Drug Safety, Tainted Food Among Year's Top Health Stories

By E.J. Mundell
HealthDay Reporter
Monday, December 31, 2007; 12:00 AM

MONDAY, Dec. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Widely used drugs with questionable side effects, and major recalls of foods consumed by Americans and their pets --both of those stories, plus a significant stem cell breakthrough, made the headlines in 2007.

Here are some of the year's notable health stories:

Some Popular Drugs Lose Their Luster

After a number of studies suggested that the diabetes drug Avandia might boost users' odds for heart attack, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November slapped its strongest "black box" warning on the drug's labeling, outlining the risk.

A month earlier, a special FDA advisory panel urged a ban on over-the-counter cold medicines for children younger than 6. The panel found that there was no scientific evidence the remedies actually work in kids, and that, in rare cases, the drugs might even cause harm.

Also this fall, the FDA added black-box heart-risk warnings to blockbuster anemia drugs such as Procrit, Epogen and Aranesp. The agency found little evidence to back up drug makers' claims that the medicines can ease the fatigue of cancer patients and other users.

Earlier in the year, a Dutch study revealed no health benefit from the use of torcetrapib, a once-promising experimental drug that boosts levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. The drug's maker, Pfizer Inc., had already pulled the plug on its torcetrapib trial in 2006, following similar results.

The Vioxx saga, which began when the prescription painkiller was pulled from the market due to heart risks in 2004, may have reached a financial close this year, with maker Merck & Co. announcing a $5 billion payout to claimants who said they had been hurt by the drug.

Record Numbers of Uninsured

A U.S. Census Bureau report found that 47 million Americans went without health insurance in 2006, compared to 44.8 million the year before -- a 0.5 percent rise and the biggest number of U.S. uninsured ever. Almost one in five children living below the poverty line now has no health insurance, the August report found.

In December, another report, this time from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), estimated that about 20 percent of Americans either can't afford or can't access health care. And a Consumer Reports survey released last summer found half of those surveyed admitting that they were financially "unprepared" for a medical emergency -- including 43 percent of people with some form of insurance.

Hidden Dangers in Food, Toys

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