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Friday, Apr 18th

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WHO: Air pollution kills 7 million prematurely worldwide annually

air pollutionIn 2012, about 7 million people died worldwide as a result of air pollution exposure -- making air pollution the world’s largest single environmental health risk, World Health Organization officials in Geneva say.

Dr. Flavia Bustreo, assistant director-general of WHO's Family, Women and Children’s Health, says the new estimates are not only based on more knowledge about the diseases caused by air pollution, but also a better assessment of human exposure to air pollutants using improved technology.

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ER use of narcotic painkillers up almost 50 percent: Study

oxycontinMore and more Americans are being prescribed powerful narcotic drugs when they visit the emergency department for problems such as low back pain or a pounding headache, a new study finds.

Between 2001 and 2010, emergency departments in the United States showed a 49 percent increase in prescriptions for narcotic painkillers -- also known as opiates. That was despite the fact that there was only a small increase in the percentage of visits for painful conditions.

Experts said the trend is concerning because narcotic painkillers -- which include drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin -- can be addictive, or abused by people with existing drug problems. And while the drugs may be necessary for more-severe pain, ER doctors see many patients who can stick with over-the-counter pain relievers.

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FDA agrees to let patients get controversial drug

Stanislaw BurzynskiThe Food and Drug Administration has agreed to allow a handful of cancer patients to receive unapproved drugs from a controversial Texas doctor, but only if they can find another physician to administer them.

The drugs are made by Houston doctor Stanislaw Burzynski, who was the subject of a USA TODAY investigation last year. While his supporters consider him a medical maverick, mainstream doctors describe him as a snake-oil salesman. Burzynski has claimed for more than 36 years to be able to cure certain hard-to-treat brain tumors with drugs he calls antineoplastons. The National Cancer Institute notes that Burzynski has never published definitive evidence that his drugs cure cancer or even help people live longer.

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Colorado Fracking Health Study Opposed by Oil and Gas Interests

Colorado driling studyA Colorado proposal to commission a new study about the health effects of drilling on the Front Range sparked strong emotions Thursday in its first legislative hearing.

The House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee declined to vote Thursday but heard hours of testimony on the proposal. The bill would order the state Health Department to study "health and quality of life effects" of drilling in Adams, Boulder, Larimer and Weld counties.

"This is the sort of thing that government should get involved with," said Irene Fortune, a Loveland chemist who urged lawmakers to spend money on another study about the health effects of oil and gas production.

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Gilead Sciences' $84,000 price for hepatitis drug is scrutinized

SovaldiU.S. lawmakers have asked Gilead Sciences Inc. to justify the price of its new $84,000 drug for hepatitis C patients amid growing concern about the high cost to taxpayers and consumers.

In a letter to the Foster City, Calif., company, Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., and two other Democratic lawmakers asked Gilead Chief Executive John C. Martin to explain the rationale for selling Sovaldi for $1,000 per pill.

Medical experts say previous therapies for hepatitis C helped only about half of patients and had numerous side effects, such as flu-like symptoms, anemia and depression. In comparison, clinical trials of Sovaldi have shown cure rates approaching 90 percent with far fewer complications.

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Why Is the Future of Birth Control In the Hands of the Supreme Court?

Birth Control in hands of SCThe Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court partially upheld in 2012 when it issued one of the most important decisions in decades, has spawned more litigation—topped by two consolidated cases that could become the justices’ biggest ruling on religious liberty in years.

The oral arguments regarding the law’s contraception coverage mandate, slated for March 25, will be a rematch between two lawyers who squared off in the first health law challenge—Obama administration Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. and former Bush administration Solicitor General Paul Clement.

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Bill restricting Medicaid expansion in Georgia passes

Nathan DealLawmakers in Georgia would get the final say on whether to expand a government health insurance program for the poor under a bill passed Tuesday, making it even less likely the state will join an overhaul sought by President Obama.

The election-year legislation came up for a vote in the General Assembly during a busy, second-to-last day of the legislative session. Legislators are in a mad rush to pass their bills because any legislation that does not win approval by the final day Thursday automatically fails.

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