Thursday, January 31, 2008

Coroner warns against flu drug overdose

From the Ottawa Citizen:
A Quebec coroner is warning consumers against the dangers of over-the-counter flu medication after a man died last year of an accidental overdose.

In a report tabled Tuesday coroner Andree Kronstrom said that Quebec City resident Yvan Houle died after taking more than the recommended quantity of guaifenesin, dextromethorphan, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. The first one is an expectorant found in cough syrup and the others are decongestants usually found in caplets to cure the flu.

Kronstrom said that 250 mg of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were found in Houle's blood after his death. A caplet usually contains 125 mg of ephedrine for 12 hours relief.

"We don't know what he took exactly and in what quantity, but the combination of those products is what killed him," Kronstrom explained. ...more

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

N.B. to offer HPV vaccination to girls

From CBC News:
New Brunswick will offer a school-based vaccination program to protect girls from the human papillomavirus, beginning in the 2008-2009 academic year.

Health Minister Mike Murphy announced in Saint John on Tuesday that the vaccination, which is meant to serve as protection from cervical cancer, will be part of the province's yet-to-be-released health plan.

"A comprehensive provincial cervical cancer prevention and screening strategy has the potential to drastically reduce this form of cancer in the province," Murphy said.

HPV is among the most common sexually transmitted infections in Canada with estimates suggesting about 75 per cent of women will have at least one HPV infection in their lifetime. ...more

Health Canada reviewing safety of Botox

From CTV News:
Health Canada says it's reviewing safety information about the popular wrinkle treatment Botox and a similar product, Myobloc, following reports out of the United States about side effects and deaths.

The U.S. consumer advocacy group Public Citizen is asking the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require Allergan Inc. to write to doctors warning them that their product Botox and other botulinum toxins marketed in the United States have resulted in "hospitalizations and deaths."

It also wants the FDA to order that Botox and Solstice Neurosciences Inc's Myobloc carry the strongest possible warning, highlighted in a "black box."

Public Citizen said it has reviewed 180 reports submitted to the FDA by manufacturers since the late 1990s involving patients injected with Botox or Myobloc. The reports detailed cases of muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing or aspiration pneumonia -- a serious condition caused by breathing a foreign material into the lungs. ...more

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Drug research unaffected by controversial controls on B.C. drug costs

From the Canadian Press:
B.C.'s cost controls on prescription drugs haven't affected the health of medical research investment in this province.

A University of British Columbia study finds the BC PharmaCare policy of refusing to pay for name-brand drugs when generic drugs offer equal results has had no effect on research investment.

The study, by the UBC Centre for Health Services and Policy Research, reveals pharmaceutical research and development has increased from $16 million in 1994 to $50 million in 2005. ...more

Monday, January 28, 2008

Advocates urge tobacco ban in B.C. drug stores

From the Vancouver Sun:
B.C. is one of the last three provinces in Canada allowing cigarettes and other deadly tobacco products to be sold in pharmacies.

Anti-tobacco advocates argue that sends a conflicting message to people - especially youths - who go to drug stores for health products and counselling.

The issue will be discussed at a meeting Tuesday between B.C. Health Minister George Abbott and the B.C. and Yukon branch of the Canadian Cancer Society. ...more

Surprising rise in drug resistance in seasonal flu viruses worries experts

From the Canadian Press:
Influenza experts admitted Monday they have been startled by the discovery this season of an unexpectedly high number of human flu viruses that appear to be naturally resistant to Tamiflu, the drug that countries around the world are stockpiling for use in the next flu pandemic.

The viruses have been isolated from people infected with influenza A viruses of the H1N1 subtype in a number of European countries.

Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg has reported finding one such virus, in a child believed to have caught the flu abroad, and is speeding up testing to see if there are more.

The World Health Organization is convening a virtual meeting of experts Tuesday to try to get a handle on how far afield the resistant virus has been found, how common it is and what the findings signify. ...more

Drive-throughs lead to errors, pharmacists say

From the Columbus (OH) Dispatch:
A drive-through window at your neighborhood drugstore can make picking up medications easier, but some pharmacists say the setup can lead to errors.

In a national survey, an Ohio State University researcher found that a number of pharmacists think the extra steps it takes to serve customers at drive-through windows can cause dispensing errors, miscommunication among staff members and delays in filling prescriptions.

With all the tasks being performed at drugstores -- filling prescriptions, checking insurance coverage, calling doctors' offices and answering patients' questions -- pharmacists say drive-through windows add another chance for errors.

"Maybe for banking and fast-food restaurants a drive-through is great, but I think in your health care, it shouldn't be through a window while you're sitting in a car," said Sheryl Szeinbach, an OSU pharmacy professor and the study's lead author. ...more

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Drug firms fear abortion pill backlash: MD

From the Toronto Star:
Why is mifepristone, the preferred abortion drug, not available in Canada?

Vancouver physician Ellen Wiebe, who provides medical abortions using less-satisfactory methotrexate, conducted studies with mifepristone more than 10 years ago.

She says, "No drug company has ever applied" to sell it here. The reason is "complex but it's partly because Health Canada is extremely discouraging. We're missing a lot – great contraceptives and other good drugs Europeans and Americans have – because we're not a large market and because fees for registration are very high: $250,000 upfront before anything else happens. That is a barrier."

Also, says Wiebe, major drug companies aren't interested because of the abortion backlash and possible boycotts. Smaller companies "find out what's involved and say, `Not yet, not for us.'" ...more

Painkiller use stokes death fears

While I agree that work needs to be done to prevent prescription narcotic abuse, I really hope this won't be at the expense of those who genuinely need these medications. I've seen people with abuse problems, but I've also seen a lot of patients who had poorly managed pain control.

From the National Post:
When it comes to consuming prescription opioids, Canadians are world leaders, taking twice as many of the powerful, addictive narcotics as Europeans and 20 times as many as the Japanese.

With some experts afraid the trend could also be exacting a rising death toll, Health Canada is moving to find out how many people succumb to fatal overdoses from the drugs, usually after the pills have ended up on the black market. Evidence from the United States -- one of only two countries that ingest more opioids such as Oxycontin and fentanyl than Canada -- suggests the numbers could be soaring.

Health Canada is hiring outside researchers to come up with a system for tracking the deaths. The results should help decide whether Canadian doctors' propensity for handing out the medicines is justified or not, said one of the addiction scientists commissioned to do the work.

"Part of the assessment of the pluses and minuses is that you have to know how many people die of this," said Dr. Jurgen Rehm, a drug policy expert at Ontario's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. "No matter what opinion you have on the burning drug questions of the day, you need those data…. It's irrational not to have them."

One pain specialist, though, warns against using overdose statistics to curb legitimate use of the drugs since, if anything, they are not prescribed widely enough now for Canadians with genuine pain problems. Painkiller use stokes death fears

Friday, January 25, 2008

A dangerous cocktail

From the Globe and Mail:
The sudden death of 28-year-old actor Heath Ledger, whose body was found Tuesday with sleeping pills nearby, has highlighted the dangers surrounding a drug class prescribed to millions of Canadians each year: sedatives.

An autopsy was inconclusive and more tests are needed to determine how the Australian-born former Oscar nominee died in his SoHo apartment, the New York medical examiner's office said yesterday.

But police reports that sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications were found in the apartment - combined with a recent interview in which Mr. Ledger said he was using Ambien, a brand of sedative - suggest prescription drugs may have played a role.

While sleeping pills used alone are "reasonably safe," mixing those pills with other sedatives is a dangerous cocktail, said Jack Uetrecht, who holds a Canada Research Chair in immunotoxicology and whose research looks at adverse drug reactions. ...more

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cold meds offer little or no relief

From the Globe and Mail:
Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines have recently come under fire as risky - even potentially fatal - for children under the age of 2. Now, a review of existing research suggests there is little evidence that these medications even work for either children or adults.

"It's an important issue in relation to family medicine," says review co-author Thomas Fahey, a professor of general practice at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland medical school. "Lots of people come to their doctor, either with a cough themselves or more often with their child. And they often resort to taking over-the-counter remedies."

With a dearth of large-scale, definitive studies on the subject, Dr. Fahey and his team examined the most current research available. They looked at 17 studies involving a total of 2,876 adults and eight studies involving 616 children conducted in the United States, Britain, Europe, India, South Africa and Thailand. The studies compared various remedies, such as cough syrups, antihistamines and decongestants, with placebos. ...more

Teamsters open pharmacy

From the Mississauga (Ont.) News:
You won’t find greeting cards, pureed baby food or your favourite hair colouring kit at this pharmacy.

But what the 12,000-strong membership of Teamsters Union 938 will have access to are the common, everyday prescription drugs that many Canadians require in their daily lives.

And a visit to the Sav-Rx Members Pharmacy located right on the premises of the union’s Mississauga headquarters on Matheson Ave. means that if you forgot your wallet at home, it won’t matter. That’s because this new entity — the first of its kind in Canada — features no dispensing and administration fees. In fact, no upfront costs whatsoever.

“The added benefit that members are not required to first pay the pharmacy for their order and later submit their claims for reimbursement make this a win-win situation for everyone involved,” said union president Larry McDonald. ...more

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

B.C. arthritis drug access rated low

From the Vancouver Sun:
B.C. ranks toward the bottom of the heap when it comes to providing Pharmacare drug coverage to those with crippling forms of arthritis, an advocacy group for patients said Monday.

The group initially gave the province an F, but upgraded that to a D when it learned the government announced last month it would cover one of the drugs, Humira, for psoriatic arthritis.

The report by Arthritis Consumer Experts initially ranked B.C. with Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island. But with the upgrade, B.C. abruptly moved up to join Yukon in a still-less-than-stellar category near the bottom of all provinces. Quebec had the highest grade -- B-plus -- followed by Ontario with a B. ...more

Family of woman who died of overdose wants MD accountability

From CBC News:
The family of a Calgary woman who died of a toxic combination of prescription drugs wants physicians to be more vigilant in prescribing medication.

Jodie Bruketa, 28, died in January 2004 from an overdose of the painkiller Percocet — which contains a powerful narcotic called oxycodone — and Zopiclone, a sleeping pill. The amount of oxycodone in her blood was about five times the amount expected in someone taking a regular prescription.

Bruketa, who worked as a marketing assistant, was prescribed hundreds of pills in the two months before her death, primarily from one doctor. In total, she visited five different physicians in less than a year. ...more

Monday, January 21, 2008

Drug Makers Make Name Games Big Business

From Forbes:
Prozac. Viagra. Lipitor.

The names of these incredibly popular medicines don't have defined meanings. But millions of dollars are spent creating just the right sound and image.

Research shows letters with a hard edge like P, T or K convey effectiveness. X seems scientific. L, R or S provide a calming or relaxing feel. Z means speed.

Earlier this month, Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. came up with Effient as the name for its new heart drug. "I would call that a fairly bold name because Effient seems to be just a letter or two off from efficient," said Anthony Shore, global director of naming and writing at Landor Associates.

Drug companies often delve into a weird science that ties symbolism to letters or prefixes when they hunt for the next hot brand name. In the case of Prozac, the first syllable makes the speaker pucker up and push out a burst of air, which grabs attention and implies effectiveness, said Jim Singer, who is president of the branding firm Namebase and helped Lilly name the antidepressant. ...more

Canada's health-care system compares poorly with Europe

From the Edmonton Journal:
...In pharmaceuticals, Canada performs poorly. While the top-ranked health-care states in Europe provide public funding for over 90 per cent of all spending on drugs, we publicly finance just 38 per cent of prescription costs, giving us a failing grade for this indicator. However, price is not the only obstacle to accessible pharmaceuticals for Canadians. Most provinces lack a publicly available formulary that explains in layman's terms what drugs are covered and under what circumstances. While access to new cancer-fighting drugs is about average compared to Europe, new drugs in general are available in Canada for over a year before they are eligible for public funding. One approach to improving access and outcomes might be to lower the ceiling for drug subsidies and promptly include effective new drugs in the formulary. ...more

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Pharmacists slammed for tobacco sales

From Vancouver 24 Hours:
The Canadian Cancer Society again condemned cigarette sales in B.C. pharmacies yesterday slamming health professionals who choose profit over their client's wellbeing.

"Pharmacists who prescribe products to make you feel better should not be able to sell cigarettes which, when used as directed, kill," said society spokesperson Kathryn Seely.

In Alberta, legislators passed a bill banning tobacco sales in pharmacies, including big-box stores with a drug dispensary.

The B.C. Pharmacy Association demands proof Alberta's plan to strip pharmacists' ability to sell tobacco, starting in 2009, reduces smoking rates.

For now, "It's a business decision that's being made as to what products are going to be carried elsewhere outside of the dispensary," said BCPA CEO Marnie Mitchell. ...more

Friday, January 18, 2008

School Kids Take Home M & M's In Rx Pill Bottles

This isn't a Canadian story, but I thought it contained some good common sense advice for pharmacists in any country.

From the Knoxville (KY) News Sentinel:
"Take as needed for Yummies in the Tummies," read labels on prescription pill bottles handed out to a Williamsburg Elementary School class.

Dan Powell was seriously concerned about what when on in his daughter's kindergarten class.

"My wife picked her up off the bus and the first thing she said was, 'Look Mommy, I've got some medicine," Powell said.

The class received the bottles after a day in which the careers of parents were discussed.

One student spoke about having a mother who is a pharmacist.

After the presentation, the teacher allowed the bottles to be given out as parting gifts.

"I think we're sending mixed messages for a kindergartner, any kid for that matter, might think take the lid off any pill bottle – it's just M&M's inside," said Powell.

Williamsburg's superintendent, Jeff Weir, found out after another parent called. ...more

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Antidepressants don't work as well as reported, study says

From the Globe and Mail:
Antidepressants are far less effective than doctors have been led to believe, a new study has found.

That's because 88 per cent of clinical trials that showed the drugs didn't work either weren't published in medical journals or were presented as positive findings, says the study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It provides the first hard data on a practice known as selective reporting, in which the good news about a drug is made public but the bad news isn't. Ethicists say it gives doctors and patients too rosy a picture. Clinicians rely on the medical literature to learn about new drugs and to help them assess whether it is worth prescribing a medication, given the risk of side effects.

The researchers examined the studies that drug companies submitted to the Food and Drug Administration in the United States when they were seeking regulatory approval for 12 antidepressants. The drugs were all approved between 1981 and 2004, and are now widely prescribed. (Canada has its own drug approvals process, which relies on essentially the same information drug companies give the FDA.) ...more

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Study suggests those taking osteoporosis drugs risk painful bone condition

From the Canadian Press:
Millions of women around the world who take a certain class of osteoporosis drugs may be at higher risk of a painful and disfiguring condition, Canadian researchers warn in a new study.

The study released Tuesday found the popular class of osteoporosis drugs almost tripled the risk of developing bone necrosis.

The study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Montreal's McGill University is the largest of its kind into the connection between the disease and specific brands of bisphosphonates sold under the names Didrocal, Actonel and Fosamax.

The warning follows a recent alert from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about bisphosphonates and the higher possibility of severe and sometimes incapacitating bone, joint and muscle pain in patients taking the drugs.

"I think the study's important just basically to let the public know if they do experience any severe, unusual pain they could tell their health professional," said Dr. Mahyar Etminan, the principle investigator from the University of British Columbia. ...more

Ontario gives pharmaceutical companies $150 million for jobs, research

From the Canadian Press:
Ontario must invest taxpayer dollars in the research and development efforts of big drug companies if it hopes to keep good-paying jobs in the province, Research and Innovation Minister John Wilkinson said Wednesday as he announced a $150-million fund for pharmaceutical firms.

The New Democrats criticized the Liberal government for giving $150 million to one of the most profitable industries in the world, but Wilkinson said Ontario wants to make sure research that leads to a new drug also results in new manufacturing jobs for the province.

"There's a race for global jobs, and our intention is to make sure that we win that race," Wilkinson said after announcing the fund at a Toronto research centre.

"It's very important for us that we partner with industry to make sure that global mandate is secured right here in Ontario, whether it's making cars or it's investments in the bio-pharmaceutical industry."

The fund for pharmaceutical companies is modelled after the province's auto sector fund, a $500-million program that the Liberals say leveraged $7 billion in new investments in Ontario by the big automakers. ...more

US FDA: 'Bio-identical' hormone claims unsupported

This warning has to be considered a negative for compounding pharmacists in general, even if they aren't involved in the "bio-identical" hormone debate.

From Reuters:
U.S. health officials warned seven pharmacy operators on Wednesday that their claims about the safety and effectiveness of "bio-identical" hormones were false, misleading and not supported by medical evidence.

The pharmacies claimed their hormone products were superior to approved menopause therapies and could be used to prevent and treat serious conditions such as Alzheimer's, strokes and cancer, the Food and Drug Administration said.

"FDA is concerned that the claims for safety, effectiveness, and superiority that these pharmacy operations are making mislead patients, as well as doctors and other health care professionals," an agency statement said.

Drugmaker Wyeth, which sells FDA-approved hormone replacement therapy, had petitioned the agency to take action against makers of bio-identical hormones. ...more

Doctors commonly enlist the power of placebos

Have any of the pharmacists reading this ever fill a prescription for an actual placebo tablet? According to the chart at the bottom of the article, it seems that this does occur from time to time.

From the Globe and Mail:
Doctors prescribe placebos more often than patients might imagine.

A survey of Chicago-area physicians found that 45 per cent report they have given a patient a placebo at least once, according to a study published in this month's Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Past surveys of Israeli and Danish doctors revealed that 60 per cent and 85 per cent, respectively, admit they've relied on the "placebo effect" to heal patients.

So, should patients worry about their doctors shamming them?

Maybe not. Though prescribing dummy pills is viewed as ethically shady, the placebo effect can work. Brain-scan research indicates that placebos trigger pain-relieving endorphins in the brain. Indeed, anyone who has ever felt better after taking cough syrup may have enjoyed the placebo effect - some studies suggest that sugar water is just as good at healing sore throats. Belief in medicine can contribute heavily to its success. ...more

Monday, January 14, 2008

Take statins, almost all diabetics are urged

From the Montreal Gazette:
Almost all of the more than 2 million Canadians with diabetes should be taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to a major new study.

Researchers who pooled data from 14 studies involving more than 90,000 people say cholesterol reducers known as statins lower the risk of heart attack and stroke in people with diabetes by about one-third - even in those whose risk of a major "vascular event" is as low as one per cent per year.

Reporting today in the journal The Lancet, researchers say their study shows "convincingly" most people with diabetes should consider taking statins.

"I know it sounds drastic but this is a group of people we can't be complacent about," says Colin Baigent, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford and a member of the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists' Collaborators. ...more

Jean Coutu's bet on Rite Aid a loser so far

From the Montreal Gazette:
or many Canadian retailers, venturing into the United States has been the equivalent of a trek through Death Valley.

The number of Canadian companies that have stumbled and fallen in the U.S. retail market is a clear sign what works in this country is no guarantee of success south of the border.

The Jean Coutu Group thought it had solved that problem last winter when it sold off its underperforming U.S. pharmacy chains, Brooks and Eckerd, to Rite Aid, the No. 3 player in the American drug-store market.

As a result, Jean Coutu became the largest single investor in Rite Aid, with a 31-per-cent block of shares and four board seats. It nourished new hope that U.S. managers would do a better job than it could do in that country. ...more

New drug good news for diabetics

From the London (Ont.) Free Press:
Peter Gardner knows all about the challenges of managing Type 2 diabetes -- he's been doing it for seven years.

The Londoner, in his 60s, is among the nearly two million Canadians who got some good news recently when Health Canada approved a new class of oral medications for Type 2 diabetes that will help patients control their blood sugar levels without gaining weight, a common problem.

The drugs -- called DPP-4 inhibitors -- also are not associated with hypoglycemia -- dangerously low blood sugar levels that can prove as lethal as skyrocketing levels.

And with a recent study showing 50 per cent of Canadians with Type 2 diabetes are not meeting their blood sugar goals, Dr. Irene Hramiak of St. Joseph's Health Care London said the new inhibitors are a welcome weapon in battling what has become the leading cause of death by disease in North America. ...more

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Blood clots, deaths linked to Evra

From the (University of Western Ontario) Gazette:
The Evra birth control patch may be more convenient than the pill for many Canadian women, but new evidence suggests it may also be more dangerous.

The January issue of Health Canada’s Canadian Adverse Reaction Newsletter documented 16 cases of blood clots and one heart attack in Evra patch users since its arrival on the Canadian market in 2004. Two of the 17 patients reported to Health Canada died as a result.

One documented case of death was that of a 16-year-old, and most of the 93 total adverse reactions Health Canada received were from women in their teens, 20s or early 30s.

The Evra patch, manufactured by Janssen-Ortho Inc., is a prescription-only contraception patch that adheres to the skin, delivering hormones into a woman’s body to prevent pregnancy.

According to IMS Health Canada, a market research company, between January and November 2007, 274,617 Evra prescriptions were dispensed from retail pharmacies.

So far, there has been no conclusive evidence linking the patch with an increased risk of health problems versus other contraception methods. ...more

Jean Coutu shares one great deal

From the Financial Post:
Here’s a deal for investors: buy one drug store chain, get one free - or to be precise, 32% of one for free.

Shares in drug store group Jean Coutu Group (PJC) Inc. are so cheap, analysts said Friday, that at Thursday’s closing price of $10.69 for the subordinate voting shares, investors are assigning no value in Coutu’s 32% stake in U.S. drug store giant Rite Aid.

Coutu acquired the stake in Rite Aid last year as partial payment for its troubled 1,858—store Eckerd chain in the U.S., which it had acquired in 2004. In the past year, however, the stock price of Rite Aid has fallen by 66%, exacerbated by a 28% fall in the past week after Rite Aid reported soft December sales. Yesterday, Standard & Poor’s cut Rite Aid’s outlook to stable from negative, maintaining its “B” junk credit rating. ...more

Marijuana dazes docs

In my practice, I have been asked questions by physicians who were trying to fill out medicinal marijuana government application forms for their patients. The common thread seemed to be that the physicians were willing to try to help the patient, but didn't really know much about creating a treatment plan, just like this article states.

From the Ottawa Sun:
Physicians who approve the use of medicinal marijuana say their clinical knowledge of the drug is hazy and they rely heavily on their patients to help them craft treatment plans, according to in-depth interviews with doctors conducted for Health Canada.

The doctors' knowledge of medical marijuana "had most often come directly (in anecdotal form) from their patients' experience with the drug," concludes the study of physician attitudes done by Montreal firm Les Etudes de Marche Createc.

"This model obscures the boundary between physician and patient and contravenes conventional medical practice which relies almost exclusively on scientific evidence-based information.

"Many physicians expressed concern about this 'blurring' of boundary between patient and doctor." ...more

Mexico pharmacies targeted

You can tell it's an election year in the United States. Over the last year, very little was heard about states working with foreign pharmacies. Now we are starting to hear about Canadian pharmacies again. The article below is the first mention I've seen of a state wanting to work with Mexican pharmacies.

From the (Phoenix) Arizona Republic:
Several states have direct links to Canadian pharmacies to ensure their citizens have access to less expensive prescription drugs.

Yet no state has such formal ties through Web sites or state-sponsored programs to pharmacies in Mexico.

But residents of Arizona and other Southwestern states routinely visit border towns such as Los Algodones near Yuma to buy prescription drugs at large pharmacies catering to tourists.

Now, Gov. Janet Napolitano and her counterparts on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border have floated an idea that would scrutinize the safety of prescription drugs sold in Mexican border towns. They want to create a cross-border testing and inspection program to ensure drug safety.

Napolitano has initiated talks with Bush administration officials on what it would take to launch such a pilot program with cooperation on both sides of the border. ...more

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Vitamins for bipolar: cure or quackery?

From the Vancouver Sun:
Monica Carsience says it's the answer to her prayers. David Hardy calls it good pig husbandry. Health Canada suggested it was quackery and spent years trying to shut it down.

A dry cocktail of vitamins and minerals that calms aggressive pigs and seems to have eradicated bipolar disorder symptoms in almost 10,000 North Americans, drives these strongly held views. Views that pit bureaucratic rules against a human need for relief and squeeze the scientists in the middle.

Could pig pills really heal a mental illness, the cure for which has long eluded medicine?


Psychiatric experts familiar with it say the widespread anecdotal success of the pig formula indicates research into mental illness should make a sharp shift away from pharmaceuticals to examine the potential of vitamin and mineral therapy. One goes so far as to say it has the potential to be the most significant breakthrough in mental health since the beginning of time. ...more

Red flag for birth control patch

From the Globe and Mail:
Two Canadian women have died and numerous others have suffered blood clots, heart attacks and other medical problems in the span of about four years after using the well-known but increasingly controversial Evra birth-control patch, according to a Health Canada report.

Although medical research has not concluded there is a direct relationship between the Evra patch and reported problems, concerns have been great enough to raise questions about the product's safety and prompt government health officials to issue warnings in Canada and the United States.

Advocacy groups have also sounded the alarm, with some saying the product should not be on the market.

"[Women] shouldn't use it. It shouldn't be used because it's a new product with no unique advantage," said Sidney Wolfe, director of the health research group at Public Citizen, a U.S.-based consumer group founded by Ralph Nader. ...more

Coutu feels Rite Aid's pain

From the Globe and Mail:
Less than a year ago, senior executives were touting Jean Coutu Group (PJC) Inc.'s 32-per-cent stake in U.S. pharmacy chain Rite Aid Corp. as a stellar opportunity to reap big rewards from solid growth in the drugstore sector south of the border.

The story – at least on paper – had its merits. Coutu's Rite Aid investment certainly helped offset concerns over how exactly Coutu intended to expand its Canadian drugstore operations beyond its limited Quebec base.

But Rite Aid, which is struggling to cope with fierce competition from bigger rivals, has proven to be a singular headache so far for the Coutu family, which holds a controlling position in the Longueuil, Que.-based Coutu chain.

On Thursday, shareholders are likely to get their first glimpse at what Coutu plans to do about the red ink and poor sales performance at Rite Aid when Coutu reports second-quarter results and management hosts a conference call. ...more

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Vitamin D insufficiency linked to heart disease

From the Globe and Mail:
Heart disease has a long list of known causes, including smoking, obesity and diabetes. But researchers in the United States now say there may be another and somewhat surprising addition to this list: vitamin D insufficiency.

Although it is well known that vitamin D is needed for good bone health, a study released yesterday found that not having enough of the sunshine vitamin is also linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

The research, based on a group of white Americans living near Boston, found that those with low levels of vitamin D in their blood were 62 per cent more likely to develop heart failure, strokes and other circulatory problems than those with more of the nutrient.

Those with both high blood pressure and low vitamin D status had about twice the risk of developing serious cardiac-related problems. ...more

FDA Warns On Severe Bone, Muscle Pain With Bone Drugs

From CNN:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Monday advised doctors and patients about the possibility of severe and sometimes incapacitating bone, joint or muscle pain linked to popular drugs used to treat osteoporosis and other bone-thinning diseases.

Although a discussion of severe musculoskeletal pain is included in the prescribing information for all of the drugs, the agency said, "the association between bisphosphonates and severe musculoskeletal pain may be overlooked by healthcare professionals."

The drugs - sold under several brand names including Fosamax, by Merck & Co.; Boniva, by Roche Holding AG; Zometa and Reclast, by Novartis AG; and Actonel, by Procter and Gamble Co. - are known as bisphosphonates. ...more

Health Canada defends drug alert system

From CBC News:
Despite evidence indicating seniors are being prescribed potentially dangerous drugs, Health Canada says it can't do anything more to make its warnings about these medications more effective.

The department is responding to a CBC News investigation in December revealing that doctors continue to prescribe anti-psychotic drugs to seniors, despite Health Canada warnings in 2005 that the drugs increased the risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

CBC analyzed sales data for the drugs and found that prescriptions increased from seven to 40 per cent for a 24-month period after the warnings. ...more

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Pets’ medicine can be found at drug stores

From the Whitehorse (YT) Star:
Like fighting parents, pharmacies and veterinarian offices are arguing over money, and the customers are caught in the middle.

Pharmacies often sell the same prescription medications as veterinarian offices do, but for cheaper prices.

Veterinarians say they have to charge more for medication to cover the costs of running a business.

Customers are complaining their vets aren’t telling them they can get the same medications more cheaply at local drug stores.

One local pet owner told the Star this week she was outraged after she watched a recent CBC television show that explained veterinarians are charging more for medications, and not telling their customers. She said when her dog developed a cough last fall, the vet bills piled up. ...more

City offers voluntary plan for imported prescription drugs

I didn't realize that cities and states were trying to set up deals with Canadian pharmacies anymore. Duluth seems to be a bit behind the curve on this issue.

From the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune:
Beginning Monday, city of Duluth employees, dependents and retirees will have a new option for buying brand-name prescription drugs — with the potential of large cost savings for themselves and taxpayers.

Under the voluntary plan, the Canadian firm CanaRx will deliver imported drugs packaged by the original manufacturer directly to people who ordered them. The plan was announced Thursday morning at a City Hall news conference. ...more

Drug approval strategy needed

From the Saskatoon Star Phoenix:
There should be no surprise at the fact that Premier Brad Wall has apparently decided to cover the cancer drug Avastin under the provincial drug plan.

After all, in Opposition the Saskatchewan Party went to great lengths to portray the former NDP administration as a heartless bunch of penny-pinchers for refusing to do it.

The Saskatchewan Party can hardly do otherwise than to follow through and cover Avastin now that it's in government.

Health Minister Don McMorris's confirmation that a final decision will be announced this month brings the new government full circle on the "patient-a-day" political strategy his party pursued in Opposition. ...more

Dozens of drug Web sites falsely claiming certification by professional groups

From the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
The Better Business Bureau and other professional groups are complaining to federal regulators that some Internet pharmacies are falsely claiming they are certified by their organizations, leaving dissatisfied consumers with nowhere to turn.

Most customers said they never received medications they ordered or got drugs that appeared questionable.

The certifying groups learned of the misrepresentations — by dozens of Web sites — when online drug shoppers called to complain about sites they assumed had been approved or were members of the organization. "The numbers just started to add up. These sites are ripping people off," said Gabriel Levitt, vice president of, whose company certifies 228 Internet pharmacies and offers a Web-based price-comparison tool. Levitt said he had received about 100 complaints within the past 18 months about Web sites using fake PharmacyChecker seals and logos, apparently used to suggest a site's legitimacy. ...more

Friday, January 04, 2008

Pfizer vows to fight Canadian firm's version of Lipitor

Could we be seeing a Canadian generic version of Lipitor available in 2008? I suspect that this is merely one skirmish in a long legal battle between Apotex and Pfizer.

From the Canadian Press:
US drug giant Pfizer said Thursday it will appeal a Canadian federal court decision paving the way for the pharmaceutical firm Apotex to launch a generic version of its anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor.

The court had previously denied Pfizer's request to prevent Apotex from launching a generic version of Lipitor prior to the expiration of a Pfizer patent in July 2010.

The drug (atorvastatin calcium) has generated 13 billion dollars in sales worldwide for Pfizer, making it the leading cholesterol-lowering medication. ...more

Researchers identify possible target to stop, block allergy-induced anaphylaxis

I find this extremely interesting. Perhaps in a few years we will see new products in pharmacies based on this enzyme.

From the Canadian Press:
An enzyme found in the blood seems to decrease the severity of allergic reactions, suggesting a way to develop drugs to protect against life-threatening allergies to foods such as peanuts or shellfish or reactions triggered by certain drugs or insect stings, new Canadian-led research suggests.

The study, published in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that people with low levels of PAF acetylhydrolase had more severe allergic reactions than people with higher levels of the enzyme in their blood.

The enzyme breaks down PAF (platelet-activating factor), a chemical produced by the body as part of a severe allergic response.

"For those of us who have higher levels of the acetylhydrolase, we can efficiently and rapidly inactive the PAF, which is harmful," said lead author Dr. Peter Vadas, head of the division of allergy and clinical immunology at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. ...more

Drug-research spending second to marketing: study

From CTV News:
American drug companies spend almost twice as much on promoting their pills than on researching and developing new ones, finds a new Canadian study.

Marc-Andre Gagnon and Joel Lexchin of Toronto's York University found that American drug companies spent US$57.5 billion on promotional activities in 2004 (the latest year for which figures were available).

By contrast, the industry spent only $31.5 billion on industrial pharmaceutical research and development in the same year, the researchers found using a report by the National Science Foundation.

The analysis, called "The Cost of Pushing Pills: A New Estimate of Pharmaceutical Promotion Expenditures in the United States," is published this week in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine. ...more

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Scientists testing vaccine for cocaine users

From the Globe and Mail:
Nothing says drug addiction more than a needle and syringe. But that's exactly what a team of U.S. researchers believes can help cocaine users kick their menacing habit.

Two Baylor College of Medicine scientists based in Houston have developed a cocaine vaccine that creates antibodies that bind to the drug and prevent it from travelling from the bloodstream to the brain.

Unable to penetrate the brain, the drug can produce no high.

If the vaccine makes it through regulatory hurdles, it would be the first medication approved to treat cocaine addiction.

“It certainly is a way of combining immunology that had not been used before,” Tom Kosten, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Baylor, said in a telephone interview yesterday. “We had always thought of altering the brain as a way to prevent drug abuse. This way, the drug never gets into the brain to begin with.” ...more

Health Canada issues warning against two stomach treatments

Health Canada is telling parents not to use two natural products for treating upset stomachs in infants and children because of potential bacterial contamination.

Baby's Bliss Gripe Water, apple flavour, 26952V, is a natural health product given to babies to "ease stomach discomfort and gas often associated with colic, hiccups and teething," Health Canada said in an alert to consumers.

The product is distributed by MOM Enterprises, Inc. in California and is sold in a 118.26 millilitre plastic bottle in a cardboard carton. The label reads: Baby's Bliss Pediatrician Recommended Gripe Water Apple Flavor.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration found the product contains the parasite cryptosporidium which can infect the gastrointestinal tract. "Infections due to cryptosporidium may cause watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting and, in some cases, death," Health Canada said. ...more

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Parents ask about cold medicines in wake of safety advisories

From CBC News:
Health professionals in eastern Ontario say they have been getting lots of questions from parents about the safety of giving cold and cough medicines to their children after recent warnings from Health Canada.

The department issued an advisory in October and a reminder in December warning that "life-threatening adverse events, including unintentional overdose" in children under the age of two have been associated with some over-the-counter cold medications.

Since then, pharmacists such as Jean Tang said parents have been asking lots of questions about whether even children between age two and 12 should be given such medicine. ...more

Honey - nature's infection-fighter - making a medical comeback

From the Canadian Press:
Amid growing concern over drug-resistant superbugs and nonhealing wounds that endanger diabetes patients, nature's original antibiotic - honey - is making a comeback.

More than 4,000 years after Egyptians began applying honey to wounds, Derma Sciences Inc., a New Jersey company that makes medicated and other advanced wound-care products, began selling the first honey-based dressing this fall after it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Called Medihoney, it is made from a highly absorbent seaweed-based material, saturated with manuka honey, a particularly potent type that experts say kills germs and speeds healing. Also called Leptospermum honey, manuka honey comes from hives of bees that collect nectar from manuka and jelly bushes in Australia and New Zealand.

Derma Sciences now sells two Medihoney dressings to hospitals, clinics and doctors in North and South America under a deal with supplier Comvita LP of New Zealand. Derma Sciences hopes to have its dressings in U.S. drug stores in the next six months, followed by adhesive strips. ...more