Health Highlights: May 23, 2019

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

WHO Opioid Guidelines Too Lax: U.S. Lawmakers

The World Health Organization’s pain care guidelines contain false claims about the safety of prescription opioid painkillers and should be withdrawn, two U.S. lawmakers say.

The United States is struggling with an opioid crisis and the WHO guidelines could result in the same type of situation in other countries, according to U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

They said a 2011 manual and 2012 guidelines on opioids from the WHO were influenced by people with financial ties to Purdue Pharma, which makes the opioid painkiller OxyContin.

“We have come to believe that Purdue has leveraged its financial ties to successfully impact the content of the WHO’s guidelines,” Clark and Rogers wrote in a letter to the international public health agency. “As a result, the WHO is, in effect, promoting the chronic use of opioids.

The WHO did not change its guidelines after Clark sent a similar letter in 2017.

“We have received the most recent letter from Congress and are reviewing it point by point,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Wednesday, the AP reported.


California Bill to Tighten Vaccine Exemptions Moves Forward

A bill that would tighten control over vaccination exemptions for children in California was sent by state senators to the Assembly on Wednesday.

Under the measure, state public health officials, not local doctors, would have the authority to decide which children qualify for medical vaccination exemptions before attending school, the Associated Press reported.

The change is needed because some “unscrupulous physicians” have been selling medical immunization exemptions since the state ended non-medical exemptions in 2016, according to Democratic Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, who introduced the proposal.

“This is about keeping our community safe,” Pan said.

The United States is facing the highest number of measles cases in decades, with 880 cases reported so far, the AP reported.


Half-Price Version of Humalog Insulin Now Available

A half-price version of Humalog insulin is now available in the United States, Eli Lilly said Wednesday.

The company’s generic version of its Humalog U-100 is being sold under the chemical name insulin lispro, the Associated Press reported.

It will cost $137.35 per vial, or $265.20 for a package of five easier-to-inject KwikPens, according to Lilly. That’s half the list price the company charges for Humalog.

Humalog is a fast-acting insulin that’s injected shortly before each meal. It’s used by about 700,000 Americans, the AP reported.

Patients who will see the biggest savings with insulin lispro who don’t have health insurance, have high-deductible insurance or have Medicare Part D plans, according to Lilly.

Sharply rising insulin costs in the United States have sparked intense criticism. From 2002 through 2013, the average insulin price nearly tripled, and prices have increased 10% a year since then. Many diabetics have been forced to ration their insulin, resulting in hospitalizations and some deaths, the AP reported.


Cancer Death Rates Down, Heart Disease Death Rates Up for American Adults

Cancer deaths among middle-aged adults are falling in the United States, but heart disease deaths have increased in recent years, a new federal government report released Thursday finds.

From 1999 to 2017, there was a 19% drop in cancer deaths among adults aged 45 to 64. Heart disease deaths in this age group fell 22% between 1999 and 2011, but increased 4% by 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CNN reported.

Both women and men had similar patterns of decline in cancer deaths and recent rises in heart disease deaths.

The largest increase (12%) in heart disease deaths was in white women, while Hispanic women had a decline. Blacks had the highest rates among women, and blacks had the largest increase among men, CNN reported.

During the study period, cancer death rates were still higher than heart disease death rates.

Cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death among middle-aged Americans, accounting for about half of all deaths, according to the CDC.