Health news you can use

April, 2006

Drug Use On The Rise

A higher percentage of employees tested positive for four kinds of drugs in the last quarter of 2005, compared with the previous quarter, according to Diagnostic Laboratory Services Inc. (DLS). DLS performs about 8,000 drug tests quarterly of employees for 700 Hawaii companies, to screen for amphetamine, cocaine, opiates and marijuana.

Marijuana use appears to be on a significant rise, with positive results increasing 40 percent over the course of a year. Methamphetamine, or ice, looked like it was trending down during 2005, but bumped up again in the fourth quarter. One out of every 50 employees (2 percent) tested positive for ice use in the fourth quarter. “It’s continuing at a level that’s about four times the national average, so that’s what’s kind of disturbing about it,” says Carl Linden, DLS scientific director.

Linden says another trend of note is not necessarily reflected in the data. Under state and federal law, codeine and morphine are the only opiates for which DLS can specifically screen. However, he says they are seeing an increase in other opiates, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, the prescription drug to which talk show host Rush Limbaugh was addicted. Says Linden, “It’s alarming to us and it just corroborates what I see on a national basis in the increase of those pain medications.”

The Fat of the Matter

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given us more reasons to read food labels more carefully these days. Since the beginning of the year, food manufacturers have been required to list trans fatty acids, or trans fat, on their nutrition labels. The FDA made this the rule in 2003, but gave manufacturers until 2006 to comply.

Scientific studies have linked trans-fat consumption to increased LDL cholesterol levels, and increased risk of coronary heart disease. The labeling change should prevent between 600 to 1,200 cases of coronary heart disease and up to 500 deaths a year, according to the FDA. Trans fat is usually found in processed foods, such as margarines, shortenings, crackers, candies, baked goods, cookies, snack foods, fried foods and salad dressings containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Also, as of Jan. 1, 2006, the FDA has required food labels to state if the product contains any ingredients with protein derived from eight major allergenic foods: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soybeans. According to the FDA, each year approximately 30,000 U.S. consumers require emergency-room treatment and 150 die because of allergic reactions to food.

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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch