Law reveals money links to drug panels
By Times Wires
Published August 22, 2007
ST. PAUL, MINN.
A groundbreaking Minnesota law is shining a rare light into the big money that drug companies spend on members of state advisory panels who help select which drugs are used in Medicaid programs for the poor and disabled.
Those panels, most made up of physicians, hold great sway over the $28-billion spent on drugs each year for Medicaid patients nationwide. Aside from Minnesota, only Vermont and Maine require drug companies to report payments to doctors for lectures, consulting, research and other services.
A review of records in Minnesota found that a doctor and a pharmacist on the eight-member state panel simultaneously got big checks - more than $350,000 to one - from pharmaceutical companies for speaking about their products.
The two members said the money did not influence their work on the panel, and the lack of recorded votes in meeting minutes makes it difficult to track any link between the payments and policy.
But ethical experts said the Minnesota data raise questions about the possibility of similar financial ties between the pharmaceutical industry and advisers in other states.
State officials said they would examine the panel's past actions for any bias tied to the payments, and they will start screening appointees to more than two dozen advisory councils for similar links to the drug industry.
States target alcohol energy drink ads
Beverage companies that sell alcoholic energy drinks were harshly criticized Tuesday by more than two dozen state attorneys general who want federal officials to examine the ingredients and marketing of the drinks they say are aimed at underage customers.
In a letter to John Manfreda, the administrator of the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the attorneys general of 28 states and Washington, D.C., and Guam say aggressive - and possibly fraudulent - marketing of energy drinks mixing alcohol and caffeine targets teenagers and young adults who buy nonalcoholic energy drinks. Florida was not among the states.
"Beverage companies are unconscionably appealing to young drinkers with claims about the stimulating properties of alcoholic energy drinks," Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers said.
The attorneys general singled out Miller Brewing Co. for Sparks and Sparks Plus, Anheuser-Busch for Bud Extra and Charge Beverages of Portland for its Liquid Charge and Liquid Core drinks. Anheuser-Busch vice president Francine Katz said the attorneys general should focus on restricting youth access to hard alcohol.
KIDS' OBESITY ADDS BLOOD PRESSURE WOES
More than 1-million U.S. youngsters have undiagnosed high blood pressure, leaving them at risk for developing organ damage down the road, a study suggests.
Calculating elevated blood pressure in children is trickier than in adults, and many doctors may not bother evaluating kids' numbers because they assume hypertension is an adult problem.
But the study highlights that many children are affected, too, said the lead author, Dr. David Kaelber of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Harvard Medical School. Roughly 2-million U.S. youngsters have been estimated to have high blood pressure; the study suggests that three-quarters of them have it but don't know it.
The numbers are driven at least partly by rising rates of obesity, which is strongly linked with high blood pressure.
Untreated high blood pressure can cause health problems in adults, including heart disease, strokes, artery damage and kidney disease, problems that usually take years to develop. Its effects in children are less certain, although there is some evidence that it might contribute to early artery and heart damage in young patients, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"We can't wait until they've had a stroke to figure this is a problem," said Dr. Reginald Washington, a Denver pediatrician and member of the academy obesity task force, who was not involved in the research.