Health Highlights: Feb. 23, 2011

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Spending on Drugs for Diabetes, Cholesterol Exceeds $52 Billion

Drugs to treat metabolic conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol were the class of prescription drugs that accounted for the highest level of spending by U.S. insurers and consumers in 2008, according to a federal government report.

Purchases of metabolic drugs by adults age 18 and older accounted for $52.2 billion (22 percent) of the nearly $233 billion spent overall to buy outpatient prescription medicines in 2008, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Ranked by total spending, the other top four classes of drugs were:

  • Central and nervous system drugs used to relieve chronic pain and control epileptic seizures and Parkinson’s disease tremors — $35 billion.
  • Cardiovascular drugs, including calcium channel blockers and diuretics — $29 billion.
  • Antacids, antidiarrheals, and other medicines for gastrointestinal conditions — $20 billion.
  • Antidepressants, antipsychotics and other psychotherapeutic drugs — $20 billion.


U.S. Whooping Cough Cases Topped 21,000 in 2010

More than 21,000 people in the United States got whooping cough last year, the highest number since 2005 and one of the highest numbers in more than 50 years, federal health officials said.

The recent spike in cases, many of which involve children and teens, puzzles experts because the vaccine against whooping cough is highly effective in children and vaccination rates for children are considered good, the Associated Press reported.

The latest figures were released at a vaccine advisory committee meeting in Atlanta.

Whooping cough, which is very contagious, starts like a cold but leads to severe coughing that can last for weeks. The disease can be fatal in rare cases, especially for infants too young to receive the vaccine, the AP reported.


Law Officials Target Florida Pill Mills

Doctors and pain clinic operators were expected to be among those arrested as federal agents and local police moved to close down illegal pill mills in South Florida, the Associated Press reported.

The arrests are part of a lengthy undercover operation targeting dozens of pain clinics in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties that ship large amounts of powerful prescription drugs across the country, the news service said.

South Florida is the nation’s hotbed for illegal sales of prescription drugs. For example, 85 percent of all oxycodone pills sold in the United States come from Florida, state officials recently revealed, the AP reported. Oxycodone is a highly addictive painkiller.


Third Judge Rules in Favor of New Health Care Law

The constitutionality of the Obama health care law has been upheld by a third federal judge.

Two other federal district judges, both appointed by Republican presidents, have ruled against the law’s provision that requires most Americans to obtain health insurance starting in 2014.

On Tuesday, Judge Gladys Kessler of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a constitutional challenge that was filed by five people represented by the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian legal group, The New York Times reported.

She and the other two judges who upheld the constitutionality of the health care law were appointed by President Bill Clinton.

More than 20 legal challenges to the health care law have been filed around the country. Most experts believe the legality of the law will be determined by the Supreme Court, but each lower court ruling adds to the balance of legal opinion that will be considered by the justices, the Times reported.