Health News Digest, November 2023

Info You Can Use

Does online therapy work?

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has worsened across America. As therapists and patients stayed at home, there was an increase in online therapy, but many were concerned that it might not be as effective as in-person therapy. Our article reviewed the research and concluded that online therapy is effective, and might be as effective as in-person therapy, especially for cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety or depression. If you find the holidays stressful, you might want to read more about the research here.

We're In the News

Are PIP rubber playgrounds safe for your community?

NCHR President Dr. Diana Zuckerman knows how frustrating it can be when a school district makes decisions about playgrounds and sports fields that ignore the scientific evidence of risks and therefore endangers children. So when families in Kingston, NY asked for our support in fighting against PIP (Poured in Place) rubber playground surfaces and a new turf field, we were eager to help. As you can see in this photo, the red rubber top layer of the PIP playground surface has worn off in many areas after just a few years, exposing the black recycled tire mulch underneath. That tire mulch contains lead and other dangerous chemicals which young children are exposed to when they play with it or put it on their mouths. Dr. Zuckerman explained why that harms children in her commentary published in the Kingston Wire website, which can be read here, and her radio interviews are available here and here.

Experts fear FDA push to get drugs to market faster shortchanges patients

The FDA has granted accelerated approval for 9 neurological drugs intended for serious diseases since 2016, but these expensive drugs have not been proven to work. Patients who have been struggling with serious diseases such as muscular dystrophy and ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) want hope that there will be a new treatment that will help, but many experts believe that accelerated approval has led to these drugs are being approved too quickly. Dr. Zuckerman told Politico that too often this means patients face serious complications or financial devastation from drugs that are unlikely to work. Read more here.

After their drug trial fizzles, this company wants broader FDA approval for an unproven treatment costing $3.2 million per patient

In 2016, FDA gave a start-up company named Sarepta accelerated approval for a new drug to treat Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. We told Bloomberg News that Sarepta subsequently got accelerated approval for 3 other drugs for the same disease. This month they reported new study results of the most expensive of these treatments, which was supposed to confirm that the drug actually worked. Unfortunately, their study showed that their drug wasn’t even close to making a significant improvement in children with this terrible disease. Despite these results, the company is still fighting to get the drug fully approved. That would be a terrible, expensive mistake. Read more here.

We're Speaking Out for You

PFAS, artificial turf, and success in a NJ community and for veterans!

PFAS, or ‘Forever Chemicals’, are still being widely used in thousands of products despite evidence showing that they can lead to serious diseases, including cancer. They are found in stain-resistant clothes, food packaging, and artificial turf and they do not degrade easily, hence the nickname. We have reviewed the research and found how you can best avoid exposure to these chemicals; you can read about that here.

We want to share two recent success stories in the fight against PFAS. Last Fall, we wrote a letter explaining why artificial turf was a bad idea for a local elementary school to the Westfield, NJ town council in response to residents’ request for our help. On election day this month, the people of Westfield overwhelmingly voted against installing the turf field. This is a huge victory and we are glad to see community residents are listening to the science and trying to keep their kids safe. You can read the election results here. Meanwhile, the U.S. Veterans Administration has awarded 100% disability to a veteran suffering from colon cancer attributed to dangerous levels of PFAS contamination of groundwater at his military base. That's important for Veterans everywhere. You can read about that here.

NCHR’s comments on proposed guidance chronic hazard

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) requested comments about their proposed hazard guidelines, and NCHR was glad to suggest improvements. The guidelines had not been updated since they were drafted in 2008 (15 years ago!) and we pointed out several key problems. Our goal is for CPSC to make sure that products are not dangerous, and especially not carcinogenic. Read more here.

Our testimony at FDA advisory panel on blood devices

When cancer patients undergo surgery, their blood is sometimes irradiated during the procedure to make sure it has no cancer cells, and then recirculated back into the patient. These radiation devices have been used for almost 50 years but the FDA has never required them to be proven safe or effective! At a recent FDA Advisory Committee meeting, FDA pointed out the risks of the radiation from these devices, and stated that there is no evidence that they benefit patients. Dr. Zuckerman was the only public speaker at this meeting on November 7, and she let them know that these devices should not be allowed to be used unless they are proven to work. We were pleased that the panel agreed that clinical trials are needed. Read more here.

News You Can Use

New study of effective treatment for PTSD

Current PTSD therapy treatments can take months before seeing improvement. For example, Exposure Therapy gradually exposes patients to the traumatic event so that they can cope with the traumatic memories. A new study evaluated Written Exposure Therapy (WET) as a potential alternative that takes less time The study found that WET was as effective as Exposure Therapy, but fewer patients dropped out of the WET trial, and the treatment took only half the time. Read more about the study here.

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