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Nation in brief

Antidepressant drugs help teenagers, study shows

By wire services
Published June 2, 2004

PHOENIX - In the midst of a worldwide debate on whether depressed children should be treated with antidepressant drugs like Prozac, a landmark government-financed study has found that Prozac helps teenagers overcome depression far better than talk therapy.

The study, sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, was the first to compare psychotherapy and drug treatment for adolescents. Statistically, the researchers found, talk therapy was no more effective in reducing the teenagers' depression than treatment with dummy pills. But when combined with drug treatment, psychotherapy appeared to provide added benefit and to reduce the risk of suicide.

The findings are likely to serve as a balm to psychiatrists, pediatricians and others who increasingly prescribe antidepressants to teenagers and children. Millions take the drugs.

Experts said the study is notable for its size and for the fact that it was carried out without drug company money. Data on the effects of antidepressants in adolescents is in short supply.

"This study should put to rest doubts about whether these drugs work in teenagers with severe depression," said Dr. Graham Emslie, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and an author of the study.

Still, the findings are unlikely to resolve the controversy over whether Prozac and similar drugs lead a small number of teens and children to become suicidal.

Such concerns led the Food and Drug Administration to warn earlier this year that patients taking the drugs should be watched closely for signs of suicide or other harmful behavior in the first weeks of therapy. The FDA is amid a re-analysis of suicidal events in drug-company trials of antidepressants in children and teenagers.

Washington lobbying cost nearly $2-billion in '03

WASHINGTON - Lobbying hit an all-time high in Washington last year, reaching nearly $2-billion after intensive efforts to change lawmakers' minds on Medicare prescription drug coverage and other high-stakes issues, a review released Tuesday shows.

Special interests spent slightly more than $1-billion from July through December, the first time Washington lobbying costs reached the billion-dollar mark in a six-month period, according to the study by the nonpartisan Political Money Line campaign finance and lobbying tracking service.

AARP was the highest spender in the last half of the year, devoting roughly $16-million to lobbying for Medicare prescription drug coverage and on other issues. In all, the senior-citizen lobby spent nearly $21-million pressing its views in Washington last year.

Other top lobbying spenders last year included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform, about $18-million; the American Medical Association, roughly $17-million; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $16.5-million; and Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, about $16-million.

NASA chief sees hope for Hubble in fix-it robots

DENVER - NASA's chief told the nation's astronomers Tuesday he is optimistic robots could repair the Hubble Space Telescope and said the space agency is seeking proposals to do just that.

The 14-year-old telescope, whose brilliant pictures from space have earned it more than a cult following, appeared to be doomed just a few months ago.

But the audience of astronomers - about 1,000 of them - erupted into applause when NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe told them NASA had just issued a request for proposals for a robotic repair mission.

The American Astronomical Society meeting where O'Keefe spoke has lobbied to keep the Hubble telescope running. So have astronauts, congressmen and thousands of citizens.

Without repair work, NASA estimates Hubble will stop making observations by 2007 or 2008, when its batteries are expected to conk out. O'Keefe said the goal would be to service the big space observatory by the end of 2007.

Prosecutors open case against Scott Peterson

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - Within a day of reporting his pregnant wife missing, Scott Peterson lied about his extramarital affair, gave conflicting accounts of his whereabouts and brushed off in-laws helping search for Laci Peterson, prosecutors said in opening arguments of Peterson's murder trial Tuesday.

Prosecutor Rick Distaso wants jurors to connect those dots, along with other circumstantial evidence, to conclude Peterson killed his wife. Peterson, 31, could face the death penalty or life without parole if convicted in a trial that is expected to last up to six months.

The bodies of Laci Peterson and her fetus, a son the couple planned to name Conner, washed ashore in April 2003, near where Peterson told authorities he set out on a solo fishing trip the morning his wife vanished.

It took nearly three months to find 12 jurors and six alternates in the county where the trial was moved because a judge didn't think Peterson could get a fair hearing in the couple's hometown.

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 23:55:20]


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