Health Highlights: May 27, 2016

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

Republican Congressman Says He Used Medical Marijuana

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told a group of marijuana activists that two weeks ago he tried medical marijuana to treat his arthritis pain and it helped him.

The lawmaker said he tried a topical wax-based marijuana treatment and that night “was the first time in a year and a half that I had a decent night’s sleep because the arthritis pain was gone,” the Washington Post reported.

It’s the first time in decades that a sitting U.S. congressman admitted to marijuana use while in office.

“This is definitely the first legislator in Congress in at least 30-some-odd years who has acknowledged to using marijuana illegally,” Alan St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Russ Belville of Cannabis Radio yesterday, the Post reported.

Rohrabacher is one of the conservatives in Congress pushing for an overhaul of marijuana laws, and medical marijuana is legal in his home state of California.


Brain Scans Can Detect Hidden Consciousness in Patients

A common brain scanning technique could help identify patients with hidden signs of consciousness as opposed to those in a vegetative state, a new study says.

That distinction — typically made based on a doctor’s bedside exam — is important because it influences treatment, the Associated Press reported.

Researchers used FDG-PET scans to measure the brain’s consumption of blood sugar, which fuels brain cells. Using a particular cutoff for the level of consumption, they could correctly identify whether a patient was vegetative or minimally conscious 88 percent of the time, according to the study in the journal Current Biology.

This is a “very important” study, according to Dr. Nicholas Schiff, professor of neurology and neuroscience, Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. He was not involved in the study.

Such tests could help in early diagnosis and improve care, he told the AP.


FDA Extends Review of Muscular Dystrophy Drug

A review of an experimental muscular dystrophy drug has been extended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as it considers whether to approve the drug.

Drug maker Sarepta Therapeutics Inc. said the review extension means the FDA will not meet its previous pledge to make a decision about the injectable drug eteplirsen by Thursday, but the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company added FDA officials said they will “strive to complete their work in as timely a manner as possible,” the Associated Press reported.

The company claims eteplirsen helps faulty cells produce a protein called dystrophin, which plays a crucial role in muscle fibers. But a review by FDA scientists said there was virtually no evidence the drug was effective in treating muscular dystrophy.

Last month, an outside panel of FDA advisers voted 7-3 against recommending the drug’s approval, despite dozens of parents, patients and doctors at the meeting who urged approval of the drug, the AP reported.


New South Carolina Law Bans Abortions At 20 Weeks

A bill outlawing most abortions at 20 weeks after conception was signed Wednesday by South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and takes effect July 1.

The only exceptions to the law are if a mother’s life is at risk or if a doctor concludes the fetus can’t survive outside the womb, the Associated Press reported.

For each violation of the law, doctors face up to $10,000 in fines and 3 years in prison. A third conviction brings mandatory prison time.

Opponents of the law point out that later-term abortions typically occur when there are serious problems with a wanted pregnancy.

“The reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available,” Alyssa Miller, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman for South Carolina, told the AP.

The South Carolina forbids abortion of a fetus with a severe birth defect if the child could live. Such problems are typically detected around 20 weeks of pregnancy, the AP reported.

At least 13 states have banned late-stage abortions, while bans in several other states have been blocked by court challenges.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling said women nationwide have the right to abortions, but also said state could restrict abortions after viability, which is the point when a fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving outside the womb. Viability may occur between 24 and 28 weeks, according to the ruling.

There are a number of legal challenges against state bans on earlier abortions, but the Supreme Court has yet to rule on those cases, the AP reported.

A few days ago, a bill to outlaw abortion at any stage was vetoed by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin because she said it would not withstand a legal challenge.


Two States Sue J&J Over Vaginal Mesh Implants

Washington state and California have filed lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson over its vaginal mesh implants.

The attorneys general of the two states said the company for years misrepresented the severe risks of the devices for thousands of patients, the Associated Press reported.

Johnson & Johnson neglected to inform patients and doctors about the risks and about patients who suffered serious and sometimes irreversible complications such as urinary dysfunction, constipation, severe pain and loss of sexual function, according to the attorneys general.

The lawsuits are unjustified, according to Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon, Inc., which marketed the device, the AP reported.

Early this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration re-labeled vaginal mesh products as high risk instead of moderate and said they would be subjected to increased scrutiny.

Tens of thousands of patients have filed lawsuits against vaginal mesh makers, including Johnson & Johnson, Boston Scientific and Endo International. In 2014, Endo agreed to pay $830 million to settle more than 20,000 lawsuits, the AP reported.

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