Headlines: June 18, 2010
by Meg Larkin
In health reform news, the US Department of Health and Human Services has announced that it will spend $250 million to increase the number of primary care providers. The money comes from the prevention and public health fund created by the health reform law, and it will be spent on programs designed to encourage doctors and nurses to go into primary care in underserved areas. Some of the money will be used to repay medical school loans for graduates who agree to practice in primary care in an underserved area, and other funds will be used to encourage nursing students to attend school full time and finish their education. Additionally, “Students will be able to tap new financial aid, and health professionals working in underserved areas will get expanded tax benefits.” Without action, HHS predicts that the US would face a shortage of 21,000 primary care providers, but some organizations say the number should be more than double the government estimate.
In regulatory news, the Johnson and Johnson unit that was forced to recall a number of products earlier this year is recalling more over the counter medications. According to the New York Times, “McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the Johnson & Johnson unit, said that it was recalling four lots of certain Benadryl allergy tablets and one lot of Extra Strength Tylenol gel pills.” The company claimed that the recently recalled drugs were “inadvertently omitted” from the earlier recall. The first recall was based on higher than appropriate levels of the active ingredient in some medications and contamination of other medications with metallic particles. McNeill Consumer Healthcare is currently being investigated by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
In other regulatory news, a German pharmaceutical company is pushing the FDA to consider a drug that the company argues can restore a depressed female sex drive. The drug company’s efforts have spurred a debate among regulators and professionals about what “constitutes a normal range of sexual desire among women.” An FDA staff report has recommended against approving the drug because of regulators’ concerns that the benefits are largely uncertain and are outweighed by the drug’s known side-effects. Some specialists are concerned that introduction of the drug into the market place might encourage women to think that they have a medical problem when, in reality, their symptoms fall short of hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Unlike erectile dysfunction in men, which has a definite physical component, sexual dysfunction in women is often much harder to diagnose and treat.
Finally, a new study from Hong Kong criticizes the world-wide follow up to the H1N1 flu. According to the report, the H1N1 flu strain has gone on to infect pigs in China and is able to mix with other flu strains there. This has led some researchers to be concerned that a more dangerous strain of the flu virus could make the jump from pigs to humans in the future. The study’s authors advocate for better testing and surveillance in order to lower the risk of another flu outbreak.
Meg Larkin is a law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.