Health Buzz: Drug Safety List and Other Health News

Food irradiation, the cost of drug samples, and a cancer telethon.

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FDA Posts List of Drugs Being Investigated for Safety Issues

The Food and Drug Administration posted a list of 20 drugs to its website Friday that are being evaluated for potential safety issues. The agency plans to post a quarterly list—in compliance with a requirement of the Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act, which was signed into law in September 2007—of medications being investigated for such problems. Despite the agency's concerns, patients shouldn't stop taking medications on the list without first talking to their doctors, the FDA advises. Among the drugs included on the list are Oxycontin (concerns: potential misuse, abuse, and overdose), tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers (cancers in young adults and children), Cymbalta (urinary retention), and Heparin (anaphylactic-type reactions).

Previously, U.S. News reported that Americans are confused about the FDA and drug safety.

Irradiation and Your Food

The FDA's approval late last month of pathogen-zapping irradiation technology for fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce has reignited a long-simmering debate about how to improve the safety of food. The news comes as the latest food safety scare—the salmonella outbreak probably caused by hot peppers—winds down after infecting 1,442 people across 43 states and killing two. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that foodborne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths each year in the United States.

U.S. News's Adam Voiland asked food safety experts whether, given the less than spotless state of the nation's food supply, bombarding a product with radiation to kill microorganisms such as E. coli and salmonella is a good thing.

Free Drug Samples May Lead to Higher Costs for Uninsured

A new study finds that free drug samples may end up costing uninsured patients more money in the long run, Michelle Andrews reports. Drug company sales representatives distribute samples of the latest brand-name drugs to doctors' offices in the hope that physicians will start prescribing them. The study, published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal, examined what happened after a 70-physician practice in Illinois relocated and no longer had closet space to store pharmaceutical reps' drug samples. Researchers found that, lacking easy access to brand-name samples, doctors switched gears. The percentage of generics prescribed to uninsured patients in four drug classes rose from 12 percent to 30 percent of the total. At the new office, physicians were three times more likely to prescribe generic drugs to their uninsured patients.

In May, U.S. News offered advice on how to save money on your prescriptions.

Telethon Raises Money for Cancer Research

The "Stand Up to Cancer" live telethon, broadcast on ABC, CBS, NBC, and the E! Entertainment channel, pushed donations for the effort past the $100 million mark, including all money raised since the cancer initiative was launched in May. The donations will be used to fund research into battling cancer, organizers said. Friday's telethon included about 100 stars from TV, film, sports, and music, including Jennifer Aniston, Keanu Reeves, and Halle Berry, and featured videotaped appearances by presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama, the Associated Press reports.

Last week, U.S. News's Katherine Hobson explained what you need to know about mapping the cancer genome. Earlier, she listed 125 cancer "cures" that the FDA calls fake.

—January W. Payne