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The Deadly Side of Energy Drinks - Dec 21, 2012

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Written by Administrator
Monday, 17 December 2012 00:00

Energy drinks have been linked to multiple deaths around the country and tied to more than 100 health incidents since 2004. As a result, the FDA is considering whether or not to recommend new labels and health warnings for all caffeinated energy drinks.  

What we know so far is that the beverage brand 5-Hour Energy has been associated with 13 deaths since December 2009, while the Monster brand has been linked to five. However, this may only be the tip of the iceberg because mandatory reporting to the FDA of product-related health incidents is determined by product description. For instance, if you are a manufacturer and your energy-drink product is classified as a "dietary supplement," the law says you must report whatever information you have on related health incidents - I read this to mean involved in a lawsuit or allegations have been made. On the other hand, if your product is included in a group of products classified as "caffeinated beverages," you're off the hook as far as reporting to the FDA goes.

Disclosure of caffeine levels for energy drinks is equally inconsistent and at the discretion of the manufacturer. As you can imagine, some are forthcoming, others not so much. Regardless, researchers are doing their own analyses. According to a Mayo Clinic study, 5-Hour Energy has 207 milligrams for each 60 milliliter shot. A can of Red Bull or Monster is said to contain about 80 milligrams.

Teenagers and young adults, accustomed as they are to burning the candle at both ends, are great fans of these products. They find they can stay up till all hours of the night, chug a can in the morning, and have a semblance of being alive and functioning in the morning, just in time to take a much-dreaded algebra test or quiz on MacBeth.

Those in this age group who are old enough to indulge in alcohol—and some who aren't but do it anyway—have discovered that mixing alcohol with an energy drink gives them a buzz topped off with a sense of heightened alertness. This would seem to be at odds with the purpose of drinking, but for whatever reason, they find it enjoyable. Researchers theorize that the high levels of caffeine make the user feel less impaired than he actually is so he thinks he is functioning at an acceptable level when he isn't—all this age group needs to feel more immortal than they already do!

Unfortunately, with one can of some energy drinks containing as much caffeine as 14 cans of Coke, the side effects of alcohol-energy drink concoctions can include  over-stimulation, heart palpitations, sleeping difficulties, agitation and tremors...on top of being drunk.  

While mixing alcohol with these beverages incurs additional risk factors, even on their own, energy drinks are being associated with strokes and heart attacks. In October a wrongful death suit was filed by the parents of a 14-year-old girl who died in December, 2011, after drinking a 24 ounce can of Monster Energy in the evening, followed by another 24 ounce can the following afternoon. Attorneys for the plaintiff have pointed out that two cans of the beverage contain 480 milligrams of caffeine and that caffeine “can be lethal in doses ranging in 200-400 milligrams.” In this particular case, caffeine toxicity may have exacerbated an unknown health condition in the young woman.

There is no good reason why consumers should not be warned about the severe health risks of high levels of caffeine and be clearly informed of the exact amount in any beverage product. Not everyone who has all the facts will be inclined to make an intelligent decision, but some of us will. That is reason enough to have better labeling.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 January 2013 14:11 )

Post-Hurricane Cleanup SNAFU - Dec 14, 2012

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Written by Administrator
Thursday, 13 December 2012 00:00

Seven years ago to the day that Hurricane Katrina devastated the City of New Orleans, Hurricane Isaac pummeled the city. More than 200,000 people across the state were still without power five days after the storm passed.  The neighborhood where I live, Algiers Point, was one of them. A transformer at the corner of Eliza and Bermuda Streets blew out, and at this point I should say, "the rest is history," but in reality it's been "a comedy of errors." Except it's not all that funny.

A few months ago you might recall how, after Isaac, I blogged about downed power lines in my area  and how they created a potential hazard for the public. Because there was risk of a fatal accident, it was my contention that Entergy should have made it a priority to cordon off the area and post warnings. It took five days for the power company to get the problem fixed and during this entire time there was no barrier erected, or even minimal warnings posted, to prevent people from walking or driving over the wires.

Eventually, though, the power lines were repaired and no one was injured as far as I know. As for the transformer, it too was repaired but in this case, the crew left behind a metal rod, about three-quarters of an inch thick, protruding from the remains of a wooden pole. It was left sticking out in mid-air, angled outward, right at the height where a young child could easily have walked straight into it, losing an eye. 

It may have been my original frustration over the downed power-line incident, but my annoyance over this hazard increased on a daily basis. For more than four months I would drive past the pole every day, ready to explode with anger.

"How could they be so irresponsible!" I would fume.

"They," of course, is the invisible monster who is always lying in wait, intent on stalking us, ready to pounce on us and mess up our lives at a moment's notice. Personally, I blame "they" for more than half the problems I encounter on a daily basis.

One day I was telling someone about my frustration over the dangerous pole, and she asked, "Has anyone called the power company to get an explanation?"

I stopped cold in my tracks. I honestly couldn't say. I certainly had not called the company to inquire or report it. I just assumed "They" knew about it.

So I got on the phone to do what I should have done four months before. I called the customer service number for Entergy, (800) 368-3749 and got into the queue for reporting a hazardous condition.

Eventually I was put through to a representative who asked me for my account number even though I explained to her I was reporting a hazardous condition that had nothing to do with my account.  No matter.  She had to have my account number.  She took down all of my information, I told her about the metal rod.  I told her about the danger.  She put me on hold.  She came back to tell me she was going to transfer me to the consumer division.

Ten minutes later from when I started, Mr. Smith picked up the line. I went through my spiel all over again. Still no one asked me for the address of the hazardous condition.

The clock was ticking and I had clients waiting for me. I had been at this for almost 12 minutes.

By now, I was trying to figure out how I was going to adjust my afternoon schedule while Mr. Smith continued looking for my account information, even though I tried to tell him that's not where the hazardous object was.  No matter. He found my daughter's account. He found a bunch of closed accounts under my name.  I told him as politely as possible (probably not all that politely) that there had to be an account under my name and phone number because I pay two electric bills every month.

Hooray! Mr. Smith found my account!

I glanced down at my watch. We were closing in on 13 minutes. How difficult could this be? Mr. Smith now needed the last four digits of my social. Really? Mr. Smith then asked me for general driving directions to my neighborhood. Again...really?  Does Entergy not have GPS? But he still hadn't asked me where the hazardous object was.

Finally, 14 minutes from when I picked up the phone, he asked about the location of the hazardous object. I was prepared to give Mr. Smith the exact intersection, but he was more interested in knowing if the pole was near my house. Argggh!

Out of curiosity, I asked Mr. Smith if the dangerous pole had been previously reported, but he told me he didn't know because it could have been reported under someone else's account number. As I was about to hang up (after a total loss of time of almost 16 minutes!), I was told someone would be out to assess the situation later that day.

Here is what happened: The problem was taken care of the very next day.

The moral of this story? Get on the ball. Be proactive. And don't always assume it's the other guy. Sometimes it's you and me. Yes, the emergency crew made a mistake. Yes, they should have never left the work site without erecting a barrier. Yes, they should have returned and permanently removed the hazard the following week, if not sooner. But I also was at fault by making assumptions. Lesson learned.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 January 2013 13:58 )

The Damning of Adam Darski - Dec 10, 2012

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Written by Administrator
Monday, 10 December 2012 00:00

What does Bible desecration have to do with personal injury? Not much if anything at all; but this is a legal story that is hard to ignore. Hence, my interest in it.

In 2007, Adam Darski, a Polish heavy metal rocker tore up a copy of the Bible while performing onstage. Now, five years later, the Polish Supreme Court has issued a ruling on the legal arguments used in the musician's trial in a lower court. It has decided that intentionality is not required for a person to commit the crime of blasphemy.

This was a major blow for Darski's legal team who had based their arguments on the premise that it had never been Darski's intention to offend anyone's religious sentiments. They also argued that such inflammatory actions have historically been the perogatives of artists -- but this argument, too, was dismissed. The court wasn't buying any of it, and, mind you, I'm not saying they should have. But legal arguments aside, I do think it's important to reflect on the defendant's provocative actions if only to explore the reasons behind them. All too often, we are so offended by something like this, we don't trouble ourselves to see what is really going on.

What do I mean? Well, let's look at flag burning. Just for instance.

Not everyone will remember what I'm talking about, but at the height of the Vietnam War protests, some protesters took to displaying their opposition to the war by publicly burning American flags. It was over-the-top theatricality whose primary purpose was to draw attention to the political position that the Vietnam War was indefensible and the US government needed to withdraw from it as quickly as possible.

As offensive as many people found the act of flag burning, the perpetrators accomplished what they set out to do: They got our attention and we stopped taking it for granted that any decision the US government made on the people's behalf was unquestionably correct. Gradually, we reached consensus over Vietnam and got out.

Adam Darski's Bible-desecration stunt, as offensive as it was, has managed to get the Polish people's attention in just such a way.

I'm not for a minute suggesting that he deserves to be found guilty...or even innocent, for that matter. That is up to the Polish judiciary to decide. Legal experts say he could get as much as two years of jail time, although it's unlikely.

What I am suggesting, however, is that there's a message behind the man's actions. Opinion polls estimate that 93 percent of the Polish people are Roman Catholic, but many of these do not actively practice their faith, especially young adults--some of Darski's biggest fans. That's why it seems to me that regardless of what the Polish Supreme Court decides, the Polish people should give the incident serious thought. Killing the messenger does not necessarily make the message go away.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 January 2013 13:58 )

Changing Medicare One Rule at a Time - Dec 3, 2012

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Written by Administrator
Monday, 03 December 2012 00:00

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a National Institute of Health (NIH) study that says knee revision surgeries are expected to rise from 37,544 in 2005 to 56,918 by 2030, with projected costs exceeding 2 billion dollars. Furthermore, the report revealed that Medicare reimbursement rates will not cover the cost of revision arthroplasty, causing a huge potential drain on the health care system.

Well, Medicare has now taken some steps to change the way they are doing business with hospitals.

Starting in October, Medicare began fining hospitals for excessive readmission of patients suffering from complications within 30 days of discharge. The government estimates that about two-thirds of the hospitals serving Medicare patients, or some 2,200 facilities, will be hit with penalties averaging around $125,000 per facility this coming year. For now, hospitals are only being measured for heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia, but Medicare is thinking about expanding this to include joint replacements, stenting, heart bypass and treatment of stroke.

But that's not all the agency is doing to encourage hospitals to focus on improving patient care.

In October, the agency started posting penalty data, which means you can now easily find out how well your local hospital is performing...or not. Just go to Hospital Compare and enter your zip code to retrieve data about any hospital you want to check up on. 

With so many thing going wrong in government these days, it comes as something of a pleasant surprise to see Medicare offering consumers the kind of information that can help them make intelligent choices about their health care. Do I go to the hospital down the road that has a 69% patient rating on pain control, a 72% rating for doctor communication and an 81% rating for bathroom cleanliness? Or do I travel 10.2 miles farther to go to one that has an 85% rating on pain control, an 86% rating for doctor communication, but a 73% rating for bathroom cleanliness? I'm guessing I'll go with effective pain control over cleaner bathrooms‚ not because I like dirty bathrooms, but because for me it's all about priorities, and when I'm in pain, my number-one focus is please make it stop. Now. But if you prefer a cleaner bathroom over pain control, you will know where to go!

These are just a few of the changes that have come about as the result of the new health care laws, which probably none of us fully understands, but as the fog starts to lift, we will begin to see the bits and pieces fall into place and have a better idea of whether it's an improvement or if we've merely rearranged the chairs on the Titanic. Some experts feel we are moving in the right direction, though.

"It's modest, but it's a start," said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, commenting on the issue of penalties. He added, "People go to the hospital to get their problem solved, not to have to come back.."

As inconvenient as it may be, returning to get fixed what should have been fixed right in the first place, the real problem with medical "do-overs" is that mistakes in health care can be deadly. That's why these penalties are not a bad idea. Hospitals that consistently deliver inferior care need a wakeup call.

As with all change, there will of course be those who argue against it. Some will say that enforcing penalties on hospitals will only serve to make our mammoth government even bigger, while hindering responsible medical providers from doing their jobs. My only response to this is: Can we honestly afford 98,000 deaths per year from what the Institute of Medicine defines as preventable medical errors? I don't think so. Insisting on greater medical accountability is an important step in reversing this trend.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 03 January 2013 13:58 )
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