Health Highlights: May 9, 2018

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

Epipen Shortages Result of Production Problems: FDA

Production problems have made EpiPens hard to find in some areas of the United States, the Food and Drug Administration says.

The devices give a lifesaving shot of epinephrine to people suffering severe allergic reactions.

A notification posted Wednesday on the FDA website says that while EpiPens are available, there are "intermittent supply constraints" due to delays at the company that makes the auto-injection devices for Mylan, according to Bloomberg News.

The FDA post came a day after Bloomberg reported that more than 400 patients in 45 states were having trouble finding EpiPens and similar devices.

Many patients said they couldn't obtain one of the devices, while others said they had to wait weeks to get one.

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Drug Distribution Co. Exec Apologizes for Sending Opioids to W. Virginia

Despite offering an apology for his company's continued shipments of opioid painkillers to two West Virginia pharmacies under congressional investigation, an executive with a major pharmaceutical distributor said he doesn't believe his company's actions contributed to the U.S. opioid epidemic.

Executives from five drug distributors -- Cardinal Health, Miami-Luken, the McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp. and H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co. -- were questioned for nearly three hours Tuesday by members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, USA Today reported.

The panel is investigating how millions of opioid prescriptions surged into West Virginia, one of the states most affected by the opioid crisis.

One of the executives who faced questioning was George Barrett, executive director of Cardinal Health. He said the company agrees that too many prescription pills have been distributed nationwide and expressed regret that his company kept supplying opioid pills to the two West Virginia pharmacies.

"Those decisions allowed the two pharmacies to continue to receive certain volumes of hydrocodone and oxycodone from Cardinal Health for longer than I think they should have, based on what I have since learned about the circumstances surrounding those pharmacies," he said.

"With the benefit of hindsight, I wish we had moved faster and asked a different set of questions," Barrett said. "I am deeply sorry we did not."

But Barrett denied responsibility when subcommittee chairman Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., later asked the executives whether they believed actions by them or their companies contributed to the nation's opioids crisis, USA Today reported.

"No, sir, I do not believe we contributed to the opioid crisis," Barrett said.

Of the five executives, only Joseph Mastandrea, chairman of Miami-Luken, answered yes to Harper's question, USA Today reported.

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Patients Crowdfunding for Fake Stem Cell Treatments: Study

There's a growing trend of uninformed patients crowdfunding to pay for phony stem cell treatments, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at patients who crowdfunded for treatment at for-profit clinics that use direct-to-consumer marketing of expensive unproven stem cell treatments, the Associated Press reported.

The companies often claim their treatments can significantly improve health or cure conditions, including chronic lung disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and arthritis.

Over four months last year, the researchers identified 408 funding requests for stem cell treatment that received pledges of nearly $1.5 million from 13,050 donors. The requests were posted on GoFundMe and YouCaring, the AP reported.

The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers did not examine how many of the patients eventually underwent stem cell treatment or the outcomes of those who did, but there have been deaths and permanent injury from unproven stem cell treatments, the AP reported.

The study highlights an issue that has not received much attention, according to lead author Jeremy Snyder, a bioethicist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada.

He told the AP that he was "surprised by the scope of it," and added that the patients are not to blame.

"They want to believe a lot of the times that this is going to really cure me. It's absolutely a heartbreaking situation," Snyder said.

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New CDC Director's Salary Cut

The salary of the new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been cut by $165,300 a year.

Dr. Robert Redfield Jr.'s annual pay will be reduced to $209,700 from $375,000, which was at least $150,000 more than any previous CDC director, the Associated Press reported.

The salary change was revealed Tuesday by a Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman.

Redfield was a leading HIV researcher but had no experience in public health work or in managing a public health agency. Controversy erupted when it became known that he was to make nearly twice as much as the previous CDC director, the AP reported.

Redfield asked for a salary reduction because his pay had become a distraction, according to HHS officials.

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Head of U.S. Pediatricians' Group 'Appalled' by Trump Administration's Stance on Border Control

The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics says she is "appalled" by the Trump administration's zero tolerance illegal immigration policy that could separate children from their parents while the adults are prosecuted.

The Department of Homeland Security says it will refer all arrests for illegal entry to federal prosecutors.

Between October and April, people in families accounted for nearly one of every four Border Patrol arrests, so a major increase in prosecutions is likely to lead children and parents to be separated while parents go before the courts and spend time in jail, NPR reported.

Children separated from their parents would be supervised by the Health and Human Services Department, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

"As a pediatrician, as a parent, as the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, I am appalled by a new policy reportedly signed by Department of Homeland Security that will forcibly separate children from their parents, a practice that this administration has already been carrying out for months," Dr. Colleen Kraft said in a statement.

"The AAP is opposed to this policy and will continue to urge the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice to reverse it immediately," she said.

"Separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians -- protecting and promoting children's health. In fact, highly stressful experiences, like family separation, can cause irreparable harm, disrupting a child's brain architecture and affecting his or her short- and long-term health. This type of prolonged exposure to serious stress -- known as toxic stress -- can carry lifelong consequences for children," Kraft said.

She added that the "new policy is the latest example of harmful actions by the Department of Homeland Security against immigrant families, hindering their right to seek asylum in our country and denying parents the right to remain with their children. We can and must do better for these families. We can and must remember that immigrant children are still children; they need our protection, not prosecution."

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