Health Highlights: March 7, 2012

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

Prices of Seniors' Drugs Rise Nearly 26 Percent: Report

The cost of medicines used by many older Americans increased nearly 26 percent between 2005 and 2009, according to an AARP report.

The increase was nearly twice the rate of inflation, according to the analysis of the retail prices of 514 brand name and generic drugs most commonly used by Medicare recipients, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

While the prices of generic drugs fell nearly 31 percent during the study period, the prices of brand name drugs rose by nearly 41 percent, and the prices of specialty drugs increased by more than 48 percent, AARP said.

In comparison, the rate of inflation grew by just over 13 percent between 2005 and 2009, the Times reported.

Drug industry officials criticized the AARP study, and said the increased availability of generic drugs has slowed the increase in drug prices in recent years, the newspaper reported.


Group Wants FDA to Ban Caramel Coloring in Sodas

The use of caramel coloring in popular soda drinks such as Coke and Pepsi should be banned due to a possible cancer risk, the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest says in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In the letter, CSPI says lab tests found that the average level of 4-methylimidazole (4-MI) in 12-ounce servings of regular and diet Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper and Whole Foods 365 cola was 138 micrograms, far above the 29 microgram limit recommended by the state of California, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The average level of 4-MI indicated a lifetime cancer risk of five out of 100,000 people, according to the letter. That risk may be higher if people who don't drink sodas aren't included in the calculation.

CSPI says 4-MI -- which is formed when sugar is mixed with ammonia and sulfites to create the caramel coloring that gives colas their familiar brown color -- has been shown to cause lung, liver and thyroid cancer in mice and rats, the Times reported.

The American Beverage Association said the CSPI letter is a "scare tactic," and noted that regulatory agencies worldwide "consider caramel coloring safe for use in foods and beverages."


FDA Rejects New Combo Cholesterol Drug

A new combination cholesterol-lowering drug has been rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The drug -- called MK-0653C -- includes a generic version of Pfizer's cholesterol-lowering medicine Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Merck & Co.'s cholesterol medicine Zetia (ezetimibe). The two medicines work in different ways to lower cholesterol, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA's decision about the new combination drug -- which was created by Merck -- was announced Monday. The FDA wants additional study data on the drug.

Merck officials said they'll talk with the FDA to determine the next steps and also said that new data expected later this year may address the FDA's concerns, the AP reported.

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