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Health Highlights: April 14, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

E-Cigarette Makers Using Music Events to Hook Young People: Lawmakers

Free samples, candy-like flavors, and music festivals are among the ways that e-cigarette makers are trying to get young Americans hooked on the devices, according to a survey released Monday by congressional Democrats.

They said their findings should help push federal regulators to place restrictions on e-cigarettes, which are currently unregulated, Bloomberg News reported.

Over the last two years, six of the nine companies included in the survey sponsored or provided free samples at 348 events, and six of the companies offer candy-like flavors such as vanilla dreams and cherry crush.

"These are the same tactics that were used by major cigarette manufacturers before they were banned," said Representative Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California, Bloomberg reported. "Our findings demonstrate the FDA regulation of e-cigarettes is necessary to prevent manufacturers from targeting youth with aggressive marketing practices."

An FDA proposal to extend its tobacco oversight powers to e-cigarettes was submitted last fall to the White House's Office of Management and Budget and is still under review.

In a study published Monday in the journal Tobacco Control, the FDA said there is too little available information to determine if e-cigarettes are less dangerous than traditional cigarettes, Bloomberg reported.

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Steep Rise in Narcotic Painkiller Prescriptions For Pregnant Women

A growing number of pregnant women in the United States are being prescribed powerful narcotic painkillers, even though little is known about the risks to a developing fetus.

The number of Medicaid-enrolled pregnant women who filled a prescription for such drugs rose from 18.5 percent in 2000 to nearly 23 percent in 2007, according to a study published last week in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, The New York Times reported.

Lead author Rishi Desai, a research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said he expected to find that the use of prescription opioids -- drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Percocet -- by pregnant women had increased, but not to this extent.

"One in five women using opioids during pregnancy is definitely surprising," he told The Times.

A study published in the journal Anesthesiology in February looked at 500,000 privately insured American women and found that 14 percent filled a prescription for opioid painkillers at least once during their pregnancy.

The findings surprised Dr. Joshua Copel, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine, who noted that many pregnant women make sure they avoid things such as caffeine, sushi and even cold cuts.

"To hear that there's such a high use of narcotics in pregnancy when I see so many women who worry about a cup of coffee seems incongruous," he told The Times.

Both studies found that codeine and hydrocodone were the opioids most often prescribed to pregnant women. Women typically took the drugs for a week or less, but slightly more than two percent took them for longer periods of time.

Opioid prescription rates among pregnant women were lowest in the Northeast and Northwest and highest in the South and mountain states. In the Medicaid-based study, opioid prescription rates for pregnant women were 41.6 percent and 35.6 percent in Idaho, compared with 9.6 percent in New York and 9.5 percent in Oregon.

"The regional variation really concerned me the most," Dr. Pamela Flood, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at Stanford University, told The Times. "It's hard to imagine that pregnant women in the South have all that much more pain than pregnant women in the Northeast."


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