Health Buzz: Serious Drug Reactions and Other Health News

Managing kids' food allergies, Medicaid spending, suicide in women.


Serious Medication Reactions, Deaths Set Record

The Food and Drug Administration received a record-setting number of reports of serious drug reactions and deaths during the first three months of this year, the Associated Press reports. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices did an analysis of federal data and found that there were nearly 21,000 serious drug reactions reported to the FDA, which included more than 4,800 deaths. The blood thinner heparin and the antismoking medication Chantix accounted for many of the reports. Health officials think that a tainted supply of heparin may have been deliberately contaminated with oversulfated chondroitin sulfate.

Earlier this year, U.S. News listed four ways to avoid dangerous drug errors and, following the death of actor Heath Ledger from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs, offered several medication safety tips. Last year, Nancy Shute reported that shoddy and fraudulent pharmaceutical products are a growing threat.

Managing Kids' Food Allergies

The number of children diagnosed with food allergies has gone up 18 percent in the past 10 years, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Four percent of kids now have food allergies, or about 3 million children. Food allergies land children in the hospital about 9,500 times a year, Nancy Shute reports. Perhaps as many as 150 people die each year from food-induced anaphylaxis, most of them teenagers and young adults. The only way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid the food, which can be difficult.

In 2006, U.S. News's Adam Voiland described hope for a new food allergy treatment or cure.

Medicaid Spending Expected to Outpace Economy Growth

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently released a report predicting that spending on Medicaid benefits will "substantially outpace" the growth of the U.S. economy during the next 10 years. Spending on Medicaid benefits will increase at a 7.9 percent annual average over the next 10 years, reaching approximately $674 billion by 2017. In comparison, the expected rate of growth for the U.S. economy is 4.8 percent.

"This report should serve as an urgent reminder that the current path of Medicaid spending is unsustainable for both federal and state governments. We must act quickly to keep state Medicaid programs fiscally sound," said U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt in a prepared statement. "If nothing is done to rein in these costs, access to healthcare for the nation's most vulnerable citizens could be threatened."

U.S. News's Sarah Baldauf wrote a primer on the Medicaid rulebook two years ago. In January, Kenneth Terrell reported that schools faced a cut in Medicaid funding.

Some Thoughts on Suicide in Middle-Aged White Women

What makes white, middle-aged women more prone to suicide? Full-blown depression or anxiety may factor in, Deborah Kotz reports. This could become more prevalent in menopause, especially now that many women shun hormone replacement therapy to combat hot flashes and mood swings. Women in their 40s and beyond are also more vulnerable to economic hardships and are still the primary caregivers for the young and old. Women are also more likely to be overweight, which Seattle researchers recently linked to depression in middle-aged women. "Some women may experience disappointment in seeing that they can't have it all—perfect marriage, job, kids," says Ellyn Kaschak, a professor of psychology at San Jose State University.

In September, U.S. News's Nancy Shute explained Congress's action on a long-stalled mental health parity law.

—January W. Payne