Health Front: Heroin Overdoses Increasing
By DR. JERRY DeCAPUA, Two Rivers Tribune Contributing Writer
• More than 8,200 Americans, an average of 23 people each day, died of heroin overdoses in 2013. That’s according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is the latest evidence that the nation’s heroin problem is becoming more severe. According to the CDC, the rate of overdose deaths in 2013 was almost triple what it was in 2010, and the increase is evident across all ethnic groups.
Heroin is also big business. In 2010 the RAND Corporation estimated that America’s heroin market was worth $27 billion, even though the customer base is continuously dying. That is more than what is spent in the United States at hardware stores ($22 billion) or specialty food retailers ($21 billion), according to Census Bureau data.
• People with a diagnosis of cancer need to be wary of websites selling genetic cancer tests. Many websites offer tests that have not been proven to be useful in guiding cancer treatment, according to a new study by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute that analyzed 55 such sites. While some of the information offered on these websites is good, the researchers found that 88 percent of the websites offered one or more nonstandard tests with questionable value in routine cancer care.
Some sites marketed tests of a tumor’s genetic characteristics, while others analyzed a patient’s personal genome, or gene profile, looking for altered genes that might raise a healthy person’s risk of developing cancer. Claims and information from the sites are not regulated by the FDA or the federal trade commission. Recently, the FDA said it intends to start regulating genetic testing web sites more broadly.
• Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may significantly increase a person’s risk of developing type-2 diabetes, a new study from Finland suggests. Researchers found that statins were associated with a 50 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, even after adjusting for other factors. Statins appear to increase the risk of type 2 diabetes in several ways, and the other cholesterol-lowering drugs seem to impair the ability of the pancreas to secrete insulin.
In the study researchers tracked 9,000 men without diabetes over the course of six years. One in four of the men were taking a statin at the beginning of the study. Of the men being treated with statins like Zocar and Lipitor, 46 percent were more likely to develop diabetes than those not treated with statins. The higher the dosage of Zocar or Lipitor, the higher the risk for developing diabetes. Insulin secretion was decreased by 12 percent.
Most diabetic experts are now in agreement about the risks of statins. Professor Alan Garber of Baylor College of Medicine said that statin users with blood sugar levels beginning to creep up can likely head off type 2 diabetes through diet and exercises. “The solution is lifestyle modification with diet and exercise. You should do that for high cholesterol, anyway,” Garber said. “There’s no simple cure. It’s clear that a simple pill isn’t going to supplant individual self-management. Patients have to learn to take care of themselves.”
• Exercise likely increases the size of the brain regions that contribute to balance and coordination, which delays aging. A recent study of twins found that those who exercised more had increased brain volume in areas related to movement. These changes have long-term health implications, such as reducing the risk of falling and mobility limitations in old age.
For the study, researchers chose 10 pairs of identical twins. The participants were all men in their thirties. In each pair one brother had exercised more in the past three years than the other. The twins reported that they got about the same amount of exercise earlier in their lives. One twin now exercises at least 3 hours more per week than the inactive one. All the twins had MRI’s to identify brain changes. While the entire brain did not increase in size, those regions that support movement, coordination, and balance grew.