Weighing Out Diet Scams

weight-lossThe first month of 2017 is almost history, but a few of the resolutions you may have put on the list for this year may still not be crossed off—or started, for that matter. Getting more organized and saving money are goals that are easy to plan, while losing weight—a resolution that is at the top of many people’s lists—is one of the hardest to start.

Losing weight is a healthy and rewarding goal, however, beware of quick-fix weight-loss products and plans. Like other scams, if they sound too good to be true, they probably are.

At best, “miracle” weight-loss products won’t help at all and will only cause you to lose money. At worst, they can cause health issues. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that hundreds of dietary supplement products contain hidden active ingredients that may be advertised as “natural” and “safe.” As a result, the FDA has received numerous reports of increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, stroke, seizure, and even death as a result of taking these supplements.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), beware of weight-loss ads with tag lines like these:

  • Lose weight without diet or exercise!
  • Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!
  • Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!
  • Just take a pill!
  • Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!
  • Everybody will lose weight!
  • Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!

The FTC says the best way to lose weight is to cut about 500 calories per day, eat a variety of healthy foods, and exercise regularly. Also, before beginning any weight-loss plan, consult your healthcare professional. To check the status of a doctor’s license, visit the Medical Board of California website at www.mbc.ca.gov.

Cervical Health Awareness Month: Get Checked and Vaccinated

Start the new year by taking care of your cervical health. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, which highlights the importance of proactive healthcare in the prevention of a possibly deadly cancer.

nccc-posterThanks to the Pap test, the human papillomavirus (HPV) screenings, and the HPV vaccination, cervical cancer has largely become a preventable and treatable disease. The HPV vaccine can protect against four types of HPV—the most common cause of cervical cancer—and should be administered before becoming sexually active. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the shot for not only girls and women ages 11 to 26, but for boys and men as well.

Cervical cancer can be serious and even fatal—that’s why taking advantage of the early detection tools and the vaccine are so important. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC), nearly 13,000 U.S. women are diagnosed each year with cervical cancer and more than 4,000 die from the disease.

Talk to your healthcare provider about getting screened and about your or your child’s eligibility to receive the HPV vaccine. In California, licensed medical professionals and pharmacists can administer the vaccine. To verify the license status of a doctor, visit the Medical Board of California; to verify the license status of a pharmacist, visit the State Board of Pharmacy. More information on cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine is available on the NCCC website.

The High Price of Insulin

The cost of another life-saving drug has dramatically increased.

Back in September, the price of a two-pack of EpiPens, a widely used medication for severe allergic reactions, skyrocketed to $614—up from $100 back in 2007. The next drug with a soaring price tag: insulin.

However, unlike EpiPens, insulin drugs must be taken on a daily basis. This can be extremely costly, especially when you’re looking at possibly $120 to $400 per vial of insulin per month, according to a Johns Hopkins Medicine shutterstock_525594898news release in March 2015. Additionally, unlike many other drugs, there are no generics on the market.

According to an October Washington Post article, a vial of insulin cost $17 in 1997 and is today priced at $138. Another version with a price of $21 per vial 20 years ago now costs $255. If you have health insurance, the list price may not be apparent. But if you are uninsured, have gaps in insurance, or have high-deductible health insurance, the price you’ll pay will be alarmingly clear.

There is debate as to why the cost has risen so sharply. Drug companies defend the pricing, stating there have been improvements over the years to the drugs; for example, newer versions of insulin are longer-lasting. However, some experts say the improvements don’t justify the higher pricing and are part of an overall strategy to keep prices high with new patent protections.

Not taking insulin or trying to save money by not taking a full dosage can be a decision with dire consequences for those with diabetes. It can lead to hospitalization and life-threatening situations such as a coma and kidney failure. Always check with your pharmacist about how to properly take your medication and carefully follow all instructions (visit the state Board of Pharmacy website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov to find a properly licensed pharmacist).

There is hope, however. According to The Washington Post. efforts are being made to create cheaper insulin options. For instance, Walmart sells an insulin version that is $25 per vial, and Eli Lilly is expected to release a less-expensive version by the end of this year.

In the meantime, patients facing high insulin prices should do all they can to properly manage their health, as well as talk to their doctors about the best options and do research on drug assistance programs. Visit the American Diabetes Association website for more information.

Male Contraception Study Cut Short

syringeA male contraception study, cosponsored by the United Nations and commissioned by the World Health Organization, was recently stopped after it was concluded that the drug caused too many side effects.

The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, tested the safety and effectiveness of a contraceptive shot that was administered every eight weeks to 320 healthy men in different countries around the world. The trial was initially considered successful after it significantly decreased sperm counts. However, after Stage II of the three-stage trial, a number of men dropped out of the study, citing side effects such as acne, mood swings, depression, muscle pain, and increased libido. Researchers decided to stop the trial early in the interest of patient safety. A survey of patients who didn’t drop out found that most would use the product if it were available.

The premature halt of the study has caused some experts to draw comparisons with the side effects experienced by those women who use female birth control. It has also caused some raised eyebrows from women, who have been dealing with the side effects of FDA-approved birth control methods for decades. To learn more about contraception options and their possible side effects, women should talk to a qualified health care professional. (You can check the license of a doctor at the Medical Board’s website at www.mbc.ca.gov or a pharmacist at the Board of Pharmacy’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.)

Despite the sudden halt to the male contraception study, there are still plans to successfully bring a male contraceptive drug to the market. According to an NPR report, future trials with different, safer levels of hormones, as well as possibly alternative ways to administer the drug, such as via a gel or an implant, are in the works.

 

 

DEA Launches Program to Educate Youth about Prescription Drug Abuse

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In an effort to curb the growing national opioid and heroin epidemic, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has launched an educational program for middle- and high-school students called “Operation Prevention.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 78 people die every day in the U.S. because of prescription opioid overdose. Prescription opioid abuse often leads to heroin use, which has more than doubled among young adults ages 18-25 in the past decade. The DEA states the epidemic cuts across lines of age, race, gender and wealth, afflicting cities as well as suburbs and rural towns.

The DEA worked with Discovery Education, a provider of digital content and professional development for K-12 classrooms, to create a program for students, educators and parents. Operation Prevention teaches students about the science behind addiction and its impact. The program includes resources that help initiate lifesaving conversations in the home and classroom.

The program is available at no-cost and offers standards-based, classroom resources including digital lesson plans and a parent toolkit that provides information on the warning signs of substance misuse disorder and a guide to prevention and intervention.

Classroom resources include digital lesson plans and a parent toolkit that offers information on the warning signs of substance misuse disorder and a guide to prevention and intervention. In December, a student video challenge will also launch.

The California State Board of Pharmacy supports the DEA’s efforts to educate youth on opioid addiction.

The Board of Pharmacy has been proactive in combating the opioid epidemic by disciplining the licenses of pharmacists who do not demonstrate corresponding responsibility in the furnishing of opioid medications. Corresponding responsibility means that pharmacists have the responsibility to look for red flags that could indicate an opioid prescription may not be appropriate for the patient and may indicate fraudulent activity. The board has also closed pharmacies which indiscriminately dispensed opioids.

Recently, the board enacted emergency regulations to allow pharmacists to furnish naloxone without a prescription. Naloxone is an emergency rescue drug that reverses the effects of an opioid or heroin overdose.

For more information on prescription drug abuse prevention, visit the Board of Pharmacy website here.

For more information on Operation Prevention and access to the program’s free resources, go here.

Fight the Resistance! Get Smart About Antibiotics Week: November 14–20

get-smart-about-antibiotics-weekHere’s a quick quiz: Do antibiotics fight bacteria, viruses, or both? Which illnesses should be treated with antibiotics: strep throat, whopping cough, bronchitis? Bacteria are germs that cause colds and flu—true or false?

You can find the answers to these questions on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website; the CDC’s Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is November 14–20. The week’s activities are about raising awareness of the enormous and growing threat of antibiotic resistance and how we—patients and healthcare providers—can all fight the resistance.

After decades of misuse and overuse, antibiotics are no longer as effective as they once were. The Board of Pharmacy (Board) states, “This is a big problem, and is a major public health threat within hospitals and communities—wherever antibiotics are used.”

antibiotic-resistance

According to the Board, one of the most effective ways to protect yourself against drug resistance and to stop its spread is to not insist on getting antibiotics when your doctor doesn’t prescribe them. Also, don’t save antibiotics from a previous illness. When you’re prescribed antibiotics, take them exactly as directed. And never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Take preventative steps as well, such as keeping up with your vaccinations, washing your hands, and effectively managing symptoms to feel better versus taking antibiotics.

For more information on Getting Smart About Antibiotics Week, go to the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/getsmart and the Board’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.

 

It’s Not Just About Generics: Saving Money on Prescription Drugs

shutterstock_385954984The generic version of a two-pack of EpiPen is now priced at $300—a price that’s better than the brand-name cost of $600 for this widely used allergic-reaction antidote. Buying the generic versus the brand-name is definitely the first step in saving money on your meds, but what else can you do to combat rising drug prices?

You may have more control over what you pay for drugs than you think. According to a January 2016 article by Consumer Reports, prices from retailers, especially large retailers like chain drugstores and big-box stores, can vary greatly. Shop around because drug prices can cost as much as 10 times more from one retailer to the next. Also, don’t avoid independent drugstores—they may actually have more flexibility to beat their competitor’s prices.

Surprisingly, drug prices are negotiable, so ask for a lower price—even with generics. Check sites such as GoodRx.com to do some comparison shopping and to also find out the fair market price. The website also gives you information about coupons, discounts, and how to save money at nearby pharmacies.

Be sure to ask your doctor to help you find a lower-cost alternative and have he or she give you a prescription for a 90-day supply versus 30 days, which can save you money as well. A 90-day supply allows you to pay one copay for 90 days instead of one for every 30, plus it saves you extra trips to the pharmacy.

This next tip may sound counterintuitive, but may be worth checking out. You may not want to always use your insurance to pay for your prescription drugs; you may get a better price if you pay out of pocket and if you sign up for a pharmacy’s discount plan (but read the fine print to understand all terms and conditions).

Check online for lower prices—with caution. Be very careful about which online pharmacy you choose—there’s plenty of fraud out there. Only do business with online pharmacies that display the VIPPS symbol—that indicates it’s a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site. Remember, if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Some drug companies and foundations offer financial assistance programs. Check Needymeds.org, a national nonprofit information resource that can help you locate assistance programs so you can afford your medications and other healthcare costs.

To learn more about how to save money when buying prescription drugs and for resources for medication discounts, visit the State Board of Pharmacy’s website at www.pharmacy.ca.gov.

November is American Diabetes Month

Did you know that 1 in 11 Americans today has diabetes?  Despite its prevalence, diabetes is an invisible disease.  It affects men and women, people young and old, and people of all races, shapes and sizes.  Often there are no outward signs of the disease from the 29 million Americans who fight this chronic illness every day.  That’s why there is a critical need to foster awareness and education while breaking down stereotypes, myths and misunderstandings about this growing public health crisis that affects so many of us.

november-is-american-diabetes-month

This is exactly why the American Diabetes Association marks each November as American Diabetes Month: to bring extra attention to the disease and the tens of millions of people affected by it.

Diabetes is more than the medications and devices used to manage it.  For many, diabetes dictates how they organize their day, what they eat at every meal, how they choose to be physically active and how they spend their money.  People with diabetes can have health care costs that are 2.3 times higher than someone without diabetes, as type 1 and type 2 require very specific forms of treatment.

ada2Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and there is no known way to prevent it.  Approximately 5 percent of people with diabetes have type 1, which means their body does not produce any insulin.  Insulin is critical in order for the body to transport glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into cells for energy.  People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin every day to live.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, accounting for 90 to 95 percent of cases in the United States, and is caused when the body does not produce or use insulin properly.  Risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes include being overweight, having a family history of diabetes and having diabetes while pregnant (gestational ada1diabetes).  Some people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose (sugar) with healthy eating and being active; others may require oral medications or insulin, especially as the disease progresses.  Type 2 diabetes is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders, as well as older adults.  

Some women develop gestational diabetes, high blood glucose (sugar) levels during pregnancy, which requires treatment to protect the health of the mother and the baby. Gestational diabetes affects approximately 9.2 percent of pregnant women.

This November, the American Diabetes Association will showcase real-life stories of friends, families and neighbors managing the day-to-day triumphs and challenges of diabetes.  Through the use of social media, everyone is invited and encouraged to use  #ThisIsDiabetes to share their personal stories and to begin a dialogue about what it means to live with diabetes.2-november-is-american-diabetes-month

The California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) along with the Board of Registered Nursing, Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians, Physician Assistant Board, Medical Board of California, Board of Podiatric Medicine, Board of Optometry and the Board of Pharmacy are proud to help promote the 2016 awareness campaign efforts of the American Diabetes Association.

DCA will run a social media campaign in support of the national awareness effort via Facebook, Twitter and its blog, The DCA Page.

To learn more and view #ThisIsDiabetes stories, check out diabetes.org.

Women Warned Against Using Ovarian Cancer Screening Tests

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The FDA is warning women and their physicians not to use ovarian cancer screening tests because test results are not reliable and may cause delays in treatment.

Currently, there is no safe and effective ovarian cancer screening test because none are sensitive enough to reliably screen for ovarian cancer without a high number of false results.

False-negative test results cause a woman who actually has ovarian cancer to not receive needed treatment. False-positive results cause a healthy woman to undergo more testing or unnecessary surgery with risks for complications for a cancer that doesn’t exist.

Several companies have marketed tests that claim to screen for and detect ovarian cancer. In a recent safety alert warning about these tests, the FDA said “women and their physicians may be misled by such claims and rely on inaccurate results to make treatment decisions.”

There are also fears that women at high risk for the disease may rely on inaccurate testing instead of working on prevention.

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which are reproductive glands found only in women. Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells in or near the ovaries grow and form a cancerous tumor.  Symptoms rarely appear until the cancer has spread and early detection is difficult.

In the U.S., ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among women. The National Cancer Institute says that in 2016, more than 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Those at highest risk are women who have reached menopause, women who have a family history of ovarian cancer and women with specific genetic mutations.

Women are encouraged to talk to their doctors about ways to reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer, especially if there is a family history of ovarian cancer or they have BRCA genetic mutations.

Physicians are asked not to recommend or use tests that claim to screen for ovarian cancer in the general population of women because testing higher-risk patients for ovarian cancer has no proven benefit and is not a substitute for preventive actions that may reduce their risk.

Physicians are instead asked to consider referring at-risk women, including those with BRCA mutations, to a genetic counselor or gynecologic oncologist or other appropriate health care provider for more specialized care.

The Medical Board of California shared the FDA safety alert with its licensed physicians.

“The Medical Board’s primary mission is consumer protection and this type of information is extremely valuable in achieving that goal,” said Kim Kirchmeyer, Medical Board executive officer.

The California State Board of Pharmacy also helped spread the word to licensed pharmacists.

“We believe women who are considering such tests should review the concerns of the FDA,” said Virginia Herold, Board of Pharmacy executive officer.

To view the FDA safety alert, click here.

 

 

Get it While it’s Hot: Check out the Summer Issue of Consumer Connection

Summer’s not over yet. There’s still time to take a road trip to one of California’s manyConsumer connection summer 2016 state parks. From beaches and deserts to redwood forests and mountain summits, California parks offer a variety of amazing and beautiful sites to explore. The Consumer Connection article “Time for a Road Trip!” details 10 state parks—including Angel Island, Marshall Gold Discovery, Humboldt Redwoods, and Crystal Cove—to consider for your next destination, and ways to make sure your car is as ready for the trip as you are.

Also inside this issue is an article about the recently enacted California End of Life Option Act. The new law provides legal guidelines on how terminally ill adults can choose to die in a humane and dignified manner.

Readers will also find features about the recent trend of more Americans choosing to rent instead of buying a home, dealing with the repo man, the dangers of DIY braces, wills versus living trusts, the dangers of buying from a rogue online pharmacy, and more.

To download or read DCA’s award-winning Consumer Connection magazine, visit the DCA website. You can also pick up a printed copy in the DCA Headquarters lobby at 1625 North Market Boulevard in Sacramento. Or, to have a copy mailed to you at no charge, call (866) 320-8652 or send an e-mail request to consumerconnection@dca.ca.gov. Get connected!