Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
GlaxoSmithKline agreed this week to plead guilty to health care fraud and other charges. The drug maker will pay a record $3 billion fine. U.S. regulators this week approved the first quick at-home test for HIV. A new report shows that deaths from overdoses of methadone have fallen. And research released this week suggests that the last few weeks of pregnancy are important for learning. Reading and math problems were more frequent for those born at 37 weeks than those born at 41 weeks.
This Issue: Glaxo to Pay Record $3 Billion for Fraud U.S. Approves Quick Home HIV Test CDC: Methadone Overdose Deaths Falling Study: More Learning Issues in Early-Full-Term Kids
In the News:
Glaxo to Pay Record $3 Billion for Fraud
GlaxoSmithKline agreed this week to pay the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history. Fines will total $3 billion, the U.S. Justice Department said. Specific charges include promoting drugs for unapproved uses. Glaxo also will plead guilty to not reporting data on safety problems with the diabetes drug Avandia. The company will admit that it overcharged Medicaid. It also will admit paying kickbacks to some doctors who prescribed Glaxo drugs. The penalty includes a $1 billion criminal fine and forfeiture. Another $2 billion will go toward resolving civil claims. Glaxo agreed to 5 years of government oversight to ensure that it obeys rules in the future. The Associated Press wrote about the settlement.
U.S. Approves Quick Home HIV Test
U.S. regulators this week approved the first HIV test that requires no doctor visit or lab work. The OraQuick test can be done at home. It can be bought without a prescription in drug stores. It detects HIV in saliva. Results are ready in 20 to 40 minutes. Unlike previous home tests, this one does not need to be sent to a lab. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the test. Officials said it was aimed at people who might not otherwise get tested. OraQuick has been sold to doctors for a decade. When used in medical offices, it has been 99% accurate. But tests on home use showed that it can miss up to 1 out of 12 people infected with HIV. The "false positive" rate – indicating HIV in someone who does not have it -- was less than 1%. The OraQuick test is made by Orasure Technologies. The Associated Press wrote about it.
CDC: Methadone Overdose Deaths Falling
The number of overdose deaths from the painkiller methadone appears to have peaked, U.S. health officials said this week. But it still accounts for 30% of all painkiller overdose deaths. This happens even though only 2% of painkiller prescriptions are for methadone, officials said. The numbers are from 2009, the most recent available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the report. The CDC said most people who died from methadone overdose had been taking it for pain. Methadone is best known as a treatment for heroin addiction. But it has been used more often for pain in recent years. Some doctors have chosen it because of growing problems with abuse of oxycodone. Some believed methadone was safer. The low cost of methadone has also increased its use. The CDC said there were fewer than 800 methadone-related deaths in 1999. That rose to more than 5,500 in 2007. Then they fell to 4,900 and 4,700 in the next two years. The CDC attributed the drop to more warnings about the risks of methadone and restrictions on its use. The Associated Press wrote about the report.
Study: More Learning Issues in Early-Full-Term Kids
Just a couple of weeks more in the womb can make a difference even for full-term babies, a new study suggests. The study found that children born at 37 and 38 weeks of pregnancy had a higher risk of learning problems than those born at 41 weeks. Birth between 37 to 41 weeks is considered to be full-term. The new study included 128,000 New York City schoolchildren. Among children born at 37 weeks, 2.3% had severe reading problems, compared with 1.8% of those born at 41 weeks. For math, 1.1% of 37-week babies went on to have at least moderate problems. That compares with 0.9% for the children born at 41 weeks. The actual numbers of children with learning problems were small. But the increase in risk for severe reading problems in third grade was 33% for children born at 37 weeks. The increased risk for math problems was 19%. The journal Pediatrics published the study online this week. The Associated Press wrote about it.
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