that between recalls for romaine lettuce and Del Monte vegetables and illnesses linked to McDonald’s salads, the number of food-related ailments this year is alarming.

The FDA disputes that characterization. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that there haven't been an increase in the number or scope of recalls.

"Our tools for detecting them are much better, and our policies for how and when we alert the public lean in the direction of more and earlier communication," Gottlieb said. 

The FDA recommends that people discard or return recalled products to the stores where they're purchased. 

Photo Credit: Pepperidge Farm/Getty Images/AMPI]]>
<![CDATA[Cheesecake Factory, Uno Dishes Earn 'Xtreme Eating' Awards]]>Fri, 27 Jul 2018 15:54:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/173*120/GettyImages-142585668.jpg

Imagine eating seven McDonald's Sausage McMuffins in one sitting. That's what it would be like to finish just one breakfast burrito from The Cheesecake Factory, and the massive meal has topped the 2018 list of "Xtreme Eating Awards."

The list, released Thursday from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, purports to highlight some of the most unhealthy dishes at popular restaurant chains. 

Cheesecake Factory's breakfast burrito, recognized for being the "Worst Way to Start the Day," comes in at 2,730 calories, 73 grams of saturated fat and 4,630 milligrams of sodium. It's stuffed with eggs, bacon, chicken chorizo, cheese, potatoes, avocado, peppers and onions and smothered in spicy ranchero sauce. Sour cream, salsa and black beans come on the side.

The Health Department's Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. It also suggests consuming less than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars and less than 10 percent from saturated fats.

While daily calorie recommendations vary based on sex and age, a 1,800-calorie diet is suggested for 31- to 50-year-old females and a 2,200-calorie diet is suggested for males in the same age range.

The Cheesecake Factory defended its menu, saying customers don't have to eat its hearty meals if they don't want to.

"With more than 250 menu items, The Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices," the company said in a statement to NBC News. "Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories… For our calorie-conscious guests, we have our award-winning Skinnylicious menu…"

The Chicken Parmesan "Pizza Style" from Cheesecake Factory also won an award: "Worst Adapted Pizza." Its 10-inch, circular chicken breast is breaded and covered in marinara sauce and cheese. Angel hair pasta in Alfredo sauce his piled on top, bringing the dish to a whopping 1,870 calories. 

The "Worst Visceral Effects" award went to Uno Pizzeria & Grill's Deep Dish Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese. The heaping bowl has 2,320 calories, 59 grams of saturated fat and 4,530 milligrams of sodium — nutritionally equivalent to three orders of cheese ravioli from Olive Garden.

"For those looking for lighter fare, we have a smaller version of this award-winning Mac & Cheese… at less than half the calories," Uno said in a statement to NBC News. "We offer over 100 menu options, from indulgent treats to more healthful choices, so our guests can have whatever they’re in the mood for…"

The Bavarian Legend Soft Pretzel from AMC  earned the "Worst Cinematic Snack" with 7,600 milligrams of Sodium, and the Peanut Butter S’mores Pizookie from BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse got the "Worst Makeup" award with an estimated 135 grams of added sugar. The latter is nutritionally equal to a 14-oz. container of Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream and two cups of marshmallow Fluff.

BJ's also cited its large menu as a reason for customers to enjoy its food, saying, "We have something for everyone."

"While our very popular ... dessert is high in calories, it ... is perfect for sharing and typically ordered for a party of two or more," the company said in a statement to NBC. "That said, we do offer our Guests a full menu of Enlightened Entree items that are low in calories and made with high-nutrition ingredients for those eating on the healthier side."

AMC did not immediately return requests for comment. Yard House, Chili's and Shake Shack dishes also received awards, and the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comments as well.

Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Superhero Masks Empower Young Cancer Patients]]>Fri, 27 Jul 2018 13:26:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_masks0726_1500x845.jpg

At the Proton Therapy Center in St. Louis, Missouri cancer is in for a fight. It's not 11-year-old William Cosby lying on the patient table, it's the Black Panther. Child Life Specialist Hannah Heimos wanted to empower kids who have to wear masks during proton therapy.

Photo Credit: NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[Eating 'Xtreme': Restaurant Excess Exposed]]>Fri, 27 Jul 2018 12:52:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/extreme-eating-thumb.png

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has released its annual "Xtreme Eating Awards" highlighting some of the most unhealthy menu options in America.]]>
<![CDATA[Nearly 300 Confirmed Sick After Eating McDonald's Salads]]>Thu, 26 Jul 2018 23:19:41 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18193696359447.jpg

The CDC is now reporting that nearly 300 people have been diagnosed with an intestinal illness after consuming salads at McDonald’s restaurants.

In a new report, 286 laboratory-confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis have been reported in 15 states after customers ate salads at the restaurant’s locations.

Over 200 cases have now been reported in Illinois and Iowa alone, with 123 cases confirmed in Illinois.  

The most common symptom of the illness is watery diarrhea. Other symptoms include appetite loss, intestinal pain, nausea, and fatigue.

McDonald's released a statement regarding the outbreak, saying "McDonald's is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality control." 

Earlier this summer, McDonald’s removed the lettuce blend from 3,000 identified restaurants and distribution centers that had received it.

Affected restaurants were located in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Missouri. 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File]]>
<![CDATA[Backlash Builds Against Straw Bans]]>Thu, 26 Jul 2018 11:46:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_straws0726_1500x845.jpg

Cities and businesses across the U.S. are moving to ban plastic straws in an effort to ease the burden of plastic waste on the environment. But those bans may also make life more complicated for disabled people.

Photo Credit: NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[Pepperidge Farm Recalls 4 Varieties of Goldfish Crackers]]>Thu, 26 Jul 2018 11:00:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/PF-8548-GFFBXtraCheddar.jpg

Pepperidge Farm says it has been notified by one of its ingredient suppliers that whey powder in a seasoning that is applied to four varieties of crackers has been the subject of a recall by the whey powder manufacturer due to the potential presence of salmonella.

Pepperidge Farm initiated an investigation and, out of an abundance of caution, is voluntarily recalling four varieties of Goldfish crackers. The products were distributed throughout the United States. 

No illnesses have been reported. No other Pepperidge Farm products in the U.S. are subject to this recall.

The following four varieties with the indicated codes are subject to this recall:

  • Flavor Blasted® Xtra Cheddar
  • Flavor Blasted® Sour Cream & Onion
  • Goldfish® Baked with Whole Grain Xtra Cheddar
  • Goldfish® Mix Xtra Cheddar + Pretzel

Different packaging options are included in this recall. Consumers are encouraged to read this chart.

Consumers who have purchased these products should not eat them. Recalled products should be discarded or may be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may visit www.pepperidgefarm.com/GoldfishUpdate or call Customer Service at 800-679-1791, 24 hours a day, for more information.

Photo Credit: Pepperidge Farm]]>
<![CDATA[CDC: Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Backyard Chickens]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 11:57:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-659477980.jpg

A salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 200 people in 44 states is linked to backyard chickens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.    

As of July 13, 2018, 212 cases of salmonella infections have been linked to contact with live poultry in backyard flocks, according to the agency. A quarter of the reported cases are children under the age of 5.

More than 70 percent of those sickened in this outbreak, which includes several strains of salmonella, reported coming into contact with chicks or ducklings in the week before their illness started, the CDC said. The live poultry was obtained from several sources, including feed supply stores, hatcheries, relatives and from online merchants. 

The illnesses began between Feb. 15 and June 21, and at least 34 people have been hospitalized. The CDC said no deaths have been reported.

"People can get sick with Salmonella infections from touching live poultry or their environment," the CDC said on its website. "These birds can be carrying Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness."

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Diagnosing the illness requires a blood or stool sample, as other illnesses cause similar symptoms.

The CDC suggested tips for handling live poultry: Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching live poultry or their environment. Children under five years old should not touch live poultry without adult supervision. Wear separate shoes when caring for poultry, and leave them outside. Do not allow live poultry inside the house or around food.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Clean, Green Public Spaces Make Us Happier, Study Finds]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 12:39:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/earl_richardson_park2.jpg

People feel happier and less depressed when vacant lots in their neighborhood are cleared of trash or "greened up," according to what might be a first-of-a-kind study of public space's effects on mental health.

NBC News reported that Philadelphia residents who lived near vacant lots that were filled in with trees and grass or simply cleaned up reported to University of Pennsylvania researchers a decrease in feelings of depression, poor mental health and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Renee Holly, a 54-year-old custodian, is in charge of keeping her greened-up North Philadelphia lot in good condition after the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society cleaned it up.

"It's a beautiful thing to have a clean lot, it makes me happy," she said. "Now, our neighborhood kids don't have to play in a lot with glass and trash."

Photo Credit: Sarah Glover/NBC Philadelphia, File]]>
<![CDATA[A Parasite May Help Us Overcome Fear of Failure: Researchers]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 11:06:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/t-gondii.jpg

A parasite that makes rodents unafraid of cats could be giving people the courage to become entrepreneurs, researchers told NBC News.

People infected with Toxoplasma gondii were more likely to have majored in business and started their own business, according to a new paper published by University of Colorado management professor Stefanie Johnson and colleagues in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

People get the T. gondii parasite from handling cat droppings or eating poorly cooked meat. It's already linked to a greater risk of "car accidents, mental illness, neuroticism, drug abuse and suicide," according to the paper.

Johnson said she plans on studying the parasite further, to see "if all the businesses started by toxoplasma-positive people fail," among other things.

Photo Credit: CDC/ Dr. L.L. Moore, Jr.]]>
<![CDATA[Lowering Blood Pressure Helps Prevent Mental Decline: Study]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 10:01:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18204605262079-Blood-Pressure-Test.jpg

Lowering blood pressure more than usually recommended not only helps prevent heart problems, it also cuts the risk of mental decline that often leads to Alzheimer's disease, a major study finds.

It's the first time a single step has been clearly shown to help prevent a dreaded condition that has had people trying crossword puzzles, diet supplements and a host of other things in hope of keeping their mind sharp.

In the study, people treated to a top blood pressure reading of 120 instead of 140 were 19 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. They also had fewer signs of damage on brain scans, and there was a possible trend toward fewer cases of dementia.

"This is a big breakthrough," said Dr. Jeff Williamson of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. "It's more important than ever to work with your physician to ensure that you have good blood pressure control."

He led the study and gave results Wednesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Chicago. They're considered preliminary until published, expected later this year.

Independent experts cheered the news.

"We have long known that high blood pressure is bad for your heart. Now we're also learning it's bad for your brain," said James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association.

About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common type. There is no cure — current medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just ease symptoms — so prevention is key.

Roughly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure under guidelines adopted last year that define it as a top number of 130 or more, rather than 140. Normal is under 120.

High pressure can damage blood vessels and has long been linked to a higher risk for dementia. But it's not been known if lowering pressure would reduce that risk or by how much. The federally funded study was designed to test this in the most rigorous way.

It involved more than 9,300 people with high pressure. Half got two medicines, on average, to get their top reading below 140. The rest got three drugs, on average, and aimed for 120. During the study, the top pressure averaged 121 in the intensive-treatment group and 135 in the other group.

The study was stopped in 2015, nearly two years early, when it became clear that lower pressure helped prevent heart problems and deaths. But tests of thinking skills continued for two more years, and these new results were revealed on Wednesday.

Researchers saw a 19 percent lower risk of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, in the intensive-treatment group — 285 cases versus 348 in the higher pressure group. About half of people with MCI develop dementia over the next five years.

"It's really more important to prevent MCI than dementia in some ways. It's like preventing high cholesterol rather than a heart attack," Williamson said.

There also were fewer dementia cases in the intensive-treatment group but there were too few to say lower blood pressure was the reason. Dementia takes longer to develop than mild impairment does, so doctors think the difference may widen over time.

MRI scans on 454 participants showed that those in the lower pressure group had less white matter lesions — areas of scarring or damage from injury, such as inadequate blood supply.

"It matches" the other results on thinking skills and bolsters the evidence that lowering blood pressure helps, said Laurie Ryan, a dementia scientist at the National Institute on Aging.

This study's previous results led to last fall's guidelines change, setting high pressure at 130. Some doctors have criticized that as too aggressive, but the new results, showing benefits to the brain, "support and maybe even extend the guidelines," Williamson said. "The goal of below 130 is extremely important."

The study did not test specific blood pressure drugs. Instead, each participant's doctor chose which ones to use from the more than a dozen available.

When the heart results were announced a few years ago, doctors said that too-low pressure, fainting episodes and some kidney problems were a little more common in the intensively treated group but that those risks were considered worth the benefits of a lower risk of heart trouble and death.

Getting to the lower level meant using one more medicine, and "90 percent of these are generic and cost less than a dollar a day," Williamson said. "For a modest cost this has a tremendously important health benefit for people."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Allen G. Breed/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Taco Bell Salsa Con Queso Recalled Over Botulism Risk]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 10:24:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/taco-bell-cheese-dip.jpg

The Kraft Heinz Company is recalling about 59,000 jars of its Taco Bell Salsa Con Queso Mild Cheese Dip that could potentially lead to botulism if eaten.

Kraft is voluntarily recalling 15-ounce glass jars with "best when used by" dates of Dec. 27, 2018, and Jan. 23, 2019. The affected items are showing signs of product separation, which can allow for the growth of the bacteria that causes botulism, the company said on its website.

Botulism is rare but can be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illness can cause difficulty breathing and muscle paralysis. Symptoms include blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, a thick-feeling tongue, dry mouth and muscle weakness.

Kraft said there have been no complaints or reports of illness related to the products. The company said it is working with the Food and Drug Administration.

The affected items were produced and distributed by Kraft in the U.S. The company urged customers not to eat the dip and return it to the store for an exchange or refund.

Photo Credit: Kraft Heinz Company]]>
<![CDATA[Flowers Foods Recalls 2 Products; Milk Supplier Eyed]]>Tue, 24 Jul 2018 23:30:51 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fdaGettyImages-496532228.jpg

Flowers Foods is voluntarily recalling two of its bread products, the Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday, the latest foods to be recalled in recent days due to concerns about salmonella in an ingredient from the same supplier.

Swiss rolls — sold under the brand names Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, Baker’s Treat, Market Square and Great Value — and Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread are the recalled Flowers products, CNBC.com reported.

On Saturday, Mondelez issued a voluntary recall of some of its Ritz Cracker and Ritz Bits products. Pepperidge Farm, owned by Campbell Soup, recalled 3.3 million units of Goldfish Crackers on Monday.

Photo Credit: CQ-Roll Call,Inc.]]>
<![CDATA[Woman Likely Spread Ebola A Year After Infection]]>Tue, 24 Jul 2018 09:09:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072418ebolastrain.jpg

A Liberian woman who probably caught Ebola in 2014 may have infected three relatives a year after she first fell sick, doctors reported in a study published Monday.

There have been previous instances of men spreading Ebola to women via sexual transmission — the virus can survive in semen for more than a year — but the new case is the first time scientists have suggested that Ebola was spread from a woman after such a prolonged period.

The rare possibility of Ebola spreading long after infection highlights the importance of monitoring survivors, especially with the imminent end of the most recent flare-up of the disease in Congo.

That country's latest outbreak, announced in May, has so far recorded 38 confirmed cases, including 14 deaths. It is due to be declared contained on Wednesday, which will mark 42 days, or two incubation periods, since the last case was recorded.

"The Ebola virus hides in places where it can escape the antibodies from a body's immune system, so there is a need for vigilance," said Dr. David Heymann, a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not linked to the new research.

The unusual cluster of cases in Liberia was identified after the woman's 15-year-old son was diagnosed with Ebola in November 2015.

Scientists then tested the rest of his family: the woman, her husband and their three younger sons.

The 15-year-old died a few days later. The father and an 8-year-old boy were positive for Ebola, but both recovered.

The couple's 5-year-old son wasn't infected.

Doctors found Ebola antibodies in the mother, her breast milk and her 2-month-old baby, suggesting a previous infection and the possibility she passed on protection to her infant son through breastfeeding.

Researchers reported genetic similarities between the viruses taken from the father, the two boys and the strain circulating during the 2014-15 outbreak across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which ultimately killed more than 11,000 people in the biggest Ebola epidemic in history.

Scientists discovered the woman had cared for her brother in July 2014, who died after suffering Ebola-like symptoms but before being tested for the disease. The woman later experienced a similar illness, but never sought care.

Several weeks after giving birth to a baby in September 2015, the woman developed problems including fatigue and breathing difficulties. Doctors say that because pregnancy lowers the body's immune defenses, that may have allowed for the Ebola virus to re-emerge.

"The suspicious illness she had following delivery may have been a re-activation of Ebola, but we have no confirmatory tests," said Dr. Emily Kainne Dokubo, who led the Ebola response in Liberia for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the study's lead author.

Dokubo said it was possible the woman infected her husband and two older sons with Ebola when they took care of her — the disease is normally spread through contact with an infected patient's blood or other bodily fluids.

The case report was published online Monday in the journal Lancet.

"There isn't complete evidence to reconstruct what happened, but this is the most likely scenario," said Lorenzo Subissi, an epidemiologist at Sciensano, a Belgian research institute, who was not part of the study.

Dokubo said such cases of Ebola re-emergence are exceptional, with only two reported instances: a Scottish nurse who developed meningitis caused by Ebola hidden in her brain and an American physician who had lingering virus in his eye. In those two cases, the virus did not spread any further.

"We don't want there to be a sense of complacency with people thinking that just because the outbreak is over, there's nothing more to be done," Dokubo said. "There is a risk of viral persistence and people should seek care immediately so that we can pick up any suspicious cases right away and stop a larger outbreak."


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Frederick Murphy/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Walmart Drug Program Often Cheaper Than Medicare: Study]]>Tue, 24 Jul 2018 07:45:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/140409167-Generic-drug-generic.jpg

It's often cheaper for some Medicare patients to buy prescription drugs through Walmart's $4 generic program than through their own health insurance, according to a study out Monday.

The study's lead author told NBC News it's more evidence that patients can't always rely on health insurance for reasonable prices on their prescriptions.

"Twenty percent of the time, at least, we should go to Walmart," said Dr. Joseph Ross of the Yale School of Medicine.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was informed by discussion about pharmacy gag rules, Ross said. Those rules prevent pharmacists from telling patients about possible savings on drugs, like by not using health insurance.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[AIDS Drugs Show More Promise for Preventing New Infections]]>Tue, 24 Jul 2018 04:23:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/medicationAP_18204652644285.jpg

New research shows more promise for using AIDS treatment drugs as a prevention tool, to help keep uninfected people from catching HIV during sex with a partner who has the virus.

There were no infections among gay men who used a two-drug combo pill either daily or just before and after sex with someone with HIV, one study found. In a second study, no uninfected men caught the virus if they had sex only with a partner whose HIV was well suppressed by medicines.

Both studies were discussed Tuesday at the International AIDS conference in Amsterdam.

The United States' top AIDS scientist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, called the results "very impressive" and "really striking."

About 36 million people worldwide have HIV and 1.8 million new infections occur each year, said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"The only way you're going to end the epidemic is by preventing additional cases of transmission," he said. The treatment drugs are "tools that, if widely implemented, theoretically could end the epidemic."

Expanding access to them is not only humanitarian but also smart policy, Fauci added.

"You get a twofer: You save the life of the person who's infected ... and you're making it virtually impossible for that person to transmit that infection to their sexual partner."

Until there's a vaccine, condoms are the best way to prevent HIV infection, but not everyone uses them or does so all the time, so other options are needed.

A two-drug combo used to treat people with HIV, sold as Truvada by Gilead Science and in generic form in some countries, has been shown to help prevent infection when one partner has the virus and one does not, but the evidence so far has been strongest for male-female couples.

A new study was designed as a real-world test in about 1,600 gay men in the Paris region who were at high risk of getting HIV because of many sex partners, reluctance to use condoms or other reasons. They were offered the preventive pills either for daily use, as is recommended in the United States, or "on demand" — before and after unprotected sex. A little more than half chose on demand, and have been tested every three months to see if they had caught HIV.

"Since we started a year ago, we have not seen a single infection," said the study leader, Dr. Jean-Michel Molina of Saint Louis Hospital in Paris. "On-demand seems to be at least as effective as daily when it's used in real life."

No one stopped using the drugs because of side effects.

"Now we can have just as much confidence in the power of treatment as prevention for gay male couples as we have had for heterosexual couples," said Dr. Linda-Gail Bekker, AIDS conference chief and deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Center at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

The second study tested a different approach — keeping an infected partner's virus severely suppressed with HIV medicines, which is known to greatly reduce the risk of spreading it.

Dr. Alison Rodger of University College London led a study of 779 gay male couples in 14 European countries where one partner was uninfected and the other was taking drugs to suppress HIV. They were tested every six to 12 months to see if the infected partner still had the virus under control, and whether the other partner had caught it.

After a median of 18 months, none of the infected men spread HIV to their partner, despite about 75,000 sex acts without condoms. There were 17 new HIV infections among men who were uninfected when the study started; tests showed those infections were from sex with someone other than the partner in the study.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Health Care Industry Branches Into Fresh Meals, Rides to Gym]]>Mon, 23 Jul 2018 13:50:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18199570545155-Insurance-Covering-Working-Out.jpg

That hot lunch delivered to your door? Your health insurer might pick up the tab.

The cleaning crew that fixed up your apartment while you recovered from a stroke? The hospital staff helped set that up.

Health care is shifting in a fundamental way for millions of Americans. Some insurers are paying for rides to fitness centers and checking in with customers to help ward off loneliness. Hospital networks are hiring more workers to visit people at home and learn about their lives, not just their illnesses.

The health care system is becoming more focused on keeping patients healthy instead of waiting to treat them once they become sick or wind up in the hospital. This isn't a new concept, but it's growing. Insurers are expanding what they pay for to confront rising costs, realizing that a person's health depends mostly on what happens outside a doctor's visit.

"For many people, taking care of their blood pressure or their diabetes is not particularly high on their list when they don't know where their next meal is coming from," said Dr. Lori Tishler, vice president of medical affairs with the nonprofit insurer Commonwealth Care Alliance.

Some of this shift is driven by how health plans pay doctors and other care providers.

For decades, they've reimbursed mainly for each procedure or service performed, which limits the type of help a doctor can provide. But insurers are shifting more to reimbursement that centers on the patient's health. That often involves paying providers to coordinate all the help a patient needs to improve their health — and lower health care costs.

"You get a lot more attention to the sickest population," said Dr. Sam Ho, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest insurer.

Beyond payment changes, insurers and care providers also are stretching their approach to helping patients, especially those with low incomes or chronic conditions.

Virta Woodard receives weekly calls from her care manager, Armando Contreras, and she gets rides to a fitness center, all covered under a program called "Togetherness" started last year by the insurer Anthem. The 56-year-old, who has diabetes and lives with chronic pain, has lost 34 pounds since joining the program.

"I don't cry every day like I used to because I don't want to be telling Armando that," the Long Beach, California, resident said. "I want to tell him I did something good."

The thinking behind this program is that people who are more engaged socially will become more involved keeping up their health, Anthem spokeswoman Jill Becher said.

Sharon Romano was feeling overwhelmed months after her stroke last year. In stepped social worker Alicia Velez.

Velez, from Mount Sinai Health Partners, spent several hours helping Romano sort through medical bills on her first visit. She also researched companies that could clean Romano's one-bedroom Manhattan apartment and remove clutter. Then Velez started calling weekly to check in with Romano.

"It gave me a little bit of hope that I can get through this," Romano said.

The Affordable Care Act expanded coverage to millions of people and increased recognition through the health care system that "just giving someone coverage is not going to be enough to ultimately improve health outcomes," said Samantha Artiga, a Kaiser Family Foundation researcher.

Only about 20 percent of the adjustable factors that determine a person's health come from care or access to it, according to a 2016 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Other factors — where a person lives, their income and their diet — combine to play a bigger role.

Delivered meals tailored to a person's medical condition can help keep patients out of the hospital, according to David Waters, CEO of Boston-based Community Servings, which provides food to people with serious or chronic illnesses. He said patients who are sick, don't speak English or have little money to buy fresh food often struggle to follow doctor orders on diets.

"We set people up to fail," he said.

Four years ago, no insurers covered meals prepared by Community Servings. They now cover about 20 percent, and Waters expects that to rise to around 50 percent over the next several years.

Commonwealth Care Alliance pays for the delivery of meals low in both potassium and salt to Sister Jeanne Hubert, an 88-year-old nun who must watch her diet after heart valve surgery. For a recent midday meal, that meant roast beef and rice with a side of carrots.

"I think it's wonderful," Hubert said. "I never heard of that much help from an insurance company."

Doctors also like the extra help. Dr. Michael Munger's practice in Overland Park, Kansas, gets additional revenue to manage care for many of his patients. That allows them to check in to see if anyone is having problems filling prescriptions or making appointments.

The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians said: "It's really allowed us to expand the care team and not think just about 'Who's next on my schedule?'"

The concept works, Munger said, as long as care is coordinated and the doctor remains in charge.

Success also depends on the patient being willing to accept help and on insurers waiting for the payoff. Near-term expenses from primary care visits or food services may rise, but the payoff — preventing a heart attack because of improved health — might be down the road.

Despite those challenges, health care researchers expect this trend to continue.

The U.S. health care system must be redesigned to get away from the idea that more health care equals better health, said Dr. Sanne Magnan, a senior fellow at the think tank HealthPartners Institute.

"We're spending all this money, but we're not getting good results," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Drug Overdoses Spike in Philly, 2 EMS Workers Attacked]]>Mon, 23 Jul 2018 11:01:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/198*120/Heroin+Baggie.JPG

Health officials are investigating a sudden spike in non-fatal drug overdoses in the Philadelphia area over the weekend.

Officials say more than 100 people were hospitalized between Friday and Saturday. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Tom Farley said the cluster was the largest he has seen in two years as head of the city's health department.

“Over a weekend we might expect 20 to 25 people to come in,” Dr. Farley said. “So to have 100 come in is a lot larger than normal.”

Farley says it's unclear whether the substance responsible was heroin, fentanyl or something else. Health officials are still waiting for results of tests of bags found in the hands of arriving patients.

Montgomery County officials say the drug may be “Santa Muerte," meaning “The Holy Death,” a batch of heroin adulterated with an anticholinergic agent. Sold on the street with the name “Perfect 10,” symptoms of the batch include agitation, combativeness, delirium, dilated pupils, seizures and hot, flushed and red skin.

Officials warned first responders that patients overdosed on Santa Muerte are typically extremely combative and agitated when being treated with the anti-opiate drug Narcan.

At least two female Philadelphia EMS workers who responded to reported overdoses Friday were hurt after being attacked by patients, according to officials.

“This is an important lesson for everyone on how dangerous it is to buy drugs on the street and use them,” Dr. Farley said.

Despite the rise in overdoses, officials say the batch didn't cause a spike in drug-related deaths over the weekend. Farely said seven people died of apparent overdoses between Friday night and Sunday morning, which is about the typical overdose death rate. 

Police and the health department are currently warning people about the issue as they continue to work to confirm what the drug actually is. They expect to complete their testing this week.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[40 Hospitalized in Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Raw Turkey]]>Fri, 20 Jul 2018 14:38:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072018CDC.jpg

Ninety people in 26 states have been infected with salmonella in the midst of an outbreak that has been connected to raw turkey products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

There haven’t been any reported deaths, but 40 people have been hospitalized.

Salmonella cases have been reported in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, the CDC said in a news release.

While the outbreak hasn’t been linked to a single supplier, the salmonella strain has been found in samples of raw turkey products including pet food and live turkeys, the CDC said.

The agency hasn’t instructed retailers to stop selling raw turkey products and hasn’t told consumers to stop eating properly cooked turkey products.

To avoid being infected with salmonella, the CDC recommends frequently washing your hands, cooking raw turkey thoroughly and avoiding raw diets for pets.

“Always handle raw turkey carefully and cook it thoroughly to prevent food poisoning,” the CDC said in the release. “This outbreak is a reminder that raw turkey products can have germs that spread around food preparation areas and can make you sick.”

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Less Than Half of School Districts Test Water for Lead: US Survey]]>Fri, 20 Jul 2018 14:12:51 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072018leadwater.jpg

A survey of school districts around the country finds that less than half test their water for lead, and among those that do more than a third detected elevated levels of the toxin, according to a federal report released this week.

Lead can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in children.

The report, released by the Government Accountability Office, is based on a survey of 549 school districts across the United States.

It estimates that 41 percent of school districts, serving 12 million students, did not test for lead in the water in 2016 and 2017.

Of the 43 percent that did test for lead, about 37 percent reported elevated levels. Sixteen percent of schools said they did not know whether they test for lead, the report says.

A 2005 memorandum signed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidance to schools, including a testing protocol and suggestions for disseminating results, educating the school community about the risks and health effects of exposure and what actions should be taken to correct the problem.

But there are still major information gaps, the report says, and no federal law that requires schools to test for lead.

"Without information on key topics, such as a recommended schedule for lead testing, how to remediate elevated lead levels, and information associated with testing and remediation costs school districts are at risk of making misinformed decisions regarding their lead testing and remediation efforts," the report says.

More than half of the schools that didn't test for lead said they didn't identify a need for testing, and noted that they're not required to do so.

The report makes seven recommendations that include updating existing guidance to help schools choose a level that would trigger remediation, increasing collaboration between agencies and improving efforts to communicate to school districts the importance of lead testing and information about what actions to take if lead is detected.

EPA agreed with the report's recommendations, and the Education Department in its response agreed to improve its website to make information about lead testing more accessible.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Richard Drew/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Bayer to Stop Selling Essure Birth Control Implant in US]]>Fri, 20 Jul 2018 19:07:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18201562973055.jpg

The maker of a permanent contraceptive implant subject to thousands of injury reports and repeated safety restrictions by regulators said Friday that it will stop selling the device in the U.S., the only country where it remains available.

Bayer said the safety of its Essure implant has not changed, but it will stop selling the device at the end of the year due to weak sales.

The German company had billed the device as the only non-surgery sterilization method for women. As complaints mounted and demand slipped, it stopped Essure sales in Canada, Europe, South America, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has placed multiple restrictions on the device following patient reports of pain, bleeding, allergic reactions and cases where the implant punctured the uterus or shifted out of place.

In May, the FDA said doctors must show women a checklist of the device's risks before implanting it.

More than 16,000 U.S. women are suing Bayer over Essure.

One of them, Amanda Rusmisell, of Charlotte, North Carolina, said she's "immensely thrilled" by Bayer's action. Rusmisell said she got the device in 2008 and developed severe pain and bleeding. She took part in patient-organized rallies accusing Bayer for not disclosing potential risks and said, choking back tears, "Our very grassroots effort has worked."

Bayer received FDA approval to sell Essure in 2002 and promoted it as a quick and easy permanent solution to unplanned pregnancies. Essure consists of two thin-as-spaghetti nickel-titanium coils inserted into the fallopian tubes, where they spur the growth of scar tissue that blocks sperm from fertilizing a woman's eggs.

Because of the reported complaints, the FDA added its most serious warning to the device in 2016 and ordered the company to conduct a 2,000-patient study.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Friday the agency would work with Bayer to continue the study, but noted "Bayer will not be able to meet its expected enrollment numbers" for new patients. The study was designed to follow patients for three years to better assess complications.

More than 750,000 women worldwide have received Essure. Demand has declined in recent years and plunged 70 percent after the 2016 boxed warning, the FDA said.

Gottlieb said the FDA will continue to monitor adverse events reported to its database after Essure is removed from the market.

"I also want to reassure women who've been using Essure successfully to prevent pregnancy that they can continue to do so," he said. Those who think it's causing problems, such as persistent pain, should consult with their doctors, Gottlieb added.

Essure's original label warned that the device's nickel can result in allergic reactions. Its current labeling lists hives, rash, swelling and itching as possible reactions.

But many women have attributed other problems to the implant, including mood disorders, weight gain, hair loss and headaches. Those problems are listed in the current FDA labeling for the device, with the qualifier: "It is unknown if these symptoms are related to Essure or other causes."

Informational material Bayer supplied to doctors and patients lists potential problems and says the devices are meant to be permanent. It also says removal may require complicated surgery, including a hysterectomy, that might not be covered by insurance.

Gottlieb noted that device removal "has its own risks."

Diana Zuckerman, president of the nonprofit National Center for Health Research, said Essure is among medical devices approved without "clear evidence of safety or effectiveness."

"As a result, when thousands of women reported serious complications from Essure, there was no unbiased long-term research to refute or confirm those reports," Zuckerman said. "If patients had been listened to when the first clinical trials were conducted on Essure, better research would have been conducted to determine exactly how safe and effective Essure is."

Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a Los Angeles family planning specialist, called Bayer's move disappointing. She says most of her Essure patients have been satisfied.

"I would hope Bayer would use this opportunity to think about future research and product development," Brandi said. "Being able to offer women contraception that's permanent without surgery is a really great option."

Bayer spokeswoman Courtney Mallon said the company had no plans to re-design the device.

Kate Nicholson, of Dallas, got an Essure implant last year after she and her husband decided not to have children. She said she sympathizes with women who have had problems but said ending Essure sales is the wrong move.

"Pulling it from the market is yet another way to limit our choices about our own bodies," Nicholson said. "I personally always had horrible experiences with different versions of 'the pill,' but it's still on the market and many women swear by it."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals via AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Crystal Geyser Charged With Illegal Toxic Waste Disposal]]>Thu, 19 Jul 2018 20:03:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CrystalGeyser.jpg

The California company that sells Crystal Geyser bottled water has been charged with illegally disposing of arsenic-tainted wastewater, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The charges don't allege that CG Roxane LLC sold tainted water, but that it illegally shipped and disposed of the toxic waste filtered from well water.

A 16-count indictment in Los Angeles federal court alleged that Crystal Geyser and two other companies failed to properly disclose the toxic material they shipped in May 2015 and disposed of at a facility not permitted to treat hazardous waste.

"Our nation's environmental laws are specifically designed to ensure that hazardous wastes are properly handled from beginning to end," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. "The alleged behavior of the three companies charged in this indictment undermines that important objective and jeopardizes the safety of our community."

Phone messages seeking comment was not immediately returned by a CG Roxane spokeswoman.

Naturally occurring arsenic was filtered out of water pumped from wells and later discharged in a pond near the company's Olancha facility in the Owens Valley, 160 miles north of Los Angeles.

The company stopped dumping the tainted water in the pond after the California Department of Toxic Substances Control found it contained hazardous waste in 2014, the prosecutors said.

In May of 2015, the company hired two firms in the Los Angeles area to drain and dispose of the water in the pond.

The three companies violated federal law by not disclosing in shipping documents that they were transporting hazardous waste that contained arsenic, the indictment said. Federal law requires that toxic and other hazardous waste be documented from "cradle to grave."

The material was taken to a facility in Fontana, about 45 miles east of Los Angeles, that wasn't approved to handle hazardous waste, prosecutors said.

If convicted of all counts, each company faces fines up to $8 million.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Swiss Rolls Recalled Over Salmonella Concerns]]>Thu, 19 Jul 2018 16:08:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/0ce6b8dd-e353-4aaa-9d35-e9e7c063a211_1.jpg

A popular snack treat is being recalled nationwide over potential salmonella concerns.

Swiss Rolls, sold under a variety of brand names including H-E-B and Great Value, are being voluntarily recalled by the manufacturer over the possible presence of salmonella in one of the treat’s ingredients.

Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, Baker’s Treat, Market Square, and Great Value brands are all impacted by the recall nationally, and several southern states are impacted under the Captain John Derst’s Hold Fashioned Bread brand name.

Salmonella can cause serious, or even fatal, infections in young children and the elderly. No human cases have yet been reported in connection with the recall.

For a full list of brand names, UPC label numbers, and Best By Dates, you can visit the Flowers Foods website, or use this list: 

Mrs. Freshleys -4 count/7.2 ounces 
UPC: 072250011907 
Best By Dates: Through 10/19/18 

Mrs. Freshley's - 6 count/12 ounces 
UPC: 072250903233 
Best By Dates:Through 10/14/18

Food Lion - 6 count/13 ounces
UPC: 035826092779
Best By Dates:10/16/18

H-E-B: 6 count/12 ounces 
UPC: 041220296483
Best By Dates:09/19/18

Baker's Treat:6 count/13 ounces 
UPC: 041498188382
Best By Dates:9/21/18 through 9/28/18

Market Square:6 count/12 ounces 
UPC: 087381760556
Best By Dates: 309 8194 B

Great Value: 6 count/13 ounces 
UPC: 078742147550
Best By Dates: 9/17/18 through 9/25/18

Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread
UPC: 071316001180
Best By Dates: 7/16/18 through 7/28/18

Photo Credit: Walmart]]>
<![CDATA[Baltimore Bans Sodas, Sugary Drinks From Kids' Menus]]>Thu, 19 Jul 2018 08:59:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/509689170-soda-table.jpg

Restaurants in Baltimore are now officially barred from including sodas and other sugary drinks on kids' menus, according to a city ordinance that went into effect Wednesday.

Baltimore is now the biggest U.S. city and the first on the East Coast to pass this kind of measure, said Shawn McIntosh, director of the Sugar Free Kids Maryland advocacy group. Seven California cities and Lafayette, Colorado, have enacted similar ordinances, according to health officials.

Milk, 100 percent fruit juices, water and flavored or sparkling water without added sweeteners must now be the default beverages for kids' meals at Baltimore eateries. Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the legislation earlier this year.

The ordinance is intended to stop youngsters' overconsumption of sugary drinks, perceived as a key factor in high rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes.

"Taking out empty calories from sugary drinks is a powerful lifestyle change we can make to help our children to get and stay healthy. This law will help families make the healthy choice the easy choice," Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said in a statement.

One in four Baltimore children currently down at least one soda each day, according to Sugar Free Kids Maryland. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that one in three school-aged kids in the city is obese.

Baltimore restaurants that don't comply with the ordinance will be faced with a $100 penalty, McIntosh said. She said eateries "have hopefully gotten on board" already and changed their printed menus for kids, but they're not expected to have fully made that switch by Wednesday.

"They have to at least put a sticker on, have signage. Their online menus have to be changed because that's an easy fix. So they're not expecting them to print all new menus by today," she said.

Youngsters can still drink soda at city restaurants if an accompanying adult orders it for them.

The "Healthy Beverages for Children's Meals" ordinance was opposed by the Restaurant Association of Maryland. In a Wednesday email, association vice president Melvin Thompson said "public policy that interferes with the minutiae of restaurant operations exacerbates the business challenges already facing city restaurants."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Deaths From Liver Disease Are Up, and Drinking Is to Blame]]>Wed, 18 Jul 2018 23:23:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-119707164.png

Deaths from liver disease have risen sharply in the U.S., and doctors say the biggest factor is drinking — especially among young adults.

A study published Wednesday found a 65 percent increase in deaths from cirrhosis of the liver since 1999, NBC News reported. The biggest increase is among millennials: the team found that deaths from cirrhosis are rising 10 percent a year among people aged 25 to 34.

People so young might not even realize that they can drink themselves to death so quickly, but they can, said liver specialist Dr. Haripriya Maddur of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“Surprisingly, it only takes about 10 years of heavy drinking to actually lead to cirrhosis,” said Maddur, who was not involved in the study.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Not 'Milk'? Soy, Almond Drink Makers May Need New Description]]>Wed, 18 Jul 2018 12:30:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/156509135-Curious-Cow.jpg

Soy and almond drinks that bill themselves as "milk" may need to consider alternative language after a top regulator suggested the agency may start cracking down on use of the term.

The Food and Drug Administration signaled plans to start enforcing a federal standard that defines "milk" as coming from the "milking of one or more healthy cows." That would be a change for the agency, which has not aggressively gone after the proliferation of plant-based drinks labeled as "milk."

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb talked about the plans this week, noting there are hundreds of federal "standards of identity" spelling out how foods with various names need to be manufactured.

"The question becomes, have we been enforcing our own standard of identity," Gottlieb said about "milk" at the Politico event Tuesday. "The answer is probably not."

Standards of identity have been the source industry spats as American diets have evolved, including fights about what gets to be called mayonnaise and yogurt. More recently, there are disagreements over what to call meat grown by culturing cells, a science that's still emerging.

The FDA can't just change the way it enforces a standard without warning, Gottlieb said. Since it plans to take a different approach to enforcement, he said the FDA will have to first develop guidance notifying companies of the change and ask for public comment. That guidance will probably be issued in a year, he said.

Gottlieb said the agency expects to get sued, since dictionary definitions are broader and say milk comes from a lactating animal or a nut.

The National Milk Producers Federation said it welcomes Gottlieb's recognition that the labeling practices of many "plant-based dairy imitators" violate federal standards. The industry group had recently renewed its push for the FDA to crack down on nondairy drinks calling themselves "milk."

The Good Food Institute, which advocates for plant-based alternatives, says the term "milk" should be permitted with modifiers for nondairy drinks.

"For the same reason that you can have gluten-free bread and rice noodles, almond milk and soy milk are the most clear and best terms for describing those products," said Bruce Friedrich, the group's co-founder.

The FDA declined to comment on whether the agency would enforce other standards, such as for yogurt.

U.S. regulators want to remove a health claim about the heart benefits of soy from cartons of soy milk, tofu and other foods, saying the latest scientific evidence no longer shows a clear connection.

Monday's announcement by the Food and Drug Administration marks the first time the agency has moved to revoke a health food claim since it began approving such statements in 1990. The claim that soy protein can reduce heart disease appears on about 200 to 300 products in the U.S., according to industry figures, including popular brands like Silk soy milk.

Calls to WhiteWave Foods Company, which markets Silk brand soy products, were not immediately returned Monday.

The FDA first approved the language about the benefits in 1999 based on studies suggesting soy protein lowered a type of heart-damaging cholesterol in the bloodstream. But some later studies have failed to show a clear link.

One 2005 study by the U.S. government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that soy products had little effect on bad cholesterol. The FDA began reevaluating the food claim in 2007 and said Monday "the totality of the evidence is inconsistent and not conclusive."

The agency will take comments on its proposal for 75 days before moving ahead. If the language is removed, companies may still be able to use a less definitive statement about soy's benefits by including a disclaimer or description of the mixed evidence.

Consumer advocates backed the proposal, arguing that earlier research misinterpreted soy's effect on cholesterol.

Bonnie Liebman, a nutrition scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, explained that a person might benefit by replacing red meat with soy, but the benefit would be from the reduction in red meat, not because of anything special in the soy protein.

The FDA estimates it will cost companies between $370,000 and $860,000 in upfront costs to re-label their products, according to a federal filing posted online.

An industry group for soy manufacturers disputed the FDA's decision and pointed to 12 other countries, including Canada, that have approved health labeling claims making the link between soy protein and heart benefits. The group, Soyfoods Association of North America, said it would make its case to the FDA during the comment period.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto, File]]>
<![CDATA[1 Dead as Legionnaires' Outbreak Grows to 18 Cases: NYC]]>Tue, 17 Jul 2018 23:49:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_901873742060+edited.jpg

New York City health officials have confirmed that one person has died of Legionnaires' disease in a cluster of 18 cases in one Manhattan neighborhood.

The city Health Department said Tuesday that seven people remain hospitalized due to the outbreak in the lower Washington Heights area.

Health officials say they have inspected 20 cooling towers and ordered several building owners to increase their use of biocides to kill the bacteria associated with the disease.

Legionnaires' is a form of pneumonia contracted by breathing in water droplets contaminated with the bacterium Legionella. Most cases can be traced to plumbing systems where conditions are favorable for Legionella growth.

The disease is not passed from person to person.

The city sees an average of 200 to 500 Legionnaires' cases each year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Recalls Blood Pressure, Heart Drugs Over Cancer Concerns]]>Mon, 16 Jul 2018 18:50:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-6837401591.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a voluntary recall of several medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure over concerns that an active ingredient in the drugs could be contaminated with a cancer-causing agent.

The agency reported that traces of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a "probable human carcinogen," was found in the active ingredient valsartan in the recalled products. The FDA noted not all products containing valsartan are contaminated and being recalled. The valsartan contained in the recall was supplied by a third-party.

Companies that have recalled valsartan products are: Major Pharmaceuticals, Solco Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. Additionally, Solco Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceuticals are also recalling medicines with the combination valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide.

"We have carefully assessed the valsartan-containing medications sold in the United States, and we’ve found that the valsartan sold by these specific companies does not meet our safety standards. This is why we’ve asked these companies to take immediate action to protect patients," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Patients are urged to look at the drug name and company name on the label of their prescription bottle to determine whether a specific product has been recalled. If the information is not on the bottle, patients should contact the pharmacy that dispensed the medicine to find out the company name.

If a patient is taking one of the recalled medicines, they should follow the recall instructions provided by the specific company, which will be available on the FDA’s website.

If a patient's medicine is included in the recall, they should contact their health care professional to discuss their treatment options, which may include another valsartan product not affected by this recall or an alternative option.

The agency encourages patients and health care professionals to report any adverse reaction to the FDA’s MedWatch program.

"The FDA’s review is ongoing and has included investigating the levels of NDMA in the recalled products, assessing the possible effect on patients who have been taking them and what measures can be taken to reduce or eliminate the impurity from future batches produced by the company," the FDA said Friday in a news release.

The presence of NDMA is "thought to be related to changes in the way the active substance was manufactured," the agency said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[61 Sick in Parasite Outbreak Linked to McDonald's Salads]]>Sat, 14 Jul 2018 00:32:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18193696359447.jpg

At least 61 people in seven states have been made sick in an outbreak of Cyclospora linked to McDonald’s salads, federal health officials said Friday.

The fast-food chain has stopped selling the salads, but more people may become sick, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Salads at McDonald’s restaurants in at least 14 states may have been contaminated, the CDC and FDA said.

“We understand how important it is to quickly identify the cause of this foodborne outbreak to help reduce additional illness and we’re working closely with our colleagues at CDC and state partners to get more answers,” FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File]]>
<![CDATA[Honey Smacks Still on Store Shelves Despite Recall: FDA]]>Fri, 13 Jul 2018 14:28:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/honeysmacks.jpg

Despite popular Kellogg's cereal Honey Smacks being linked to a salmonella outbreak that has infected 100 people in 33 states, the Food and Drug Administration says some boxes are still sitting on store shelves after a wide-ranging recall.

Kellogg's had issued a voluntary recall in June for the cereal that was distributed across the U.S. It initially recalled certain sizes of Honey Smacks packages with specific code dates. 

However, the FDA said Thursday that some retailers are still selling the cereal despite the recall, which the agency said affects all Honey Smacks packages. The FDA reiterated that "retailers cannot legally offer the cereal for sale and consumers should not purchase Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal."

The CDC found salmonella in Honey Smacks samples and told customers Thursday that they should avoid all Honey Smacks, tweeting, "Do not eat this cereal." The agency advised people to stop eating the cereal and throw it out, regardless of its package size or expiration date. It also advised retailers to stop selling and serving all Honey Smacks.

The CDC says at least 100 people have become sick between March 3 and July 2 in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Texas, California and other states. At least 30 of those people have been hospitalized.

Most people infected with salmonella develop a fever, cramps or diarrhea within 12 to 72 hours of being exposed to the bacteria, according to the CDC.

The FDA found that the salmonella was traced back to a third-party manufacturing facility. The facility is no longer producing Honey Smacks as of Thursday, the agency said.

"We continue to work with the FDA and the third-party manufacturer to determine how this happened to ensure it doesn't happen again," a spokesperson from Kellogg's said in an email to CNBC. "Kellogg is asking that people who purchased potentially affected product discard it and contact the company for a full refund."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Illinois Probes Intestinal Illness Linked to McDonald's Salads]]>Thu, 12 Jul 2018 23:43:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18193696359447.jpg

Nearly 100 cases of an intestinal illness connected to McDonald’s salads throughout Illinois, the state’s health department said Thursday.

Around 90 cases of cyclosporiasis, caused by the microscopic Cyclospora parasite, have been reported since mid-May, according to the Illinois Department of Health.

“The initial investigation indicates a link to consumption of McDonald’s salads produced for McDonald’s restaurants,” officials said in a statement Thursday. “Approximately one-fourth of Illinois cases reported eating salads from McDonald’s in the days before they became ill.”

The Iowa Department of Health has reported a similar increase in cases, Illinois officials said.

"Although a link has been made to salads sold in McDonald’s restaurants in some Illinois cases, public health officials continue to investigate other sources,” said Nirav D. Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “If you ate a salad from McDonald’s since mid-May and developed diarrhea and fatigue, contact a health care provider about testing and treatment.”

Officials said the fast food chain is “fully cooperating” with state health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

“McDonald’s says it is in the process of removing these salads from its restaurants and distributions centers,” officials said. “McDonald’s say it is re-supplying restaurants with salads from other suppliers.”

McDonald's confirmed to NBC 5 the company had been in contact with public health authorities from both Illinois and Iowa regarding the illnesses.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to voluntarily stop selling salads at impacted restaurants until we can switch to another lettuce blend supplier," McDonald's said in a statement. "We are in the process of removing existing salad blend from identified restaurants and distribution centers – which includes approximately 3,000 of our U.S. restaurants primarily located in the Midwest."

According to Illinois health officials, people can become infected by consuming food or water contaminated with feces that contains Cyclospora. The parasite is not spread directly from one person to another.

Symptoms usually begin about a week after exposure, official said, but some people who are infected may not have any. Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent bouts of watery diarrhea (the most common symptom)
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Cramping, bloating, and/or increased gas
  • Nausea (vomiting is less common)
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever

The infection can be treated with specific antibiotics, officials said. If not treated, the illness may last for a few days to a month or longer.

Previous cyclosporiasis cases have been linked to various types of imported fresh produce including raspberries, basil, snow peas and lettuce.

"McDonald’s is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality control," the fast-food company said. "We are closely monitoring this situation and cooperating with state and federal public health authorities as they further investigate."

Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Dog Heart Disease Linked to Food, FDA Says]]>Fri, 13 Jul 2018 10:12:44 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/491435570-Dog-Food-Store.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration is warning that dogs are developing an unusual condition that can cause an enlarged heart after being fed food based on peas, lentils or potatoes, NBC News reported.

The condition, canine dilated cardiomyopathy, is turning up in breeds that don't usually get it, the FDA said, though it's not naming the breeds.

Symptoms of DCM include lethargy, weight loss and sometimes a cough, and the condition may be fatal. Hearts enlarged because of DCM can struggle to work properly and may fail.

"The FDA is investigating the potential link between DCM and these foods. We encourage pet owners and veterinarians to report DCM cases in dogs who are not predisposed to the disease," FDA Dr. Martine Hartogensis said in a statement.

Photo Credit: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jury Awards $4.7B in Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder Lawsuit]]>Fri, 13 Jul 2018 10:15:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18144773476902-Johnson-Baby-Powder.jpg

A St. Louis jury on Thursday awarded nearly $4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families after they claimed asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer in the first case against the company that focused on asbestos in the powder.

The jury announced the $4.14 billion award in punitive damages shortly after awarding $550 million in compensatory damages after a six-week trial in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Johnson & Johnson called the verdict the result of an unfair process that allowed the women to sue the company in Missouri despite most of them not living in the state and said it would appeal, as it has in previous cases that found for women who sued the company.

"Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer and intends to pursue all available appellate remedies," spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said.

Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson had covered up evidence of asbestos in their products for more than 40 years.

Medical experts testified during the trial that asbestos, a known carcinogen, is intermingled with mineral talc, which is the primary ingredient in Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. The plaintiffs' lawyers said asbestos fibers and talc particles were found in the ovarian tissues of many of the women.

"We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer," Lanier said. "The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease."

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Lanier told the jurors this case was the first where jurors saw documents showing that Johnson & Johnson knew its products contained asbestos and didn't warn consumers, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

The company has been sued by more than 9,000 women who claim its talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson has consistently denied that its products can be linked to the cancer.

Goodrich said the verdict awarding all the women the same amount despite differences in their circumstances showed evidence in the case was overwhelmed by prejudice created when so many plaintiffs are allowed to sue the company in one lawsuit.

"Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed," she said.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said punitive damage awards are limited by state law to five times the amount of compensatory damages awarded and defense lawyers probably would file a motion to reduce the award.

Six of the 22 plaintiffs in the latest trial have died from ovarian cancer. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from states that include Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas.

One of the plaintiffs, Gail Ingham, 73, of O'Fallon, Missouri, told The Post-Dispatch that she was diagnosed with stage-3 ovarian cancer in 1985 and underwent chemotherapy treatments, surgeries and drug treatments for a year before being declared cancer free in the early 1990s.

Ingham, who used baby powder for decades, said she joined the lawsuit because women who use baby powder "need to know what's in there. They need to know what's going on. Women need to know because they're putting it on their babies."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Tingling in Woman's Legs Turns out to Be a Worm in Her Spine]]>Thu, 12 Jul 2018 23:21:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tapeworm1.jpg

A Frenchwoman whose symptoms started out as “electric shocks” in her legs got an even bigger shock when she found out that she had a tapeworm in her spine, NBC News reports.

The parasite caused enough swelling in the woman’s spine to affect her ability to walk and ride a horse, French doctors reported in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“A 35-year-old woman presented to the emergency department with weakness, a feeling of electric shocks in both legs, and repeated falls,” Dr. Marine Jacquier and Dr. Lionel Piroth of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Dijon wrote.

"She reported that the symptoms had been progressing, and she noted that she had had difficulty riding her horse for the preceding three months.”

Photo Credit: New England Journal of Medicine]]>
<![CDATA[Leading E-Cig Maker Juul to Sell Lower-Nicotine Pods]]>Thu, 12 Jul 2018 10:28:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1172.jpg

Juul Labs is addressing one of the most common criticisms levied against the e-cigarette company: the amount of nicotine in its vaping liquids. 

The leading e-cig maker will soon introduce lower nicotine options for some of its flavor pods. A tiered approach to nicotine levels is thought to help people who are trying to quit smoking because they can gradually wean themselves off nicotine, the substance that makes cigarettes addictive. 

Under Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the Food and Drug Administration has approached nicotine products as existing on a continuum of risk, where conventional cigarettes are the most harmful and alternatives like e-cigarettes are less harmful. Gottlieb has advocated to encourage smokers to switch to other products on the continuum, realizing that not everyone can or wants to quit. Juul has framed its e-cigarettes as an option for adults looking to switch. However, the product has been gaining in popularity among teens and people who never smoked. 

Juul currently does not offer different nicotine levels like some other e-cigarettes. Instead, all of its pods contain 5 percent nicotine, the equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. 

Starting in August, Juul will introduce 3 percent nicotine pods for its mint and Virginia tobacco flavors. They'll offer limited quantities at first with the intention to make them widely available in October. The lower-nicotine pods will cost the same as the traditional ones, $15.99. 

The two flavors are some of Juul's most popular ones, though they're not the most commonly criticized. Anti-tobacco advocates and lawmakers say fruity flavors like mango and creme brulee appeal to teens and mask the fact that each pod contains addictive nicotine. They've stepped up their attacks as more teenagers have started using the e-cigarettes. 

“JUUL Labs wants to meet the needs and preferences of adult smokers who are on their journey to switching from cigarettes, and we hope the availability of different nicotine strengths will continue to allow adult smokers the ability to explore what is best for them," CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement. 

Juul has become such a phenomenon that it's earned its own verb: Juuling. Sales have skyrocketed almost 800 percent over the past year, catapulting Juul to the clear market leading spot with 68 percent of share, according to recent Nielsen numbers compiled by Wells Fargo. 

The company has pledged $30 million over the next three years to research, youth and parent education, and community engagement efforts. In June, Juul said it would stop featuring models on its Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts and start featuring former smokers who have switched. 

Schools around the country have also begun to educate parents and students about e-cigarettes. 

Juul's fast growth has enticed some investors. It has raised $650 million of a $1.25 billion fundraising round, according to a regulatory form it filed this week. The round would value the start-up at $15 billion, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. 

Its growth has also attracted perhaps unwanted attention from regulators. The FDA took a rare move earlier this year in issuing a 904(b) letter, which refers to the section of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. It was the first time in three years that the FDA has sent such a letter. 

In its request, the FDA asked Juul for a slew of company materials, including marketing documents and research on whether certain products' design features, ingredients or specifications appeal to different age groups. Gottlieb has been vocal about his belief that e-cigarettes can help adult smokers switch to alternatives, but not at the expense of addicting a new generation to nicotine.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. Read more from CNBC here:

Photo Credit: Press Herald via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Happy Couple Mulls Divorce to Pay for Daughter's Health Care]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 19:41:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tdy_news_gadi_healthcare.jpg

A couple in Texas is considering getting divorced just to be able to pay for their daughter's spiraling health care costs, "Today" reported.

Jake and Maria Grey of Sanger are happily married but his $40,000 salary means the family doesn't qualify for Medicaid, which they say is the only way they can afford treatments and care for their 6-year-old Brighton, born with the rare genetic disorder Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome.

Because of insurance limitations, the Grey's say they pay about $15,000 a year in out-of-pocket medical costs.  

"It's easier to say what they don't cover than what they do," said Jake Grey, an Army veteran.

After nine years of marriage, divorce is something they are considering. By doing so, Maria would qualify for Medicaid as a single, jobless mother of two.

"We've done everything we can do to try to keep her afloat, and we're going to reach a point where we can't do it and we won't have another option. We don't know what to do," said Jake Grey, an Army veteran.

His wife said they don't want donations, just to get the benefits from the state that they need.

Photo Credit: "Today"
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<![CDATA[Pfizer to Lower Drug Prices Following Talk With Trump]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 02:22:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pfizerGettyImages-655297240.jpg

Following a discussion with President Donald Trump, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced Tuesday that it would roll back planned drug price increases for July, NBC News reported

The president said he met with Pfizer CEO Ian Read, as well as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, to discuss Trump's "drug pricing blueprint" and came away with a vow from the company to roll back price increases "so American patients don’t pay more."

Pfizer in a statement said its prices would be "deferred" to levels seen 10 days ago, "as soon as technically possible, and the prices will remain in effect until the earlier of when the president’s blueprint goes into effect or the end of the year — whichever is sooner."

Trump praised the move, writing on Twitter, "We applaud Pfizer for this decision and hope other companies do the same. Great news for the American people!"

Photo Credit: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Scientists Find Alzheimer's 'Big Bang': Study]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 01:18:51 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/vlcsnap-2016-01-22-16h52m55s32.jpg

Despite billions of dollars spent on clinical trials through the decades, Alzheimer's disease remains one of the most devastating and baffling diseases in the world, affecting more than 5 million Americans alone.

But Dallas scientists say they've made a major breakthrough in the fight.

They have discovered a "Big Bang" of Alzheimer's disease — the point at which a healthy protein becomes toxic, but has not yet formed deadly tangles in the brain.

According to a study from UT Southwestern's O'Donnell Brain Institute, scientists found the shape-shifting nature of a tau molecule just before it begins sticking to itself to form larger aggregates. 

The tau protein is believed to be the key driver of Alzheimer's disease. 

The revelation offers a new strategy to detect the devastating disease before it takes hold and has spawned an effort to develop treatments that stabilize tau proteins before they shift shape. 

Doctors involved in the research call it the biggest finding in Alzheimer's research to date.

"New treatments have failed to stop the progression of Alzheimer's. What we are hoping to do is design a treatment that would actually stop the disease before it even manifests in a person," said Dr. Marc Diamond, director for UT Southwestern's Center for Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

"In the case of other diseases that are due to a shape-shift protein, it's been possible to design a drug that is approved that helps prevent that shape shift from occurring. If it's been done in other diseases, it could possibly be done in Alzheimer's," Diamond said.

Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's has no current cure.

Any drug resulting from the discovery of the disease origin would still be years away, Diamond said.

Taylor Parker, of Arlington, was diagnosed two years ago and is now supported by her husband Stan.

"After a while, I realized that I was slowly losing Taylor. Most days, I was okay. Some days, I was not okay. Some days, I cried," Stan Parker said.

Despite the fact that any possible drug likely won't help Taylor in time, they say they're happy that she's still able to enjoy life with as much joy as possible. Diamond's team's next steps are to develop a simple clinical test that examines a patient's blood or spinal fluid to detect the first biological signs of dementia.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[NYers Are Fatter and More Depressed Than Ever, Research Says]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 11:42:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Health+generic.jpg

Obesity, depression and difficulty sleeping are plaguing more New Yorkers now than in 2004, according to a new series of studies.

The studies also revealed that diabetes rates remain high, especially for people of color. On a more positive note, blood levels of lead and mercury have dropped due to increased awareness and reduced exposure, researchers found.

This series of studies was released by the Journal of Urban Health to investigate current mental and physical health trends in New York City between 2004 and 2014, based on data from the NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

According to the study, the percentage of New Yorkers who could be classified as obese has increased from 27 percent to 32 percent; most of those who fell under that classification were men. The increase is less severe than what has been seen in national trends, but showed a great disparity when it came to education level, access to health insurance, and immigration status, the researchers said.

Despite no significant change in the amount of exercise New Yorkers have been getting over the past decade, the study found other factors that may have contributed to this apparent weight gain. This includes an increase in the average number of meals per week being ordered from restaurants rather than cooked at home from 2.7 to 3.8 and a 32 percent increase in the number of people spending more than 3 hours watching TV or online videos each day.

Weight gain is not the only health concern that the studies found to be common in NYC. The reputation of being the city that never sleeps has taken on a literal meaning, with 41 percent of New Yorkers reporting difficulty sleeping, a problem that has been tied to higher risk of disease and infection.

From a mental health standpoint, the study determined that more than half a million New Yorkers have symptoms of depression, and most of them are not receiving any form of counseling or treatment.

In general, these mental and physical health trends are similar to those currently being seen elsewhere across the country, researchers said.

The analysis, led by researchers from NYU’s School of Medicine and the NYC Health Department, was conducted based on a combination of physical examinations, laboratory testing, and interviews with more than 1,500 residents. The sample population was selected to represent every adult, gender, and race in the city’s five boroughs.

“This information is critical for physicians and policymakers to identify and address troubling trends, such as increasingly sedentary lifestyles, increases in screen time, more restaurant meals, and consumption of fewer fruits and vegetables,” says Lorna Thorpe, one of the principal investigators behind the research series. “Our study shows where we need to focus our resources to prevent and treat ill health.”

<![CDATA[Pain Patients Beg FDA for More Options, More Access to Opioids]]>Tue, 10 Jul 2018 11:13:37 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/864753692-Chronic-Pain.jpg

The Food and Drug Agency Administration, aiming to be more accommodating to chronic pain patients, held a meeting this week to hear people's stories about their pain, NBC News reported.

Several dozen people traveled to FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the room was full of very unhappy people. One lay on the floor, another eased her back on the wall, another paced.

"Suicide is always an option for us," said Mariann Farrell, a Pittsburgh resident who says she has multiple conditions, including fibromyalgia.

The agency is considering how to account for the needs of people with chronic, intractable pain while also dealing with the opioid addiction crisis.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Southwest Is Nixing Peanuts on All Flights, Citing Allergies]]>Tue, 10 Jul 2018 10:39:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/southwest-airlines-peanuts.jpg

Peanuts often come to mind as the quintessential airplane snack. But no more, Southwest Airlines announced.

The Dallas-based airline is ending the tradition on all flights beginning August 1, citing the need to keep passengers with peanut allergies safe.

“Our ultimate goal is to create an environment where all customers -- including those with peanut-related allergies -- feel safe and welcome on every Southwest flight,” the airlines said in a statement, in part.

Passengers can still snag free pretzels and other snacks on longer flights.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News | Southwest Airlines]]>
<![CDATA[Outsourcing School Lunch: Food Deliveries Are Remaking Meals]]>Tue, 10 Jul 2018 09:13:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18191393573969-Outsourcing-School-Lunches.jpg

Rachel Harrington wants her children to have nutritious packed lunches to enjoy at school but she gets frustrated trying to create them.

"Making lunches for my kids is one of my least favorite activities. I'd like to do it the night before, but that never happens," said the mother of two. "There are a lot of complaints."

It's a chore she's happy to outsource two days a week to a business in her hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts. "Having two days off is like a dream," she said. "Sometimes I forgot that it's a Red Apple Lunch day. When I realize I do not have to make lunches, I'm so happy."

Families around the country are finding new options for their children's midday meal thanks to a growing number of delivery options catering to students. Some deliver to the schools, others to homes. As for teens calling in their own food deliveries, some schools allow it and others don't.

Lisa Farrell launched Red Apple Lunch after market research confirmed her suspicion that lunch packing was a "stress point" for parents. "You only have so much time in the day," she said. "Some customers didn't like what was offered at school. Folks just needed another option."

She and her team pack healthy lunches, incorporating local food when possible, and deliver them to homes so that kids can take them to school the next two days. The company delivers two lunches on Monday and two on Wednesday.

Many of Farrell's clients also have the option of buying a hot lunch provided by their child's school, but not all schools offer that.

Kiddos Catering in Chicago has come up with a different twist: providing restaurant meals to schools that contract with it. Owner Michelle Moses and her staff work with area restaurants to create a variety of kid-friendly choices, and deliver the meals to the schools five days a week. Parents select the lunches from an online order form that lists the day's featured restaurant and its menu choices.

"Each day is a different restaurant with six to 10 menu options," she said. "It offers so much choice to kids."

The service appeals to parents because they think their children are less likely to toss out restaurant food than a packed lunch, Moses said. Sarah Goldman, who uses the program at Kipling Elementary School in Deerfield, Illinois, agreed.

"I know my kids are going to eat because they love it," she said. "I know they're finishing their lunch."

The schools appreciate that Moses handles the ordering, payment, pickup and food distribution in the cafeteria.

"Schools really want to be in the business of educating kids," she said. "They don't want to be in the food and beverage business."

That doesn't mean that schools always like it when teens (or parents) take it upon themselves to order food through phone apps. Many schools have banned that practice, citing safety concerns about delivery drivers showing up at school unannounced and the burden of tracking down students to alert them that their meals have arrived.

"These types of deliveries pose an unnecessary security risk for students and staff," said Bernard Watson, director of community relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools in Suwanee, Georgia. "In addition, our award-winning school nutrition program provides students with a wide variety of tasty, nutritious meals on-site, so there is no need to order food from outside."

But in places where there is no formal policy about restaurant deliveries, they can come in handy. When Spencer Wood's daughter forgot her lunch last spring, he arranged for the local Panera to deliver her a meal.

"I called the school to make sure it was OK, and they said families do it all the time," said Wood, of Canal Winchester, Ohio. "They were very helpful, telling me when to have it sent and reminding me to tip the driver. "

His 12-year-old daughter, Madison, loved the special delivery of macaroni and cheese, he said.

A restaurant meal is a nice treat, agreed Jacob Levin, a recent graduate of Bexley High School in Bexley, Ohio. He relied on a sub shop to deliver a sandwich to him during lunchtime meetings or other appointments that conflicted with his lunch period.

"It was a convenient option. In most cases, I would not have been able to eat at school if it weren't for the delivery option," he said. "Having a restaurant-quality sub also was much more enjoyable than cafeteria food."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Nam Y. Huh/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Where Does Trump's Supreme Court Pick Stand on Abortion?]]>Tue, 10 Jul 2018 05:27:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/roeAP_18191096666415.jpg

Many have voiced concern over the future of legal abortion in the United States following Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, but the president's nominee to fill Kennedy's seat, Brett Kavanaugh, has a relatively thin record of public comment and legal decisions on abortion rights, NBC News reported

Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, is a solidly conservative jurist who is unlikely to side with the court's liberal wing on social issues. But with a limited amount of comment and legal decisions regarding abortion, it's hard to tell whether he would vote to overturn the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in 1973. 

In his confirmation hearing in 2006, however, he said he would follow Roe v. Wade "faithfully and fully" when asked by Sen. Chuck Schumer whether he considered the case to be an "abomination." When pressed by Schumer, he would not directly share his personal opinion on the case. 

Photo Credit: Cliff Owen/AP]]>
<![CDATA[1st Trial Over Roundup Weed Killer Cancer Link Claim Under Way]]>Mon, 09 Jul 2018 23:23:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/roundup-suit-0709.jpg

Lawyers for a school groundskeeper dying of cancer asked a San Francisco jury on Monday to find that agribusiness giant Monsanto's widely used weed killer Roundup likely caused his disease.

Dewayne Johnson's lawsuit is the first case to go to trial among hundreds of lawsuits saying Roundup caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Johnson sprayed Roundup and a similar product, Ranger Pro, at his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, according to his attorneys.

He sprayed large quantities from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck, his attorney, Brent Wisner, told jurors during his opening statement. When the wind was gusty, it would cover his face, Wisner said. When a hose broke once, it soaked his entire body.

Johnson read the label carefully and even contacted the company after developing a rash, but was never warned it could cause cancer, Wisner said. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014 at the age of 42.

"The simple fact is he is going to die. It's just a matter of time," Wisner said, showing jurors photos of lesions on Johnson's body that he said were caused by cancer. Johnson sat nearby.

Wisner added, "Between now and then, it's just nothing but pain."

George Lombardi, an attorney for Monsanto, said non-Hodgkin's lymphoma takes years to develop, so Johnson's cancer started well before he began working at the school district.

Many government regulators have rejected a link between the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.

"The scientific evidence is overwhelming that glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer and did not cause Mr. Johnson's cancer," Lombardi said during his opening statement.

The trial is expected to last about a month. Johnson is seeking unspecified damages against Monsanto.

The outcome of Johnson's case will not affect the hundreds of other lawsuits in state and federal courts, but it may serve as an indicator of how the others might go.

St. Louis-based Monsanto developed glyphosate in the 1970s, and the weed killer is now sold in more than 160 countries. Farmers in California, the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S., use it on more than 200 types of crops. Homeowners use it on their lawns and gardens.

The herbicide came under increasing scrutiny after the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a "probable human carcinogen" in 2015.

A flurry of lawsuits against Monsanto in federal and state courts followed, and California added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer. Monsanto has attacked the international research agency's opinion as an outlier.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate is safe for humans when used in accordance with label directions. A draft report by the agency last year concluded the herbicide is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The report noted that science reviews by numerous other countries had reached the same conclusion.

A federal judge in Sacramento in February blocked California from requiring that Roundup carry a label stating that it is known to cause cancer, saying the warning is misleading because almost all regulators have concluded that there is no evidence glyphosate is carcinogenic.

Another federal judge presiding over hundreds of lawsuits like Johnson's is deciding whether the claim that Roundup weed killer can cause cancer is supported by good science.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Administration Takes Another Swipe at 'Obamacare']]>Sat, 07 Jul 2018 22:50:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18183672477010-Trump-White-House.jpg

The Trump administration is freezing payments under an "Obamacare" program that protects insurers with sicker patients from financial losses, a move expected to add to premium increases next year.

At stake are billions in payments to insurers with sicker customers. The latest administration action could disrupt the Affordable Care Act, the health care law that has withstood President Donald Trump's efforts to completely repeal it.

In a weekend announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the administration is acting because of conflicting court ruling in lawsuits filed by some smaller insurers who question whether they are being fairly treated under the program.

The so-called "risk adjustment" program takes payments from insurers with healthier customers and redistributes that money to companies with sicker enrollees. Payments for 2017 are $10.4 billion. No taxpayer subsidies are involved.

The idea behind the program is to remove the financial incentive for insurers to "cherry pick" healthier customers. The government uses a similar approach with Medicare private insurance plans and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Major insurer groups said Saturday the administration's action interferes with a program that's working well.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, whose members are a mainstay of Affordable Care Act coverage, said it was "extremely disappointed" with the administration's action.

The Trump administration's move "will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small business owners and could result in far fewer health plan choices," association president Scott Serota said in a statement. "It will undermine Americans' access to affordable coverage, particularly those who need medical care the most."

Serota noted that the payments are required by law and said he believes the administration has the legal authority to continue making them despite the court cases. He warned of "turmoil" as insurers finalize their rates for 2019.

America's Health Insurance Plans, the main health insurance industry trade group, said in a statement that it is "very discouraged" by the Trump administration's decision to freeze payments.

"Costs for taxpayers will rise as the federal government spends more on premium subsidies," the group said.

Rumors that the Trump administration would freeze payments were circulating late last week. But the Saturday announcement via email was unusual for such a major step.

The administration argued in its announcement that its hands were tied by conflicting court rulings in New Mexico and Massachusetts.

Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma said the Trump administration was disappointed by a New Mexico court ruling that questioned the workings of the risk program for insurers.

The administration "has asked the court to reconsider its ruling, and hopes for a prompt resolution that allows (the government) to prevent more adverse impacts on Americans who receive their insurance in the individual and small group markets," she said.

More than 10 million people buy individual health insurance plans through HealthCare.gov and state insurance marketplaces. The vast majority of those customers receives taxpayer subsidies under the Obama-era health law and would be shielded from premium increases next year.

The brunt of higher prices would fall on solid middle-class consumers who are not eligible for the income-based subsidies. Many of those are self-employed people and small-business owners, generally seen as a Republican constituency.

The latest "Obamacare" flare-up does not affect most people with employer coverage.

More than 20 million people have coverage through former President Barack Obama's law. Close to half get subsidized private coverage that would be affected by Saturday's Trump administration announcement. The other half are covered by expanded Medicaid.

Trump came into office promising a swift repeal of "Obamacare," which he said he'd replace with a much better health plan. But the White House never produced a proposal, and legislation from congressional Republicans would have left millions uninsured, while undermining protections for people with pre-existing health problems.

The GOP repeal drive collapsed last summer after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cast a crucial "no" vote, with a thumbs down gesture that's become a target of Trump criticism at campaign-style rallies.

Unable to totally repeal the law, the White House and the Republican-led Congress have taken a series of steps that make it harder for the ACA to work as intended. Among them:

— Repealing, effective next year, an unpopular requirement that most people carry health insurance, or risk fines. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that will raise premiums by about 10 percent.

— Eliminating another set of payments to insurers, which covered discounts that the companies are required to provide low-income people on their copayments and deductibles.

— Slashing the advertising budget for HealthCare.gov even as the sign-up window was shortened by half.

— Clearing the way for low-cost insurance plans that cover less and may siphon healthier customers away from ACA plans.

Even so, enrollment under the health law has remained remarkably steady. But premiums for people who buy individual coverage and are not eligible for ACA subsidies have continued rising by double digits.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Unsealed Lawsuit: Opioid-Maker Placed Profits Over People]]>Thu, 05 Jul 2018 23:41:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/OxyContin-tabs.jpg

A newly unsealed lawsuit by Tennessee's attorney general says the maker of the world's top-selling painkiller directed its salesforce to target the highest prescribers, many with limited or no pain management background or training.

Citing the public's right to know, Attorney General Herbert Slatery said Thursday that OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma has dropped its previous efforts to shield details of the 274-page lawsuit in state court. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Knoxville News Sentinel had also requested that the lawsuit's records become public.

The lawsuit says Purdue violated a 2007 settlement with the state, placing profits over people with a deceptive narrative that claimed its opioids were safer than they actually were. The lawsuit also says the Stamford, Connecticut-based company targeted vulnerable people, including the elderly.

Purdue did so while relying on continued users and high doses, according to the lawsuit: 104.3 million OxyContin tablets were prescribed in Tennessee from 2008 to 2017, with 53.7 percent of them 40 milligrams or higher. And more than 80 percent of Purdue's business consistently came from continued users, the lawsuit says.

For example, Purdue called on two providers 48 times after law enforcement told Purdue the pair was responsible for significant interstate OxyContin diversion, the lawsuit says. The company called on another provider 31 times after the provider's license was place on restrictive probation related to high-prescribing of controlled substances, the lawsuit adds.

The state's lawsuit says Purdue kept pushing to sell its products despite a litany of red flags.

"Purdue continued to make sales calls in spite of credible reports of patient overdoses, indictments, adverse licensure actions, a provider admitting he was addicted to heroin, a knife fight outside a provider's office, muggings over controlled substances outside of a pharmacy linked to a specific provider, a clinic that had no examination tables or equipment, an admission by a provider that he was running a pill mill, a provider changing the name of his practice shortly after he was notified of a state investigation into his practice, a patient being coached in the waiting room about how to fill out intake forms, armed guards in provider waiting rooms, high numbers of patients who purchased OxyContin in cash, high numbers of out-of-state or out-of-county tags in providers' parking lots, accusations of insurance fraud, choreographed urine screenings and pill counts, standing-room-only waiting rooms, and additional signs of problematic high volume practices," the lawsuit states.

Purdue has denied claims in lawsuits nationwide over the scourge of opioid abuse, saying it will defend itself. In Tennessee, there were 1,631 overdose deaths in 2016, including 1,186 from opioids, according to the state Department of Health.

Tennessee filed its complaint last month at the same time Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada and Texas brought similar lawsuits claiming unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Toby Talbot/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Ohio Health Network Denies Liability for Damaged Embryos]]>Thu, 05 Jul 2018 09:07:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_embryos0309_1920x10801.jpg

A health care network responding to lawsuits says it wasn't liable for a storage tank malfunction that destroyed more than 4,000 eggs and embryos at its fertility clinic near Cleveland.

In court filings made public this week, attorneys for University Hospitals say patients were advised about risks involved with frozen specimens and signed related consent forms. The network says the problem wasn't caused by hospital negligence and suggests others might be responsible for what happened.

Those responses don't sit well with some affected patients. An attorney representing more than 100 families says it's a change from University Hospitals' previous apologies about what happened.

The health network acknowledges the situation has caused grief for patients and says it is required by the court to formally respond to the lawsuits.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Monica Robins, File]]>
<![CDATA[What Is Dry Drowning? Recognizing the Symptoms]]>Thu, 05 Jul 2018 09:05:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/10AdobeStock_147011167.jpgAccording to health authorities, every day about 10 people in the U.S. from drowning, including the strange phenomenon known as "dry drowning."

Photo Credit: pichitstocker/Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[Fresh Grounds for Coffee: Study Shows It May Boost Longevity]]>Tue, 03 Jul 2018 06:24:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18180595093658.jpg

Go ahead and have that cup of coffee, maybe even several more. New research shows it may boost chances for a longer life, even for those who down at least eight cups daily.

In a study of nearly half-a-million British adults, coffee drinkers had a slightly lower risk of death over 10 years than abstainers.

The apparent longevity boost was seen with instant, ground and decaffeinated, results that echo U.S. research. It's the first large study to suggest a benefit even in people with genetic glitches affecting how their bodies use caffeine.

Overall, coffee drinkers were about 10 percent to 15 percent less likely to die than abstainers during a decade of follow-up. Differences by amount of coffee consumed and genetic variations were minimal.

The results don't prove your coffee pot is a fountain of youth nor are they a reason for abstainers to start drinking coffee, said Alice Lichtenstein, a Tufts University nutrition expert who was not involved in the research. But she said the results reinforce previous research and add additional reassurance for coffee drinkers.

"It's hard to believe that something we enjoy so much could be good for us. Or at least not be bad," Lichtenstein said.

The study was published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

It's not clear exactly how drinking coffee might affect longevity. Lead author Erikka Loftfield, a researcher at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, said coffee contains more than 1,000 chemical compounds including antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage.

Other studies have suggested that substances in coffee may reduce inflammation and improve how the body uses insulin, which can reduce chances for developing diabetes. Loftfield said efforts to explain the potential longevity benefit are continuing.

The researchers invited 9 million British adults to take part; 498,134 women and men aged 40 to 69 agreed. The low participation rate means those involved may have been healthier than the general U.K. population, the researchers said.

Participants filled out questionnaires about daily coffee consumption, exercise and other habits, and received physical exams including blood tests. Most were coffee drinkers; 154,000 or almost one-third drank two to three cups daily and 10,000 drank at least eight cups daily.

During the next decade, 14,225 participants died, mostly of cancer or heart disease.

Caffeine can cause short-term increases in blood pressure, and some smaller studies have suggested that it might be linked with high blood pressure, especially in people with a genetic variation that causes them to metabolize caffeine slowly.

But coffee drinkers in the U.K. study didn't have higher risks than nondrinkers of dying from heart disease and other blood pressure-related causes. And when all causes of death were combined, even slow caffeine metabolizers had a longevity boost.

As in previous studies, coffee drinkers were more likely than abstainers to drink alcohol and smoke, but the researchers took those factors into account, and coffee drinking seemed to cancel them out.

The research didn't include whether participants drank coffee black or with cream and sugar. But Lichtenstein said loading coffee with extra fat and calories isn't healthy.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Richard Vogel/AP Photo, File]]>
<![CDATA[NYC Family Tells of Firework Burning Baby in Stroller]]>Mon, 02 Jul 2018 20:44:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/baby+burned+fireworks+jala+smith.jpg

Thousands of people are hurt every year in fireworks-related accidents, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and as one Brooklyn family knows all too well — they don't all happen on the Fourth of July.

Jala Smith was only 1 month old when her family brought her to a block party in Brooklyn in September 2016. In a festive mood, someone at the party decided to light illegal fireworks.

"He lit the rocket. It went into the air but it didn't get all the way into the air," recalled Jala's mother, Quanisha Smith. "The wind must have shifted it because it went straight into the wall." 

The firework bounced off the wall, then screamed straight into Jala's stroller as she sat strapped inside. 

"It hit the stroller and I saw a spark," said Quanisha Smith. "The stroller is on fire with the baby in it, and it was just panic." 

Jala's legs were burnt: "They were black to a crisp," her mother said. 

Jala was rushed to Staten Island University Hospital Northwell Health, where Dr. Michael L. Cooper and his team cared for the baby at the burn unit. They also care for an average of 15 fireworks injury victims each year around the Fourth of July. 

"The dangers are there," said Cooper. "These are explosives, they can cause scars." 

"Sometimes these patients don't get back to work. Sometimes those patients will avoid going out because they're too self-conscious or emotional or traumatized by the disfigurement." 

Two years after being severely burned by the illegal firework, Jala is running around like any other toddler, smiling and laughing and telling her parents, "I love you." But not everything is normal. Jala still has pain, bears a scar, and her six brothers and sisters are also traumatized. 

"They're scared of fireworks now, so they don't even want to be around it," said Quanisha Smith. "They don't even want to hear it. When they hear it, they run and hide." 

Which is why Quanisha Smith wants to spread the message about fireworks on this July 4th holiday: "Please don't light it. Don't play with fireworks at all. Any bottle rockets, any fireworks. It is so dangerous to everyone." 

Photo Credit: News 4 NY]]>
<![CDATA[Mom Warns of Hot Playgrounds After Daughter Suffers Burns]]>Mon, 02 Jul 2018 13:03:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/playground+equipment+kshb.png

Warning: Images below are graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers.

A Missouri mom has a warning for parents about the hidden dangers of playgrounds in the heat.

With temperatures soaring in the Midwest, Dawna Wright thought back to Memorial Day, when she took her four-year-old daughter Asia to a splash park near their home.

"She saw a bunch of children playing on the play equipment and she kept wanting to go over there," Wright said in an interview with NBC affiliate KSHB last week.

"We went to go back to the water and she ran from me and went on the slide and that's when she instantly was burned."

Wright posted photos on Facebook of the back of her daughter's legs, showing second-degree burns from the dangerously hot slide. 

"You could tell that the skin was just gone. It just completely took her skin away," Wright said.

When checked, the temperature of the plastic slide in direct sunlight was more than 150 degrees.

With signs on the playground for proper attire and a warning of hot equipment, Wright said she has faced criticism for not monitoring her daughter more - but maintained that the incident could happen to many families.

"I just assumed that it was safe because all these children were playing and they were playing just fine," she said.

"I never would have that thought about that until now, so now I will definitely be more aware," echoed Rebekah Singh, another mother at the same park last week.

With plenty of hot weather to come this summer, Wright said she hopes other families learn from her story.

"I just hope and pray that no other baby gets burned like that because it's not fun at all," she said.

Photo Credit: KSHB
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<![CDATA[Collins Opposes a Nominee Who Would Overturn Abortion Ruling]]>Mon, 02 Jul 2018 04:28:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/susan-collinsAP_18171648417290.jpg

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a key vote on President Donald Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, said Sunday she would oppose any nominee she believed would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

The White House is focusing on five to seven potential candidates to fill the vacancy of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on the court. The Maine senator said she would only back a judge who would show respect for settled law such as the 45-year-old Roe decision, which has long been anathema to conservatives.

"I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law," Collins said.

Such a judge, she said, "would not be acceptable to me because that would indicate an activist agenda."

Trump spent the weekend at his New Jersey golf club conferring with his advisers, including White House counsel Don McGahn, as he considers his options to fill the vacancy that might make precedent-shattering court decisions on abortion, health care, gay marriage and other issues.

The president told reporters Friday that he was homing in on up to seven candidates, including two women, and would announce his choice on July 9.

Trump is expected to begin his search in earnest this week at the White House and said the process could include interviews at his golf club before he reaches a final decision following the Fourth of July holiday.

During his 2016 campaign and presidency, Trump embraced anti-abortion groups and vowed to appoint federal judges who will favor efforts to roll back abortion rights. But he told reporters on Friday that he would not question potential high-court nominees about their views on abortion, saying it was "inappropriate to discuss."

The Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, but anti-abortion advocates hope Roe v. Wade will soon be overruled if Trump gets the chance to appoint a justice who could cast a potentially decisive vote against it.

Without Kennedy, the high court will have four justices picked by Democratic presidents and four picked by Republicans, giving Trump the chance to shift the ideological balance toward conservatives for years to come. Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first pick to the high court, have indicated more broadly that they respect legal precedent.

On Sunday, Leonard Leo, an outside adviser to Trump on judicial nominations, said he expected Trump to select a nominee who is mindful of precedent but who is also more "originalist and textualist." That judicial approach typically involves a more literal interpretation of the Constitution as compared to broader rulings such as Roe.

Possible nominees being eyed include Thomas Hardiman, who serves alongside Trump's sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Raymond Kethledge, a federal appeals court judge who clerked for Kennedy. Also of interest are Amul Thapar, who serves on the federal appeals court in Cincinnati; Brett Kavanaugh, a former clerk for Kennedy who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.; and Amy Coney Barrett, who serves on the federal appeals court in Chicago.

Echoing Leo's view, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he didn't think Trump would be overly focused on the Roe ruling.

"You don't overturn precedent unless there's a good reason," Graham said. "I would tell my pro-life friends: You can be pro-life and conservative, but you can also believe in 'stare decisis,'" he said, citing the legal term involving legal precedent that means "to stand by things decided."

Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, and it's even closer because of the absence of ailing Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Even though McConnell changed Senate rules last year to allow confirmation by simple majority, if Democrats hold together, he cannot afford defections. Vice President Mike Pence can be called on to break a tie.

Collins appeared on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union," Leo spoke on "Fox News Sunday" and Graham was on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Iowa's 72-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion Blocked in Court]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 11:40:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18124738766462-Planned-Parenthood-Rally-Iowa-Statehouse.jpg

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday blocked a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion.

The court ruled that the law violates the Iowa Constitution, siding with a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Iowa and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. The organizations sued the state over the law approved by lawmakers last year.

A district court judge upheld the waiting period in September, but the Supreme Court blocked its implementation until it could hear arguments from both sides.

The waiting period is part of a law banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The 20-week ban is in effect and isn't part of the legal challenge.

Planned Parenthood argued that the court "should join the high courts in numerous other states that have found that the right to choose abortion warrants greater protection than has been afforded under the federal Constitution." The organization said supreme courts in 12 states had made such rulings.

The Iowa Supreme Court has recognized privacy as a fundamental right in previous cases. Planned Parenthood argued that the court should conclude, in this case, that abortion was a core privacy right and should be treated like other fundamental rights under the Iowa Constitution.

"Iowa has chosen to impose more severe burdens on women who choose abortion than almost all other states in violation of both the Iowa Constitution and federal law," the group's attorney, Alice Clapman, argued in court arguments.

Clapman said women who seek abortions in Iowa "already make careful decisions. They already contend with massive obstacles in carrying out their decision." The mandatory waiting period, also referred to as the informed choice provision, would make those obstacles far worse, she wrote.

Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson, who is defending the law for the state, argued that protecting unborn life is a state interest of the highest order. He said choosing to terminate a pregnancy is not a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution, and that the waiting period provides time for women to consider information about the procedure that abortion providers are required to provide, including an opportunity to view an ultrasound or hear a fetal heartbeat.

"The informed choice provision does not remove the ultimate decision from the woman. Rather, it reflects the hope of the legislature that after receiving the information and taking some time to consider it, some women will choose to continue a pregnancy that they might otherwise have terminated," he wrote in court documents.

Iowa lawmakers earlier this year also passed a bill prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That law also is on hold pending a legal challenge.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Barbara Rodriguez/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Childhood Cancer Rates Highest in Northeast: New CDC Map]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 11:10:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_354132073702-pediatric-cancer.jpg

A new government cancer map shows that rates of childhood cancer are highest in the Northeast United States and lowest in the South, NBC News reported.

Rates of pediatric lymphoma and brain cancer are higher in the Northeast while leukemia is more common in the West, according to the map.

It isn't clear why the rates vary and, since pediatric cancer is so rare, it's unclear what patients and parents should take away from the data. Its main value, according to the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that wrote the report, is in keeping doctors, hospitals and the government vigilant on pediatric cancer.

It could simply be that some areas have better systems for detecting cancer, the team said.

Photo Credit: J Pat Carter/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Romaine Lettuce Outbreak Tied to Tainted Irrigation Canal]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 10:05:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/950400894-Romaine-Lettuce.jpg

Tainted irrigation water appears to be the source of a national food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, health officials said Thursday.

About 200 people were sickened in the E. coli outbreak and five people died. The outbreak, which started in the spring, is now over, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The outbreak sickened people in 36 states, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Virginia. Five deaths were reported in California, New York, Arkansas and Minnesota. The illnesses were previously traced to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, which provides most of the romaine sold in the U.S. during the winter.

On Thursday, officials said the outbreak strain of E. coli bacteria was found in an irrigation canal in the Yuma area. They are still investigating how the bacteria got into the canal and whether there was contamination elsewhere. They declined to give details about the canal, including its location, until a report can be completed.

"More work needs to be done to determine just how and why this strain of E. coli O157:H7 could have gotten into this body of water and how that led to contamination of romaine lettuce from multiple farms," said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a statement.

Earlier, officials tied eight illnesses at a jail in Alaska to whole head romaine lettuce grown at Harrison Farms in Yuma. But they were unable to find a single farm or packaging or distribution site that could clearly be fingered as the source of contamination for the other cases.

The outbreak was the nation's largest E. coli food poisoning outbreak in more than a decade. Most of the people got sick in March and April, but new illnesses were reported as recently as early this month. Some of those who got sick didn't eat romaine lettuce but had been in close contact with someone who did.

The last large E. coli outbreak like this involved spinach grown in California in 2006. Officials suspect cattle contaminated a nearby stream, and wild pigs roaming the area spread it to fields.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Cyndi Lauper Unveils Report on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 04:13:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cyndi-lauperAP_18180211343281.jpg

Years before reaching pop music stardom, Cyndi Lauper was down on her luck, broke and homeless.

She was in her late teens and ready to move out of her family's house, but her parents wouldn't sign a lease for her own place. She found a job at a restaurant, but that didn't pan out either and she ended up living on the streets and in a shelter in Vermont.

"I felt like a failure because I couldn't even be a good waitress," the singer recounted Thursday morning to a small group of journalists in the courtyard of a luxury hotel off the Sunset Strip.

She told her experience with homelessness, which came nearly a decade before she became a pop superstar in the early '80s, while unveiling a nationwide report on youth homelessness.

The interactive report ranks how states provide services such as housing and mental health for homeless youth based on a variety of criteria, including access to hormone therapy for transgender people and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

It is a joint project between Lauper's True Colors Fund and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Washington and Massachusetts ranked first and second on the list, with California and Connecticut tying for third. The lowest ranking states are South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Wyoming.

The report found that even in the top-ranked states, there's room for improvement in the availability of services, such shelters, counseling and training for identifying LGBTQ persons. They also said laws should be changed to decriminalize truancy and other policy changes are needed to keep vulnerable youth out of the juvenile justice system.

Lauper said the report can be used as a tool for advocates to make a direct change in the way service providers across the country can assist and ultimately prevent youth homelessness.

The singer said the fund will update its research annually.

Lauper, 65, is best known for hits like "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", "Good Enough" and "Time After Time." Her debut album "She's So Unusual" had four top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1984.

It was the singer's own experiences with homelessness that inspired her to want to improve conditions for displaced youth, especially those from the LGBTQ community. She created the True Colors Fund, which advocates for services providers, such as shelters and clinics for homeless youth, in 2008.

She also said she hopes the effort will inspire young people to contribute to the solution.

"I was brought up in the civil rights movement and I listened to Dr. King all the time," she said. "I know that it was all of us that was going to make a change, not some."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Charges Hundreds in Health Care Fraud, Opioid Crackdown]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 06:48:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-517239628+edited.jpg

The Department of Justice on Thursday announced charges against 601 people, including doctors, for taking part in alleged health care frauds resulting in over $2 billion in losses and which, in some cases, contributed to the nation's opioid epidemic, Reuters reported

The department said the arrests are part of the the largest health care fraud takedown in U.S. history. It includes 162 doctors and other suspects charged for their alleged roles in prescribing and distributing addictive opioid painkillers. 

The fraud crackdown occurs every year, but this year, officials sought to emphasize their efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, which federal health officials say caused more than 42,000 deaths in the United States in 2016.

"Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients — vulnerable people suffering from addiction — and they see dollar signs," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, FIle ]]>
<![CDATA[Exercise on the Rise in US, But So Is Obesity, Survey Finds]]>Thu, 28 Jun 2018 07:00:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18177793898643-Running-Philadelphia.jpg

It may seem like a contradiction, but more adults in the U.S. say they are exercising at the same time more of them are becoming obese.

About 24 percent of adults last year said they exercise enough each week to meet government recommendations for both muscle strengthening and aerobic exercise, according to a large annual health survey. That was up from 21 percent in 2015.

The same survey says 31 percent of adults indicated they were obese last year, up slightly. Another, more rigorous government study has also found adult obesity is inching up.

So if more Americans are exercising, how can more also be getting fatter?

Some experts think the findings may reflect two sets of people — the haves and have-nots of physical fitness, so to speak.

"It's possible the people becoming more active are already normal weight," said John Jakicic, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center.

The numbers come from an in-person annual national survey that for more than 60 years has been an important gauge of U.S. health trends. Roughly 35,000 adults answer the survey every year, including questions about how often, how long and how vigorously they exercise in their leisure time.

The survey gives a good sense of trends, but it's not perfect. People generally overstate how much they exercise, just as they overstate their height and lowball their weight, Jakicic said.

Ten-year-old federal recommendations say adults should do weightlifting or other muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week. They also advise adults to do at least 75 minutes a week of high-intensity aerobic activity, such as running, or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, or a combination of the two.

In a report being released Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at survey responses from 2010 through 2015 and found that level of leisure-time exercise was more common in some states than others.

Nearly a third of non-elderly adults in Colorado, Idaho, and New Hampshire met exercise guidelines. Only about one-seventh in Mississippi, Kentucky and South Carolina did.

Higher levels of exercise were more common in people who were working than those who weren't, the study also found.

Nationally, exercise levels were flat during the years covered by the CDC report. But more recent data show more adults said they were exercising at recommended levels in 2016 and 2017.

It's not clear why, said Jena Shaw Tronieri, a University of Pennsylvania weight-loss expert.

One possibility: Many adults exercise to manage stress, and the last two years have seen increasing political and social turmoil.

"I don't know if that will explain the increase recently, but we know those situational factors are part of the context," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Abortion Rights Advocates Sound Alarm on Kennedy Exit]]>Thu, 28 Jun 2018 07:36:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/062718kennedy.jpg

Upon news of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, fear for the future is spreading among abortion rights advocates, NBC News reported. At the same time, anti-abortion groups predicted a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake the court. 

Kennedy was a swing vote who sometimes sided with the liberal wing of the court on social issues.

President Donald Trump has long vowed to nominate justices to the Supreme Court who would work to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide. Now, he has his chance to nominate someone to help make that happen. 

The "right to access abortion in this country is on the line," the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said.

Kennedy's retirement "marks a pivotal moment for the fight to ensure every unborn child is welcomed and protected under the law," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, whose political action committee backs anti-abortion-rights candidates.

It remains unclear, though, whether opponents of abortion rights would actually have the votes to overturn Roe, regardless of Kennedy's replacement. 

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[New, Fast-Acting Flu Drug Gets Priority FDA Review]]>Wed, 27 Jun 2018 11:41:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18040745360696-Flu-Season.jpg

A pill that is touted to help rein in flu symptoms with a single dose is getting a speedy review from the Food and Drug Administration, NBC News reported.

The pill's manufacturer, Genentech, said Tuesday that the FDA granted a priority review to baloxavir marboxil, with approval possible by the end of the year.

Flu viruses have long been resistant to the first two antiviral flu drugs, and a new flu drug hasn't hit the U.S. market in years.

This drug, already approved in Japan, helps stop viruses replicating earlier in the process than drugs like Tamiflu and is "going to be more convenient ... because it works after a single dose," Genentech vice president Mark Eisner said.

Photo Credit: David Goldman/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Invasive Bufo Toads Pose a Deadly Threat to Pets]]>Tue, 26 Jun 2018 12:01:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CTScanetoad.jpg

One of Dr. Ian Kupkee’s colleagues took her dog, Finn, out in mid-June when it suddenly sprinted into the backyard. The South Florida veterinarian’s co-worker noticed the 4-month-old Australian Shepherd was eyeing a toad and started smacking its lips.

Within minutes, the dog started showing signs of “being drugged,” Kupkee said, so she rushed it to the animal clinic. During the car ride, the pet began having seizures.

Upon arriving at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic in Kendall, Florida, the dog received fluids and three separate doses of anti-seizure medication. Ice packs helped bring the animal’s temperature down.

The incident is a common occurrence when dogs and Bufo toads interact, Kupkee said. The poisonous amphibian secretes a toxic white, gummy-like substance from glands behind its head when it feels threatened. Curious dogs intending to play with the toads may get taught a deadly lesson.

"Toads are bad news for dogs," Kupkee said. “The trick is these are not frogs. Toads look warty. Assume every toad is poisonous to your dog.”

Also known as Cane toads, the Bufo toad is not native to the U.S. The species was introduced to Florida’s sugar cane fields to control pests in 1936. Intentional and accidental releases caused them to spread. Those scattered throughout Florida’s panhandle escaped from a zoo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Pet dealers accidentally released them in South Florida, the Florida Wildlife Extension reported.

Bufo toad sightings have been reported in Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the USGS reported. Kupkee said the toads, which flourish in warm, humid climate, are also likely to be found in Georgia and Texas.

They often emerge after heavy rainfall and lay their eggs in still or slow-moving water.

And while this invasive species of amphibians pose no major threat to humans, it presents a danger to beloved pets, Kupkee said. Exposure to the toxin it produces can cause symptoms ranging from drooling and head-shaking to loss of coordination and convulsions. It can also kill your dog.

“If you catch it early, the chances of a successful recovery are very high,” Kupkee said. “The heartbreaking truth is people who leave their dog outside all day will come home to a dog that’s no longer with us. There’s the chance of heat stroke [or] a potential toad.”

Kupkee notes that the first symptoms of a toxic toad encounter can be evident within five to 10 minutes of exposure.

He advises pet owners who suspect their dog may have been poisoned by a toxic toad to rinse the animal's mouth out with water and wipe the substance away from its lips and tongue. Dog owners should watch for panting, disorientation and dilated eyes — signs of toxicity — and get the pet to a doctor.

Pet owners, especially those living in areas where Cane toads are prevelant, should avoid low branches, long grass, letting their dog out without a leash and leaving food outside, Kupkee warned. They should also keep their dog away from objects that accumulate water, such as plant pots. He advised to keep dogs on a retractable leash, even while roaming the backyard.

"Dogs find the scent of this thing very attractive," Kupkee said. "The best preventive is don’t leave the dog unattended."

Photo Credit: Ian Waldie/ Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Try Using Poliovirus to Attack Brain Tumors]]>Tue, 26 Jun 2018 08:51:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/polio-virus.jpg

One of the world's most dreaded viruses has been turned into a treatment to fight deadly brain tumors. Survival was better than expected for patients in a small study who were given genetically modified poliovirus, which helped their bodies attack the cancer, doctors report.

It was the first human test of this and it didn't help most patients or improve median survival. But many who did respond seemed to have long-lasting benefit: About 21 percent were alive at three years versus 4 percent in a comparison group of previous brain tumor patients.

Similar survival trends have been seen with some other therapies that enlist the immune system against different types of cancer. None are sold yet for brain tumors.

"This is really a first step," and doctors were excited to see any survival benefit in a study testing safety, said one researcher, Duke University's Dr. Annick Desjardins.

Preliminary results were to be discussed Tuesday at a conference in Norway and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.


Brain tumors called glioblastomas often recur after initial treatment and survival is usually less than a year. Immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda help fight some cancers that spread to the brain but have not worked well for ones that start there.

Polio ravaged generations until a vaccine came out in the 1950s. The virus invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis. Doctors at Duke wanted to take advantage of the strong immune system response it spurs to try to fight cancer. With the help of the National Cancer Institute, they genetically modified poliovirus so it would not harm nerves but still infect tumor cells.

The one-time treatment is dripped directly into the brain through a thin tube. Inside the tumor, the immune system recognizes the virus as foreign and mounts an attack.

When doctors explained the idea to Michael Niewinski, it seemed a feat "like putting a man on the moon," he said. The 33-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida, was treated last August, and said a recent scan seemed to show some tumor shrinkage.

"I'm pain-free, symptom-free," he said.


The study tested the modified poliovirus on 61 patients whose tumors had recurred after initial treatments. Median survival was about a year, roughly the same as for a small group of similar patients given other brain tumor treatments at Duke. After two years, the poliovirus group started faring better.

Follow-up is continuing, but survival is estimated at 21 percent at two years versus 14 percent for the comparison group. At three years, survival was still 21 percent for the virus group versus 4 percent for the others.

Eight of the 35 patients who were treated more than two years ago were alive as of March, as were five out of 22 patients treated more than three years ago.

Stephanie Hopper, 27, of Greenville, South Carolina, was the first patient treated in the study in May 2012 and it allowed her to finish college and become a nurse. Scans as recent as early June show no signs that the tumor is growing back, she said.

"I believe wholeheartedly that it was the cure for me," she said. Her only lasting symptom has been seizures, which medicines help control. "Most people wouldn't guess that I had brain cancer."


The treatment causes a lot of brain inflammation, and two thirds of patients had side effects. The most common ones were headaches, muscle weakness, seizure, trouble swallowing and altered thinking skills. Doctors stressed that these were due to the immune response in the brain and that no one got polio as a result of treatment.

One patient had serious brain bleeding right after the procedure. Two patients died relatively soon after treatment — one from worsening of the tumor and the other from complications of a drug given to manage a side effect. The planned doses had to be reduced because there were too many seizures and other problems at the higher doses initially chosen.

One independent expert, Dr. Howard Fine, brain tumor chief at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, said it was disappointing to see no improvement on median survival, but encouraging to see "extraordinary responders, a small group of patients who have done markedly better than one would expect."

The numbers in the study are small, but it's unusual to see many alive after several years, and suggests the approach merits more and bigger studies, he said.


The National Cancer Institute manufactured the modified virus. Federal grants and several charities funded the work. Some study leaders have formed a company that licenses patents on the treatment from Duke.

Duke has started a second study in adults, combining the poliovirus with chemotherapy, to try to improve response rates. A study in children with brain tumors also is underway, and studies for breast cancer and the skin cancer melanoma also are planned.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Medical Milestone: US OKs Marijuana-Based Drug for Seizures]]>Mon, 25 Jun 2018 22:32:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marijuanamedicineAP_18107496857650.jpg

U.S. health regulators on Monday approved the first prescription drug made from marijuana, a milestone that could spur more research into a drug that remains illegal under federal law, despite growing legalization for recreational and medical use.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the medication, called Epidiolex, to treat two rare forms of epilepsy in patients 2 years and older. But it's not quite medical marijuana.

The strawberry-flavored syrup is a purified form of a chemical ingredient found in the cannabis plant — but not the one that gets users high. It's not yet clear why the ingredient, called cannabidiol, or CBD, reduces seizures in some people with epilepsy.

British drugmaker GW Pharmaceuticals studied the drug in more than 500 children and adults with hard-to-treat seizures, overcoming numerous legal hurdles that have long stymied research into cannabis.

FDA officials said the drug reduced seizures when combined with older epilepsy drugs. FDA chief Scott Gottlieb said his agency had supported research on cannabis-derived products "for many years."

"This approval serves as a reminder that sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies," Gottlieb told reporters.

The FDA has previously approved synthetic versions of another cannabis ingredient for medical use, including severe weight loss in patients with HIV.

Epidiolex is essentially a pharmaceutical-grade version CBD oil, which some parents already use to treat children with epilepsy. CBD is one of more than 100 chemicals found in marijuana. It doesn't contain THC, the ingredient that gives marijuana its mind-altering effect.

Physicians say it's important to have a consistent, government-regulated version.

"I'm really happy we have a product that will be much cleaner and one that I know what it is," said Dr. Elaine Wirrell, director of the Mayo Clinic's program for childhood epilepsy. "In the artisanal products there's often a huge variation in doses from bottle to bottle depending on where you get it."

Side effects with the drug include diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue and sleep problems.

Several years ago, Allison Hendershot considered relocating her family to Colorado, one of the first states to legalize marijuana and home to a large network of CBD producers and providers. Her 13-year-old daughter, Molly, has suffered from severe seizures since she was 4 months old. But then Hendershot learned about a trial of Epidiolex at New York University.

"I preferred this to some of those other options because it's is a commercial product that has gone through rigorous testing," said Hendershot, who lives in Rochester, New York.

Since receiving Epidiolex, Hendershot says her daughter has been able to concentrate more and has had fewer "drop" seizures — in which her entire body goes limp and collapses.

CBD oil is currently sold online and in specialty shops across the U.S., though its legal status remains murky. Most producers say their oil is made from hemp, a plant in the cannabis family that contains little THC and can be legally farmed in a number of states for clothing, food and other uses.

The immediate impact of Monday's approval on these products is unclear.

FDA's Gottlieb warned about the use of CBD products with "unproven medical claims."

"The promotion and use of these unapproved products may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases," Gottlieb said.

The FDA previously issued warnings to CBD producers that claimed their products could treat specific diseases, such as cancer or Alzheimer's. Only products that have received formal FDA approval can make such claims, typically requiring clinical trials costing millions.

Most CBD producers sidestep the issue by making only broad claims about general health and well-being.

Industry supporters downplayed the impact of the FDA approval.

"I don't know a mom or dad in their right mind who is going to change what's already working," said Heather Jackson, CEO of Realm of Caring, a charitable group that supports access to CBD. "I really don't think it's going to affect us much."

Jackson's group estimates the typical family using CBD to treat childhood epilepsy spends about $1,800 per year on the substance.

A GW Pharmaceuticals spokeswoman said the company would not immediately announce a price for the drug, which it expects to launch in the fall. Wall Street analysts have previously predicted it could cost $25,000 per year, with annual sales eventually reaching $1 billion.

For their part, GW Pharmaceuticals executives say they are not trying to disrupt products already on the market. The company has pushed legislation in several states to make sure its drug can be legally sold and prescribed.

The FDA approval for Epidiolex is technically limited to patients with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes, two rare forms of epilepsy for which there are few effective treatments. Patients experience frequent, severe seizures, in some cases more than 100 per day.

But doctors will have the option to prescribe it for other uses.

The new medication enters an increasingly complicated legal environment for marijuana.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Another 20 states allow medical marijuana, but the U.S. government continues to classify it as a controlled substance with no medical use, in the same category as heroin and LSD.

Despite increasing acceptance, there is little rigorous research on the benefits and harms of marijuana. Last year a government-commissioned group concluded that the lack of scientific information about marijuana and CBD poses a risk to public health.

Before sales of Epidiolex can begin, the Drug Enforcement Administration must formally reclassify CBD into a different category of drugs that have federal medical approval. That decision is expected within 90 days.

GW Pharmaceuticals makes the drug in the U.K. from cannabis plants that are specially bred to contain high levels of CBD. And the company plans to continue importing the medicine, bypassing onerous U.S. regulations on manufacturing restricted substances. European approval is expected in early 2019.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Kathy Young/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Store Owners Try Blue Lights in Bathrooms to Deter Drug Use]]>Mon, 25 Jun 2018 08:16:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bathroom-blue-light.jpg

Colored bulbs cast an eerie blue glow in the restroom of a Pennsylvania convenience store where people who inject heroin and other drugs have been seeking the relative privacy of the stalls to shoot up.

The blue lights are meant to discourage people from using drugs in store bathrooms by making it more difficult for them to see their veins. It's an idea that's been around for years but is getting a fresh look as a result of the nation's opioid epidemic.

"The hardest-core opiate user still wants to be accurate. They want to make sure the needle goes in the right spot,'' said Read Hayes, a University of Florida researcher and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, a retail industry-supported group that is looking at the lights' effectiveness. The purpose of the blue light is to "disrupt that process'' and force people to go somewhere else to take drugs, he said.

Turkey Hill Minit Markets, a 260-store chain based in Lancaster, is one of two convenience store chains and a supermarket chain working with the loss prevention group to field-test the blue bulbs. Hayes, whose group devises methods to combat theft and violent crime at stores, said that the study is still in its infancy, but that initial feedback from stores that have been using them has been positive.

Earlier studies have questioned the lights' deterrent effect, with people who use opioids telling researchers they'd shoot up in blue light if it meant avoiding withdrawal symptoms. Many public health experts oppose the practice, saying blue lights make people more likely to hurt themselves and stigmatize those in the grips of addiction.

And, for people accustomed to injecting themselves, there are ways around the lights.

Someone in withdrawal who obtains heroin is "going to want to use as soon as possible, even if the location is not optimal,'' said Brett Wolfson-Stofko at the National Development & Research Institutes, who has studied injection drug use in public bathrooms.

Store owners say they have to do something.

In Luzerne County, where Turkey Hill has installed blue lights at a store in Wilkes-Barre, Coroner William Lisman said people have died from overdoses in the public bathrooms of fast-food restaurants, big-box stores and other retailers.

"It can very easily go unnoticed until somebody else wants to use that restroom,'' he said. "Other patrons realize they can't get in, the manager opens up and we find people deceased.''

At some Turkey Hill locations in hard-hit neighborhoods, store workers would often find used needles or even people slumped over from an overdose, said Matt Dorgan, the chain's asset protection manager.

 "We realized we need to do something to protect our associates and our customers,'' he said.

The blue lights were part of a broader set of security measures at Turkey Hill that included brighter exterior lighting, new window signage to make store exteriors more visible from inside, and security training for store workers.

More than six months after the chain began using the blue lights in as many as 20 stores, "we're not finding hardly anything anymore,'' Dorgan said. "It's a pretty dramatic reduction. We haven't had a single overdose.''

Last fall, Sheetz, a convenience-store chain with more than 500 stores in six states, installed a new lighting system in the restroom of its New Kensington store, about 20 miles outside Pittsburgh. The blue lights are "designed to help our customers and employees avoid dangerous situations,'' said company spokesman Nick Ruffner.

Sheetz, he said, has seen "positive steps in the right direction,'' and has since installed the blue bulbs at a store in Huntington, West Virginia.

Some health experts encourage interventions that don't involve blue lights.

Installation of needle disposal containers can help protect store employees, the public and people who use drugs, while stall doors that swing outward can make it easier to reach someone who has overdosed and is in need of medical help.

Stores can also work with law enforcement, social service agencies and addiction services to tackle the problem a step that Hayes, at the loss prevention council, said retailers are looking to take.

Retailers aren't the only ones experimenting with blue lights.

The city of Philadelphia began distributing kits to residents that include a blue bulb for the front porch, no-trespassing signs, a tool to pick up used syringes, a needle disposal box and contact information for social services.

The city, where overdose deaths, fueled by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, surged more than 30 percent to 1,200 last year, has given out more than 100 kits since January.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Baby Boom Sets Record at Texas Hospital With 42 Deliveries in 48 Hours]]>Sat, 23 Jun 2018 03:02:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/211*120/Photo0000411.jpg

A new record was set this week at Baylor University Medical Center Dallas when a baby boom hit Tuesday morning.

Over a 48 hour period, doctors and nurses delivered 42 babies.

“We’ve had a ton of people come in in active labor. Some come in for inductions and some come in at 10 centimeters ready to have a baby, and it’s just been crazy,” said chief-resident Shannon Miller.

Within hours, nearly all of the rooms were full. Residents kept moving, sometimes even running room to room.

“We’re like what’s going on? Everyone around here’s going into labor. Someone said, ‘Ok. We’ve got a patient here who’s seven centimeters.’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I just checked her in.’ And they said, ‘No. This is a different one,'” said first-year resident Dana Potter.

By Wednesday afternoon, more mothers were arriving. It all culminated around 4 p.m. when resident Jenny Uremovich, who was running the board, noticed nine patients were ready to deliver at one time.

“We were just passing each other in the halls, pointing to which rooms we thought were going to deliver next. Sometimes the moms have to push for a while, but it seemed like nobody, especially these nine babies, nobody even pushed for a long time. It was just like boom, boom, boom. Babies everywhere.”

Those nine babies were delivered in just 40 minutes. And by the end of the day, history had been made with 42 deliveries over 48 hours, in a hospital that averages 12 a day.

“You realize how much coordination is required among all staff members. Whether it be resident physicians, attending physicians, the nurses, the people that clean the rooms so that patients can continue to move in, it’s just a really smooth orchestra that took place in the last 48 hours,” said third-year resident Emily Spurgin.

As they got a chance to recover from the excitement and sheer exhaustion, the question of ‘why’ started to come up. What happened nine months ago to result in a baby boom?

“I don’t know. We’ve thrown out a couple of ideas amongst the residents,” said Spurgin.

“I think I’ll have to go with the natural disaster or something going on nine months ago,” said Potter.

After all, it’s been about nine months since both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria ravaged American soil.

“When there’s emotional events; when there’s news and stories like 9/11; or natural disasters and other things, then typically around 9 or 10 months later we get a baby boom. I don’t know if it’s just families looking at what’s important and reevaluating life. We’ve just kind of had that cycle for years,” said nurse manager of labor and delivery Kristine Debuty.

In Debuty’s 24-year career, she’s never seen a boom like this one. That is why she is calling this week’s newborns the Baylor 42, as they take their place in the hospital’s history.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Watch This Baby Smile When She Hears Sound for the 1st Time]]>Fri, 22 Jun 2018 23:59:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/BabyVideoScreenshot.jpg

One-year-old Ayla Esler burst into a smile after hearing sound for the first time Tuesday, thanks to cochlear implants installed in the toddler’s ears last month at the Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas.

The moment was caught in a Facebook video posted by the hospital and viewed at least 60,000 times. The mom, Anna Esler, is seen tearing up as she watches her daughter, who was born with profound hearing loss, react to noise in the room.

“I was really overwhelmed,” Anna told NBC. “We had waited a long time, just to see her respond. I was just so incredibly thankful. It was just beautiful to see her hear for the first time.”

The video shows the rest of the family standing by as an audiologist activated Ayla’s implants Tuesday. Ayla’s dad said the toddler was able to hear him sing for the first time the next day. 

“Wednesday morning, I put the implants on and she was fussing with the adjustment,” Will Esler said. “I started singing to her and she calmed down.”

When Ayla failed her newborn hearing test, the family went through a long process to determine the extent of her hearing loss, her father said.

“If they’re in that severe to profound range, hearing aids don’t work well,” said Dr. Lisa Christensen, an audiologist at Cook Children’s Hospital. “They need something stronger, so we move to the cochlear implant.”

During the procedure, a surgeon inserts an electrode array into the cochlea, a structure in the inner ear. An external device converts noise into electrical impulses and sends them to the electrodes. Christensen said recent advances have allowed wearers to perceive more natural-sounding speech.

Ayla is still adjusting to the implants and will continue learning how to use them in weekly therapy sessions. Her parents said they were surprised the video had spread so far and hoped it would help other parents deciding to “go the cochlear route for their kids.”

Photo Credit: Cook Children's]]>
<![CDATA[House Passes Massive Package to Address Opioid Crisis]]>Fri, 22 Jun 2018 13:27:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/974323458-Paul-Ryan-Opioid-Overdose.jpg

The House of Representatives on Friday passed the largest legislative package on opioids in recent history, NBC News reported.

The package, made up of 58 bills, would direct federal agencies to prioritize training, support recovery centers and conduct research to help combat the growing epidemic, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says killed 42,000 people in 2016.

Among the provisions: requiring medical records list a patient's addiction history, change how prescription pills are distributed and direct the National Institutes of Health to develop non-addictive painkillers.

The package passed 396-14 after months of debate and now heads to the Senate.

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Evidence Suggests Viruses May Play Role in Alzheimer's]]>Thu, 21 Jun 2018 12:45:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18099561437927.jpg

Viruses that sneak into the brain just might play a role in Alzheimer's, scientists reported Thursday in a provocative study that promises to re-ignite some long-debated theories about what triggers the mind-robbing disease.

The findings don't prove viruses cause Alzheimer's, nor do they suggest it's contagious.

But a team led by researchers at New York's Mount Sinai Health System found that certain viruses — including two extremely common herpes viruses — affect the behavior of genes involved in Alzheimer's.

The idea that infections earlier in life might somehow set the stage for Alzheimer's decades later has simmered at the edge of mainstream medicine for years. It's been overshadowed by the prevailing theory that Alzheimer's stems from sticky plaques that clog the brain.

Thursday's study has even some specialists who never embraced the infection connection saying it's time for a closer look, especially as attempts to block those so-called beta-amyloid plaques have failed.

"With an illness this terrible, we cannot afford to dismiss all scientific possibilities," said Dr. John Morris, who directs the Alzheimer's research center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He wasn't involved in the new research but called it impressive.

The study also fits with mounting evidence that how aggressively the brain's immune system defends itself against viruses or other germs may be riskier than an actual infection, said Alzheimer's specialist Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital. With Harvard colleague Dr. Robert Moir, Tanzi has performed experiments showing that sticky beta-amyloid captures invading germs by engulfing them — and that's why the plaque starts forming in the first place.

"The question remained, OK, in the Alzheimer brain what are the microbes that matter, what are the microbes that trigger the plaque?" explained Tanzi, who also had no role in the new research.

The team from Mount Sinai and Arizona State University came up with some viral suspects — by accident. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, wasn't hunting viruses but was looking for new drug targets for Alzheimer's. The researchers were using complex genetic data from hundreds of brains at several brain banks to compare differences between people who'd died with Alzheimer's and the cognitively normal.

The first clues that viruses were around "came screaming out at us," said Mount Sinai geneticist Joel Dudley, a senior author of the research published Thursday in the journal Neuron.

The team found viral genetic material at far higher levels in Alzheimer's-affected brains than in normal ones. Most abundant were two human herpes viruses, known as HHV6a and HHV7, that infect most people during childhood, often with no symptoms, and then lie dormant in the body.

That wasn't unusual. Since 1980, other researchers have linked a variety of bacteria and viruses, including another type of herpes that causes cold sores, to an increased risk of Alzheimer's. But it was never clear if germs were merely bystanders, or actively spurring Alzheimer's.

The new study went farther: Researchers used computer models to check how the viral genes interacted with human genes, proteins and amyloid buildup, almost like the viruses' social media connections, Dudley explained.

"We're able to see if viral genes are friending some of the host genes and if they tweet, who tweets back," Dudley said.

They found a lot of interactions, suggesting the viruses could even switch on and off Alzheimer's-related genes. To see if those interactions mattered, the researchers bred mice lacking one molecule that herpes seemed to deplete. Sure enough, the animals developed more of those amyloid plaques.

"I look at this paper and it makes me sit up and say, 'Wow,'" said Alzheimer's Association scientific programs director Keith Fargo.

He said the research makes a viral connection much more plausible but cautioned that the study won't affect how today's patients are treated.

If the findings pan out, they could change how scientists look for new ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer's, said Dr. Miroslaw Mackiewicz of NIH's National Institute on Aging. Already, NIH is funding a first-step study to see if an antiviral drug benefits people who have both mild Alzheimer's and different herpes viruses.

Just having a herpes virus "does not mean you're going to get Alzheimer's," Mass General's Tanzi stressed. It may not even have penetrated the brain.

But in another study soon to be published, Tanzi showed biologically how both HHV6 and a cold sore-causing herpes virus can trigger or "seed" amyloid plaque formation, supporting the Mount Sinai findings.

Still, he doesn't think viruses are the only suspects.

"The Mount Sinai paper tells us the viral side of the story. We still have to work out the microbe side of the story," said Tanzi, who is looking for bacteria and other bugs in what's called the Brain Microbiome Project. "The brain was always thought to be a sterile place. It's absolutely not true."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA['Gaming Disorder' Revives Medical Debate on Addiction]]>Thu, 21 Jun 2018 09:55:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18171603823902.jpg

Now that the world's leading public health group says too much Minecraft can be an addiction, could overindulging in chocolate, exercise, even sex, be next?

The short answer is probably not.

The new "gaming disorder" classification from the World Health Organization revives a debate in the medical community about whether behaviors can cause the same kind of addictive illness as drugs.

The strictest definition of addiction refers to a disease resulting from changes in brain chemistry caused by compulsive use of drugs or alcohol. The definition includes excessive use that damages health, relationships, jobs and other parts of normal life. Brain research supports that definition, and some imaging studies have suggested that excessive gaming might affect the brain in similar ways.

Under a looser definition, addiction is considered "a disease of extreme behavior. Any behavior carried to extreme that consumes you and keeps you from doing what you should be doing becomes an addiction as far as life is concerned," said Dr. Walter Ling, a UCLA psychiatrist.

In its widely used manual for diagnosing mental illness, the American Psychiatric Association calls excessive video gaming a "condition" but not a formal diagnosis or disease, and says more research is needed to determine if it qualifies as an addiction.

Certain drugs including opioids and alcohol can over-activate the brain's reward circuit. That's the system that under normal circumstances is activated when people engage in "behaviors conducive to survival" including eating and drinking water when thirsty, explained Dr. Andrew Saxon, chairman of the association's addiction psychiatry council. The brain chemical dopamine regulates these behaviors, but narcotic drugs can flood the brain with dopamine, encouraging repeated use and making drug use more rewarding that healthy behaviors, Saxon said. Eventually increasing amounts are needed to get the same effect, and brain changes lead to an inability to control use.

Caffeine is a stimulant and also activates the brain's reward system, but to a much lesser degree than addictive drugs. The "reward" can make people feel more alert, and frequent users can develop mild withdrawal symptoms when they stop, including headaches and tiredness. Caffeine-containing chocolate may produce similar effects. Neither substance causes the kinds of life problems found in drug addiction, although some coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to caffeine and need to drink more to get the same "buzz" or sense of alertness.

The World Health Organization recognizes caffeine "dependence" as a disorder; the American Psychiatric Association does not and says more research is needed.

"The term 'addiction' is tossed around pretty commonly, like 'chocoholic' or saying you're addicted to reality TV," said Dr. Ellen Selkie, a University of Michigan physician who studies teens' use of digital technology. But addiction means an inability to control use "to the point where you're failing at life," she said.

The only behavior classified as an addiction in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual is compulsive gambling. To be diagnosed, gamblers must have several symptoms including repeatedly gambling increasing amounts of money, lying to hide gambling activity, feeling irritable or restless when trying to stop, and losing jobs or relationships because of gambling. Research suggests excessive gambling can affect the brain in ways similar to addictive drugs. Since the diagnostic manual was last updated, in 2013, studies have bolstered evidence that excessive video gaming may do the same thing, and some experts speculate that it may be added to the next update.

The manual doesn't include sex addiction because there's little evidence that compulsive sexual behavior has similar effects on the brain.

Many excessive gamblers, gamers and sex "addicts" have other psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, attention deficit disorder and depression, and some mental health specialists believe their compulsive behaviors are merely symptoms of those diseases rather than separate addictions.

The World Health Organization's decision to classify excessive video gaming as an addiction means "gaming disorder" will be added to this year's update to the organization's International Classification of Diseases. Doctors worldwide use that document to diagnose physical and mental illnesses. Insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare, use billing codes listed there to make coverage decisions. The American Psychiatric Association's manual is widely used for defining and diagnosing mental disorders. If conditions aren't listed in these documents, insurance coverage for treatment is unlikely.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Ahn Young-joon/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Family Separations at the Border Alarm Child-Welfare Experts]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 18:59:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18170053185783.jpg

The sights and sounds are wrenching: A boy's cries of "Papa! Papa!" for the father he had been separated from. Youngsters placed in chain-link cages in an old Texas warehouse. Parents begging to know what will happen to their children.

Child welfare has always been a challenging profession; state and local agencies across America make difficult decisions every day to separate children from their parents. But those agencies have ways of minimizing the trauma that aren't being employed by the Trump administration in separating immigrant families at the Mexican border.

"There are no principles of good child welfare that are being used in this process," said Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers.

Among other things, child welfare agencies often try to arrange visits between parents and children and keep communication open.

McClain and many of his professional colleagues nationwide are alarmed by what is happening at the border, citing research demonstrating that family separation can cause long-term trauma for children, including depression, anxiety, feelings of insecurity and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Their worries center on the more 2,300 children who have been separated from their parents this spring as part of a Trump administration effort to deter illegal border crossings. Federal officials have not specified how long the youngsters will be held.

McClain knows child welfare intimately. He spent five years in a foster-care group home in Texas as a teen, then went on to become a child abuse investigator in that state.

"After we removed children from their homes, I would visit them every day in their foster home," he said. "I was the link back to their parents — I'd get messages back and forth. We had ways to mitigate the trauma."

As soon as feasible, parent-child visits were arranged. And parents could offer advice to the children's caregiver — their food preferences and bedtime rituals, for example.

The wave of family separations at the border, undertaken as part of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy toward those caught illegally trying to enter the country, is not facilitating any continued parent-child communication.

The best option is to keep a fragile family together in the first place, said Mike Arsham, a senior official at New York City's child-welfare agency.

If that's not possible — for example, when a single parent is jailed — the agency tries to find relatives who could care for the children until they are reunited with their parents.

"We give the child whatever reassurance we can that this separation will be as temporary as possible, without giving them false promises," Arsham said. "They want to know if they can still have their circle of friends and their most treasured belongings."

If there are no relatives available, the next option is to find a foster family willing to take the child, he said. Larger group facilities are generally considered the last resort.

The entire child-welfare system in the U.S. purports to be guided by the principle of "the best interests of the child." Ashram, however, said it is clear to him that the family-separation policy at the border "is not primarily motivated by the well-being of the children."

Oversight of the separated children is being handled by the Department of Health and Human Services, which has defended its operations.

Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS' Administration for Children and Families, said younger children under HHS care are being placed in "permanent shelters" where they receive education, clothing, medical and mental health services, and recreational and entertainment opportunities.

"They're under constant supervision and observation, so that we can address any health or medical concerns that arise while they're in our care," he said.

However, the separation policy was branded "wrong and immoral" in a joint statement Tuesday from 14 prominent charitable and social service organizations, including Catholic Charities USA, Girl Scouts of the USA, United Way Worldwide and the YWCA.

The groups called on HHS to restore connections between the children who are in custody and their family members who are awaiting processing by immigration authorities.

"The standards of care for these children must be equal to that expected in our current child welfare system," the groups said.

Among the child welfare experts dismayed by the separations is Sandy Santana, executive director of Children's Rights, a watchdog organization that has successfully sued numerous states to force improvements in their child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Under longstanding practice in the U.S., children should be removed from their home only if a parent is unfit or poses a danger to the child, Santana said. Neither of those circumstances seems prevalent in the wave of border separations, he said.

Under normal practice, Santana said, the goal of a child welfare agency should be to minimize harm to the child in cases where separation is deemed necessary.

"The trauma can have life-long consequences for these kids, so a good system tries to return the child to the parent as soon as possible when safety is not an issue," he said.

Even a substandard agency would be expected to draw up a plan addressing foster children's eventual reunification with their parents.

"The federal government has no plan for reuniting the children with their families," Santana said. "It is deliberately inflicting trauma on children to punish their parents."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Lower Costs, Fewer Benefits in New Health Insurance Option]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 18:09:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/061918trumop.jpg

The Trump administration's new health insurance option offers lower premiums for small businesses and self-employed people, but the policies are likely to cover fewer benefits.

Another caveat: if healthy people flock to the new plans as expected, premiums will rise for those who need comprehensive coverage.

President Donald Trump and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta rolled out their final blueprint for "association health plans" on Tuesday, with Trump promising a small-business group that "you're going to save massive amounts of money and have much better health care."

Democrats decried it as "junk insurance," and some patient groups warned it could undermine coverage for people in poor health. Republicans and some small-business groups said the administration is providing needed flexibility in the face of rising premiums.

Independent experts said the administration is setting up a parallel insurance market — with different rules — alongside the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era law Trump has been unable to repeal.

Initial estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecast modest changes, not a seismic shift.

The new plans created under the administration's regulation incorporate the same protections for employees with pre-existing conditions that large-company plans now have, Acosta said.

The Labor Department said association plans could be offered to employers in a city, county, state or a metro area that includes several states. Plans within a particular industry — real estate, for example — can be marketed nationwide. Sole proprietors and their families could join an association plan.

Trump has long asserted that promoting the sale of health insurance across state lines can bring down premiums without sacrificing quality. But many experts aren't convinced because medical costs vary greatly according to geography.

Currently, plans for small businesses are required to cover the ACA's 10 categories of "essential" benefits, from prescription drugs to maternity and mental health. Under the new approach, small employers could get coverage that comes with fewer required benefits, said Gary Claxton of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Ultimately, the idea's success depends on buy-in from plan sponsors, consumers, insurers and state regulators. No major consequences are expected for people covered by large employers.

Acosta cited CBO estimates that predict a modest impact: about 4 million people covered by the plans within five years but only some 400,000 who would have been uninsured. Compare that to the total number of about 160 million covered by job-based insurance.

After Republicans hit a dead end trying to repeal the Obama health law, the Trump administration has pushed regulatory actions to loosen requirements and try to lower premiums for individuals and small businesses.

"They are providing insurance options that have fewer benefits and fewer requirements than ACA-compliant plans," Claxton said. "That will have a tendency to pull healthier people away because they are more attracted to plans with fewer benefits."

Another major initiative is expected later this summer when the administration eases rules for short-term health plans lasting less than a full year that could be purchased by individuals. Those plans wouldn't have to cover people with pre-existing conditions but would offer healthy people much lower premiums.

Critics say the administration's approach will draw healthy people away from the health law's insurance markets, raising the cost of coverage, which is subsidized by taxpayers.

About 11 million people are covered by HealthCare.gov and state markets, but the administration's priority is to try to lower premiums for an additional 7 million or so who buy their coverage directly and don't get any help from the government.

State insurance regulators have been concerned about association health plans because similar plans in the past had problems with financial solvency and fraud. Administration officials said Tuesday that states and the federal government would share regulatory oversight of the plans, with states retaining their current authority.

The new plans will be phased in, starting in September.

A small business group called Job Creators Network welcomed the Trump administration's move. President Alfredo Ortiz said it "will create more options, more competition, and lower costs for Main Street small businesses."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Pool)]]>
<![CDATA[Smoking Hits New Low: About 14 Percent of US Adults]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 06:13:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/599144440-Cigarette-Butt.jpg

Smoking in the U.S. has hit another all-time low.

About 14 percent of U.S adults were smokers last year, down from about 16 percent the year before, government figures show.

There hadn't been much change the previous two years, but it's been clear there's been a general decline and the new figures show it's continuing, said K. Michael Cummings of the tobacco research program at Medical University of South Carolina.

"Everything is pointed in the right direction," including falling cigarette sales and other indicators, Cummings said.

The new figures released Tuesday mean there are still more than 30 million adult smokers in the U.S., he added.

Teens are also shunning cigarettes. Survey results out last week showed smoking among high school students was down to 9 percent, also a new low.

In the early 1960s, roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked. It was common nearly everywhere — in office buildings, restaurants, airplanes and even hospitals. The decline has coincided with a greater understanding that smoking is a cause of cancer, heart disease and other health problems.

Anti-smoking campaigns, cigarette taxes and smoking bans are combining to bring down adult smoking rates, experts say.

The launch of electronic cigarettes and their growing popularity has also likely played a role. E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine into a vapor without the harmful by-products generated from burning tobacco. That makes them a potentially useful tool to help smokers quit, but some public health experts worry it also creates a new way for people to get addicted to nicotine.

There was no new information for adult use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, but 2016 figures put that at 3 percent of adults.

Vaping is more common among teens than adults. About 13 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes or other vaping devices.

The findings on adult smokers come from a national health survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 27,000 adults were interviewed last year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto, File]]>
<![CDATA[Compulsive Video-Game Playing Now New Mental Health Problem]]>Mon, 18 Jun 2018 08:17:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/video-games.jpg

For video game addicts, it might soon be "game over."

In its latest revision to a disease classification manual, the World Health Organization said Monday that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a new mental health condition. The statement confirmed the fears of many parents but led some critics to warn that it may risk stigmatizing young video players.

The U.N. health agency said classifying "Gaming Disorder" as a separate condition will "serve a public health purpose for countries to be better prepared to identify this issue."

Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's department for mental health, said WHO accepted the proposal that Gaming Disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to "the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world."

Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, said only a minority of gamers would be affected by the disorder and warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents.

"People need to understand this doesn't mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help," she said.

Others welcomed WHO's new classification, saying it was critical to identify video game addicts quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don't seek help themselves.

"We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they're seeing their child drop out of school, but because they're seeing an entire family structure fall apart," said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain's Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO's decision.

Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.

The American Psychiatric Association has not yet deemed Gaming Disorder to be a new mental health problem. In a previous statement, the association said it's "a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion" in its own diagnostic manual.

The group noted that much of the scientific literature about compulsive gamers is based on evidence from young men in Asia.

"The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict's brain is affected by a particular substance," the association said in a 2013 statement. "The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior."

Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.

"Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view," said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. "Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points."

He guessed that the percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small — much less than 1 percent — and that many such people would likely have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.

WHO's Saxena, however, estimated that two to three percent of gamers might be affected.

Griffiths said playing video games, for the vast majority of people, is more about entertainment and novelty, citing the overwhelming popularity of games like Pokemon Go.

"You have these short, obsessive bursts and yes, people are playing a lot, but it's not an addiction," he said.

Saxena said parents and friends of video game enthusiasts should still be mindful of a potentially harmful problem.

"Be on the lookout," he said, noting that concerns should be raised if the gaming habit appears to be taking over.

"If (video games) are interfering with the expected functions of the person — whether it is studies, whether it's socialization, whether it's work — then you need to be cautious and perhaps seek help," he said.


Cheng reported from London.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Why Fecal Bacteria Sometimes Takes Over Jersey Shore Beaches]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 06:25:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/jersey+beach+10+cropped.jpg

The cloud of fecal bacteria that lingered off New Jersey beaches last week is a reminder of a grim truth on the Shore: The water is not safe after it rains.

The reason why is pretty easy to understand, but the solutions are harder to envision here in the most developed U.S. state, where one out of every eight square feet of land cannot be penetrated by water because of a manmade structure.

Shopping malls, restaurants, parking lots and roofs of every shape and size prevent rainwater from soaking into the soil and naturally filtering down into the water table.

Instead, for every inch of rain that falls on a typical neighborhood, tens of thousands of gallons of rain are funneled through the streets and sewers.

It's on this journey where the rain absorbs bacteria from bird, dog and (occasionally) human waste before the now-tainted rain is discharged out into nearby streams and rivers, which then feed all of that pollution into the bays and ocean.

The Shore needs to restore some semblance of the natural order, in which water soaks into the ground where it lands rather than being funneled elsewhere, experts say.

"That's tough, tough, tough to do when the area is already urbanized,'' said Susan Libes, director of the Environmental Quality Lab at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.

The big question: Is it safe for you and your kids to splash around in the ocean on a sunny Saturday after a downpour the previous night?

The Asbury Park Press took that query to the head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's coastal water watchdog.

Bacteria levels on most Shore beaches after a storm are not truly dangerous, even if they are above the safe-swimming standard, said Bruce Friedman, director of the state DEP's Division of Water Monitoring and Standards.

Local officials always have the power to shut down their beaches for public health reasons, he added.

Still, Friedman said he'd wait a while before wading.

"I wouldn't be concerned 24 hours after a rain event to swim at the beaches in New Jersey,'' said Bruce Friedman, director of the state DEP's Division of Water Monitoring and Standards.

On Tuesday, the state announced 47 Jersey Shore beaches were under bacteria advisories after testing on Monday revealed an excessive amount of enterococcus, a bacteria that grows alongside feces in the guts of warm-blooded animals, including mammals, birds and humans.

When its numbers climb high enough, enterococcus is considered a red flag that dangerous pathogens are also present in the water.

Nearly all of those beaches were cleared for swimmers by Wednesday afternoon, but the worst day for Shore beaches in at least 13 years revived memories from the 1970s and 1980s, before environmental regulations cleaned up our waters.

This doesn't just happen in New Jersey. Most any seaside town in Texas, Florida, Hawaii, New York, California and elsewhere all have similar issues _ practically all are even worse than what the Shore deals with, according to available U.S. EPA data.

"There is a web app here that you can use to get a prediction of what the bacteria levels are going to be and it's largely based on the rain forecast,'' said Libes, of Coastal Carolina University. "So we understand pretty well that this storm runoff is a pretty big player.''

As a general rule, Forrest Bell, a scientist who runs an environmental consultancy that specializes in stormwater management in New England, says you should avoid beaches near the mouths of rivers, streams and any other conduit that transports urban stormwater.

"I would not allow my children to swim or play in those waters as there is certainly a much higher risk of contact with pathogens,'' Bell told the Press. "However, there are often areas at a beach that have much lower counts and are safer to swim at than other areas.''

"Impervious surface'' is a term in hydrological lingo for things like roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks and roofs.

Experts say that when impervious surfaces make up 8 percent or more of the total landscape, waterways are at greater risk of degradation.

New Jersey, as a whole, reached that threshold in 2011, according to the National Land Cover Database. No other state has a higher share.

The most recent statewide figure is somewhere north of 12 percent, according to a 2016 analysis by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

 The program looked at a few coastal towns in Monmouth County in 2016. The results weren't pretty.

 Even parts of western Monmouth County, which is less densely populated than the coastal communities, is far more waterproof than it should be.

 Lowering the share of land that is impermeable is the answer to the problem, but it's not practical to expect developers to replace relatively new parking lots with something more friendly to stormwater, according to Chris Obropta, head of Rutgers Water Resources Program.

 "As people redevelop or fix developments, you can ask them to do just a little bit more, do their share,'' he said in a 2016 community meeting.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Should Pull 'Sunscreen Pills' From the Market: Schumer]]>Mon, 18 Jun 2018 00:34:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1200.jpg

A handful of pills that markets themselves as alternatives to sunscreen should be pulled from shelves due to their misleading and potentially hazardous claims, Sen. Chuck Schumer said.

The Food and Drug Administration recently warned consumers that so-called "suncreen pills" are fakes that don't actually provide the same benefits and protection as sunscreen

Schumer on Sunday said the FDA should go one step further and ask retailers to pull the companies’ products from the market.

“The FDA should be burning mad at the handful of companies marketing shady pills and capsules as a new alternative to long-tested SPF sun protection,” Schumer said.

“Failing to effectively rein in these marketing attempts would be a glaring error by the FDA and so they must turn up the enforcement heat before consumers literally get burned," he added.

The FDA specifically called out Sunsafe Rx pills, Solicare pills — which can be purchased at Walmart — Sunergetic pills and Advanced Skin Brightening Formula pills.

Sunsafe Rx’s Instagram ads depict sunbathers “basking at beaches and pools, amongst other places, while being ‘protected’ by the pills,” Schumer’s office said.

The FDA should either permanently remove the companies’ products from the market, or remove them until the companies “clean up their act[s], especially on social media,” his office added.

In a statement on Sunday, Napa Valley Bioscience, the company that develops Sunsafe Rx, maintained some people use the product for "supplemental protection," while some people with "very sensitive skin" use it to "help them prevent some of their adverse reactions to sunlight."

"We don't market Sunsafe Rx as a sunscreen and we certainly don't tell consumers that they don't need any other protection from the sun or that they don't also need to use a topical sunscreen," the company said.

The three other companies cited by the FDA didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[State Appeals Court Reinstates California's Right-to-Die Law]]>Sat, 16 Jun 2018 04:19:19 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/California_s_Right-to-Die_Law_Now_in_Limbo.jpg

A state appeals court has reinstated — at least for now — California's law allowing terminally ill people to end their lives.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside issued an immediate stay Friday putting the End of Life Option back into effect. The court also gave opponents of its decision until July 2 to file objections.

The law allows adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor has determined that they have six months or less to live.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia declared the law unconstitutional last month, stating that it had been adopted illegally because lawmakers passed it during a special Legislative session called to address other matters.

Ottolia didn't address the issue of whether it's proper for people to end their lives.

Right-to-die advocates hailed Friday's action.

"This stay is a huge win for many terminally ill Californians with six months or less to live because it could take years for the courts to resolve this case," Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices, said in a statement.

"Thankfully, this ruling settles the issue for the time being, but we know we have a long fight ahead before we prevail."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who had asked the appeals court to stay Ottolia's ruling, also praised the decision.

"This ruling provides some relief to California patients, their families, and doctors who have been living in uncertainty while facing difficult health decisions," Becerra said. "Today's court ruling is an important step to protect and defend the End of Life Option Act for our families across the state."

Patients Rights Action Fund, which opposes laws allowing people to take their lives, did not respond to a message placed after business hours Friday. In previously discussing the law, the group's executive director, Matt Valliere, said, "The people of California, especially the vulnerable, deserve protection and support, not assisted suicide."

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, American Academy of Medical Ethics and several physicians were among those who sued to have the law overturned.

Their lawsuit, Ahn vs. Hestrin, claims the law violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and California constitutions because it fails "to make rational distinctions" between terminally ill adults "and the vast majority of Californians not covered by the act."

The suit also claims the Legislature did not have authority to pass the law during a special session limited to other issues.

Becerra argued that the law, which took effect in 2016, was legitimately passed during a special legislative session dedicated to health issues.

California health officials reported that 111 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in the first six months after the law went into effect June 9, 2016, and made the option legal in the nation's most populous state.

Oregon was the first to provide the option in 1997. It also is allowed in Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii and Washington D.C.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

<![CDATA[Ex-Hospice Manager Pleads Guilty in $60M Fraud Scheme]]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 22:28:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*120/20160329_210408520_iOS.jpg

A former manager of a North Texas hospice has pleaded guilty to health care fraud, admitting her role in a $60 million scheme that involved drugging patients to “hasten their deaths," according to court documents.

Jessica Love was the registered nurse case manager and regional director for Novus Health Services from 2012 until 2014. She faces up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Love is now expected to testify against Novus’ owner, Bradley Harris, and 13 others, including four nurses and five doctors who also were charged in the FBI investigation. Agents searched Novus' Frisco offices in September 2015.

Love said Harris, an accountant with no medical training, gave orders about which drugs patients should receive, how much, and when they should die.

Love detailed her role in a court document known as a factual resume. She accused Harris of personally directing patient care.

"These directions included Bradley Harris instructing nurses to intentionally over-medicate beneficiaries with medications such as hydromorphone and morphine with the intent to hasten their deaths," Love said. "Harris ordered these increases in medication because he wanted the beneficiaries to die."

Medicare and Medicaid pay more for patients who are on 24-hour "continuous care," but according to a complicated formula, hospice owners lose money if patients remain on continuous care too long.

Love explained how doctors she recruited participated in the scheme by signing blank prescription forms and falsely claiming they had seen patients face-to-face.

Love’s admission included quotes of text messages between her and another nurse who was known to "do it right" when Harris wanted a patient to die.

Love admitted her orders to the nurse included "turning off the beneficiary’s oxygen, increasing the Ativan and Morphine, and turning the beneficiary on their left side."

Love said in a text message, the technique "works like a little charm," the document said.

The patient died within five hours, according to Love’s admission.

The court document quoted the nurse texting Love: "Ya know, I was thinking, (patients) are sometimes on (continuous care) for days before I come in. And they almost always pass before my first shift ends. What does that say about me? Lol."

Love responded: "That your (sic) a great nurse," adding a symbol for a smiley face.

The court document also details how Harris and his wife Amy, who also is charged, kept blank "Do Not Resuscitate," or DNR, forms, so they wouldn’t have to pay for an ambulance if someone called 911.

Love is the second defendant in the case to plead guilty. Just last month, former Novus operations director Melanie Murphy admitted her role.

The others have pleaded not guilty. A trial in federal court in Dallas is scheduled for January. Love's sentencing date hasn't been set. 

The FBI search warrant on Novus’ offices said Harris, the owner, once texted a nurse, "You need to make this patient go bye-bye."

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News
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<![CDATA[NIH Ends Alcohol Study, Cites Funding and Credibility Issues]]>Fri, 15 Jun 2018 23:33:34 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/061518winegeneric1.jpg

The U.S. government is shutting down a study that was supposed to show if a single drink a day could prevent heart attacks, saying ethical problems with how the research was planned and funded undermine its credibility.

The National Institutes of Health used money from the alcohol industry to help pay for a study that ultimately was expected to cost $100 million. It's legal for NIH to use industry money in addition to taxpayer dollars for research as long as certain rules are followed. The problem: An NIH investigation concluded Friday that a small number of its employees had close contact with industry officials that crossed those lines.

Some of those interactions "appear to intentionally bias" the study so that it would have a better chance of showing a benefit from moderate alcohol consumption, said NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak.

Those employees, from the NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, then kept their interactions with industry secret, he said, even after the NIH started the normal process for asking companies or other outside groups to help fund a research project.

Those actions cast "doubt that the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable," Tabak told a meeting of the NIH director's advisers.

Another concern: Some outside experts who had reviewed the study plans raised concerns that it was too small and too short to address the potential problems of a daily drink — such as an increased risk of cancer or heart failure — and not just potential benefits such as a lowered risk of a heart attack.

"Purely on scientific grounds, I never really quite understood why this trial was being done," Dr. M. Roy Wilson of Wayne State University told NIH Director Francis Collins after hearing the investigation's conclusions. People who have a glass or two of wine — himself included, he said — "don't do it for health reasons."

The research was supposed to track 7,800 people who were assigned to take either a drink a day, or totally abstain, for several years. Only 105 people had enrolled by last month, when Collins temporarily suspended the study after a New York Times article first raised questions about the funding policy violations.

On Friday, Collins announced he was completely shutting down the research. "This is a matter of the greatest seriousness," he said.

The study was being led by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, which said in a statement that it was "deeply committed to ensuring the scientific and ethical integrity of any research study involving our investigators" and would review NIH's findings.

Aside from how alcohol can impair behavior and judgment, scientists have long debated if drinking various amounts can truly translate into a specific health benefit. What the NIH's alcohol research agency calls "low-risk" drinking is no more than seven drinks a week for women and no more than 14 drinks a week for men.

Asked if it would be possible for NIH to try to answer some of those health questions after the financial controversy, Tabak responded: "It would not be an easy study to conduct."

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images for NYCWFF]]>
<![CDATA[Honey Smacks Cereal Recalled Over Salmonella Outbreak: FDA]]>Fri, 15 Jun 2018 12:37:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/honey+smacks+recall.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating a multi-state outbreak of infections possibly linked to Kellogg's Honey Smacks cereal, officials say. 

The sweetened puffed wheat cereal is a likely source of the Salmonella Mbandanka illness reported by 73 people in 31 states so far. There have been 24 hospitalizations and no deaths, the CDC says.

Kellogg has voluntarily recalled the Honey Smacks cereal, which was distributed across the U.S. Customers should not eat any of the recalled cereal. 

The FDA is inspecting the facility that manufactures the Honey Smacks ceral and is working with Kellogg in its investigation.

The states where the outbreak occurred are Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Read more here

Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Fewer US Teens Smoking, Doing Drugs: CDC Report]]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 19:23:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/061418highschoolkids.jpg

Fewer U.S. teens are smoking, having sex and doing drugs these days. Oh, and they're drinking less milk, too.

Less than one-third of high school students drink a glass of milk a day, according to a large government survey released Thursday. About two decades ago, it was nearly half.

Last year's survey asked about 100 questions on a wide range of health topics, including smoking, drugs and diet. Researchers compared the results to similar questionnaires going back more than 25 years.

One trend that stood out was the drop in drinking milk, which started falling for all Americans after World War II. In recent decades, teens have shifted from milk to soda, then to Gatorade and other sports drinks and recently to energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull.

The survey showed slightly fewer kids are drinking soda and sports drinks now, compared to the last survey in 2015.

One caveat: Most students were not asked about energy drinks so how many kids drink them now isn't known. A study from a decade ago estimated that nearly a third of kids between the age of 12 and 17 were regularly drinking energy drinks.

Kids have shifted from a dairy product rich in calcium and vitamin D to beverages laden with sugar and caffeine, which is likely contributing to the nation's obesity problem, said Barry Popkin, a University of North Carolina researcher who studies how diets change.

"This is not a healthy trend for our long-term health," he said.

For teens, the government recommends 3 cups daily of dairy products — milk, yogurt or cheese.

The survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducted every two years. About 15,000 students at 144 high schools were surveyed last year. The surveys are anonymous and voluntary, and there's no check of medical records or other documents to verify answers.

Some of the findings:

— Not as many teen are having sex, although there wasn't much change from the 2015 survey results. Last year, about 40 percent said they'd ever had sex, down from 48 percent a decade ago.

— There was no substantial recent change for cigarette smoking, either. About 9 percent are current smokers, down from more than 27 percent when the survey started in 1991. Ditto alcohol, with 30 percent saying they currently use alcohol, down from 51 percent in 1991.

— Marijuana use seems to hovering, with about 36 percent of students saying they had ever tried it. But overall, illegal drug use seems to be falling, including for synthetic marijuana, ecstasy, heroin, inhalants, and LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. For the first time, the survey asked if they had ever abused prescription opioid medications. About 14 percent did.

— Another first-time question: Have you had a concussion from a sport or physical activity at least once in the previous year? Nationally, 15 percent said they had. The finding may sound high but it's not far off from what's been reported by some other researchers, said Michael Collins, who runs a University of Pittsburgh-affiliated sports concussion program.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[High Vitamin D Level Might Decrease Colon Cancer Risk: Study]]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 23:50:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/061418sunset.jpg

A higher vitamin D level might decrease the risk of developing colon cancer, particularly for women, according to new American Cancer Society research.

NBC News reported that colon cancer, the third-most common form of cancer in men and women, was more likely to be found among people with lower levels of vitamin D than recommended. The study focused on 12,000 people in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

“Participants who had vitamin D levels that were higher than the recommended levels had a statistically significant 22 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer,” said Marjorie McCullough, senior scientific director at the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Zhaoping Li, director at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, said she recommends taking at least 1,000 international units of vitamin D every day. Exposure to sunlight also helps the body produce vitamin D. 

Photo Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[US Renews Call for Cuba to Probe Cause of Health 'Attacks']]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 20:53:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/USEmbassyCuba.jpg

The United States on Thursday renewed calls for the Cuban government to determine the source of health "attacks" on U.S. diplomats in Cuba that have affected some two dozen people. Cuba again denied any involvement or knowledge of any such attacks.

At a senior-level meeting with Cuban officials in Washington, the State Department said it had again raised the issue, which has prompted a significant reduction in staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. It reiterated "the urgent need to identify the source of the attacks on U.S. diplomats and to ensure they cease."

"We also reiterated that until it is sufficiently safe to fully staff our embassy, we will not be able to provide regular visa services in Havana," the department said in a statement.

Cuba has denied any knowledge of the source or cause of the incidents that have sickened at least 24 diplomats since late 2016, leaving some with brain damage. Two other diplomats suffering similar symptoms in Cuba were sent to medical specialists at the University of Pennsylvania for evaluation, U.S. officials disclosed last week.

Cuba says it has been informed of only one other American that has been evacuated and that it was informed on May 29th that the incident had occurred two days earlier.

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the top Cuban official at the talks on Thursday, told The Associated Press that his delegation had objected to the U.S. description of what had happened to the Americans as "attacks." He noted that neither American nor Cuban experts had been able to determine what caused the symptoms. He renewed concerns that the Trump administration is using the incidents as an excuse to roll back U.S.-Cuba rapprochement started under the Obama administration.

"We challenged them on the use of the word 'attack,'" he said in an interview. "There is no evidence of a weapon, there is no evidence of a source, nobody can point to motivation and yet they continue to use the word 'attack.' We see it as politically motivated."

In a statement, the Cuban foreign ministry said it urged the U.S. government "to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health cases." Its delegation also demanded the lifting of what it described as an "arbitrary" travel warning which it said hinders scientific, academic, cultural, religious and entrepreneurial exchanges, and visits by Americans.

The potential new cases in Cuba have come as the U.S. has begun issuing health alerts to Americans in China after a worker at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou reported symptoms and strange sounds and was flown to the U.S. That worker was then medically confirmed to have "suffered a medical incident consistent with what other U.S. government personnel experienced in Havana, Cuba," the department has said.

The confirmed Cuba patients have been found to have a range of symptoms and diagnoses including mild traumatic brain injury, also known as concussions. Unexplained sounds and vibrations that accompanied the symptoms initially led investigators to suspect a sonic weapon, though an interim FBI report in January said no evidence had been uncovered that sound waves could have damaged the Americans' health, the AP has reported.

The department also voiced concern Thursday about the "arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders" in Cuba.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais]]>
<![CDATA[Demand for Blood Drops, But Need for Donors Remains]]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 07:46:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Blood-donationGettyImages-548001551.jpg

The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and similar agencies are not shy about getting the word out for blood donors — their ads are everywhere,  and workers are constantly visiting high schools and college campuses to hold blood drives.

But despite their persistence, the number of donors is dwindling.

The number of blood donors for the American Red Cross has dropped by a little more than 1 million since 2009, and the organization — along with others — has issued pleas for people to turn out to give blood. The agency points out that just 3 percent of the United States’ population donates blood.

"Every day thousands of patients across the United States rely on generous blood donors for critical blood transfusions," said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the Red Cross, in a recent press release, announcing an initiative to encourage people to donate. "However, we have seen a troubling decline in the number of new blood donors. We urge the public to roll up a sleeve and fill the missing types before these lifesaving letters go missing from hospital shelves."

According to America’s Blood Centers, 40,000 pints of blood are needed per day. But while that number may seem high, the demand for blood has actually dropped in recent years. The fall in demand came about thanks to a number of technological and medicinal advancements in recent years that have helped doctors to improve the utilization of blood products in patient care — especially when it comes to transfusions. 

Despite a drop in demand, blood collection centers are still desperate for donors, and experts say people shouldn't be fooled: blood donations are still critical to the health industry, and there is still immense need for more donors. 

“What interests me about blood donation is that there’s been a lot of changes over the last 10 years that have affected both the supply and the demand,” said Dr. Eric Gehrie, an assistant professor of Pathology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

For instance, studies done in recent years have shown that patients who have been treated with a more conservative transfusion policy versus those who have been treated with a more liberal transfusion policy have done either the same or better with a more conservative policy, Gehrie said. 

And because of medical advancements, doctors are also able to better guage nowadays whether a patient needs a transfusion, he added. Rather than transfusing someone, doctors may, for example, give them medication that can help them. 

Gehrie pointed to the Hippocratic Oath that doctors live by in his explanation of the ways in which doctors have shifted from blood transfusions to other methods of care. 

"If there's something that we can do less of, like transfusion, that will actually improve people's outcomes or not expose them to a blood donor if they don’t need to be exposed, and we can simplify care by doing it — we're very motivated to do that," he said. 

Nevertheless, he said, blood donations are crucial. And even with alternative forms of care driving down the demand for blood, there is still a desperate need for it. 

The American Red Cross’ annual reports show that blood donations began to fall after 2009. And according to Chris Hrouda, president of blood services for the American Red Cross, 2009 was when the organization hit a peak number of transfusions, the “most we’ve transfused ever,” he said.

Since then, yearly blood donors have dropped steadily from 3.8 million people in 2009 to 2.7 million people in 2017, which is the most recent data the organization has released.

“Hospitals have invested a lot in technology,” Hrouda said in a recent phone interview. "Everything from robotic surgeries to better IT systems…around patient outcomes for various things in the health care system, including transfusions.”

It’s a welcome advancement by those in the medical field, but it hasn’t come without drawbacks. 

Hrouda said it may be hard for people to understand, since demand has decreased, but there is still an absolute need for blood, which means there’s an absolute need for donors.

“We’ve continued to reduce our collections to manage with demand declines,” he said, adding that because of the decreased demand, people have the perception that they don’t need to donate as frequently.

But they do.

As recently as last summer, the Red Cross issued a plea for blood donors, citing a “critical blood shortage” which was due, in part, to the season — blood donations tend to fall during the summer.

“The decline in summer donations is causing a significant draw-down of our overall blood supply, and we urgently need people to give now to restock hospital shelves and help save lives,” said Shaun Gilmore, president, Red Cross Biomedical Services said in the July 2017 press release. “Every day, patients recovering from accidents or those receiving treatments for cancer or blood disorders rely on lifesaving blood products regardless of the season.”

Every two years, the Department of Health and Human Services conducts a study into blood collection and use in the United States. The most recent report, published in September 2016, shows data from the year 2013 that represents a 4.4 percent decline in the number of blood units transfused as compared to 2011.

The study also confirms what blood collection agencies have said: both blood collection and use fell.

“The gap between collection and utilization is narrowing,” the study says. “As collections decline further and hospitals decrease transfusions and manage products more efficiently, the decline in surplus inventory may be a concern for disaster preparedness or other unexpected utilization needs.”

This year, the Red Cross is working to target this issue in an effort to avoid running into the same problem.

Earlier this week, the organization launched an initiative called the “Missing Types Campaign,” meant to “ illustrate the need for new blood donors to ensure lifesaving blood is available for patients,” according a press release from the organization.

To promote the campaign, the letters A, B and O — which are the main blood types — will be taken out of corporate logos, brands, social media pages and websites, in an effort to show the vital role of blood donors.

Also on Monday, the New York Blood Center declared a “blood emergency” in the New York area, calling on people to donate.

“We’re calling on everyone to do what they can to spread the word, host a blood drive or simply take an hour out of their day to donate,” said Andrea Cefarelli, Senior Executive Director of Donor Recruitment for New York Blood Center, in a press release.

The push for donors aligns with World Blood Donor Day, celebrated on June 14. Spearheaded by the World Health Organization, it’s a day meant to both honor blood donors for their efforts, and to raise awareness about the necessity of blood donations.

But even as collection agencies make their pleas for donors heard, experts can’t point to a singular reason for the drop in donors; they say it can be attributed to a number of factors.

One possible reason is tighter guidelines on who can donate blood, which adds to the elimination of a number of donors, Hrouda said. One example of this, he said, is testing hemoglobin in donors.

Hemoglobin is a protein that has iron and carries oxygen to tissues in someone’s body, according to the Red Cross. If the levels in those results for males are too low, they’re deferred for six months, while females are deferred for one year.

“We are decreasing eligibility,” he acknowledged.

Gehrie, who also serves as the medical director of the blood bank at Johns Hopkins, said the safety of the blood supply is another key issue that can affect who donates.

“Part of keeping the blood supply safe is making sure that the only people who go to donate blood are people who feel good and healthy, and choose on their own to donate blood,” he said.

And while donation centers want to encourage as many people as possible to donate, they don’t want people to feel pressured to donate, he said, because the reality is that they need donors who are healthy and meet the standards required to donate.

Dr. Timothy Hilbert, director of NYU Langone’s Blood Bank, also noted the change in criteria as one possible reason, and raised the issue of consistent donors beginning to age out.

“It’s always easier to collect blood from a donor you have established a relationship with,” he said.

Hilbert, who is also an assistant professor of pathology at NYU, added that there seems to be fewer opportunities for people to donate blood, as some donor centers have closed down. Many hospitals, for example, used to house their own blood donor centers, he said, but several have been shuttered.

“On the whole, people have fewer opportunities to donate than they did years ago,” he said.

Another reason for the drop could be generational, experts speculate. But there’s no way to tell for sure.

“People of a certain generation, in their mind, donating blood was sort of a civic responsibility that they would do…it was viewed as a positive thing to do,” Gehrie said. “Whereas now, I think people are aware that it’s a little more complicated than that.”

Hrouda echoed that sentiment, saying that the “greatest generation” — the World War II generation — has been a very strong donor base for the Red Cross. But there isn’t strong data to tell whether blood donation falling is truly a generational issue or not.

One thing that is for sure, though, is that blood donation centers are working to appeal to younger generations. Both Hilbert and Hrouda pointed to marketing as a key component of driving donors to collection centers.

“All of these collection agencies have tried to create a social media presence,” Hilbert said, adding that they are “aware that the way people relate to their communities has changed and they’re trying to keep up with that.”

“People will say donor centers aren’t doing enough, but I believe they are,” Gehrie said. “I do think that they are really trying.”

Hrouda acknowledged that the Red Cross is working to keep up with the way younger generations through social media and other creative campaigns.

“There is still a constant need for blood and I wouldn’t want anybody to walk away from this story thinking they don’t need to donate blood anymore,” Gehrie added. “Because we need it.”

Photo Credit: Thomas Fredberg/Science Photo Library/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Bacteria in Kitchen Towels May Lead to Food Poisoning: Study]]>Tue, 12 Jun 2018 15:12:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Kitchen_Towels_Likely_Packed_with_Bacteria.jpg

A new study suggests kitchen towels may be breeding grounds for bacteria that can lead to food poisoning.

Researchers from the University of Mauritius, an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa, performed tests on 100 cloth towels they collected from participants after one month of use.

Forty-nine of the samples came back positive for bacterial growth, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

Benjamin Haynes, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not comment on the study. But he said the bacteria can cause food poisoning when people eat contaminated food. 

"E. coli spreads when you swallow something that has poop on it, such as contaminated food," he said in a written statement. "Staph can be found on healthy people but can contaminate food if they don’t wash their hands before touching it."

The study found bacterial contamination is more common in multi-use and damp towels. Using a participant questionnaire, researchers discovered certain lifestyle factors also increased the type and amount of bacteria present in the towels. 

“Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen,” said Dr. Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, lead author of the study.

There were also higher rates of Staphylococcus aureus in towels used by low-income families. Both Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus were significantly more prevalent among non-vegetarian families.

“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen,” Biranjia-Hurdoyal said in a statement

Haynes recommended the public follow standard food safety protocol to avoid the spread of food-borne illness.

"People should make sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling and preparing food, avoid preparing food if you are sick, and keep raw food separate from ready-to-eat food," he said. "It’s also important to cook foods to the appropriate temperature and refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours."

Undergraduates used “standard biochemical tests" on the towels and published the preliminary findings in an abstract they presented last week to the American Society for Microbiology’s annual conference.

A new study suggests contaminated kitchen towels could lead to food poisoning.


Researchers from the University of Mauritius, an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa, performed tests on 100 cloth towels they collected from participants after one month of use.


Forty-nine of the samples came back positive for bacterial growth, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, the pathogen that causes Staph infection. Esherichia coli or E.coli exists naturally in the intestine and in human waste, according to Mayo Clinic, but some strains may induce cramping, diarrhea and vomiting when ingested through accidental contamination.


The research indicates that contamination is more common among multiuse and humid towels. Researchers also used a participant questionnaire to link certain lifestyle factors, with the type and amount of bacteria present in each of the samples.


“Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen,” said Dr. Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, lead author of the study.


There were higher rates of Staphylococcus aureus in towels used by low-income families. Both Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus were significantly more prevalent among non-vegetarian families.


“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen,” Biranjia-Hurdoyal said in a statement. “The presence of potential pathogens from the kitchen towels indicates that they could be responsible for cross-contamination in the kitchen and could lead to food poisoning.”


Undergraduates used “standard biochemical tests,” and published the preliminary findings in an abstract they presented last week to the American Society for Microbiology’s annual conference.





<![CDATA[Massachusetts Sues Opioid Maker, Executives Over Drug Crisis]]>Tue, 12 Jun 2018 19:31:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Healey+612.JPG

Massachusetts has sued the maker of OxyContin over the deadly opioid crisis and has become the first state to also target the company's executives.

Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday announced the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and 16 current and former executives and board members, including CEO Craig Landau and members of the Sackler family, which owns the company.

The suit alleges Purdue misled doctors and patients about the risks of opioids and "peddled falsehoods" to sell more drugs and boost profits.

"I promised to find out what these companies knew and when they knew it and the extent to which they misled patients into think their drugs were actually safe," Healey said. "We found that Purdue misled doctors, patients and the public about their dangerous opioids, including OxyContin."

Healey said the Connecticut-based company's "illegal business model" has left a "path of devastation and destruction."

Multiple states have filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma for their alleged part in fueling the opioid crisis, but Massachusetts is the first state to name the company's executives personally in their lawsuit. 

According to Healey, the investigation showed Purdue Pharma engaged in a multibillion dollar enterprise marketing opioids under the oversight and direction of 16 current and former executives and directors named in the complaint.

"Their strategy was simple. The more drugs they sold, the more money they made, and the more people died," Healey said.

In the past decade, over 670 people in Massachusetts who were prescribed Purdue Pharma opioids have died, according to Healey.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the lawsuit and identifying those people who died will force Purdue Pharma to "own up to the decisions they made and the wreckage they left behind."

Purdue Pharma issued the following statement in response to the Massachusetts lawsuit.

“We share the Attorney General’s concern about the opioid crisis. We are disappointed, however, that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the Commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process," the statement said. "We will continue to work collaboratively with the states toward bringing meaningful solutions. We vigorously deny the Commonwealth’s allegations and look forward to presenting our substantial defenses to these claims.”

Last month, the state Department of Public Health said deaths related to opioid overdoses in Massachusetts were on the decline.

For all of 2017, the state reported 2,016 confirmed or estimated deaths, 133 fewer than in all of 2016. The report pointed to an ongoing decline in prescriptions written by doctors for opioid-based medications.

Baker said those numbers reflect the success of a prescription monitoring program implemented by the state.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC Boston]]>
<![CDATA[Mayors of 7 US Cities Where Marijuana Is Legal Form Group]]>Tue, 12 Jun 2018 11:16:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Weeeed.jpg

Mayors from seven U.S. cities in states with legal marijuana said Monday they have formed a coalition to push for federal marijuana policy reform just days after President Donald Trump expressed support for bipartisan congressional legislation to ease the federal ban on pot.

Mayors from Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and West Sacramento — all in marijuana-friendly states — sponsored a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston that asked the U.S. government to remove cannabis from a list of illegal drugs, among other things.

It was approved unanimously by the broader gathering Monday, Larry Jones said, a spokesman for the conference.

Mayors from Oakland, California and Thornton, Colorado weren't sponsors but pledged to advocate for federal reforms.

"As mayors of cities that have successfully implemented and managed this new industry, we have hands-on experience that can help Congress take the right steps to support other local governments as they prepare to enter this new frontier," said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, who led the coalition. "We all face common challenges."

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said marijuana businesses employ thousands of people and generate millions of dollars in Oregon.

"Cannabis prohibition has failed. It has failed to keep our children safe, it has failed law enforcement, and it has especially failed communities of color disproportionately targeted and prosecuted for low-level drug offenses," he said in an email Monday.

"Eventually, legalization will come to every state — and we want to make sure it's done so safely and effectively."

The resolution comes after Trump said he would "probably" back a bipartisan congressional effort to ease a U.S. ban on the drug that about 30 states have legalized in some form. The bill supported by both parties was introduced June 7 and would dramatically reshape the nation's legal landscape for pot users and businesses.

The federal ban that puts marijuana on the same level as LSD and heroin has created a conflict with states that have legalized pot in some form, creating a two-tiered enforcement system at the state and federal levels.

The legislation with four sponsors, including Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, would ensure states have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders. Some U.S. restrictions would remain, however, including sales of non-medical pot to people under 21.

"I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he's doing," Trump told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Friday, when asked about the legislation. "We're looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes."

The mayors' resolution adopted Monday asks Congress, among other things, to:

  • remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act
  •  allow employers in the marijuana industry to take tax deductions similar to those allowed in other businesses
  • provide guidance to financial institutions that provide banking to cannabis businesses
  • extend legal access to medical marijuana for U.S. veterans

The resolution's approval means that the U.S. Conference of Mayors as an organization will now create federal policy recommendations to submit to Congress starting next year.

CORRECTION (June 12, 2018, 8:16 a.m. PT): An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect number of mayors who formed a coalition to push for federal marijuana policy reform. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Don Ryan/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[NYC, Accused of Neglect, to Spend $2B on Public Housing]]>Mon, 11 Jun 2018 20:09:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nycha+lead.jpg

New York City will likely pay $2 billion to settle claims that the nation's largest public housing agency has too often left tenants to contend with lead paint, malfunctioning elevators and rats.

The city agreed in a consent decree in Manhattan federal court to pay $1 billion over four years and $200 million annually until problems are overcome. The deal also calls for the appointment of a monitor to oversee the city-run public housing authority during the 10-year span of the agreement.

“NYCHA fails to provide “decent, safe, and sanitary” housing because of systemic lead-paint violations, pervasive mold, widespread lack of heat in winter, infestations of rats, mice, and roaches, and chronic elevator outages in high-rise buildings,” according to the U.S. Attorney's Office complaint against NYCHA.

The news comes more than six months after the first scandal erupted that NYCHA has failed to conduct mandatory led paint inspections.

The consent decree says the New York City Housing Authority admits wrongdoings including not complying with lead regulations or telling the U.S. Housing and Urban Development about children with elevated levels of lead in their blood.

The NYCHA also admits to underreporting cases of mold, having hundreds of thousands of insufficient heating complaints, malfunctioning elevators, pest infestations, a backlog of work orders and providing staff with "quick fix tips" to improve HUD inspection scores. According to the decree, some of these tips included replacing damaged ceiling tiles with "painted cardboard."

“The problems at NYCHA reflect management dysfunction and organizational failure, including a culture where spin is often rewarded and accountability often does not exist,” the U.S. Attorney's Office complaint says.

The settlement calls for federal monitoring to oversee the fixes and that there will be money allocated to resolve these issues, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a Monday press conference, adding that the NYCHA's actions have put families at risk.

In a seperate press conference Monday afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio said when he heard that NYCHA workers were trying to trick HUD inspectors, he felt sick to his stomach.

As a result of the settlement, NYCHA will now have to create three new departments: one for compliance, one for environmental health and safety, and one for quality assurance.

According to Berman, the issues are not a result of federal funding, but of NYCHA mismanagement.

However, de Blasio contended that mismanagement is the issue, but rather the lack of funding is to blame.

Though the U.S. Attorney's Office agrees not to seek criminal charges against NYCHA, Berman said there is a chance that individuals could be prosecuted.

Paul Compton, the general counsel at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that the agreement between NYCHA and the state of New York is the first of its kind for HUD.

The agency's operating budget is $2.3 billion for public housing where nearly 400,000 low- and moderate-income residents live.

Tenants pay an average of $522 a month in rent, with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development subsidizing the rest.

While Blasio blamed the issues on previous administrations, he also acknowledged the federal investigation found rampant misconduct in the past five years as well.

"We can't hold ourselves blameless either," he said.

In an initial statment following the settlement, de Blasio said that “decades of divestment by the federal and state governments and decades of neglect by New York City government have pushed our public housing system to the brink," adding that “by further acknowledging and providing solutions to a decades-old pattern of mismanagement, divestment and neglect, I am confident this settlement will be a turning point for our public housing system."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[Red Cross Launches #MissingTypes Campaign to Recruit Donors]]>Tue, 12 Jun 2018 09:49:36 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Red+Cross+blood+donation+0718.jpg

The Red Cross is in need of blood donations and has launched a new campaign to attract the attention of donors. 

As part of the campaign dubbed Missing Types, the letters A, B, and O — symbols of the main blood groups — will disappear from corporate logos, brands, social media pages and websites to illustrate the critical role every blood donor plays.

"Every day thousands of patients across the United States rely on generous blood donors for critical blood transfusions," said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the Red Cross. "However, we have seen a troubling decline in the number of new blood donors. We urge the public to roll up a sleeve and fill the missing types before these lifesaving letters go missing from hospital shelves."

In fact, over the past four years, the Red Cross has seen the number of new donors decline by about 80,000 a year. With only 38 percent of the population eligible to give blood, and just 10 percent of those actually giving blood yearly, that's only 3 percent of the population, NBC News reported. 

U.S. health officials say they need to collect more than 13 million blood units annually to meet the needs of patients. The Red Cross provides around 40 percent of that total.

According to the America's Blood Centers, a network of non-profit community blood centers, U.S. hospitals need 40,000 pints of blood daily for accident victims, cancer patients, those undergoing surgeries and people treated for inherited blood disorders. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients.  

A recent Red Cross survey found a disconnect between the public's perception of blood donations and the realities of patient transfusion needs. Nearly 75 of those surveyed underestimated how frequently blood transfusions occur and more than one third of never considered that blood may not be available when they or a loved one need it. 

That's what happened when 12-year-old Tymia McCullough, who is battling sickle cell disease, arrived at a South Carolina hospital last year for a blood transfusion — her blood type was not available.  

"It was the scariest, most frightening moment of a mother’s life, because I thought that she would not be able to get it," McCullough's mother, Susie Pitts, told the Red Cross. "In that moment, in that experience, I was very afraid. I was scared for my daughter’s life — what was going to happen if she didn’t get the blood she needed?"

With no widely used cure, McCullough relies on regular blood transfusions to treat her sickle cell disease, an inherited disease that causes red blood cells to form an abnormal crescent shape. 

After eight hours, the hospital was able to get the needed blood supply for McCullough's transfusion. 

"Blood shortages are not uncommon in the United States and can only be prevented when more people roll up a sleeve to give," the Red Cross said in a news release. 

The Red Cross campaign comes ahead of World Blood Donor Day on Thursday, June 1. Among the companies joining the #MissingTypes campaign are Adobe, Anheuser-Busch, Google, PayPal, Mastercard and Oreo. Celebrities are also bringing attention to the need of blood donors, tweeting their names with the missing letters.

To learn more about how to donate blood or to find a drive near you visit www.redcross.org/give-blood.

Photo Credit: Jody Lane/American Red Cross
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<![CDATA[Tyson Foods Inc. Recalls Frozen Chicken Products]]>Sun, 10 Jun 2018 12:26:56 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Tyson-Foods-generic.jpg

Tyson Foods Inc. - one of the nation's top chicken and beef processors - is recalling more than 3,000 pounds of frozen breaded chicken products that may be contaminated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced on Friday.

The frozen, uncooked and breaded chicken tenderloins being recalled, which may be contaminated with blue and clear soft plastics, were produced on May 17, 2018. The affected products include 12-pound boxes of 3-pound plastic bags of tenderloins, with the lot code 1378NLR02.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions from eating the chicken, the USDA said.

Those concerned about an injury or illness are encouraged to contact a healthcare provider. The affected products should be thrown away.

The USDA is also "concerned that some product may be frozen and in freezers at food service institutions and could be served." the agency urged companies that have purchased the affected products not to serve them. 

CORRECTION (June 9, 2018, 9:30 a.m.): A previous version of this story reported a recall from June 2017. The story has been updated to reflect the June 2018 recall.

Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Season Was One of the Deadliest for US Children]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 14:59:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18040559764205.jpg

The past flu season was the deadliest for U.S. children in nearly a decade, health officials said Friday.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said they had received reports of 172 pediatric flu deaths since October. That surpasses the 2012-2013 flu season, when there were 171. An average season sees about 110.

There were more deaths in 2009-2010, but that was when a rare flu pandemic occurred involving a new strain. More than 300 children died that season.

Besides that pandemic year, this past winter had the most pediatric flu deaths since the CDC started counting them in 2004.

The past flu season wasn't a pandemic, but it was long — 19 weeks. It also was unusually intense, with high levels of illness reported in nearly every state for weeks on end.

The season peaked in early February. It was mostly over by the end of March, although some flu continued to circulate. The most recent pediatric death occurred in late May.

The season was driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly.

Making a bad year worse, the flu vaccine didn't work very well.

Flu vaccinations are recommended annually for all Americans who are 6 months old or older.

Some of the children who died this past year were too young for the shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has vaccination information on only about 140 of the children who died who were old enough to be vaccinated. Of those, only about 1 in 5 received the vaccine before they became ill, CDC officials said.

About half the children who died were previously healthy — they didn't have a diagnosed health condition that might have made them more vulnerable to the flu, the CDC said.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness, spread by a virus. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but more a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications.

The CDC doesn't keep an exact count of adult flu-related deaths, but it has estimated there were 12,000 to 56,000 in recent seasons.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman,File]]>
<![CDATA[How Can You Help Someone Struggling? Ask, Listen, Call]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 13:46:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-894377512.jpg

Amid the recent reporting on suicides, including the deaths of TV host Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, people are wondering how to help a friend who might be in crisis.

People who have survived their own suicide attempts say there are things others can do to help a person who might be at risk: ask and listen. And one psychiatrist adds that it's OK to talk to someone if they're having suicidal thoughts and the conversation won't magnify the idea, NBC News reported.

But one survivor and activist advises not to offer advice or try to cheer people up, because she says those who are struggling can't see the bigger picture being painted.

Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) not only offers instant access to help for people who are struggling with thoughts of dying, but it also offers help for people who care about them. If you are looking for help or are worried about someone else, call the hotline.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Officer Sits in Hot Car for 45 Minutes to Teach a Lesson]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 06:17:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Policeofficerpic.jpg

A North Texas police officer took on the Texas heat to show others just how dangerous it can be.

Hickory Creek Police Officer Lane sat in a hot car for 45 minutes as an example of how quickly temperatures inside a vehicle can turn deadly, KRLD reported.

A fellow officer documented the experience on Facebook Live. Lane said his vision was wobbly and he had a headache by the end of it.

"I'm seeing colors," he said on the video. "I feel like I'm about to black out."

The police department hopes the video will show people how serious extreme heat can be for anyone.

Two children have died this year so far in Texas. Both were less than a year old.

Noheatstroke.org has safety recommendations for parents:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, not even for a minute.

  • Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don't overlook sleeping babies.

  • Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices. Teach children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.

  • If a child is missing, always check the pool first, then the car, including the trunk.

  • Keep a stuffed animal in the carseat and when the child is put in the seat, place the animal in the front with the driver. Or place your purse, briefcase or cell phone in the backseat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.

  • Make "look before you leave" a routine whenever you get out of the car.

  • Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.

Photo Credit: Hickory Creek Police Department
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<![CDATA[Vaping Essays: E-Cigarette Sellers Offering Scholarships]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 13:18:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18157694248408.jpg

A growing number of e-cigarette and vaporizer sellers have started offering college scholarships as a way to get their brands listed on university websites and to get students to write essays about the potential benefits of vaping.

The tactic is taken from a method that was once believed to improve a site's ranking in search results, and it has successfully landed vaping brands on the sites of some of the nation's best-known universities, including Harvard. It also has drawn criticism that the scholarships are a thinly disguised ploy to attract young customers.

The scholarships, ranging from $250 to $5,000, mostly involve essay contests that ask students to write about the dangers of tobacco or whether vaping could be a safer alternative. At least one company asks applicants to write about different types of e-cigarettes and which one they recommend. Some seek papers in support of medical marijuana.

Over the past two years, the grants have been posted online by e-cigarette retailers and review websites such as Slick Vapes, SmokeTastic and DaVinci Vaporizer.

Robert Pagano, owner of the Las Vegas-based review site Vapor Vanity, said he was offering new scholarships of up to $1,500 this year. He acknowledged it's partly a marketing tool, but he also says many in the industry are former smokers and want to help teens avoid tobacco.

"It's a little bit of being genuine, a little bit of self-interest," said Pagano, whose company does not sell vaping products. "This is probably the best way to get people to actually focus on the issues that we're trying to write about."

Days after Pagano was interviewed by The Associated Press, the scholarships were removed from his site without explanation. He did not return calls or emails seeking further comment.

The grants have emerged as high schools struggle to rein in booming teen use of the devices, sometimes threatening students with suspensions or installing alarms that can detect the devices' discreet vapor. Federal agencies have attempted to crack down on underage sales and are investigating marketing efforts by the brand Juul, which has become especially popular among teens.

Although some of the scholarships are limited to students 18 and older — the nation's legal age to buy vaping products — many are open to younger teens or have no age limit.

Most companies behind the essay contests did not return calls or declined interview requests. But the American Vaping Association trade group defended the practice, saying it allows companies to boost their brand while offering college students a helping hand.

The head of the association, Gregory Conley, compared it with scholarship programs that have long been offered by alcohol makers like Anheuser-Busch, which distributes tens of thousands of dollars each year for minority students.

Some anti-tobacco groups were unaware of the scholarships until asked about them by the AP, but they sharply criticized efforts to get teens writing in favor of vaping.

"They're trying to use youth as their marketing surrogates," said Gregg Haifley, director of federal relations for the American Cancer Society's lobbying arm in Washington. "They can gussy it up any way they want, try to put lipstick on that pig, but this is about marketing."

Opponents say the scholarships could test federal rules forbidding tobacco and e-cigarette companies from marketing to minors. The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees regulation of e-cigarettes, declined to comment on the issue but said in a statement that businesses "have an obligation to act responsibly to protect youth from the dangers of these products."

Most medical experts agree that vaping is safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, but little is known about its long-term health effects.

Manufacturers often say vaping products are meant only for adults trying to quit smoking, and some of the essay contests note that they aren't meant to promote vaping. But some anti-tobacco groups say there's no other reason the companies would reach out to young people.

"Most of these kids are not smokers," said Robin Koval, president of the Truth Initiative, a Washington-based nonprofit that opposes the tobacco and vaping industries. "What they're saying and what they're doing don't seem to agree here. But that's not surprising."

It's unclear how many — if any — of the scholarships have been awarded. Several websites promise to publicize winners and their essays, but it doesn't appear any have done so. None of the 15 companies contacted by the AP would disclose winners, and only one agreed to an interview.

Marketing experts say the vaping industry isn't the first to use college scholarships as a form of cheap advertising. The internet is teeming with similar offers from websites that sell weight-loss pills and protein powders, as well as payday lenders and companies that pay cash for gold.

The tactic was created years ago, at a time when websites thought getting their link on a college or government site would boost their rankings in Google search results. Some created scholarships purely to get their links on university financial-aid pages.

"This is almost a backdoor way to get your name on a university website, and from the point of view of the student, it would look like the university is supporting this effort," said Ron Berman, who teaches marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's business school.

The tactic worked. Vaping scholarships have ended up on financial-aid directories compiled by Harvard, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh and others, including institutions that have taken a stance against e-cigarettes.

Harvard and California State University at Long Beach immediately removed the listings after being asked about them by the AP, saying they had been posted inadvertently.

"We're not interested in being a platform for tobacco or vaping," said Jeff Bliss, a spokesman for CSU Long Beach.

Some marketing firms advise against the strategy, calling it outdated. Google has updated its algorithm to defeat similar tactics, and it penalizes sites that try to manipulate search rankings.

Wil Reynolds, founder of the Philadelphia-based marketing agency Seer Interactive, said his company employed the strategy years ago for clients connected to the education world, but he abandoned it after other industries started exploiting it.

"It is a shady practice when you really can't back it up with a legitimate reason," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Live Poultry Sickens 124]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 12:07:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-659477980.jpg

A salmonella outbreak linked to live poultry has sickened people in 36 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday.

The outbreak is linked to people's contact with live poultry in backyard flocks, according to the CDC. As of June 1, a total of 124 people have been infected.

The illnesses began between February and May, and 21 people were hospitalized. The CDC said no deaths have been reported.

California, Massachusettes, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia are among the states where cases have been found.

"People can get sick with Salmonella infections from touching live poultry or their environment," the CDC said on its website. "These birds can be carrying Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness."

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Diagnosing the illness requires a blood or stool sample, as other illnesses cause similar symptoms.

"People reported obtaining chicks and ducklings from several sources," the CDC said, "including feed supply stores, websites, hatcheries, and from relatives."

The CDC suggested tips for handling live poultry: Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching live poultry or their environment. Children under 5 should not touch live poultry without adult supervision. Wear separate shoes when caring for poultry, and leave them outside. Do not allow live poultry inside the house or around food.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Suicide Rates Rose by Nearly 30 Percent Since 1999]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 11:27:56 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/Screen+Shot+2018-06-08+at+11.22.15+AM.png
The death of designer Kate Spade was just the latest in a disturbing trend - a nearly 30-percent rise in suicides since 1999 in a newly released report from the CDC. Only about half of those people had a diagnosed mental health condition. Many who died by suicide had been struggling with substance abuse, finances, stable housing or personal relationships.
<![CDATA[Justice Department Says Heart of Health Law Unconstitutional]]>Thu, 07 Jun 2018 23:36:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/healthcare-dot-gov1.jpg

The Trump administration said in a court filing late Thursday that it will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the requirement that people have health insurance and provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions.

The decision, announced in a filing in a federal court in Texas, is a rare departure from the Justice Department's practice of defending federal laws in court. Texas and other Republican-led states are suing to strike down the entire law because Congress recently repealed a provision that people without health insurance must pay a fine. The repeal takes effect next year.

Texas says that without the fine in place the requirement to have health insurance is unconstitutional and that the entire law should be struck down as a result.

The administration said it agrees with Texas that the so-called individual mandate will be unconstitutional without the fine. It also said that provisions shielding people with medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums and limiting how much insurers can charge older Americans should fall as well.

But it said the rest of the law, including Medicaid expansion, can remain in place.

In many ways, the lawsuit, filed in February, is a replay of the politically divided litigation that ended with the Supreme Court upholding the health care overhaul in 2012. In the new suit, California is leading a group of Democrat-led states in defending the law.

The major difference is that the Justice Department under President Donald Trump has largely switched sides.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a letter to Congress on Thursday that Trump, who campaigned on repealing the law and nearly did so his first year in office, approved the legal strategy.

Donald Verrilli Jr., President Barack Obama's top Supreme Court lawyer who defended the law, called the decision "a sad moment."

"I find it impossible to believe that the many talented lawyers at the department could not come up with any arguments to defend the ACA's insurance market reforms, which have made such a difference to millions of Americans," Verrilli said.

Shortly before the government's court filing, three career lawyers at the Justice Department withdrew from the case and were replaced by two political appointees, according to court filings.

Timothy Jost, law professor emeritus at Washington and Lee University in Virginia said the Trump administration is trying to persuade the court to do what it was unable to achieve in Congress last year — essentially, repeal key parts of the Obama health law.

Jost said it's telling that three career Justice Department lawyers refused to support the administration's position.

"It's just one more part of the story of trying to politicize the Justice Department," said Jost, a supporter of the health law.

Despite the Justice Department position, the Health and Human Services Department has continued to apply the health law. Indeed, sign-up season for 2018 under the Trump administration resulted in only a slight enrollment drop-off from Obama's last year.

Insurers are now finalizing their premium requests for 2019, and Jost said the Justice Department filing may prompt jittery carriers to seek higher rates.

"The question is, what does this do to insurance markets now?" said Jost.


Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Kid Vaping Numbers Aren't Up, Study Says, But Some Skeptical]]>Thu, 07 Jun 2018 14:24:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/060718vapingstory1.jpg

Vaping held steady last year in high school students and declined in middle school kids, according to new government data, but some researchers are skeptical because the survey may have missed out on a booming e-cigarette brand.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey did not specifically ask about Juul e-cigarettes, and research suggests some kids don’t equate the trendy devices with other types of e-cigarettes.

Given that omission and the skyrocketing sales of Juul last year, the survey may be missing a big part of what’s going on, said Jidong Huang, a Georgia State University researcher.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that provide users with aerosol puffs that typically contain nicotine, and sometimes flavorings like fruit, mint or chocolate. They’re generally considered a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, but health officials have warned nicotine is harmful to developing brains.

The new CDC study is based on a questionnaire filled out annually by roughly 20,000 students in grades 6 through 12. The study focused on “current users” — defined as kids who said they had used a tobacco product in the previous 30 days.

The CDC survey, and others, have shown a general decline in the use of tobacco products.

A new U.S. government survey found vaping rates are steady or declining among school kids. But some are cautious about the results.

But the level of vaping soared until 2016, when there was a puzzling and dramatic drop, from 16 percent to 11 percent of high school students. That translated to a decline in teen vapers from 3 million to 2.2 million in just one year.

Experts at the time attributed the decline to public health warnings, sales restrictions and the possibility that fewer kids saw e-cigarettes as being novel.

The new CDC study, released Thursday, found high school vaping was at about the same level last year as it was in 2016, about 11 percent. That translates to about 1 in 9 students, meaning it continued to be the most commonly used product.

Cigarette use continued to fall, though slightly, and last year dropped into a tie with cigars for second place. That marks the first time cigars have been smoked as commonly as cigarettes among children.

Among middle schoolers, about 1 in 30 said last year that they had recently vaped. That was a decrease from the year before, when the figure was about 1 in 23.

Brian King, who oversees the CDC’s tobacco survey work, said he believes the survey captures a sizable proportion of kids who are using Juul e-cigarettes, but he acknowledged there could be “some under-estimation.” He said there are plans to add questions about Juul, but those likely won’t appear until next year’s survey.

Similar plans are being made for an annual University of Michigan survey of adolescent tobacco use, said Richard Miech, who leads that study. Because kids currently aren’t being asked about Juul specifically, researchers can’t say for sure if vaping is increasing or decreasing, he said.

Juul e-cigarettes first went on sale in 2015. They look like computer flash drives, can be recharged in computer USB ports and have prefilled cartridges containing nicotine. They also offer kid-friendly flavors like fruit and creme brulee, and teens can smoke them discreetly, even in class.

Last year, Juul became the top-selling e-cigarette brand, with more than $650 million in retail sales. That’s due at least partly to aggressive marketing through Instagram and other social media, Huang noted in a recent article in the journal Tobacco Control.

More data is needed to see how much of those sales were to kids, he said in an interview.

“But looking at the sales data, I think it’s hard to say the use of e-cigarettes among teens is steady or declining,” he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been targeting Juul. In April, the agency issued warnings to retailers about sales to children. The FDA also asked the manufacturer, Juul Labs of San Francisco, to turn over documents about the devices’ design and marketing.

Juul Labs has said it’s trying to combat teen use of its products. Company officials this week said they are launching a new ad campaign aimed at answering parents’ questions about the devices.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

<![CDATA[Superbug Infections Rising Among Injection Drug Users]]>Thu, 07 Jun 2018 14:03:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/212*120/NeedlesSuperbug.jpg

One type of superbug bacteria is increasingly spreading among people who inject drugs, according to a new government report.

Users of heroin and other injection drugs were 16 times more likely than other people to develop severe illnesses from MRSA, said the report published Thursday.

"Drug use has crept up and now accounts for a substantial proportion of these very serious infections," said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, one of the study's authors.

The U.S. is in the midst of its deadliest drug epidemic ever. While overdose deaths have been the main concern, some studies have noted HIV and hepatitis C infections are spreading among drug users. The authors say the new report is one of the first — and the largest — to highlight how superbug bacterial infections are spreading, too. 

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, often live on the skin without causing symptoms. But they can become more dangerous if they enter the bloodstream, destroying heart valves or causing other damage. Health officials have tied MRSA to as many as 11,000 U.S. deaths a year. 

Public health efforts have focused on MRSA's spread in hospitals and nursing homes, and infection-control campaigns have been credited for recent drops in MRSA infections at health care facilities.

But as that success story has unfolded, MRSA infections tied to illicit drug use have risen.

The opioid epidemic began with abuse of prescription pain pills, but in recent years has shifted to heroin and other injectable drugs. 

MRSA "is on the skin, and as the needle goes into the skin it brings the bacteria with it," explained Dr. Isaac See of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, another of the study's authors.

The proportion of invasive, bloodstream-infecting MRSA cases that occurred among injection drug users more than doubled in five years, the study found. In 2011, 4 percent of those MRSA cases involved injection drug users; in 2016, the proportion was 9 percent.

The report is based on infections diagnosed at hospitals across Connecticut and in parts of California, Georgia, Minnesota, New York and Tennessee. Data were collected from 2005 through 2016.

About 39,000 invasive MRSA cases were reported, including about 2,100 among people who inject drugs

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Opioid Overdose Antidote Naloxone Recalled by Maker]]>Thu, 07 Jun 2018 12:03:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_294616548084.jpg

Some of the opioid overdose antidote Naloxone has been recalled by its maker, Hospira, over the potential presence of particulate matter, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

Two lots of Naloxone are being recalled because there may be "embedded and loose particulate matter on the syringe plunger," the FDA said in a notice. If injected with the medicine, a patient has a "low likelihood of experiencing adverse events ranging from local irritation, allergic reactions, phlebitis, end-organ granuloma, tissue ischemia, pulmonary emboli, pulmonary dysfunction, pulmonary infarction, and toxicity."

The recall affects single-use cartridge units of Naloxone Hydrochloride Carpuject Injection with lot numbers 72680LL and 76510LL. They were distributed to wholesalers, distributors and hospitals in the United States, Puerto Rico and Guam from February 2017 to February 2018.

Hospira has not received reports of adverse effects from the affected Naloxone.

Pfizer, the parent company of Hospira, confirmed in a statement to NBC that there is no shortage, as Naloxone is also currently available in vials. Pfizer added that the recall does not affect any Naloxone products sold under the brand name Narcan, which includes a nasal spray that is available with a prescription and that many law enforcement agencies and hospitals use. Narcan is also available over the counter in most states

Hospira has notified wholesalers, distributors and hospitals of the contaminated lots, and it is encouraging others to discard affected lots, the FDA said. 

The recall affects an older version of the drug that may still be in atomizer kits that were distributed into communities. Those with older kits should contact the business or institution that distributed them and get replacements.

"This is not a product for use by consumers. Training is required to use it appropriately," Pfizer explained. "Therefore, it is for use by medical professionals or first responders such as police officers who have been trained in its use."

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mel Evan, File]]>
<![CDATA[Some Brazil 'Zika Kids' Try School, Others Fight to Survive]]>Wed, 06 Jun 2018 08:41:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18156752541751-Zika-Baby-Brazil.jpg

On Tuesdays, 18-month-old Joaquim Santos spends an hour sitting by himself in a corner of a special needs classroom in this small city in northeast Brazil, one of the country's poorest regions and one hit hard by the Zika virus.

Two harried teachers look on as other toddlers play around Joaquim, who has severe developmental delays after being born with a small head.

As limited as Joaquim is in the early education classroom, his family and doctors say he is lucky to be there.

"When Joaquim was born I thought he was going to be in a vegetative state forever," said his mother, Maria de Fatima Santos, who must take the boy to therapy sessions and medical appointments most other days of the week. "I thought my life was going to be in a hospital."

Three years ago, an outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil's impoverished northeast led to thousands of babies being born with a birth defect called microcephaly. The virus is spread by mosquito, and scientists determined that it could lead to congenital defects in fetuses of mothers who were infected during pregnancy.

Today, some of the children born during the outbreak are trying school for the first time — in very limited capacities — while others have died or are struggling to survive, hindered by health and developmental problems.

Dr. Epitacio Rolim of the Getulio Vargas Hospital in Recife, where many children with Zika-related birth defects are treated, said there are still myriad unknowns.

"How much they will learn or live, unfortunately, is a huge question mark," said Rolim, who during a recent afternoon spent hours injecting babies with Botox to ease muscle spasms.

Beyond developmental delays, around 40 percent of the children with microcephaly treated at the hospital started showing new physical problems by the time they reached their first birthdays, including dislocated hips, which needed to be repaired surgically.

"I only know of four who are walking," said Rolim.

Zika began spreading in Latin America's largest nation in April 2015 and exploded in 2016, with more than 260,000 cases of virus that year, according to the Health Ministry. In 2015, there were 960 confirmed cases of microcephaly and just over 1,800 the next year, the majority in the northeast.

Then, thanks to what scientists call "herd immunity" in hard-hit areas and public awareness campaigns, the number of cases of Zika and microcephaly plummeted. In 2017, there were fewer than 18,000 Zika cases and fewer than 300 children born with microcephaly. So far this year, Brazil has seen about 2,200 cases of Zika and 20 cases of microcephaly and other developmental abnormalities.

For doctors, researchers and therapists, the Brazilian toddlers born with microcephaly a few years ago represent by far the largest pool in the world for them to observe and learn from.

Seeing the children in school helps provide a window into the challenges children with microcephaly may face as they grow, but the institutions receiving them are often ill-equipped to meet their needs.

Vaneide Campos, the principal where Joaquim attends school in Frei Miguelinho, a city of 13,000 in the Brazilian drylands, said she had to rejigger an already-tight budget to get a second special needs teacher.

Joaquim has shown modest development. He can hold a pen and scribble on paper. He hears classmates recite letters of the alphabet, though he can't speak. He has also been included in school plays, all more than many other children with microcephaly.

"We have had more goodwill than training here," Campos said. "We were not ready, but we knew we needed to offer a chance."

Schools and daycares at the Zika epicenter face similar issues, with teachers and principals learning as they go.

Jose Wesley Campos, who will be 3 years old in September, attends school in the city of Bonito, in the state of Pernambuco, two days a week. He and three other children with disabilities are in a room with 14 normally developing toddlers.

"He was our first case with microcephaly. It was scary, and we didn't know what to do," said deputy principal Viviane Simon, who has worked at the school for 20 years. "But now we learn more from him than he learns from us."

Still, because teachers are not equipped to provide nursing skills, Wesley's mother goes to class with him.

"He needs double the attention," said Simon, explaining that Jose is fed through a tube and his mouth needs to be cleaned.

Like many others, Jose must spend much of each week getting treatments in Recife, the state capital that is a few hours drive away.

Dr. Liana Ventura, who runs the Altino Ventura Foundation in Recife, said more than 150 of the children with microcephaly getting treatment at the clinic are stable and healthy enough to be candidates for school.

"But we can see schools are not prepared; they need caretakers that families can trust and materials geared toward inclusion," said Ventura, whose family helped found the clinic opened in 2014.

Ventura also said there are 130 children waiting to get eye exams, glasses or other optical treatments, key for being able to attend school. But budget shortfalls have made it impossible to hire more doctors or buy supplies.

For many children, going to school is out of the question.

In the state of Pernambuco, 159 of the 2,513 children diagnosed with microcephaly have died, according to health figures. Paraiba, a neighboring state that was also hit hard, does not have current figures, but local specialists estimate that 10 percent of children born with microcephaly have died.

Those numbers are much higher than Brazil's infant mortality rate, which was 14.4 deaths per 1,000 births in 2016, the most recent year available.

Sophia Donario, one of the more recent cases of Zika-caused microcephaly, was only 5 months old when she passed away earlier this year.

Yara da Costa says her daughter came down with pneumonia on a Monday evening. She took the baby to a local hospital in Lagoa Seca, a small poor city in the middle of Paraiba. She was then transferred to a hospital in Campina Grande, one of the state's largest cities.

A bed couldn't be found for her in the intensive care unit until Wednesday. On April 1, Easter Sunday, she died.

"Until then, she was doing very well. Some kids can't feed themselves, but she could. I could breastfeed her," Sophia's mother said through tears.

A unique case of a mother who nearly three years ago gave birth to one normally developing twin and the other with Zika-caused microcephaly shows just how stark the differences can be.

The boy, Edson Junior, runs around with the exuberant energy while his sister, Melissa Vitoria, born with microcephaly, has sight problems and stiff muscles that limit her movements.

"It was a shock for me. I had no idea this was even possible" to have one healthy twin and the other with microcephaly, said mother Cassiana Severina, who lives in a home with crumbling walls on the outskirts of Recife.

While Severina wants to send Junior to school, she has no such plans for his sister, who can't even sit up.

"Everything she does is a victory with her, that's why I call her Melissa Vitoria (Victory in Portuguese)," said Severina. "Maybe one day she will win by going to school."

Back in Frei Miguelinho, the mother of Joaquim, Maria de Fatima, says she is also hopeful.

"I hope he gets a diploma one day," she said during a recent physical therapy session in Recife. "If I have a diploma earned by Joaquim to hang on my wall, any diploma, that is good enough for me."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Eraldo Peres/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Medicare Will Run Out of Money in 2026, Trustees Forecast]]>Wed, 06 Jun 2018 08:10:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/691715656-Health-Care-Cost.jpg

Medicare will run out of money sooner than expected, and Social Security's financial problems can't be ignored either, the government said Tuesday in a sobering checkup on programs vital to the middle class.

The report from program trustees says Medicare will become insolvent in 2026 — three years earlier than previously forecast. Its giant trust fund for inpatient care won't be able to fully cover projected medical bills starting at that point.

The report says Social Security will become insolvent in 2034 — no change from the projection last year.

The warning serves as a reminder of major issues still languishing while Washington plunges deeper into partisan strife. Because of the deterioration in Medicare's finances, officials said the Trump administration will be required by law to send Congress a plan next year to address the problems after the president's budget is submitted.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that there's time to fix the problems. "The programs remain secure," Mnuchin said. Medicare "is on track to meet its obligations to beneficiaries well into the next decade."

"However, certain long-term issues persist," the statement added. "Lack-luster economic growth in previous years, coupled with an aging population, has contributed to the projected shortages for both Social Security and Medicare."

Social Security recipients are likely to see a cost of living increase of about 2.4 percent next year, said government number-crunchers who produced the report. That works out to about $31 a month.

At the same time, the monthly Medicare "Part B" premium for outpatient care paid by most beneficiaries is projected to rise by about $1.50, to $135.50.

Both the cost-of-living increase and the Medicare outpatient premium are not officially determined until later in the year, and the initial projections can change.

More than 62 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving children receive Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,294 for all beneficiaries. Medicare provides health insurance for about 60 million people, most of whom are age 65 or older.

Together the two programs have been credited with dramatically reducing poverty among older people and extending life expectancy for Americans. Financed with payroll taxes collected from workers and employers, Social Security and Medicare account for about 40 percent of government spending, excluding interest on the federal debt.

But demands on both programs are increasing as America ages.

Unless lawmakers act, both programs face the prospect of being unable to cover the full cost of promised benefits. With Social Security that could mean sharply reduced payments for retirees, many of whom are already on tight budgets. The report said the total annual cost of Social Security is projected to exceed total annual income in 2018 for the first time since the Reagan era, meaning the program will have to tap into reserves.

For Medicare, insolvency would mean that hospitals, nursing homes and other providers of medical care would be paid only part of their agreed-upon fees.

Medicare is widely seen as a more difficult problem that goes beyond the growing number of baby boomers retiring. It's also the unpredictability of health care costs, which can be jolted by high-priced breakthrough cures, and which regularly outpace the overall rate of economic growth.

The Cabinet secretaries for Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Labor usually participate in the annual release of the report, along with the Social Security commissioner, and take questions from reporters. None of those top officials was present Tuesday; an aide cited scheduling conflicts.

The four top officials serve as the Social Security and Medicare trustees, along with two independent trustees who are supposed to represent the public. The public trustees are usually more candid, but those posts remain unfilled.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare, but he hasn't offered a blueprint for either program.

Democrats, meanwhile, want to extend the social safety net by spending more on health care and education. Advocates for the elderly said Tuesday there should be no cuts to Social Security benefits.

But federal deficits keep rising, and the recent Republican tax-cut bill is expected to add to the debt.

Last year's tax law, which cut taxes on Social Security benefits, helped exacerbate the shortfall. So too did repeal of the individual mandate in so-called Obamacare, which promises to increase the number of people without health insurance and therefore Medicare payments for uncompensated medical care.

Higher deficits mean less maneuvering room for policymakers when the day of reckoning finally arrives for Social Security and Medicare.

In principle, the U.S. is supposed to be paying forward its Social Security and Medicare obligations by building up trust funds to cover future costs. That money is invested in special government securities, which also collect interest. But when the money is actually needed to pay for benefits, economists say a government deep in debt could be hard-pressed to make good.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[NY Man Sues CVS for Blabbing to Wife About Viagra Use]]>Wed, 06 Jun 2018 10:44:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/VIAGRA+AP.jpg

A Long Island man is suing CVS after a pharmacist allegedly blabbed about his use of an erectile-dysfunction drug to his wife.

The New York Post reports Michael Feinberg had a prescription for Viagra that he would pay for himself and worked for it not to go through his insurance.

When Feinberg’s wife called the pharmacy chain’s Merrick store to get word on one of her own prescriptions she had filed, the employee opened up about her husband’s secret, the Post reported, citing the lawsuit.

Feinberg claims the pharmacy chain violated his privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Now that word has leaked to his wife, Feinberg told the Post that his marriage is breaking down.

He is seeking unspecified damages for negligence.

A spokesman for CVS told the Post the chain has “the highest priority on protecting the privacy of those we serve.”

Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Supreme Court Sides With Trump Admin. in Pregnant Teen Case]]>Mon, 04 Jun 2018 12:03:41 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/801354822+Supreme+Court.jpg

The Supreme Court is rejecting a suggestion by the Trump administration that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union might deserve to be sanctioned in the case of a pregnant immigrant teen it helped obtain an abortion.

But the court on Monday sided with the government in wiping away a lower court decision in favor of the teen, who had been held in government custody after illegally entering the country. The justices ruled that vacating a lower court decision in favor of the teen was the proper course because the case became moot after the teen obtained an abortion. The decision is about the teen's individual case, however, and doesn't appear to disrupt ongoing litigation about the ability of immigrant teens in government custody to obtain abortions.

Government lawyers had complained that ACLU lawyers didn't alert them that the teen's abortion would take place earlier than expected and told the court that it might want to issue an order "to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken" against ACLU lawyers. The administration said that deprived its lawyers of the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the procedure, at least temporarily. The ACLU said its lawyers did nothing wrong.

The Supreme Court declined to wade into the finger-pointing between the sides.

"Especially in fast-paced, emergency proceedings like those at issue here, it is critical that lawyers and courts alike be able to rely on one another's representations. On the other hand, lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients and not all communications breakdowns constitute misconduct," the justices wrote in an unsigned opinion, adding that the court "need not delve into the factual disputes raised by the parties" in order to vacate the decision for the teen.

The teen at the center of the case entered the U.S. illegally in September as a 17-year-old and was taken to a federally funded shelter in Texas for minors who enter the country without their parents. The unnamed teen, referred to as Jane Doe, learned while in custody that she was pregnant and sought an abortion. A state court gave her permission, but federal officials — citing a policy of refusing to facilitate abortions for pregnant minors in its shelters — refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her for the procedure.

The ACLU helped the teen sue the Trump administration, and after a federal appeals court sided with her, the government was preparing to ask the Supreme Court to step in and block the procedure, at least temporarily.

But the teen, allowed out of the shelter by court order, had an abortion first, about 12 hours after a court gave her the go-ahead. In response, the Trump administration, in a highly unusual filing with the Supreme Court, cried foul. The ACLU has defended its attorneys actions, saying government lawyers made assumptions about the timing of the teen's abortion and argued that the decision should stand.

Even though Jane Doe was able to get an abortion, the lawsuit that began with her has continued and could return to the Supreme Court at a later date. Scott Lloyd, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees shelters for unaccompanied immigrant minors, has said he believes teens in his agency's care have no constitutional right to abortion.

And since the Jane Doe case was filed, several other pregnant teens in his agency's care have come forward seeking abortions and been represented by the ACLU. In two cases, the young women were released from custody and able to seek the procedure on their own while in another case the teen, a 17-year-old rape victim, got a court order allowing her to obtain an abortion and the government stopped attempting to block the procedure.

In March, following a request from the ACLU, a judge barred the Trump administration from interfering with the ability of any pregnant immigrant teens in its custody to obtain abortions while a class action lawsuit against the administration goes forward.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the Trump administration to post notices in government-run shelters that tell pregnant women that they have a right to decide whether to have the baby or to end their pregnancy. The notice gives teens a person to call if they are having difficulty getting an abortion or if they are being pressured not to have an abortion. Chutkan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, is also requiring minors in shelters to be given the notice in English and Spanish and that the information be included in an orientation for minors entering the shelters. The government is appealing. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Eric Thayer/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Skimping Seniors Still Face Higher Med. Costs: Gov't Report]]>Mon, 04 Jun 2018 13:25:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18152807912373-Medicare-PPills.jpg

Medicare recipients filled fewer prescriptions for pricey brand-name drugs — but spent more on such meds anyway, says a government report released Monday. It blames rising manufacturer prices for squeezing older people and taxpayers.

The Health and Human Services inspector general's office says it found a 17 percent drop in the overall number of prescriptions for brand-name medications under Medicare's "Part D" drug program over a recent five-year period.

But beneficiaries' costs for branded drugs went in the opposite direction. From 2011 to 2015, their share of annual costs rose by 40 percent, from $161 in 2011 to $225 on average. Data for 2011-2015 were the most recent available for the analysis.

"Increases in unit prices for brand-name drugs resulted in Medicare and its beneficiaries paying more for these drugs," said the report. Rising Medicare payments for brand-name drugs "will continue to affect Part D and its beneficiaries for years to come."

Although new drugs priced at $100,000 a year or more grab headlines, the report emphasized that the most persistent problem for Medicare beneficiaries is the high cost of maintenance medications for common chronic conditions like diabetes. Total out-of-pocket costs for patients were highest for brand-name insulin, cholesterol drugs and asthma inhalers.

The affordability of maintenance medications "directly impacts Medicare beneficiaries and their ability to access the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy," Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general, said in an interview. "This has an immediate direct impact on their quality of life and their health."

The data driving the report predate the Trump administration, but its conclusions dovetail with how officials view the problem. HHS Secretary Alex Azar says two of the main issues for the U.S. are high list prices for drugs and high out-of-pocket costs, especially for Medicare beneficiaries.

The administration has proposed a long list of measures to increase competition, shed light on pharmaceutical pricing and straighten out industry and government practices seen as artificially raising costs. But drug pricing is cryptic and complex; it remains unclear how long the administration will take to put plans in place, and how dramatic an impact that would have.

President Donald Trump seems to be itching for something more immediate. He recently hinted that major drug companies will soon announce "voluntary massive drops in prices." No details were forthcoming.

About 43 million Medicare beneficiaries have prescription coverage under a Part D plan, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, with premiums that vary widely, averaging $41 a month this year. The benefit is subsidized by taxpayers and administered through private insurers, which are supposed to act as negotiators for beneficiaries and Medicare.

Initially the program was credited for encouraging a frugal shift to generic drugs, but in recent years spending has accelerated. Polls regularly find that the public is alarmed about the cost of prescription drugs, and that voters regardless of political affiliation want government action.

Among other findings from the report:

  • Drugmakers raised prices more rapidly for the most commonly used brand-name medications, with the highest demand among Medicare patients. Average costs for the 200 drugs with the most prescriptions in 2015 rose at nearly double the rate of increase for branded drugs as a whole.
  • The share of Medicare enrollees spending $2,000 a year or more of their own money for brand-name drugs nearly doubled over the five years studied, reaching 7.3 percent in 2015.
  • Total program spending for brand-name drugs increased by 77 percent from 2011 to 2015, from $58 billion to $102 billion. That statistic is a measure of taxpayers' growing exposure.
  • Rebates paid by manufacturers didn't seem to make a huge dent in costs. After accounting for rebates, Medicare reimbursement for branded drugs still increased by 62 percent. That was the case even though total rebates more than doubled, from $9 billion in 2011 to $23 billion in 2015.

Drugmakers often pay rebates to middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers, or to insurers. The payments are tied to expected sales of a drug and other factors. Insurers say they use the money to keep monthly premiums in check. But the Trump administration wants some of the rebates to be paid back directly to patients when they purchase medications.

The pharmaceutical industry says its prices reflect the challenges of developing new drugs and shepherding them through government approval, a years-long process that involves research, experimentation and extensive testing.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Many Breast Cancer Patients Can Skip Chemo, Big Study Finds]]>Mon, 04 Jun 2018 18:35:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/breast-cancer-studyAP_18149669861546.jpg

Most women with the most common form of early-stage breast cancer can safely skip chemotherapy without hurting their chances of beating the disease, doctors are reporting from a landmark study that used genetic testing to gauge each patient's risk.

The study is the largest ever done of breast cancer treatment, and the results are expected to spare up to 70,000 patients a year in the United States and many more elsewhere the ordeal and expense of these drugs.

"The impact is tremendous," said the study leader, Dr. Joseph Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Most women in this situation don't need treatment beyond surgery and hormone therapy, and "the rest of them are receiving chemotherapy unnecessarily."

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, some foundations and proceeds from the U.S. breast cancer postage stamp. Results were discussed Sunday at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Some study leaders consult for breast cancer drugmakers or for the company that makes the gene test.


Cancer care has been evolving away from chemotherapy — older drugs with harsh side effects — in favor of gene-targeting therapies, hormone blockers and immune system treatments. When chemo is used now, it's sometimes for shorter periods or lower doses than it once was.

For example, another study at the conference found that Merck's immunotherapy drug Keytruda worked better than chemo as initial treatment for most people with the most common type of lung cancer, and with far fewer side effects.

The breast cancer study focused on cases where chemo's value increasingly is in doubt: women with early-stage disease that has not spread to lymph nodes, is hormone-positive (meaning its growth is fueled by estrogen or progesterone) and is not the type that the drug Herceptin targets.

The usual treatment is surgery followed by years of a hormone-blocking drug. But many women also are urged to have chemo to help kill any stray cancer cells. Doctors know that most don't need it, but evidence is thin on who can forgo it.

The study gave 10,273 patients a test called Oncotype DX, which uses a biopsy sample to measure the activity of genes involved in cell growth and response to hormone therapy, to estimate the risk that a cancer will recur.


About 17 percent of women had high-risk scores and were advised to have chemo. The 16 percent with low-risk scores now know they can skip chemo, based on earlier results from this study.

The new results are on the 67 percent of women at intermediate risk. All had surgery and hormone therapy, and half also got chemo.

After nine years, 94 percent of both groups were still alive, and about 84 percent were alive without signs of cancer, so adding chemo made no difference.

Certain women 50 or younger did benefit from chemo; slightly fewer cases of cancer spreading far beyond the breast occurred among some of them given chemo, depending on their risk scores on the gene test.


All women like those in the study should get gene testing to guide their care, said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer of the oncology society. Oncotype DX costs around $4,000, which Medicare and many insurers cover. Similar tests including one called MammaPrint also are widely used.

Testing solved a big problem of figuring out who needs chemo, said Dr. Harold Burstein of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Many women think "if I don't get chemotherapy I'm going to die, and if I get chemo I'm going to be cured," but the results show there's a sliding scale of benefit and sometimes none, he said.

Dr. Lisa Carey, a breast specialist at the University of North Carolina's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said she would be very comfortable advising patients to skip chemo if they were like those in the study who did not benefit from it.

Dr. Jennifer Litton at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, agreed, but said, "Risk to one person is not the same thing as risk to another. There are some people who say, 'I don't care what you say, I'm never going to do chemo,'" and won't even have the gene test, she said. Others want chemo for even the smallest chance of benefit.

Adine Usher, 78, who lives in Hartsdale, New York, joined the study 10 years ago at Montefiore and was randomly assigned to the group given chemo.

"I was a little relieved. I sort of viewed chemo as extra insurance," she said. The treatments "weren't pleasant," she concedes. Her hair fell out, she developed an infection and was hospitalized for a low white blood count, "but it was over fairly quickly and I'm really glad I had it."

If doctors had recommended she skip chemo based on the gene test, "I would have accepted that," she said. "I'm a firm believer in medical research."

Kay Austin, of the Dallas-area, scored low on her genetic test when she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer last fall.  

She says she was elated to learn that she wouldn't need chemotherapy.

"I had known other women who had chemotherapy lost their hair, had no energy, was just down. That was the greatest fear," says Austin.

Dr. Deepna Jaiswal, oncologist and hematologist at Medical City Arlington expects the news to have an immediate impact on her patients.

"If you can have good results that can be achieved from a pill, with much less side effects, why you wouldn't want that? This study helps show that you can achieve just as good results without chemotherapy," says Dr. Jaiswal.

NBC 5’s Bianca Castro contributed to this report

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Kathy YoungAP]]>
<![CDATA[Growing Number of Fatal Crashes Linked to Drug Use: Study]]>Sun, 03 Jun 2018 06:22:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-6837401591.jpg

A new study finds that a growing number of drivers involved in deadly accidents are testing positive for drugs, especially opioids and marijuana, NBC News reported. It is unclear, though, whether the drugs are actually the culprit in those crashes.

The group that released the study, the Governors Highway Safety Association, cautions that it is difficult to fully understand the extent to which “drugged driving” is becoming a problem.

“Drugs can impair, and drug-impaired drivers can crash,” said report author Dr. Jim Hedlund, a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “But it’s impossible to understand the full scope of the drugged driving problem because many drivers who are arrested or involved in crashes, even those who are killed, are not tested for drugs. Drivers who are drug-positive may not necessarily be impaired.”

The findings come at a crucial time, as the U.S. faces an opioid epidemic, and more and more states are legalizing marijuana.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[Scottish Hospital Is Ready to Treat Cryptocurrency Addicts]]>Sun, 03 Jun 2018 05:39:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bitcoin-GettyImages-919078630.jpg

A Scottish hospital is ready to begin treating people with cryptocurrency addictions, NBC News reported.

Castle Craig Hospital, a residential rehab center that treats alcohol, drug, behavioral and gambling addictions will now treating crypto-addiction within its gambling program, the center’s website says. The compulsive need to check the price of cryptocurrency or to make trades can turn into an all-consuming addiction, and has the potential to have a disastrous impact on peoples’ finances, while also affecting their lives, the center said in a news release.

Jeremy Gardner, managing partner at Ausum Ventures, who runs the Crypto Castle, a San Francisco residence serving as a hub for blockchain startups and crypto investors, told NBC he sees how a crypto-rehab program could benefit some. 

"The 24/7, ultra-volatile nature of cryptoasset markets compounded with the highly social nature of the crypteconomy provide a rush unlike few other financial markets, and certainly has the potential to be addicting," he said. "I've met too many people who have sacrificed their mental and physical well-being for this pursuit, and I can see how an attempt at taming their passion might be healthy."

Photo Credit: Chesnot/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[4 More Deaths Linked to Romaine Lettuce Outbreak]]>Fri, 01 Jun 2018 15:43:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/950400894-Romaine-Lettuce.jpg

Four more deaths have been linked to a national food poisoning outbreak blamed on tainted lettuce, bringing the total to five.

Health officials have tied the E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. The growing season there ended six weeks ago, and it's unlikely any tainted lettuce is still in stores or people's homes, given its short shelf life. But there can be a lag in reporting, and reports of illnesses have continued to come in.

In an update Friday on the nation's largest E. coli outbreak in a decade, health officials said 25 more cases have been added, raising the total number of illnesses to 197 in 35 states. At least 89 people were hospitalized.

Previously one death had been reported, in California. On Friday, health officials said they had learned of four more — in California, Arkansas, Minnesota and New York.

The first illnesses occurred in March, and the most recent began on May 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of the new cases were people who became ill two to three weeks ago, when contaminated lettuce was still being sold. Some said they did not eat romaine lettuce but were in close contact with someone who got sick after eating it.

Most E. coli bacteria are not harmful, but some produce toxins that can cause severe illness. People who get sick from toxin-producing E. coli come down with symptoms about three to four days after swallowing the germ, with many suffering bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.

Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Iowa Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Law Being Temporarily Blocked ]]>Fri, 01 Jun 2018 11:35:41 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/plannedparenthoodAP_18135658626517.jpg

A judge will temporarily block the most restrictive abortion law in the country from taking effect in Iowa next month under an agreement between lawyers for the state and abortion rights groups.

Attorneys for the state and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds agreed Friday to prevent the law from taking effect on July 1 after discussions with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Planned Parenthood Federation of American and the Emma Goldman Clinic.

The advocacy groups have sued the state to block the law, which bans most abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

An attorney for the state says the goal is to quickly get the case before a judge to argue the law it's constitutional.

Judge Michael Huppert said during a court hearing Friday that he'll issue a temporary injunction later in the day.

Reynolds signed the law May 2, two days after lawmakers approved it.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP]]>
<![CDATA[UN Health Agency Backs Away From Call to Tax Sugary Drinks]]>Fri, 01 Jun 2018 11:30:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18152508307778.jpg

An independent World Health Organization panel is backing away from the U.N. health agency's own call two years ago to tax sugary drinks, in a new report on diseases like cancer, obesity and diabetes that some experts slammed as being "conspicuously limp."

International health experts said the decision was especially baffling, given the rising obesity crisis worldwide and WHO's own previous attempts to curb sugar consumption.

In 2016, the U.N. health agency urged countries to tax sugar-laden drinks like sodas and sport drinks as a way to fight obesity and diabetes. Back then, it said a 20 percent price increase in such drinks would dramatically cut consumption.

But in a report published Friday, although WHO recommended taxes on tobacco and alcohol, experts pointedly dropped any recommendation to tax sugary beverages. The experts wrote instead that, regarding sugar taxation, "some views were conflicting and could not be resolved."

Dr. Sania Nishtar, co-chair of the recently created independent commission on non-communicable diseases behind the report, said most of its 26 members supported a tax on sugar sweetened beverages. But one commissioner — whom she did not identify — hampered drafting stronger language, mainly over the effectiveness of the sugar tax that has been introduced in some countries.

"The introduction of the tax (on sugary drinks) is fairly recent, and the data that we have relates to a decrease in consumption," Nishtar told reporters at WHO headquarters.

She said "the objection was that ... we should not make a bold recommendation." She said the commissioner did not believe there was enough health data on this yet — a point later disputed by WHO's own director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus.

While the sweetened-drink industry has come out strongly against any such tax, Nishtar said she was not aware of any industry lobbying of the commissioners.

Instead of explicitly recommending a sugar tax, WHO is leaving such decisions up to countries.

"When engagement with the private sector fails to contribute to the achievement of public health goals, governments should employ their regulatory and legislative powers to protect their populations," the report says.

Jack Winkler, an emeritus professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University, said there is now convincing evidence that taxing sugary drinks works, citing, among other work, a recent article in the journal, The BMJ. He said policies recently adopted in Britain show that taxing sugar-loaded drinks not only spurred manufacturers to reformulate their products but that "it has made the healthy choice the cheaper choice."

He said WHO's own acknowledgment that progress on combating obesity and other non-communicable disease has been slow makes their refusal to endorse sugar taxes outright especially unfortunate.

"When WHO doesn't pick up on a practical solution that also raises money, it is particularly absurd," he said.

In its new report, WHO also recommended governments prioritize measures to restrict junk food advertising.

"WHO should explore the possibility of establishing an international code of conduct on this issue...while acknowledging the need for partnerships based on alignment of interests," experts wrote.

Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the failure of WHO's commission to reach an agreement on sugar taxes was "difficult to fathom."

He noted that since this was the only the first report from WHO's expert commission, they might still revise their advice in later reports.

"It would be very disappointing if this issue remained unresolved in its next report," McKee said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File]]>
<![CDATA[Cancer Group Says Colon Screening Should Start at 45, Not 50]]>Wed, 30 May 2018 12:07:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/42301616611_d33b1c01d4_k.jpg

New guidelines released Wednesday recommend U.S. adults start colon cancer screening earlier, at age 45 instead of 50.

The American Cancer Society's advice puts it out of sync with guidelines from an influential government advisory group, which kept the age at 50 in an update two years ago.

Cancer society officials acknowledge the shift to 45 could cause confusion for doctors and patients but felt strongly that they needed to act now. The advocacy group was influenced by its study, published last year, that found rising rates of colon cancer and deaths in people younger than 50. Experts aren't sure why there has been a 50 percent increase in cases since 1994.

The guidelines are for men and women ages 45 to 75 of average risk for colon cancer; recommendations are different for people with certain conditions, like Crohn's disease, or a family history of colon cancer. The group endorses six kinds of screening exams, from inexpensive take-home stool tests performed every year to colonoscopies done every 10.

"All of these tests are good tests, and the choice should be offered to patients," said the cancer society's Dr. Rich Wender. "The best test is the test that gets done."

The same tests are recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel that reviews evidence and issues advice for a variety of screenings and treatments. It updated its colon cancer guidelines in 2016 and its next review isn't expected until around 2021.

That panel's recommendations drive what screening is covered by insurance under the Affordable Care Act, although 20 states have laws that link coverage to the cancer society guidelines. It's not uncommon for groups to have slightly different guidelines although those for colon cancer have been about the same for decades.

Most colon cancer occurs in adults 55 and older, and the good news is rates of cases and deaths have been falling for decades. Colon cancer, combined with rectal cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. This year, more than 140,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with it, and about 50,000 will die from it.

Doctors will probably look to specialty medical societies to sort out the different guidelines, said Dr. Marcus Plescia, of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. But it may take a little while before they offer clear advice.

Some experts have worried about pre-50 risks of colon cancer in some racial and ethnic groups, and at least one specialty society for gastroenterologists has urged screening of black adults starting at age 45.

Others argue that instead of lowering the age for routine screening, more effort should be put into getting more people tested. Only about two-thirds of people 50 and older have been following screening guidelines.

"It's hard enough to get people to do it at all," Plescia noted.

Dr. Andrew Wolf, the lead author of the latest guidelines, said they considered and rejected that reasoning.

"We should be able to do both," said Wolf, a University of Virginia internist.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NCI Center for Cancer Research/NIH]]>
<![CDATA[This Woman Lives Life With Dozens of Personalities ]]>Wed, 30 May 2018 21:24:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Multiple-Personality-Disorders.jpg

"Autumn" was a little girl who endured horrifying abuse, both sexually and physically for most of her formative years. The violent trauma caused her mind to fragment into multiple personalities, like a fractured mirror in dozens of pieces. She refers to them as her "alters."]]>
<![CDATA[Birth Control Sample Packs Recalled for Out-of-Order Pills]]>Tue, 29 May 2018 15:13:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/recalled-pills.jpg

Allergan recalled Tuesday nearly 170,000 packs of Taytulla birth control pills given out by doctors as samples because of a possible packaging error that may lead to the risk of an unintended pregnancy. 

The company issued the voluntary recall of one lot of the pills after a physician reported that four placebo capsules were placed out of order in a sample pack of the oral contraceptive. The packs consist of 24 "active" pink softgel capsules and four maroon placebo softgel capsules. 

In the affected sample, the first four days of therapy had non-hormonal placebo capsules instead of active capsules. 

"The reversing of the order may not be apparent to either new users or previous users of the product, increasing the likelihood of taking the capsules out of order," the recall notice on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website said. "If patients have concerns regarding the possibility of an unintended pregnancy they should consult their physician." 

Lot No. 5620706 was distributed to healthcare providers nationwide and contained nearly 170,000 sample packs, the company confirmed to NBC. The pill packs have a May 2019 expiration date. 

The FDA's recall notice said Allergan was notifying customers by letter of the potential issue. Customers with the recalled pills should contact their physician to return the pills. 

In a statement, Allergan said an investigation at the packaging site found no units with the defect. 

Consumers can contact Allergan at (800) 678-1605 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET for more information.

Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Sunscreen Pills Are Fake Medicine: FDA]]>Wed, 23 May 2018 18:53:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/sunbathe.jpg

So-called sunscreen pills are fakes and people should not fall for the scam, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday, NBC News reported.

“There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen,” FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

The agency specifically called out the companies that make Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Sunsafe Rx, Solaricare and Sunergetic, saying they should stop claiming people are protected from the sun's rays.

None of the companies contacted by NBC News for comment responded immediately.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Use of Forced Rehab on the Rise in Opioid Addiction Battle]]>Wed, 23 May 2018 07:34:44 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18137706975073-Pat-Cronin-Northeast-Addictions-Treatment-Center.jpg

The last thing Lizabeth Loud, a month from giving birth, wanted was to be forced into treatment for her heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.

But her mother saw no other choice, and sought a judge's order to have her committed against her will. Three years later, Loud said her month in state prison, where Massachusetts sent civilly committed women until recent reforms, was the wake-up call she needed.

"I was really miserable when I was there," the 32-year-old Boston-area resident said. "That was one bottom I wasn't willing to revisit again."

An Associated Press check of data in some key states has found that the use of involuntary commitment for drug addiction is rising. And in many places, lawmakers are trying to create or strengthen laws allowing authorities to force people into treatment.

But critics, including many doctors, law enforcement officials and civil rights advocates, caution that success stories like Loud's are an exception. Research suggests involuntary commitment largely doesn't work and could raise the danger of overdose for those who relapse after treatment.

And expanding civil commitment laws, critics argue, could also violate due process rights, overwhelm emergency rooms and confine people in prisonlike environments, where treatment sometimes amounts to little more than forced detox without medications to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms.

At least 35 states currently have provisions that allow families or medical professionals to petition a judge, who can then order an individual into treatment if they deem the person a threat to themselves or others. But the laws haven't always been frequently used.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law last year allowing police officers to civilly commit a person into treatment for up to three days. In Washington state, legislation that took effect April 1 grants mental health professionals similar short-term emergency powers. In both states, a judge's order would still be required to extend the treatment.

Related bills have also been proposed this year in states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where involuntary commitment has emerged as one of the more controversial parts of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's wide-ranging bill dealing with the opioid crisis.

Massachusetts already allows for judges to order people to undergo up to three months of involuntary treatment, but lawmakers are considering giving some medical professionals emergency authority to commit people for up to three days without a judge's order.

The proposal is a critical stopgap for weekends and nights, when courts are closed, said Patrick Cronin, a director at the Northeast Addictions Treatment Center in Quincy, who credits his sobriety to his parents' decision to have him involuntarily committed for heroin use almost 15 years ago.

But giving doctors the ability to hold people in need of treatment against their will, as Massachusetts lawmakers propose, will burden emergency rooms, which already detain people with psychiatric problems until they can be taken to a mental health center, said Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker, president of the Massachusetts College of Emergency Physicians, an advocacy group.

"We've got a crowded plane, and you're asking the pilots to fly for days waiting for an open landing strip while also making sure they're taking care of the passengers and forcibly restraining the rowdy ones," Lai-Becker said.

Baker's administration stressed the proposal wouldn't take effect until 2020, providing time to work out concerns.

Even without the state legislative efforts, use of involuntary commitment for drug addiction is rising, according to information the AP obtained from states that have historically used it the most.

Florida reported more than 10,000 requests for commitment in both 2016 and 2015, up from more than 4,000 in 2000, according to court records.

Massachusetts reported more than 6,000 forced commitments for drug addiction in both fiscal years 2016 and 2017, up from fewer than 3,000 in fiscal year 2006.

In Kentucky, judges issued more than 200 orders of involuntary commitment for alcohol or drug abuse in the last calendar year, up from just five in 2004, according to court records. The state has so far reported nearly 100 such commitments this year.

But researchers caution there hasn't been enough study on whether forced treatment is actually working. And many states don't track whether people are being civilly committed multiple times, let alone whether they get sober for good, the AP found.

In Massachusetts, where fatal overdoses dropped for the first time in seven years in 2017, state public health officials don't credit increased use of civil commitment, but rather better training for medical professionals, tighter regulations on painkillers, more treatment beds, wider distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and other initiatives.

A review published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2016 found "little evidence" forced treatment was effective in promoting sobriety or reducing criminal recidivism.

Another 2016 study by Massachusetts' Department of Public Health found the involuntarily committed were more than twice as likely to die of an opioid-related overdose than those who went voluntarily, but those findings shouldn't be viewed as an indictment of the process, argues Health and Human Services office spokeswoman Elissa Snook.

"Patients who are committed for treatment are among the sickest, most complex and at the greatest risk for an overdose," she said. "Involuntary commitment is an emergency intervention, to help individuals stay alive until they are capable of entering treatment voluntarily."

Most states send the civilly committed to treatment facilities run or contracted by public health agencies. The costs generally fall on patients, their families or insurance providers.

Massachusetts stands out because, until recently, it sent those civilly committed for drug addiction to prisons. That decadeslong practice ended for women in 2016, but many men are still sent to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, which is housed in a minimum-security prison in Plymouth, near Cape Cod.

Patients wear corrections-issued uniforms and submit to prison regulations like room searches and solitary confinement. They also aren't given methadone or buprenorphine to help wean off heroin or other opioids, as they might in other treatment centers.

Michelle Wiley, whose 29-year-old son David McKinley killed himself there in September after he asked her to have him civilly committed for the third time, said she isn't opposed to expanded use of the practice as long as those with addiction aren't sent to places like Plymouth.

In the days before he hanged himself in his room, Wiley said, her son had complained to her about dirty conditions, poor food and not enough substance abuse counselors while he went through withdrawal.

"You think it's going to be helpful until you hear what it's like," she said. "If I had to do it over, I wouldn't send him to that place."

The corrections department has since taken steps to improve conditions, including more frequent patrols by prison guards and extended hours for mental health professionals, department spokesman Jason Dobson said.

As for Loud, the Massachusetts woman civilly committed while pregnant, she said she has found peace.

After briefly relapsing following her son's birth, she has been sober for about a year and a half. She focuses her energies on raising her son, attending regular support meetings and pursuing a passion sidelined by her addiction: competitive Muay Thai fighting. Her fourth bout is in July.

Loud has also reconciled with her mother. The two now live together, along with her son.

"It took me a long time to understand what she was going through," Loud said. "She was just trying to save her daughter."

On opposite sides of the county jail, a mother and her son chat about school, girls, birthday gifts — and their future together. They aren't allowed to see each other face-to-face, so the inmate and the fifth-grader connect by video.

"Hi, Mommy," 10-year-old Robby says to Krystle Sweat, clutching a phone in the visiting room as he looks at his mother on a screen, sitting in her cell.

Robby hasn't hugged her since Christmas 2015, just before Sweat wound up back behind bars. He shifts his weight from one leg to another and says that on the day she's released, he wants to show her how he can ride no-hands on his bike.

For years now, Sweat has cycled in and out of jail, arrested more than two dozen times for robbery and other crimes — almost all related to her drug addiction that culminated in a $300-a-day pain pill habit. She's tried to quit, but nothing has worked. Now she says she's ready to make the break when she's paroled, possibly this summer.

"I'm almost 33," she says. "I don't want to continue living like this. I want to be someone my family can count on."

Tucked in a remote corner of Appalachia, the Campbell County Jail offers an agonizing glimpse into how the tidal wave of opioids and methamphetamines has ravaged America. Here and across the country, addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door.

Women in jail are the fastest-growing correctional population in America. The numbers rose from 13,258 in 1980 to 102,300 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Between 1980 and 2009, the arrest rate for drug possession or use tripled for women, while it doubled for men. Opioid abuse has exacerbated the problem.

More than a decade ago, there were rarely more than 10 women in the Campbell County Jail. Now the population is routinely around 60. Most are arrested on a drug-related charge. Many also are addicted. They receive no counseling, and eventually are released into the same community where friends — and in some cases, family — are using drugs. Soon they are, too.

And the cycle begins anew: Another arrest, another booking photo, another pink uniform and off to a cell to simmer in regret and despair.

Sarai Keelean is back in for violating probation for possessing meth; she'd been using the drug and also selling it to buy opioids. Locked up for almost three years, she longs for freedom but is terrified, too. "You're afraid that you're going to mess up," she says.

Blanche Ball, who has been using, cooking or selling meth for 15 of her 30 years, has been in jail several times. "I know I could have done something more with my life," she says, but: "Once you're like this for so long, you don't know another way to be."

Her two oldest children are being raised by family, and she doesn't want to see them until she's confident she'll remain in their lives. The two youngest were adopted. "That wound is so bad," she says, "I try to block it out all the time."

In 2015, Campbell County had the third-highest amount of opioids prescribed per person of all U.S. counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amounted to more than five times the national average.

Mayor E.L. Morton blames the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, and two lawsuits against opioid makers are pending on behalf of the county and its 40,000 residents. Meth is also a problem.

"Throw a rock, hit a house, and there's drugs," says Keelean, the 35-year-old inmate.

The county has struggled for decades. Its tobacco farms and once-flourishing coal industry disappeared long ago, wiping out jobs and solid incomes. Some factories remain, but more than 1 in 5 residents are poor. Nowadays, as much as 90 percent of the crime in a five-county district that includes Campbell is connected to drugs, the local prosecutor says.

Tennessee doesn't have enough psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and nurses or residential drug treatment in rural areas — and Campbell County has no such programs, says Mary-Linden Salter, director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services. "It's unrealistic for people to travel 700 miles for treatment because that's where there's an open bed," she adds.

Salter also says drug treatment is often costlier and more complicated for women because many have experienced trauma and abuse as children or adults and may be slower to seek help because they fear losing their children.

"Women are the caregivers of their families," she says. "They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery. It's a horrible choice."

There are roads to recovery here. A drug court, which provides supervision for up to two years, has a 70 percent graduation rate. And a new program just for women, begun last year, takes offenders jailed on misdemeanor drug charges before sentencing and moves them into short- or long-term residential treatment. In both cases, treatment takes them to other counties or out of state.

Krystle Sweat says that when she's paroled, she wants to enter a faith-based recovery program. Her parents, who have raised Robby since he was about 3, have promised to help.

As Robby's visit ends this day, he and his mother blow each other kisses.

"I'm so thankful that he still loves me," she says, returning to her bunk where she keeps a photo of her son. "He's disappointed in me. .... He doesn't say that he is, but I know he is."

AP Photographer David Goldman contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Congo Announces 6 New Confirmed Cases of Ebola Virus]]>Tue, 22 May 2018 21:26:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/congo-ebola-bucket.jpg

Congo's health ministry announced six new confirmed Ebola cases and two new suspected cases Tuesday as vaccinations entered a second day in an effort to contain the deadly virus in a city of more than 1 million.

Dozens of health workers in the northwestern provincial capital, Mbandaka, have received vaccinations amid expectations that some will be deployed to the rural epicenter of the epidemic. Front-line workers are especially at risk of contracting the virus, which spreads in contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, including the dead.

"In the next five days 100 people must be vaccinated, including 70 health professionals," Health Minister Oly Ilunga said. "The priority of the government is to ensure that all these brave health professionals can do their job safely."

Congo's health ministry said there are now 28 confirmed Ebola cases, 21 probable ones and two suspected. The six new confirmed cases were in the rural Iboko health zone, it said. Of the confirmed Ebola cases, 14 are in Iboko, 10 are in Bikoro where the outbreak began and four are in the Wangata area of Mbandaka.

The death toll from hemorrhagic fever stands at 27, with three of them confirmed as Ebola. Two of the Ebola victims were nurses, one in Iboko and the other in Bikoro.

"Concerned about Iboko as access remains difficult," Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization's emergency response chief, said Tuesday on Twitter. Roads in the region are unpaved and infrastructure is poor.

The WHO said 33 people received the first vaccinations Monday, including a few people in two communities of Mbandaka. More than 7,500 doses are available in Congo, WHO said Monday, and another 8,000 doses will be available in the coming days.

Allowing Congolese to watch health officials receive vaccinations is crucial, health worker Ezela Elange told The Associated Press.

"Our hope is that ... the sick will heal, the whole province will be healed," Elange said.

The vaccination campaign eventually will move to cover the two other health zones where confirmed cases have been reported. A major challenge will be keeping the vaccines cold in this vast, impoverished, tropical country where electricity is patchy.

The vaccine, provided by U.S. company Merck, is still in the test stages but it was effective toward the end of the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2014 to 2016.

Those who are vaccinated in outbreak areas still will have to strictly follow infection-control measures, especially since the vaccine doesn't protect immediately. It takes a week to 10 days, said Dr. Pierre Rollin, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a veteran of more than a dozen Ebola outbreaks.

Rollin warned that the large geographic area between Mbandaka and the remote towns where the outbreak's first cases were reported must be scoured for the infected and the people who have come into contact with them.

"Travel from Mbandaka to Bikoro can take four hours to four days" depending on transportation and if it's raining, he said. "Before making any assumption we're going to have to look along this road and all the villages."

The U.S. Agency for International Development on Tuesday said it was contributing another up to $7 million to combat the outbreak on top of the $1 million it committed last week.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Congo warned that the outbreak is far from over. It said it will expand operations for community-based surveillance and safe burials.

"The risk of spreading within the country and to neighboring nations remains real," said Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, IFRC's regional director for Africa.

This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. While all of the outbreaks were based in remote rural areas the virus has twice made it to Kinshasa, the capital of 10 million people, but was effectively contained.

Mbandaka is an hour's flight from Kinshasa and several days' travel by barge.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

Associated Press video journalist John Bompengo and writers Lauran Neergaard and Matthew Lee contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Louise Annaud/Medecins Sans Frontieres via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Rallies Abortion Opponents to Vote for Republicans]]>Tue, 22 May 2018 21:23:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tump-anti-abortion.jpg

President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a rallying call to opponents of abortion, encouraging them to head to the polls to elect conservative lawmakers.

Speaking at the Susan B. Anthony List's annual "Campaign for Life Gala," Trump took a victory lap for his anti-abortion policies and nominations of conservative justices to federal courts. But he warned the group that they must show up at the polls to preserve their gains under his administration.

"Every day between now and November we must work together to elect more lawmakers who share our values, cherish our heritage, and proudly stand for life," Trump said. He summed it up for the roomful of enthusiastic supporters: "The story is, '18 midterms, we need Republicans."

Trump has long been an unlikely sweetheart for conservative and evangelical voters. But now, in the lead-up to the midterm elections, the thrice-married former Democrat who used to describe himself as "very pro-choice" has been offering catnip to conservatives.

Last week, the administration unveiled a new push to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics. The initiative, which was formally unveiled Tuesday, is aimed at resurrecting parts of a Reagan-era mandate banning federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, or sharing space with abortion providers.

And it arrived just in time for Trump to highlight it Tuesday at the gala. The speech, said one administration official, had been aimed at a core constituency of conservative activists who are seen as key to energizing the party entering the fall midterm elections.

Trump, for his part, promised a "massive campaign" to assist Republicans this fall, and highlighted his role contributing toward the Republican National Committee's fundraising haul.

"Your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016," Trump said, reading off a teleprompter. He paused before telling the crowd, "I'm not sure I really believe that.

"I don't know who the hell wrote that line," he said, prompting laughs.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, branded Trump "the most pro-life President in history" at the Gala, and told the AP the move "will help tremendously" in the midterms.

It's also the latest evidence that as he frets over the Russia investigation and prepares for a planned summit with North Korea, Trump has also been focused on fulfilling campaign promises and tending to issues that galvanize his base: holding a series of events to rail against the dangers of illegal immigration, pulling out of the Iran-nuclear deal and wading anew into the fight over abortion rights.

Trump is far from a natural fit for conservative voters. He recently admitted to reimbursing his lawyer for paying pay hush money to a porn star who claimed she had sex with Trump (a charge that he denies). And Trump has bragged about groping women without their permission. During the campaign, he sometimes had trouble articulating his views on abortion, at one point suggesting women should be punished for having abortions. His campaign later walked back the statement, saying that if abortion were ever outlawed, he believed that doctors who perform them should be punished.

Nonetheless, white evangelical voters overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016, and that support has only grown. A PRRI survey released last month found white evangelical support for Trump at an all-time high, with 75 percent of those polled holding a favorable view of the president and just 22 percent holding an unfavorable view. Support for Trump within the general population in the poll stood at just 42 percent.

Religious groups like the Catholic Medical Association approve of a series of actions Trump has taken, beginning with his appointment of judges who oppose abortion rights, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Trump's reinstatement of the global "gag rule" that bars federal funding for nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion referrals.

The White House also points to the administration's support for religious objectors in court and Trump's efforts to bring religious groups "back into the fold by ensuring religious groups and their partners are critical participants in the policy making process."

Dannenfelser, whose group works to elect candidates who want to reduce and ultimately end abortion, is planning to raise and spend $25 million this cycle, up from the $18 million the group spent in the lead-up to the 2016 elections.

She said the president's latest move would play especially well with voters in states like Missouri, where Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley is challenging Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the Senate's most vulnerable incumbents, as well as in Indiana and North Dakota, where Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer is challenging Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Abortion rights activists, meanwhile, argue that Trump's moves on the issue will only embolden women to turn out at the polls, just as they took to the streets in marches after Trump's election.

"It's going to cost this administration at the ballot box in November," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Kevin Griffis.

"We have to fight back in the best way we know how," the group Emily's List wrote in a fundraising email, "electing pro-choice Democratic women who will always protect reproductive freedom."

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Ken Thomas and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Most Docs Say Emergency Rooms Not Prepared for Disaster: Survey]]>Tue, 22 May 2018 21:20:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/emergency+waiting+room+composite.jpg

Ninety-three percent of doctors say their emergency departments are not fully prepared for a surge of patients in the event of a disaster, according to a new poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

The poll released Tuesday also revealed that less than 50 percent of emergency physicians believed they were even somewhat prepared for an emergency that require drastically increased patient capacity, whether due to a natural disaster or man-made event like a mass shooting.

The study polled more than 1,300 emergency physicians from both urban and suburban hospitals from April 25 to May 6. The survey had a response rate of 18.6 percent and a 2.7 percent margin of error. 

Only six percent of respondents answered that their emergency departments were fully prepared and, on the other end of the spectrum, 17 percent said their departments were not at all prepared.

"Emergency physicians are concerned that our system cannot even meet daily demands, let alone during a medical surge for a natural or man-made disaster," said ACEP President Dr. Paul Kivela in a release.

In another striking finding, 90 percent of about 250 doctors polled said there was a shortage or absence of critical medication in their emergency rooms and that over the last year those shortages have increased, according to the poll.

Dr. Karl Marzec, an emergency medicine specialist with Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, said he is often prompted to use a different medication, which may not be his first line of treatment, due to the shortage. 

"Over the last six months, there's been prolonged shortage of critical medications that we use on a daily basis, so we've been having to go to alternative medications," Marzec said. "Some of them work just as effectively but we are also in shortage of these backup alternative medications that we're using."

Marzec said pain medication, nausea treatments and saline — all of which help patients recover — are in short supply and that could slow down patient care in a mass casualty event. 

The respondents were also asked whether their hospital re-evaluated procedures in light of recent events. Thirty percent of physicians said they had not really or not at all re-evaluated, while 44 percent of emergency rooms did somewhat evaluate their procedures. 

Marzec said his hospitals do prepare by thinking about what type of emergencies could occur in San Diego County, like fires, earthquakes and shootings. 

"If there's large fires throughout the county, we'd be thinking, 'What are our burn facility capabilities,'" Marzec said. 

ACEP said a coordinated approach to preparedness, including a region-wide data management system and tracking of resources, is key to ensuring preparedness in a mass emergency.

The organization is working to get a bill approved by Congress that could increase oversight of medical resources, allowing for better tracking and ensuring supplies are there when needed, Marzec said. 

Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[Nurse Dead in Congo as Ebola Vaccination Campaign Starts]]>Mon, 21 May 2018 15:23:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/961020376-WHO-Vaccinations-Ebola-Congo.jpg

Congo began an Ebola vaccination campaign Monday in a northwest provincial capital in a major effort to stem an outbreak that has already made its way from rural towns into a city of more than 1 million people.

The campaign comes a day after the health ministry announced that a nurse has died from Ebola in Bikoro, the rural northwestern town where the outbreak began and was first announced in early May. The death toll is now 27.

There are 49 hemorrhagic fever cases: 22 confirmed as Ebola, 21 probable and six suspected, according to Health Minister Oly Ilunga.

"We have established surveillance mechanisms and are following all cases and contacts," he said. "The response is well-organized because we have also put in surveillance measures at the entry and exit points of Mbandaka."

In a hopeful sign, two patients who were confirmed as positive for Ebola have recovered, and are returning to their homes though they will be monitored, Ilunga said. They have left the hospital "with a medical certificate attesting that they've recovered and can no longer transmit the disease because they have developed antibodies against Ebola," he said.

Ebola, however, does in many cases remain longer in semen, and therefore can be transmitted through sexual contact for some months after recovery.

Congo's health delegation, including the health minister and representatives of the World Health Organization and the United Nations, have arrived in Mbandaka, the northwestern city of 1.2 million where Ebola has spread, to launch the vaccination campaign Monday.

Dr. Eric Ekutshu, a doctor in the Wangata health zone in Mbandaka, received the vaccine Monday as part of a ceremony presided over by officials.

"I'm glad I have received the vaccine against Ebola," he said. "I ask the others (contacts and nursing staff) to get vaccinated to protect themselves. Everyone must adhere to this vaccination campaign with the goal of protection."

Guillaume Ngoie Mwamba, director of the Expanded Program on Immunization, was the first Congolese to receive the vaccine in Mbandaka.

"This is to give a message of safety and assurance to all of the population exposed to the epidemic," he said.

Two dozen vaccinators, including Congolese and Guineans who administered the vaccine in their country during the 2014-2016 outbreak, are in Mbandaka to start injecting the 540 doses that have arrived, the health minister said.

It will take five days to vaccinate about 100 registered patients, including 73 health care staff, who have had contact with patients and their relatives in the Wangata and Bolenge health zones of Mbandaka, he said.

The vaccination campaign will then move to the other two affected areas, the Bikoro and Iboko health zones.

More than 7,500 doses are available in Congo, WHO said Monday, adding that an additional 8,000 doses will be available in the coming days.

The vaccine, provided by U.S. company Merck, is still in the test stages, but it was effective toward the end of the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2014 to 2016. A major challenge will be keeping the vaccines cold in this vast, impoverished, tropical country where infrastructure is poor.

Congo President Joseph Kabila and his Cabinet agreed Saturday to increase funds for the Ebola emergency to more than $4 million. The Cabinet also endorsed the decision to provide free health care in the affected areas and to provide special care to all Ebola victims and their relatives.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has said that it has provided an initial $1 million to combat the Ebola outbreak. The funds are going to WHO in support of its joint strategic response plan with Congo's government.

The spread of Ebola from a rural area to Mbandaka has raised alarm as Ebola can spread more quickly in urban centers. The fever can cause severe internal bleeding that is often fatal.

"It's concerning that we now have cases of Ebola in an urban center, but we're much better placed to deal with this outbreak than we were in 2014," WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, said at the U.N. health agency's annual meeting in Geneva on Monday. "I am pleased to say that vaccination is starting as we speak today."

Tedros said he is "proud of the way the whole organization has responded to this outbreak, at headquarters, the regional office and the country office."

This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys. It is spread via contact with the bodily fluids of those infected.

While Congo has contained several Ebola outbreaks in the past, all of them were based in remote rural areas. The virus has twice made it to Kinshasa, Congo's capital of 10 million people, but was effectively contained.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

AP writers Carley Petesch and Geir Moulson contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Junior KannahaAFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Revolving Door of Despair: Drugs Land More Women Behind Bars]]>Mon, 21 May 2018 08:39:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18136204700355-Campbell-County-Jail-Jacksboro-Tennessee.jpg

On opposite sides of the county jail, a mother and her son chat about school, girls, birthday gifts — and their future together. They aren't allowed to see each other face-to-face, so the inmate and the fifth-grader connect by video.

"Hi, Mommy," 10-year-old Robby says to Krystle Sweat, clutching a phone in the visiting room as he looks at his mother on a screen, sitting in her cell.

Robby hasn't hugged her since Christmas 2015, just before Sweat wound up back behind bars. He shifts his weight from one leg to another and says that on the day she's released, he wants to show her how he can ride no-hands on his bike.

For years now, Sweat has cycled in and out of jail, arrested more than two dozen times for robbery and other crimes — almost all related to her drug addiction that culminated in a $300-a-day pain pill habit. She's tried to quit, but nothing has worked. Now she says she's ready to make the break when she's paroled, possibly this summer.

"I'm almost 33," she says. "I don't want to continue living like this. I want to be someone my family can count on."

Tucked in a remote corner of Appalachia, the Campbell County Jail offers an agonizing glimpse into how the tidal wave of opioids and methamphetamines has ravaged America. Here and across the country, addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door.

Women in jail are the fastest-growing correctional population in America. The numbers rose from 13,258 in 1980 to 102,300 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Between 1980 and 2009, the arrest rate for drug possession or use tripled for women, while it doubled for men. Opioid abuse has exacerbated the problem.

More than a decade ago, there were rarely more than 10 women in the Campbell County Jail. Now the population is routinely around 60. Most are arrested on a drug-related charge. Many also are addicted. They receive no counseling, and eventually are released into the same community where friends — and in some cases, family — are using drugs. Soon they are, too.

And the cycle begins anew: Another arrest, another booking photo, another pink uniform and off to a cell to simmer in regret and despair.

Sarai Keelean is back in for violating probation for possessing meth; she'd been using the drug and also selling it to buy opioids. Locked up for almost three years, she longs for freedom but is terrified, too. "You're afraid that you're going to mess up," she says.

Blanche Ball, who has been using, cooking or selling meth for 15 of her 30 years, has been in jail several times. "I know I could have done something more with my life," she says, but: "Once you're like this for so long, you don't know another way to be."

Her two oldest children are being raised by family, and she doesn't want to see them until she's confident she'll remain in their lives. The two youngest were adopted. "That wound is so bad," she says, "I try to block it out all the time."

In 2015, Campbell County had the third-highest amount of opioids prescribed per person of all U.S. counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amounted to more than five times the national average.

Mayor E.L. Morton blames the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, and two lawsuits against opioid makers are pending on behalf of the county and its 40,000 residents. Meth is also a problem.

"Throw a rock, hit a house, and there's drugs," says Keelean, the 35-year-old inmate.

The county has struggled for decades. Its tobacco farms and once-flourishing coal industry disappeared long ago, wiping out jobs and solid incomes. Some factories remain, but more than 1 in 5 residents are poor. Nowadays, as much as 90 percent of the crime in a five-county district that includes Campbell is connected to drugs, the local prosecutor says.

Tennessee doesn't have enough psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and nurses or residential drug treatment in rural areas — and Campbell County has no such programs, says Mary-Linden Salter, director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services. "It's unrealistic for people to travel 700 miles for treatment because that's where there's an open bed," she adds.

Salter also says drug treatment is often costlier and more complicated for women because many have experienced trauma and abuse as children or adults and may be slower to seek help because they fear losing their children.

"Women are the caregivers of their families," she says. "They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery. It's a horrible choice."

There are roads to recovery here. A drug court, which provides supervision for up to two years, has a 70 percent graduation rate. And a new program just for women, begun last year, takes offenders jailed on misdemeanor drug charges before sentencing and moves them into short- or long-term residential treatment. In both cases, treatment takes them to other counties or out of state.

Krystle Sweat says that when she's paroled, she wants to enter a faith-based recovery program. Her parents, who have raised Robby since he was about 3, have promised to help.

As Robby's visit ends this day, he and his mother blow each other kisses.

"I'm so thankful that he still loves me," she says, returning to her bunk where she keeps a photo of her son. "He's disappointed in me. .... He doesn't say that he is, but I know he is."

AP Photographer David Goldman contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: David Goldman/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Congo's Ebola Risk 'Very High' as Confirmed Virus Cases Rise]]>Fri, 18 May 2018 08:47:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_181375547663241.jpg

Congo's latest Ebola outbreak now has 14 confirmed cases as health officials rush to contain the often deadly virus in a city of more than 1 million. The World Health Organization was holding an experts' meeting Friday to determine whether the epidemic warrants being declared a global health emergency.

WHO now calls the risk to the public in Congo "very high" and the regional risk high, with the global risk low. The Republic of Congo and Central African Republic are nearby.

Vast, impoverished Congo has contained several past Ebola outbreaks but the spread of the hemorrhagic fever to an urban area poses a major challenge. The city of Mbandaka, which has one confirmed Ebola case, is an hour's flight from the capital, Kinshasa, and is located on the Congo River, a busy travel corridor.

"The outbreak is potentially a public health emergency because many of the criteria have been met," said Dr. David Heymann, a former WHO director who has led numerous responses to Ebola.

For a health crisis to constitute a global health emergency it must meet three criteria stipulated by WHO: It must threaten other countries via the international spread of disease, it must be a "serious, unusual or unexpected" situation and it may require immediate international action for containment.

Ebola has twice made it to Congo's capital in the past and was rapidly stopped. Congo has had the most Ebola outbreaks of any country and Heymann said authorities there have considerable expertise in halting the lethal virus.

The latest outbreak tests the new experimental Ebola vaccine, which proved highly effective in the West Africa outbreak a few years ago, although the vaccine was used long after the epidemic had peaked. More than 4,000 doses have arrived in Congo this week, with more on the way, and vaccinations are expected to start next week. One challenge will be keeping the vaccine cold in a region with poor infrastructure and patchy electricity.

Just one Ebola death in the current outbreak has been confirmed so far. Congo's health ministry late Thursday said the total number of cases is 45, including 10 suspected and 21 probable ones.

The health ministry said two new deaths have been tied to the cases, including one in a suburb of Mbandaka. The other was in Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week. It is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Mbandaka.

"This is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak," Dr. Peter Salama, WHO's emergency response chief, warned on Thursday after the first urban case was announced. "Urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do."

Until now, the outbreak had been confined to remote rural areas, where Ebola, which is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected, travels more slowly.

Doctors Without Borders said 514 people believed to have been in contact with infected people were being monitored. WHO said it was deploying about 30 more experts to Mbandaka.

Amid fears of the outbreak spreading to neighboring countries, the U.N. migration agency said Friday it would support the deployment of Congolese health teams to 16 entry points along the nearby border with the Republic of Congo for infection control and prevention.

The U.N. children's agency said it was mobilizing hundreds of community workers to raise awareness on protection against the disease.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mark Naftalin/UNICEF via AP]]>
<![CDATA[It's Safe to Eat Romaine Lettuce Again, CDC Says]]>Thu, 17 May 2018 10:26:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/950400894-Romaine-Lettuce.jpg

Romaine lettuce grown near Yuma, Arizona, is believed to have sickened 172 people in 32 states, killing one person, but it's unlikely to do so any more, NBC News reported.

Any romaine lettuce that's now in stores is very likely not from the Yuma region, meaning it's unlikely to carry the E. coli bacteria linked to the outbreak, according to an update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

More cases may still be reported but the lettuce has a 21-day shelf life and the lettuce's harvest season in Arizona ended in mid-April.

"The most recent illnesses reported to CDC started when romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region was likely still available in stores, restaurants, and in peoples’ homes," according to the CDC update.

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>