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More than 40 percent of Americans on prescription drugs

By wire services
Published December 3, 2004

WASHINGTON - Americans are cramming their medicine chests ever fuller in the struggle to lower cholesterol, treat depression, reduce inflammation and ease other illnesses.

More than 40 percent of the population is taking at least one prescription drug and one person in every six takes three or more, the government said Thursday. Both figures are up about 5 percentage points in recent years.

"The fact is that we have more drugs available that actually do help people," said Dr. Ellsworth C. Seeley, who teaches medicine at the University of Kentucky. He cited drugs to deal with high blood pressure, cholesterol and help diabetics, among others.

Dennis Shea, a professor at Pennsylvania State University's college of health and human development, found mixed news in the report.

"Certainly, in the 1990s there were lots of advances in being better able to target drugs to conditions," he said. "But there is that danger that people are overmedicating . . . taking so many medications that they can interact, make one ineffective or cause harm."

And, he added, "Americans seem to look for that magic pill, don't they?" In many cases the patients pressure physicians: " "Give me the pill, I don't want to change my diet, I don't want to exercise.' It is an easy way out but may not be as effective," he said. The benefits of improved diet and exercise can extend beyond any single ailment, he added.

Seeley said the increase may result from some overmedication, but he believes that has sometimes been exaggerated.

Women's libido drug fails to gain endorsement

WASHINGTON - A hormone patch that works to restore a woman's sex drive should not win government approval until more studies are completed to determine the drug's risks, federal health advisers recommended.

Several members of the Food and Drug Administration's advisory committee said they were not satisfied with the number of women studied so far, the length of the studies and the benefits of the drug.

Procter & Gamble sought to market the testosterone patch Intrinsa to women who lost their libido after their ovaries were removed. The company said that significant safety concerns had not come up in clinical trials and that there was no reason to delay approval of the first drug for female sexual dysfunction.

But the committee unanimously sided on the need for more safety data.

The company said in a statement it would work closely with the agency "to agree on a practical approach to provide additional safety data."

The FDA is not bound by the committee's recommendation, although the agency usually follows the guidance.

Dental plaque linked to pneumonia in elderly

BUFFALO, N.Y. - Better oral hygiene, including good toothbrushing, may lessen nursing home residents' chances of developing pneumonia, according to a study that traced germs from dental plaque to lungs of patients with the potentially fatal illness.

Dr. Ali El-Solh, lead author of the study in the November issue of the journal Chest, said the findings "indicate that dental plaque is a reservoir of respiratory pathogens" that can be inhaled into the lungs and lead to pneumonia.

The University at Buffalo researcher stopped short of saying that brushing or rinsing patients' teeth or dentures is enough to destroy the germs and prevent pneumonia, citing the need for more research.

[Last modified December 2, 2004, 23:57:10]

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