KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Officials Address Several Drug Issues Including Medical Risks, Proper Disposal Of Unused Medicine

Federal and state officials are addressing several drug issues including the risks associated with bone-strengthening drugs, complaints about a blood-thinning drug and a new law to help people safely dispose of unused medicine.

The Associated Press/USA Today: "U.S. government health officials warned doctors and patients Wednesday about an increased risk of thigh fractures with a widely used group of bone-strengthening drugs. The Food and Drug Administration said patients taking bisphosphonate drugs such as Fosamax and Boniva appear more likely to suffer a rare type of fracture of the femur. … It's unclear whether the drugs directly trigger the problem, but the FDA said it is updating the drugs' labels about the potential risk. Drugmakers will also be required to distribute pamphlets about the risks to patients. … The FDA says patients should continue taking the treatments unless directed to stop by their doctor" (10/13).

The New York Times: "The types of break account for less than 1 percent of all hip and thigh fractures, and it is not certain that the drugs are to blame, but many people with these injuries have been taking the drugs" (Grady, 10/13).

U.S. News and World Report: The "bisphosphonate medications have helped many women avoid major fractures in the hip and spine, a leading cause of death in the over-65 population. … In those with full-blown osteoporosis, the drugs' benefits far outweigh their risks, says Steven Cummings, who directs the San Francisco Coordinating Center, a nonprofit research group" (Hiatt, 10/13).

In other drug news, The Wall Street Journal: "A major U.S. heparin wholesaler received a complaint from a corporate customer about a contaminated batch of blood thinner in October 2008, but didn't investigate for almost a year, according to a recent Food and Drug Administration notice to the company. Scientific Protein Laboratories LLC got the customer complaint months after the FDA announced nationwide recalls of many heparin products. The blood thinner was linked to more than 80 deaths and hundreds of serious reactions in patients in late 2007 and early 2008. In the spring of 2008, an FDA task force said that the cause of the problem was contaminated imported Chinese heparin ingredient" (Mundy, 10/14).

The Associated Press/The Seattle Times: "States and private entities can now create prescription drug take-back programs to help people safely dispose of old or unwanted medicine. President Barack Obama signed the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act on Tuesday. The new law clears the way for more programs to collect and dispose of prescription drugs. Previously, it was illegal to turn over controlled substances to anyone but law enforcement. In the past, unused prescription medications have been thrown in the trash, where drug-seeking criminals might find them, or flushed down the toilet, which can pollute the water supply" (10/13).

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