Thursday, April 30, 2009

Snoop Dogg Denies Hitting Fan

Rapper Snoop Dogg (real name Calvin Broadus) testified this week that he did not hit Richard Monroe Jr. with a brass-knuckle microphone during a melee at one of his 2005 concerts near Seattle. Monroe, who testified "that he woke up backstage, naked and in a pool of blood after the altercation," said he was "responding to what he thought was a call for audience members to join the performers on stage." He sued in 2006, "claiming he was seriously injured after Broadus and members of his entourage and security detail struck him and poured alcohol on him during a performance of the hit 'Gin and Juice.'" Read more.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Phillies Player Sues Supplement Maker

The Washington Post reports, "Suspended Philadelphia Phillies reliever J.C. Romero filed suit against a nutritional supplement manufacturer alleging an unlisted ingredient in one of its products caused him to test positive for a substance banned by Major League Baseball." The complaint "accuses Ergopharm and Proviant Technologies as being negligent in manufacturing 6-OXO and 6-OXO Extreme, the nutritional supplements he took, and for misrepresenting their ingredients."

Former FDA Official Calls Peanut Corp. the "Poster Child" for Flawed System

The CBS Early Show revisited the peanut-borne salmonella outbreak earlier this year thought to have contributed to nine deaths and hundreds of illnesses nationwide. Former FDA assistant commissioner William Hubbard appeared on-camera, saying that the outbreak, ultimately linked to the Peanut Corporation of America, "is a poster child for the many flaws in our food safety system." Hubbard says that the agency in the 1970s "had the manpower to inspect every American food plant every-other year. Now, he says, the FDA budget only enables such inspections every 10 years." Hubbard "wants new laws forcing producers to admit to their problems." The story is also posted on the CBS News (4/27) website, which also recaps a USA Today Live on the "Early Show" Monday, in which USA Today Live Managing Editor Laura Ashburn called the nation's food safety system "severely broken." Ashburn added that "third-party independent inspectors... give ratings of superior or excellent when the producers are not."

School Violence Numbers from the CDC

According to the CDC, "violent deaths at schools accounted for less than one percent of the homicides and suicides among children ages 5-18." This finding is based on fatal injuries including homicides, suicides, or legal interventions that occur on school property, on the way to/from school, or during or on the way to/from a school-sponsored event (only violent deaths associated with U.S. elementary and secondary schools are included). Other findings were that "during the past seven years, 116 students were killed in 109 separate incidents-an average of 16.5 student homicides each year" and that "rates of school-associated student homicides decreased between 1992 and 2006." Also, "from 1999 to 2006, most school-associated homicides included gunshot wounds (65%), stabbing or cutting (27%), and beatings (12%). Among the students who committed a school-associated homicide, 20% were known to have been victims of bullying and 12% were known to have expressed suicidal thoughts or to have engaged in suicidal behavior."

While I think it is misleading to lump suicides and homicides together, the numbers still illustrate the relative rarity of school violence, despite the disproportionate media coverage of such events.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

State Pursuing Disciplinary Charges Against Stamford Doctor

The Courant reports that Dr. Efraim Gomez-Zapata, of Stamford, who has held himself out as "a pioneer in laser liposuction in the Hispanic community" and offered surgeries at discount prices, has been ordered to stop operating his surgical center. "Twice in two years, patients had to be rushed to the hospital after suffering complications from procedures Gomez-Zapata may not have been qualified to perform, state health officials allege in disciplinary records. ... And although Gomez-Zapata had a valid medical license, he didn't have the license necessary to operate a surgical facility. Nor did he have the appropriate staff, equipment, office setup and hospital privileges required in case something went wrong during surgery, state health officials allege." The DPH is pursuing disciplinary charges against him, "accusing him of lacking the proper qualifications to administer anesthesia or perform procedures such as liposuction, scar revision and tummy tucks. He's also accused of failing to obtain appropriate consent from patients, not keeping proper records and operating a surgical facility without the necessary state licensing or licensed staff." Read more.

Friday, April 24, 2009

WSJ Criticizes McConnell's Appointment to RI District Court

The Wall Street Journal writes:

"U.S. Senators recommend people for the federal bench all the time. So when trial attorney Jack McConnell was tapped last week for a seat on the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island by Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, the announcement received much less scrutiny than it deserves.

Mr. McConnell is a partner in the Providence office of Motley Rice, the giant plaintiffs firm that was hired by the state in 1999 to sue companies that legally manufactured lead paint decades ago. The person who hired Mr. McConnell to bring the suit on a contingency-fee basis is Mr. Whitehouse, who at the time was serving as Rhode Island's Attorney General.

Mr. McConnell also happens to be the state Democratic Party treasurer and a major political donor. In the 2000 election cycle, Motley Rice, which is based in South Carolina, was Rhode Island's largest political contributor, donating more than $500,000 to federal campaigns alone. Mr. McConnell and his wife have also personally donated thousands of dollars to the campaigns of Messrs. Whitehouse and Reed in the past decade.

Mr. McConnell and his firm helped pioneer the practice of soliciting public officials to bring lawsuits in which the private lawyers are paid a percentage of any judgment or settlement. The law firms front the costs of litigation and are compensated if the suit is successful. But such contingency-fee arrangements inevitably raise questions of pay to play. And private lawyers with state power and a financial stake in the outcome of a case can't be counted on to act in the interest of justice alone.

It happens that the Rhode Island lead paint suits ultimately failed. Last July, after nine years of litigation, the state Supreme Court threw out the jury verdict against the companies. But it looks as though Senator Whitehouse has found another way to pay Mr. McConnell for his services."

While the Journal points out some interesting facts, I take issue with the idea that lawyers hired on a contingent fee basis aren't capable of acting in the interests of "justice alone." All lawyers are supposed to act in their clients' interests (including public sector lawyers). The suggestion that lawyers on a contingency fee can't be trusted is rather offensive.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Employee of 50 Cent Sued for Assault

The Day reports that "A 23-year-old Naugatuck woman has sued a member of rapper 50 Cent's entourage, alleging she was beaten inside the star's Farmington mansion. Shana Chin says she was hit with a belt and choked by Dwayne McKenzie, a 27-year-old employee of 50 Cent, last May after a party. She says the encounter left her face, thigh and back bruised. McKenzie was arrested shortly after the incident. Chin's lawyer says McKenzie was allowed into a violence education program that could result in the criminal charges being dropped. The civil lawsuit, filed in Waterbury Superior Court this month, seeks unspecified damages."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Group Says CPSC Recalls Ineffective

From the Chicago Tribune:"Government-issued recalls of children's products aren't effective enough in getting dangerous items out of their hands, according to a new report." The report was issued by "Kids In Danger, a Chicago-based non-profit children's product-safety advocacy group." It reviewed the effectiveness of the CPSC's "oversight of companies that have been ordered to take their products off the market." Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids In Danger, said, "What we've found is if a product is recalled, it remains in a consumer's home regardless of the publicity around a recall." But "Joe Martyak, a spokesman for the CPSC, said the agency's recall process is effective" and "that the reports are not a complete measure of how well a recall has worked because in many cases a consumer may toss an item rather than make a claim with a company."
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports that Nancy Cowles "also urged the commission to quickly develop a database so consumers can directly report product failures and injuries, making the information immediately public."

Malpractice Caps Don't Save Consumers Money

In his column in the Dallas Morning News, Jim Landers writes, "Capping malpractice damages is a health care reform idea that has swirled around Washington for years. But would it make health care less expensive? The evidence doesn't show it." He says that according to a study by a team at the University of Alabama, "Tort reforms have not led to health care cost savings for consumers."

Some Kids Addicted to Video Games

Nearly one in 10 children and teens who play video games show behavioral signs that may indicate addiction, according to a new study published in the May issue of the journal Psychological Science. The study, based on a 2007 Harris poll of 1,179 U.S. youngsters, is the first nationally representative poll on the subject. It found "8.5% of those who played had at least six of 11 addictive symptoms, including skipping chores and homework for video games, poor test or homework performance and playing games to escape problems." Read more.

Retained Objects Rare But Serious

Following up on a story yesterday about Hartford Hospital's probation and the patient who had a 13-inch medical instrument left in his body after gallbladder surgery, the Courant reports that a study published last year in the Annals of Surgery, which looked at 153,263 surgeries, "estimated that sponges, needles or surgical instruments are left in a patient's body one time in 7,000 surgeries, a rate of 0.014 percent. The study found that discrepancies in the final count of items — one cause of leaving objects in patients — increased with longer surgeries, late procedures and changes in personnel during the operation. Another study, published in 2003 in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the risk of retained objects increased significantly in emergencies, surgeries during which unplanned changes occurred and in patients with higher body mass indexes." DPH records show that in Connecticut, hospitals reported 65 cases of leaving "retained objects" in patients during the four-year period from mid-2004 to mid-2008. Read more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

WSJ Critical of Obama's Decision to Let ABA Rate Judges

The Wall Street Journal editorializes, "President Obama announced recently that he will restore the American Bar Association to pre-eminence in federal judicial vetting -- a privilege it lost under President Bush." The Journal adds, "According to the study by Richard Vining of the University of Georgia, Amy Steigerwalt of Georgia State University and Susan Smelcer at Emory University, the more conservative a nominee, the less likely he or she will receive a high ABA rating." Also, according to the Journal, "the ABA long ago became ideologically partisan, though it likes to hold on to the pretense of fairness and 'merit.'" Concluding, the paper says, "Mr. Obama's decision is a major victory for the lawyers guild, which draws prestige as the arbiter of qualifications for the career capstone of a judgeship. It's also hard to imagine the group doesn't feel a debt of gratitude to the President whose nominations it will now review."

Projo Calls on Obama to Fix FDA

The Providence Journal editorialized, "One important task before President Obama is shoring up the Food and Drug Administration." The Journal said that the "FDA seems to have acquired a certain disdain for its own rules, to say nothing of its intended role" and added that "last year, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association laid out how corrupt research practices had helped lead to vigorous sales of the painkiller Vioxx." Concluding, the paper said, "President Obama must reverse these sorry developments. Dr. Margaret Hamburg, his choice to head the FDA, must, if confirmed, be a fierce protector of scientific integrity as well as greater transparency, ensuring that doctors' ties to commerce are disclosed."

Hartford Hospital Still on Probation

The Courant reports that "Hartford Hospital, which was placed on a one-year probation last February, remains on probation, and a state official said a new end date has not been determined. Earlier this year, state regulators identified a number of new health care violations at the hospital. Some of the newly reported violations occurred before the hospital implemented policy changes or staff training programs to address problems that gave rise to the initial probation." Other problems s occurred more recently, such as the January 2009 incident in which "a 13-inch medical instrument was left inside a patient after surgery. The patient returned to the hospital two days after being sent home, complaining of sharp abdominal and back pain, and had to have another surgery to remove the instrument." Read more.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ninth Circuit Holds 14th Amendment Incorporates the 2nd

In a decision released today, the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held in Nordyke v. King, No. 07-15763, that the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment incorporates the 2nd Amendment and applies it against the states and local governments:

We therefore conclude that the right to keep and bear arms is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” Colonial revolutionaries, the Founders, and a host of commentators and lawmakers living during the first one hundred years of the Republic all insisted on the fundamental nature of the right. It has long been regarded as the “true palladium of liberty.” Colonists relied on it to assert and to win their independence, and the victorious Union sought to prevent a recalcitrant South from abridging it less than a century later. The crucial role this deeply rooted right has played in our birth and history compels us to recognize that it is indeed fundamental, that it is necessary to the Anglo-American conception of ordered liberty that we have inherited. We are therefore persuaded that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment and applies it against the states and local governments.

Judge Gould's concurring opinion is even more strongly worded:

I concur in Judge O’Scannlain’s opinion but write to elaborate my view of the policies underlying the selective incorporation decision. First, as Judge O’Scannlain has aptly explained, the rights secured by the Second Amendment are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,” and “necessary to the Anglo-American regime of ordered liberty.” The salient policies underlying the protection of the right to bear arms are of inestimable importance. The right to bear arms is a bulwark against external invasion. We should not be overconfident that oceans on our east and west coasts alone can preserve security. We recently saw in the case of the terrorist attack on Mumbai that terrorists may enter a country covertly by ocean routes, landing in small craft and then assembling to wreak havoc. That we have a lawfully armed populace adds a measure of security for all of us and makes it less likely that a band of terrorists could make headway in an attack on any community before more professional forces arrived. Second, the right to bear arms is a protection against the possibility that even our own government could degenerate into tyranny, and though this may seem unlikely, this possibility should be guarded against with individual diligence. Third, while the Second Amendment thus stands as a protection against both external threat and internal tyranny, the recognition of the individual’s right in the Second Amendment, and its incorporation by the Due Process Clause against the states, is not inconsistent with the reasonable regulation of weaponry. All weapons are not arms” within the meaning of the Second Amendment, so, for example, no individual could sensibly argue that the Second Amendment gives them a right to have nuclear weapons or chemical weapons in their home for self-defense. Also, important governmental interests will justify reasonable regulation of rifles and handguns, and the problem for our courts will be to define, in the context of particular regulation by the states and municipalities, what is reasonable and permissible and what is unreasonable and offensive to the Second Amendment.

Administration's Landmark Decision on Carbon Dioxide

The Wall Street Journal reported on its front page, "The Obama administration declared Friday that carbon dioxide and five other industrial emissions threaten the planet. The landmark decision lays the groundwork for federal efforts to cap carbon emissions -- at a potential cost of billions of dollars to businesses and government." The EPA's "finding that emissions endanger 'the health and welfare of current and future generations'" may "touch every corner of Americans' lives, from the types of cars they drive to the homes they build."

Do Drugmakers Contribute to Water Pollution?

The AP reports, "U.S. manufacturers, including major drugmakers, have legally released at least 271 million pounds of pharmaceuticals into waterways that often provide drinking water -- contamination the federal government has consistently overlooked, according to an Associated Press investigation." In its "ongoing PharmaWater investigation about trace concentrations of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, AP identified 22 compounds that show up on two lists: the EPA monitors them as industrial chemicals that are released into rivers, lakes and other bodies of water under federal pollution laws, while the Food and Drug Administration classifies them as active pharmaceutical ingredients." The new "data don't show precisely how much of the 271 million pounds comes from drugmakers versus other manufacturers; also, the figure is a massive undercount because of the limited federal government tracking." However, "some researchers say the lack of required testing amounts to a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy about whether drugmakers are contributing to water pollution."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

AAJ Analysis Rejects "Fleeing Doctors" Myth

The American Association for Justice (AAJ) reports in its April 2009 issue of Trial magazine that its analysis of AMA data rejects the myth that doctors flock to states with "tort reform" measures in place. "The AMA statistics show that the number of doctors continues to rise nationwide and in every state. There are now twice as many doctors per capita than when the AMA began tracking physician numbers in the 1960s."

The AAJ reports that the "number of doctors has risen over the last five years in all states. Only in Alaska, Georgia, Montana, and Utah--all with medical malpractice damages caps--did the increase in doctors lag behind population growth." This nationwide growth includes medical specialities; the numbers of neursurgeons, ob-gyns, and emergency room doctors all increased over the last five years. "The analysis also found that the number of physicians per capita was 13% higher in states without caps" on damages. This finding is consistent with research from the Commonwealth Fund and the American College of Emergency Physicians, which found "health care quality and patient safety are far worse in states that have eliminated accountability by enacting tort 'reform' measures."

Friday, April 17, 2009

Industry Opposes Legislation Allowing Patients to Sue Medical Device Makers

CQ HealthBeat reports that, according to the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), "legislation easing lawsuits for patients injured by advanced medical devices would significantly curtail innovation." AdvaMed president and CEO Stephen Ubl said that "patients could lose access to the most promising medical technology." The legislation comes "in response to a February 2008 Supreme Court decision that said FDA approval of" devices "that require the filing...of a 'PMA,' or premarket approval application," preempts "certain state lawsuits for injuries." The ruling was "condemned" by "key congressional Democrats" who argued that it "strips consumers of the rights they've had for decades." Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) claims that "consumers should be able to seek compensation for injuries, medical expenses, or lost wages resulting from injuries caused by defective PMA devices or inadequate safety warnings." But, Ubl contends that the legislation, however, "would create a patchwork of 50 different and potentially conflicting state laws related to PMA devices."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Under Pressure From FDA, Independent Review Board Suspends Study Reviews

The New York Times reports that under pressure from the FDA, Coast Independent Review Board of Colorado Springs "got a dose of reality" when it "agreed to temporarily suspend approving federally regulated medical studies or enrolling new patients in ones currently under way." The move may affect about 300 active studies involving human patients that Coast currently oversees on behalf of makers of drugs or medical devices. In the previous month, "Coast first embarrassed itself, then became a Congressional whipping boy" after "undercover federal investigators prepared plans for a sham medical study involving a make-believe surgical product" and non-existent doctors. Coast approved the study."

The Wall Street Journal reported "The FDA on Tuesday sent the company a formal warning letter about violations of IRB guidelines. The FDA described it as the largest shutdown of IRBs in the agency's history." According to Leslie Ball, director of scientific-investigations compliance in the FDA's drug division, "the agency asked Coast to stop some aspects of its reviews 'due to serious concerns the FDA has about Coast's ability to protect human subjects.'" A statement by Coast said "it is cooperating fully with the FDA and is undertaking sweeping overhauls 'to ensure maximum protection for human subjects.' It said it plans to put in place a new board chair and new board members."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Teen Driver Safety Info from the CDC

The CDC notes that "motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens" and that in 2006, "3,490 young people ages 15 to 20 -- an average of more than nine a day-- died in motor vehicle crashes, and another 272,000 were injured." Learn more about teen driver safety.

IIHS: Minicars Don't Fare Well Against Larger Autos

The New York Times reported that an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report found that "consumers who buy minicars to economize on fuel are making a big tradeoff when it comes to safety in collisions." The "crash dummies in all three models tested - the Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris and the Smart Fortwo - fared poorly in the collisions. By contrast, the midsize models into which they crashed fared well or acceptably."

The Wall Street Journal reports, "Many drivers are likely to be surprised by the damage done to smaller cars by midsize family vehicles like the Toyota Camry." According to the insurance group, "the poor results for small cars reflect basic physical principles concerning size and weight," in that larger cars "tend to absorb more crash energy and therefore transfer less to their passengers."

USA Today reports that IIHS "usually crashes cars into stationary barriers at 40 miles per hour." However, "barrier tests, in effect, show how a car holds up crashing into one like itself... . These tests show colliding with a larger car at the same effective speed as the barrier test." The three cars "got its top rating of 'good' in barrier tests," but their rating was "poor" in the new tests.

The Detroit News says, "Smart USA, Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. all issued statements questioning the validity of the IIHS test. Toyota said of 6 million crashes in a year, just 2,600 had a closing speed of 80 mph or higher, a claim IIHS disputed." According to Smart USA President Dave Schembri, the IIHS test simulated a crash that was 'rare and extreme'." Similarly, "Honda said in a statement that the test represented 'unusual and extreme conditions'."

Monday, April 13, 2009

USA Today Calls for Public Education re ADHD

USA Today editorializes, "Look around a school lunchroom these days and odds are that one out of every 20 boys (and one in 43 girls) will have been diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder," and "more than half of those boys will be on Ritalin (Methylphenidate), Concerta (methylphenidate) or Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine)." But, "the trouble is that the drugs' effectiveness might dissipate after 14 months of use, and they might be harmful, according to the latest results from the government's leading, multiyear study of 579 children." These findings "ought to lead parents, educators, doctors and mental-health professionals to take a much more cautious approach to the drugs." Teachers, in particular, "have been the most likely group -- more than parents or doctors -- to refer a child for an AD/HD diagnosis," and "drugs are the usual consequence." USA Today concludes, "Public education is now needed so that both teachers and parents are better equipped to weigh the drugs' short-term benefits against AD/HD treatments with better long-term results."

Use of Atypical Antipsychotics for Kids More Widespread

The Los Angeles Times reports that although "children are most likely to suffer severe weight gain and metabolic disturbances" from a "new generation of antipsychotic medication" called atypical antipsychotics, "the use of these drugs to treat children has seen steady, steep growth." To date, "only risperidone (marketed as Risperdal) has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use by children diagnosed with schizophrenia," so "virtually all of that prescribing has been off-label." But, "in November, an expert panel advising the FDA on pediatric drug safety sounded the klaxon over the rising use of atypical antipsychotics among kids, and faulted the FDA for failing to issue warnings strong enough to stem the tide." Now, "as the drugs have become more widely prescribed...many physicians have become increasingly alarmed."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Study: Pot-Smoking Men Likely to be in Crashes

A study by Canadian researchers recently published in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention found marijuana use and reckless driving are interconnected. The study, involving 83 men, aged 17 to 49, found that 35% of the participants had been involved in one or more road crashes with material damage in the previous three years. Also, 30% admitted to using marijuana, and 80% of those said they drove under the influence of marijuana at least once in the previous year. "We observed that dangerous driving behaviors are interrelated. Individuals scoring high on impulsivity or sensation-seeking scales demonstrated an elevated risk of driving under the influence of cannabis," study senior author Jacques Bergeron, a professor in the department of psychology at the Universite de Montreal, said. Article here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Psychiatrist Not Liable to Patient's Victims

"After a 19-year-old Orange County man killed two neighbors in 2005, the victim's survivors sued the murderer's psychiatrist, accusing him of causing the rampage by giving his client an unstable mix of antidepressants. A trial court judge said the case could proceed." However, "on Thursday, Santa Ana's Fourth District Court of Appeal ordered summary judgment for the doctor, saying that the patient had a pre-existing mental disorder that 'necessitated' treatment." Read more.

Insurers Revenues Down; Premiums, Denials Likely to Increase

Bloomberg News reports: "U.S. property and casualty insurers posted the biggest sales decline in half a century last year as corporations and individuals scaled back purchases, an industry group said today." Now, "investment losses and slim profits have prompted carriers around the world to demand higher rates on some lines of business coverage, Brian Duperreault, chief executive officer of Marsh & McLennan Cos., the second-biggest insurance broker, said in a February interview." As a result, "insurance buyers should prepare to confront rising premiums and tighter claims-paying policies as carriers seek to rebuild their finances, the American Association for Justice, a lawyers group, said today in a statement." Ray De Lorenzi, a spokesman for the AAJ, said, "The insurance industry is being put on notice... Any attempt to use this economic crisis to unfairly raise premiums or systematically deny just claims will not go unnoticed."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Victoria's Secret Sued Over Bras

The AP reports that "Women in several states claim Victoria's Secret bras gave them rashes and other skin problems, and a group of lawyers sought Wednesday to consolidate their cases against the lingerie chain." Presently, "federal lawsuits filed in Louisiana, Florida, New Jersey and New York accuse Victoria's Secret and its parent company, Limited Brands Inc., of negligently designing undergarments and misrepresenting the safety of their products." Attorneys for the plaintiffs say they "suspect formaldehyde resins in the bras are responsible for the alleged ailments."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Harold Koh: Citizen of the World has "Transnationalist" Views

So much for the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Harold Koh, a former dean of Yale Law School, has been nominated by President Obama to be the State Department's legal adviser. An advocate of what he calls "transnational legal process", Koh argues that there should be no difference between U.S. and international law. Koh believes laws of foreign countries should carry equal weight with the laws of our 50 states, and that it is "appropriate for the Supreme Court to construe our Constitution in the light of foreign and international law" in its decisions. Koh describes the Supreme Court as divided between "nationalist" judges who look to American law when construing the Constitution and "transnationalists" who believe Americans should be viewed as "citizens of the world." Read more.

Gallup Says Support for Gun Control Fading

Gallup reveals that in polling conducted before last week's gun massacre at an immigrant center in Binghamton, N.Y., "only 29% of Americans said the possession of handguns by private citizens should be banned in the United States. While similar to the 30% recorded in 2007, the latest reading is the smallest percentage favoring a handgun ban since Gallup first polled on this nearly 50 years ago." Also, Gallup notes "the October Crime survey found just under half of Americans, 49%, wanting the laws covering the sale of firearms to be made stricter than they are now. This is the lowest percentage favoring stricter gun laws in Gallup trends since the question was first asked in 1990. While only 8% say gun laws should be made less strict, 41% say they should remain as they are now." Read more.

Will Mandating "Quality Care" Do More Harm Than Good?

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband, staff members of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, write that "an analysis of [the] drive for better healthcare reveals a fundamental flaw in how quality is defined and metrics applied." They argue that "in too many cases, the quality measures have been hastily adopted, only to be proven wrong and even potentially dangerous to patients." In the past, "quality improvement initiatives focused on patient safety and public-health measures," but now, "government and private insurance regulators" have "turned clinical guidelines for complex diseases into iron-clad rules." Groopman and Hartzband argue that "too often quality metrics coerce doctors into rigid and ill-advised procedures," citing "recent examples" that "show why rigid and punitive rules to broadly standardize care for all patients often break down." They conclude that "we need a national time-out in the rush to mandate what policy makers term quality care to prevent doing more harm than good."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Males Twice as Likely as Females to Die in Motor Vehicle Incidents

A report by the CDC indicates that during 1999-2005, while annual age-adjusted motor vehicle-related death rates overall were nearly unchanged (range: 15.2-15.7 per 100,000 population), substantial differences were observed by state, U.S. Census region, sex, race, and age group. For example, during 1999-2005, the average annual death rate for males in the United States was more than twice the rate for females.

Not Much Consumers Can Do to Protect Against Contaminated Food

David Acheson, the FDA's associate commissioner for food safety, concedes there is not much the average consumer can do to protect themselves and their families from dangerous food products. "Obviously, when you buy a product that's in a bag, like peanuts or pistachios, you take it on good faith that the company has done due diligence," Acheson says. "With something like raw chicken, you know you have to cook it thoroughly. But there is nothing a consumer can do about a product that's in a package." More by Jennifer Huget of the Washington Post.

Lawyer, Owner of Biodiesel Company Accused of Defrauding Gov't

From the AP: William Tacker II and H. Max Speight, "former owner and president of a Mississippi biodiesel manufacturing company and an imprisoned lawyer, are accused of defrauding the U.S. Department of Agriculture out of $2.8 million by filing false claims for more than two years." The pair "allegedly conspired to file false documents in order to receive subsidy money offered to bioenergy producers of both biodiesel and ethanol."

Did Donations Lead to FDA Approval of Medical Device?

The Wall Street Journal reports that according to campaign donation records, executives of ReGen Biologics Inc, a "small medical-device company, donated $50,000 in the 2008 election campaign to New Jersey Democrats who went to bat for the company's knee implant at the Food and Drug Administration." The three executives "began the donations in the fall of 2007, about a month after the FDA's second rejection of the medical device. The three together made only two other political donations totaling $6,000 this decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog group." Recipients included Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ). "Rep. Pallone is chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the FDA." Afterwards, the legislators "began pressing then-FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to become involved in the ReGen case. ... Three of the lawmakers sent Dr. von Eschenbach a letter, and Sen. Menendez called the commissioner." The device was approved, but "is under investigation in the Senate Finance Committee."

No Recourse for Widow of Man Who Donated Body to University, Which Lost the Body

The Los Angeles Times reports, "The widow of a man who donated his body to UC Irvine -- which lost track of it -- failed Monday in her 10-year-fight to hold the university accountable." The California Supreme Court unanimously "held that family members have little say in what happens to a loved one's body if the donor signed an agreement with the receiving institution and the institution complied with it." The court said, "State law 'does not impose a duty on UCI to conduct its teaching and research in such a way as to safeguard the sensibilities of the surviving family members.'"

Military Studies Brain Injuries from Blasts

USA Today reports that "Military scientists are learning how roadside bombs — the most common weapon used against U.S. troops in the field — harm the brain even when there is no other physical damage, according to research results released by the project's lead scientist. They discovered a sliding scale of injury ranging from brain cell inflammation to cell damage or cell death depending on the power of the blast, says Army Col. Geoffrey Ling, a neurologist at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. ... Scientists also found that brain damage from an improvised explosive device (IED) can be made worse for those riding inside an armored Humvee because materials in the vehicle magnify the blast wave effect, Ling says. Up to 360,000 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have suffered brain injuries, the Pentagon announced last month. Many of those injuries are from IED blasts, and about 90% are so-called mild cases where recovery is expected. An estimated 45,000 to 90,000 victims, however, suffer persistent symptoms such as memory loss, lack of balance and problem-solving difficulties."

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sperm Bank May be Sued for Product Liability

A federal judge in New York has ruled in Donovan v. Idant Laboratories that a sperm bank may be sued for product liability. "The product defect in this case would be a genetic defect in the sperm itself. The 23-page opinion in the diversity case allows for a trial on the question of liability for selling for a defect known as “Fragile X” that caused mental retardation in a 13-year-old girl. Read more.

Kraft Began Investigating Salmonella Source in '07

The AP reported that "Kraft Foods Inc., the company whose testing led to the nationwide pistachio recall, said Friday it first heard there was salmonella in its trail mix in late 2007, but could not trace the possible source to tainted nuts from California until two weeks ago." A Kraft spokeswoman said it took "thousands of tests" to pinpoint the source of the contaminated nuts. "Dr. David Acheson, FDA's assistant commissioner for food safety, said Kraft first told the administration about the problems last week." On Friday, "the FDA sent out a letter to the pistachio industry reminding nut processors to follow good manufacturing practices to protect consumers, something food safety experts called welcome guidance." Dr. Acheson said, "If they find problems in a product prior to shipment, they'll pull it back and destroy it. ... I wouldn't call that a good manufacturing practice, but that is clearly a good public health practice."

Bill to Extend Statute of Limitations in Sex Abuse Cases Dies

The Hartford Courant reports that State legislators "have effectively killed a proposal to extend the statute of limitations for civil actions in certain child sex abuse cases, a setback for the effort to allow dozens of victims of Dr. George Reardon to seek damages even though they are too old to sue under state law." Read more.

Friday, April 3, 2009

What Will it Take to Prompt Food Reform?

From the Washington Post: "Despite four outbreaks of salmonella illness from peanut products in the past three years, the federal government has not changed the safety measures required of peanut companies or instructed its inspectors to test for the bacteria." The lack of reform persisted "even after Congress and President Obama sharply criticized the FDA for oversight failures," and after the FDA "discovered about 20 additional facilities that have been making peanut products without the knowledge of federal regulators." Currently, the Post reports, there are "about half a dozen food safety reform bills...pending on Capitol Hill."

Evenflo Expands its Recall

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports: "Evenflo is expanding its recall of high chairs, sold as long as seven years ago, after receiving hundreds of reports of the products' seatbacks coming loose or parts falling off, in some cases injuring infants." The company added 90,000 more units, spanning 20 model numbers, to its December recall of 95,000 Majestic High Chairs, according to the CPSC. Also, Evenflo now includes "an additional 643,000 Envision High Chairs in the recall, with 18 models affected."

Zoll Medical Says Some AEDs Are Defective

Bloomberg News reports that "Zoll Medical Corp. said some of its AED Plus external defibrillators, used in public settings such as airports, have defective batteries and software, leading to failures to deliver a shock and two patient deaths." According to the company, it "began on Feb. 12 asking customers to download new software for 180,000 units that will help detect a potential defective battery." Zoll said that approximately "80,000 units that have been installed for at least three years are at the highest risk." Zoll's senior vice president of marketing said that "the AED Plus devices are located in health clubs, airports, schools and other public places, and used by emergency medical services personnel."

House Votes to Give FDA Power Over Tobacco

The House has passed what is being called a landmark bill that would, for the first time, give the federal government sweeping authority over tobacco. Under the measure, the FDA would have the power to limit the nicotine in cigarettes, to regulate ads and to require warnings to appear in larger print. The measure now goes to the Senate.

USA Today calls the vote a "historic move" that may give "the Food and Drug Administration broad new powers to regulate tobacco, the nation's number one cause of preventable death. Medical associations celebrated the 298-112 vote as a victory for public health, noting that tobacco kills more than 400,000 Americans a year."

The Wall Street Journal noted "the bill doesn't give the FDA power to ban existing tobacco products but gives the agency power to restrict sales on safety grounds. The FDA also would be able to stop companies from touting their brands as 'low tar' and 'mild' and restrict advertising to plain black-and-white ads. Health advocates say advertising restrictions are a key tool to keeping tobacco products away from children and young adults."

Bridgestone Motorcycle Tire Recall

Bridgestone Americas Tire Operation (BATO) is recalling certain Bridgestone Exedra G850 G motorcycle tires, size 180/70R16 77H, sold as original equipment for model year 2008 and 2009 Triumph Rocket III Touring motorcycles. The motorcycle to which these tires are applied develops very high torque and can cause torque-induced degradation in a body ply which may result in innerliner cracking that may lead to a slow leak in the rear tire. This condition does not affect the front tire. The affected tires may begin to vibrate at moderate speeds. Continued use of a tire with this condition could lead to a vehicle crash. BATO is working with Triumph to notify owners and the defective tires will be replaced free of charge. In addition, the front tire will be replaced free of charge due to the matching requirements of the motorcycle. The safety recall is expected to begin during April 2009. Owners may contact BATO toll-free at 1-800-465-1904.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Huge Toll From Drowsy Driving

Drowsy driving is a factor in more than 100,000 crashes, resulting in 1,550 deaths and 40,000 injuries annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But Darrel Drobnich of the National Sleep Foundation says the numbers are much higher: 71,000 injuries and more than 5,500 deaths a year. "It's a huge problem that's largely gone unreported because we don't have good, hard police data," he says. Read more.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Yamaha Recalls Rhino Models After 46 Deaths

The AP reports that "Yamaha Motor Corp. USA recalled about 120,000 off-highway recreational vehicles for repairs Tuesday, after two models were involved in 46 deaths." The company has recalled "all Rhino 450 and 660 model vehicles...for repairs designed to prevent accidents that resulted in 46 deaths and hundreds of injuries." Most of the "incidents were rollovers", many of which involved "turns on level ground at relatively slow speeds."

Too Much Malpractice, Not Too Much Litigation

Canadian Medical Association Journal reported, "After years of warnings from former United States president George Bush that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits were driving doctors out of practice and inflating the cost of US health care, the weight of evidence now points to preventable errors - not misguided lawsuits - as the real source of the concerns." Tom Baker, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the "real 'not too much litigation, but too much malpractice.'" He said, "The political debate has begun to refocus, a reflection that the real malpractice problem concerns the number of injured patients who don't receive compensation...."

CPSC Opposed Ban on Phthalates

NPR reports that according to government scientists, a new federal ban on phthalates, the chemical compounds used in toys such as rubber duckies, is unnecessary. "Congress passed the ban in 2008 after concluding that the chemicals posed a risk to children who chew on their toys.
The action came despite advice not to enact the ban from scientists at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates toys. The CPSC opposed the ban after 25 years of studies concluding there was no risk of injury to children.

State Must Focus on Technology to Improve Truck Safety

This is absurd: the Hartford Courant reports that "A more than decade-long rivalry between DMV inspectors and state troopers — who share weigh-station operation — has kept the focus, year after year, on personnel rather than on ways to inspect more trucks more quickly. State Se. Donald DeFronzo, co-chairman of the transportation committee, says "The focus tends to be on personnel; there's not enough discussion of adding technology — which we know could eliminate, to a significant degree, the backup of trucks that occurs every time the Greenwich station is open. Technology has to be a major part of the focus."

Heroin Widespread in Norwich

Teen members of the Greater Norwich Anti-Bullying Coalition told members of the city council that heroin "is cheap and easy to find on the streets of Norwich, and city and school officials are largely unaware of it." One of the teens told the city officials the they are "equally concerned that teenagers are becoming over-medicated with pharmaceuticals for behavioral disorders, creating a culture of drug use." Tammy Lanier, a local probation officer, noted that such addiction is not limited to teens, and that "adult professionals in the community have turned to heroin after they could no longer obtain the prescribed drugs." Read more.