Big Pharma at it again.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Amgen Inc. and Johnson & Johnson are paying doctors hundreds of millions of dollars every year in return for prescribing anemia drugs which regulators now say may be unsafe at commonly used doses, the New York Times reported on its Web site on Wednesday.

The payments are legal, the Times said. But it cited critics as saying that the payments give doctors an incentive to prescribe the anemia drugs known as EPO at levels that might increase risks of heart attacks or strokes.

The paper said Amgen and Johnson & Johnson had not disclosed the total amount of payments to doctors, but it cited estimates from industry analysts that such payments total hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Companies cannot pay doctors to prescribe drugs that are given in pill form and purchased from pharmacies, but they can rebate part of the price that doctors pay for medicines that they dispense in their offices, the Times said.

Johnson & Johnson and Amgen could not immediately be reached for comment.

But the Times quoted Johnson & Johnson as saying that its rebates were not intended to induce doctors to use more medicine, and instead “reflect intense competition.”

Amgen told the paper that the rebates were a normal practice and that it had always properly promoted its drugs.

“Amgen is dedicated to patient safety,” the paper quoted a spokesman as saying. “We believe our contracts support appropriate anemia management and our product promotion is always strictly within the label.”

The Times also cited analysts as saying that DaVita, the biggest owner of dialysis clinics in the United States, gets a quarter of its revenue from anemia drugs.

DaVita could not immediately be reached for comment.

The paper quoted David Van Wyck, senior associate to the chief medical officer of DaVita, as saying the company did not overuse the medicines.

Doctors determine how much to use, the Times quoted Van Wyck as saying. “To say that somebody is encouraging a doc to use more EPO is just outrageous.”

Rolling back Bush’s tax cuts will pay for proposals, Obama says.

And there you have it, folks. A vote for Obama will equal less money in your pocket and socialized medicine for your children.

Rolling back Bush’s tax cuts will pay for proposals, Obama says –

Onawa, IOWA — Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama found a way Saturday to campaign face-to-face with a group of political activists in the leadoff caucus state, while at the same time connecting with a national audience.

Obama headlined a political meeting with about 80 western Iowa Democrats that focused on domestic policy issues. The event at the Onawa Public Library also was carried live on the Internet to thousands.

During an hour-long talk, Obama promoted eliminating some of the income tax cuts enacted under President Bush, but resisted characterizing them as a tax increase.

The Illinois senator said that as president, he would roll back income tax cuts for higher incomes to pay for his policy proposals.

However, Obama said health insurance could be provided to people without it, in part by converting medical record-keeping to an electronic rather than paper process.

Other cost-saving measures could provide money to expand health care access, he said during an earlier event Saturday in Council Bluffs. At no time did Obama say during the forum in front of an audience of more than 2,000 at Iowa Western Community College that he would propose raising taxes specifically to pay for increasing access to health care.

But Obama defended as a general principle the idea of reversing income tax cuts enacted during Bush’s first term.

“One of the things I think we are going to have to do is reverse some of those Bush tax cuts that went to the wealthiest Americans … and invest in infrastructure, invest in education, invest in health care for all,” he told the group in Onawa.

Tony Snow Facing Second Cancer Battle

Our best wishes to Tony and his family for a full and speedy recovery. 

Charleston, SC – News – Tony Snow Facing Second Cancer Battle

President Bush’s spokesman, Tony Snow, will be off the job for a while.

The White House announced Tuesday his cancer is back.

Snow beat colon cancer two years ago only to find out after surgery Monday it has spread to his liver.

Tuesday morning President Bush got a call from Tony Snow in the hospital saying the cancer he thought he’d beaten two years ago is back.

President Bush said, “My message to tony is: stay strong. A lot of people love you and care for you and will pray for you.”

Snow’s deputy, now Acting Press Secretary Dana Perino told reporters that despite negative blood tests and pet scans the small growth removed yesterday was cancerous and it’s spread to his liver.

“He told me that he beat this thing before and he intends to beat it again,” said Perino.

Friday, after presidential candidate John Edwards announced his wife Elizabeth’s cancer had returned Snow was optimistic:

“Once you decide that you’re going to embrace life, you become a much better patient,” said Snow.

His treatment will likely include chemotherapy. Doctors say five-year survival rates for patients like Snow are about 40 percent.

Illness on Continental flight prompts CDC inquiry

Illness on Continental flight prompts CDC inquiry | – Houston Chronicle

Ill passengers on Continental flight prompt CDC inquiry

A group of sick passengers aboard a Continental Airlines flight from Hong Kong to Newark today prompted an investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

The passengers, part of a larger group of 80 on Continental Flight 98, ultimately were cleared by health officials to enter the country, agency spokesman Curtis Allen said.

Houston-based Continental said in a prepared statement that the crew noticed that several passengers appeared ill during the flight, which is why U.S. health authorities were notified.

The symptoms were consistent with seasonal influenza, Allen said. Some were already ill when they boarded the flight but more became sick in flight, he said.

The group that included the sick passengers was from Montreal, Quebec, and was headed back there after a river cruise in Asia, Continental said.

A total of 272 passengers were on the flight, which arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport about 2 p.m. Monday.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, originated in Asia in 2002 and was spread, in part, by airline passengers. Thousands of people were affected and hundreds of deaths were reported before the outbreak abated.

Psychiatric Meds Eyed After Girl’s Death, 4-Year-Old’s Fatal Overdose Raises Questions About Psychiatric Prescriptions For Kids – CBS News

Psychiatric Meds Eyed After Girl’s Death, 4-Year-Old’s Fatal Overdose Raises Questions About Psychiatric Prescriptions For Kids – CBS News

(AP) In the final months of Rebecca Riley’s life, a school nurse said the little girl was so weak she was like a “floppy doll.”

The preschool principal had to help Rebecca off the bus because the 4-year-old was shaking so badly, and a pharmacist complained that Rebecca’s mother kept coming up with excuses for why her daughter needed more and more medication.

None of their concerns was enough to save Rebecca.

Rebecca — who had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity and bipolar disorder — died Dec. 13 of an overdose of prescribed drugs. Her parents have been arrested on murder charges, accused of intentionally overmedicating their daughter to keep her quiet and out of their hair.

Interviews and a review of court documents by The Associated Press make it clear that many of those who were supposed to protect Rebecca — teachers, social workers, other professionals — suspected something was wrong but never went quite far enough.

But the tragic case is more than a story about one child. It raises troubling, larger questions about the state of child psychiatry, namely: Can children as young as Rebecca be accurately diagnosed with mental illnesses? Are rambunctious youngsters being medicated for their parents’ convenience? And should children so young be prescribed powerful psychotropic drugs meant for adults?

Dispensing drugs to children diagnosed with mood or behavior problems is “the easiest thing to do, but it’s not always the best thing to do,” said Dr. Jon McClellan, medical director of the Child Study and Treatment Center in Lakewood, Wash. “At some level, I would hope that you’d also be teaching kids ways to control their behavior.”

According to the medical examiner, Rebecca died of a combination of Clonidine, a blood pressure medication Rebecca had been prescribed for ADHD; Depakote, an anti-seizure and mood-stabilizing drug prescribed for the little girl’s bipolar disorder; a cough suppressant and an antihistamine. The amount of Clonidine alone in Rebecca’s system was enough to be fatal, the medical examiner said.

The two brand-name prescription drugs are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in adults only, though doctors can legally prescribe them to youngsters, and do so frequently.

Rebecca’s parents, Michael and Carolyn Riley, say they were only following doctor’s orders. Rebecca, they told police, had been diagnosed when she was just 2½, and Rebecca’s psychiatrist prescribed the same potent drugs that had been prescribed for her older brother and sister when she diagnosed them with the same illnesses several years earlier.

But Rebecca’s teachers, the school nurse and her therapist all told police they never saw behavior in Rebecca that fit her diagnoses, such as aggression, sharp mood swings or hyperactivity.

Prosecutors say the Rileys intentionally tried to quiet their daughter with high doses of Clonidine. Relatives told police the Rileys called Clonidine the “happy medicine” and the “sleep medicine.”

Through their attorneys, Michael Riley, 34, and Carolyn Riley, 32, have accused Rebecca’s psychiatrist, Dr. Kayoko Kifuji, of over-prescribing medication.

Passengers Quarantined Over Smallpox Fear, Flight Detained After Man Claimed He Had Deadly Disease Which Was Eradicated A Quarter Century Ago – CBS News

Passengers Quarantined Over Smallpox Fear, Flight Detained After Man Claimed He Had Deadly Disease Which Was Eradicated A Quarter Century Ago – CBS News

(CBS/AP) Authorities quarantined an arriving US Airways flight for several hours Friday at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport after a passenger claimed he had smallpox, an airline spokesman said.

Health officials quarantined the Airbus A319 carrying 112 passengers and four crew members coming in from New Orleans, US Airways spokesman Morgan Durrant said.

Durrant said he could not confirm a TV report that the passenger was intoxicated.

Scott White, a spokesman at Carolinas Medical Center, said the man does not have the disease, which was eradicated in 1980.

“There’s no evidence of smallpox,” said Rick Christenbury, spokesman for Mecklenburg County Health Department.

One passenger told CBS affiliate WBTV correspondent Tom Roussey that an announcement on board the plane said, “‘Sit down, there’s an emergency security threat.’ And I fly all the time, that’s the first time I heard that, so it was pretty scary.”

Passengers said communication was not very good but the flight crew kept passengers calm, though the extended delay caused many to miss connecting flights.

The plane landed around 3:30 p.m. and was cleared around 7 p.m., when officials confirmed the threat was false.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police spokeswoman Julie Hill said no decision had been made on whether to charge the man, whose condition was still being evaluated Friday night. She said the matter may be up to federal authorities.
© MMVII, CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Major Food Stamp Scam Uncovered by Feds

Move along people. Nothing to see here. Let’s keep focusing on the funding to keep our troops safe. We don’t have time to worry about the rampant fraud, waste and abuse within our entitlement infrastructure. The welfare state is slow bleeding us to death. But it’s not politically expedient to criticize your core voting blocks.

Major Food Stamp Scam Uncovered by Feds

by Jim Kouri – PUERTO RICO — Thirty-one individuals linked to a $30 million food stamp fraud scheme were arrested here this morning following the culmination of a four-year undercover investigation headed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The investigation revealed that several grocery stores and food markets engaged in a fraudulent scheme to provide beneficiaries of the Puerto Rico Nutritional Assistance Program (PRNAP) with cash in lieu of groceries for a fee. The accused business owners would register false grocery sales for the amount requested by the participants and charged them a fee of 25 percent of the requested cash.

Those arrested today included business owners, employees and food program beneficiaries. All conspired to defraud the U.S. government. It is estimated that this scheme cost the U.S. government $30 million.

The PRNAP receives a grant of approximately $1.5 billion per year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service to provide nutritional assistance to low-income families in Puerto Rico.

“We will continue working with our law enforcement partners to shut down schemes like this where criminals profit at the expense of federal assistance programs designed to help those in need,” said Manuel Oyola Torrres, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Puerto Rico. “Those who defraud the federal government will be caught and will be prosecuted.”

The investigation succeeded thanks to the cooperative efforts of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division (IRSCID) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

American Mother, Daughter Hospitalized in Moscow for Thallium Poisoning – Report: American Mother, Daughter Hospitalized in Moscow for Thallium Poisoning – International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News

MOSCOW — Two American women were hospitalized for treatment of thallium poisoning, the Interfax news agency said Tuesday, citing the Russian consumer watchdog agency Rospotrebnadzor.

The women became ill Feb. 24 and were being treated at Moscow’s Sklifosovsky clinic, the city’s top emergency medicine hospital, the report said.

Russian media reports said the women — identified as Maria Kovalensky and her daughter, Yana — had come to Moscow for a relative’s wedding and were staying in a Moscow hotel when they became ill.

Rospotrebnadzor’s Moscow office reported that the women were in “moderately serious” condition, Interfax said.

Rospotrebnadzor declined to comment to The Associated Press. The city health department also declined to comment, referring questions to the U.S. Embassy.

An embassy spokeswoman, speaking on the usual condition of not being further identified, said “consular officials are in close contact with the family and we are assisting them.” She did not provide further details.

Thallium is colorless, odorless and deadly in doses as small as 0.04 ounces. It was initially suspected to be the toxin used in last year’s fatal poisoning in London of former Russian security agent Alexander Litvinenko, but it was later determined he had ingested the rare radioactive isotope polonium-210.

DoD responds to Walter Reed Issues.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2007 – The Defense Department is working to address patient-care problems recently identified at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the department’s flagship medical facility, a DoD spokesman said today.
Wounded servicemembers at Walter Reed still receive the best medical care available, but they do face some administrative and personnel problems that need to be fixed, Bryan Whitman told reporters. “Taking care of our wounded servicemembers is about taking care of the entire person, and taking care of the entire person is making sure that their administrative needs are taken care of, that when they’re outpatients that their housing needs are taken care of, and there are some shortcomings there,” Whitman said.

A recent Washington Post series of articles detailed housing problems, a lack of assistance and bureaucratic frustrations for Walter Reed outpatients, who live in buildings on post or in nearby houses, apartments and hotels while continuing treatment or awaiting decisions about their duty status.

The Army has known about these issues for some time and has been working on them, Whitman said, but DoD leaders have just been made aware of them. Top leaders, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, are discussing the issues and how best to address them, he said.

“The department takes these issues very seriously; they’re being looked into,” Whitman said. “Our servicemembers that are wounded deserve the kind of holistic care that goes beyond just the medical treatment that they receive in our facilities, which is unquestionably outstanding.”

WP: Battling system at Walter Reed

The deplorable conditions at Walter Reed are a national disgrace…. 

WP: Battling system at Walter Reed – Highlights –
WASHINGTON – Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan’s room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.