1. Pop a painkiller, drop dead

    Popular painkiller linked to heart and stroke risk

    Feelin' lucky? Then go ahead -- pop that painkiller.

    But you'd better hope that today's not the day your luck finally runs out, because some of the most commonly used pain meds carry a major death risk.

    The drugs are those nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories used by millions for everything from arthritis to headaches to back pain. And now, researchers say they can double, triple, and even quadruple your odds of heart attack, stroke, and an early death.

    Swiss researchers looked at data from 31 "gold-standard" trials that included 116,429 patients, and found that ibuprofen -- a med probably in your own home right now -- can triple the risk of stroke.

    And diclofenac, a widely used generic prescription NSAID, can quadruple the risk of death from heart attack and stroke.

    These problems aren't rare by any stretch. In fact, the researchers say that for every 25 to 50 patients who take NSAIDs for a year, there will be one extra heart attack or stroke.

    That's overall.

    But they also believe that patients who already have heart problems could face a much higher risk when they pop those pills -- like the millions of seniors who battle both heart disease and arthritis.

    The researchers found naproxen (aka Aleve) to be the "safest" of the NSAIDs, but don't kid yourself -- "safest" doesn't mean "safe." All painkillers carry risk -- and regular use of any NSAID can lead to bleeding problems, ulcers, and more.

    And that means you need to be careful with how -- and how often -- you use these things, no matter how old you are or what risks you face.

    If you need one from time to time, you need one -- and I won't stand in your way.

    But if you're taking one of these things regularly, there's clearly something else going on -- and you and your doc need to get to the bottom of it.

    If you go looking for that answer at the bottom of a painkiller jar, you could find yourself at the bottom of a grave.

  2. The FDA's hit parade of big "oops" stories

    The FDA's hit parade of big "oops" stories

    The FDA has all the usual flaws that go hand-in-hand with any government bureaucracy. The difference is that when the FDA fouls up, people die. The organization has been getting a lot of flak lately, from more than just me.

    It's about time people started to notice.

    Most of the FDA's critics recognize, as I often point out to you, that the Administration's failures are rooted in its close ties and associations (often financial) with the medical industry. A perfect example of this conflict of interest is the 1992 Prescription Drug User Fees Act, which requires the FDA to approve or deny new drug applications by major pharmaceuticals within a certain time - or else they have to refund "application fee" monies paid by the pharmaceutical companies. Obviously, the rush job isn't doing anyone any good.

    The FDA has approved too many drugs that ultimately had to be pulled from distribution due to serious side effects - i.e., THEY WERE KILLING PEOPLE. Even the government's own General Accounting Office determined that the process set in motion by this act has coincided with an up-tick in the percentage of drugs that ultimately needed to be withdrawn from the market. Coincidence? Hardly.

    After ranting and railing so often against the FDA, I just wanted to remind you all of some of the Administrations' biggest gaffes. While major drugs being pulled from the market are worthy of lead stories on the 11 o'clock news, too often the stories about "minor" drugs that get pulled are tucked away in places where they're easy to miss unless you're me, who lives for this sort of stuff.

    Here's the FDA's "hit parade" of big "oops" stories.

    1. Vioxx - I'm sure you're familiar with this infamous anti-inflammatory. Merck had to pull Vioxx off the global market in 2004 after a clinical study demonstrated that it significantly increased the risk of cardiovascular "events" such as heart attacks and strokes.
    2. Bextra - Like Vioxx, this prescription painkiller caused an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Pfizer pulled it off the market in the U.S. a year after the Vioxx fiasco in 2005.
    3. Cylert - Abbott pulled the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) drug off the U.S.
      market in 2005 after the FDA discovered 13 cases of liver failure. Turns out that Cylert patients have a 25-percent higher rate of liver failure compared to the general population.
    4. Baycol - This cholesterol-lowering drug caused users to suffer from a much higher rate of rhabdomyolysis - a debilitating muscle ailment that can be fatal. There were 31 reported deaths that were directly linked to Baycol, and it was yanked off the market in the U.S. in 2001.
    5. Palladone - This slow-release narcotic painkiller by Purdue Pharma was pulled off the market in the U.S. in 2005 because it was found to cause side effects like depression and even coma when mixed with alcohol.

    This small handful of examples of FDA foul-ups within recent years (there are more - this list could've been much longer) should serve as a wake-up call for every single one of us. In spite of the FDA, neither food nor drugs are any safer.

    FDA leaves cancer-causing foot gel on the market

    Even the most seemingly innocent drugs can carry fatal side effects. The FDA just announced a study showing that the foot gel Regranex could be causing cancer. And yet, amazingly, Regranex is still on the market!

    The prescription foot gel is manufactured by Johnson & Johnson and is often used by diabetics who develop leg and foot ulcers that are difficult to heal.

    Apparently, diabetics who'd been prescribed the gel three or more times were at increased risk of death from cancer. With incredible gall, the spokesperson for J&J insisted that Regranex is safe when used as directed. What? This is a topical foot gel-if these people are applying it to the sores on their feet and legs, they ARE using it as directed. Should any foot gel be capable of giving you CANCER!? Does this make sense to you?

    Obviously there's more to this story. But if I were you, I wouldn't wait for the FDA to do the banning - ban Regranex from your medicine cabinet immediately.

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