HEALTH

Proposed HHS rule on birth control stirs up controversy

BY Drew Buono

WASHINGTON Health and Human Services may be considering a draft regulation that would classify most birth control pills, the Plan B emergency contraceptive and intrauterine devices as forms of abortion because they prevent the development of fertilized eggs into fetuses, according to published reports.

The rule, which does not require congressional approval, would allow healthcare workers who object to abortion on moral or religious grounds to refuse to counsel women on their birth control options or supply contraceptives. It would forbid more than a half-million health agencies nationwide that receive federal funds from requiring employees to provide such services. Pharmacists could use the rule as a justification for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions, and insurance companies could cite it as a basis for declining to cover the costs.

In his professional blog, HHS secretary Mike Leavitt says he has ordered the draft regulation to be rewritten with a narrower focus—specifically on allowing healthcare workers to refuse to participate in procedures they find objectionable. An “early draft of the regulations found its way into public circulation before it had reached my review,” he wrote, adding that the draft “contained words that lead some to conclude my intent is to deal with the subject of contraceptives, somehow defining them as abortion. Not true.”

Leavitt’s denials notwithstanding, the draft rule could void laws in 27 states that require insurance companies to provide birth control coverage for women requesting it. The rule also could counter laws in 14 states requiring that rape victims receive counseling and access to emergency, day-after contraceptives. It would also require federal agencies and states to provide funds for such “family planning” clinics as those that provide women with only abstinence counseling.

In response to this draft legislation, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., have sent a letter to Leavitt requesting a meeting to discuss the legislation.

According to reports, Clinton and Murray’s letter says, in part, “We remain concerned by the regulations’ potential to create barriers for women seeking health care, to jeopardize federal programs that provide family planning services and to disrupt state laws securing women’s access to birth control.”

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Westchester, N.Y., considering stricter limit on cough medicine sales

BY Drew Buono

WESTCHESTER, N.Y. A new bill maybe passed in Westchester that would ban the selling of cough and cold products containing dextromethorphan to anyone under 18, according to The New York Times.

The county would follow Nassau and Suffolk who passed legislation last year banning the selling of the products to anyone under 18 and 19 respectively. Reports have shown a large increase in children taking the medications in excess to get the “high” euphoric effects that they would receive from drugs like marijuana.

If the law passes, Westchester supermarkets and drugstores that sell DXM products to minors would get a warning for the first violation and $150 fines for each subsequent offense.

Similar bans are under committee review in the United States Senate and the New York and New Jersey state legislatures. A Connecticut bill proposed in 2005 did not proceed to a vote.

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Military pharmacy pulls Chantix from shelves

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK While the Federal Aviation Administration has banned pilots’ use of the anti-smoking drug Chantix, it remains available at a United States military hospital in Okinawa, Japan, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported in an article marked for Tuesday.

Officials at Yokota Air Base, however, have pulled it from the base’s pharmacy.

The restrictions on the drug’s use follow a report by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices linking the drug to seizures, psychosis, muscle spasms, vision disturbances and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The Food and Drug Administration wants the drug’s maker, Pfizer, to put new safety labels on it.

Known generically as varenicline, Chantix had sales of $883 million in 2007, according to Pfizer financial data.

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