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Health & Fitness (239)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Michelle Obama wants food makers and entertainment companies to spend less time advertising sweet and salty foods to kids and more time promoting healthier options.

Concerned about the nation's childhood obesity issues, the first lady on Wednesday is convening the first White House summit on food marketing to children to get involved parties talking about how to help consumers make healthier food choices. That includes enlisting the persuasive power of the multimillion-dollar food marketing industry.

As she helped kick off a nationwide campaign last week to encourage people to drink more plain water, Mrs. Obama said she would keep reaching out to new people and organizations and keep making the case for healthier choices like water and fruits and vegetables.

The White House says it has invited representatives from the food and media industries, advocates, parents, representatives of government agencies and researchers, though it did not release a list of names and organizations. Mrs. Obama will open the meeting with public remarks. The rest of the meeting will be closed to the media.

Consumer advocates say studies show that food marketing is a leading cause of obesity because it influences what children want to eat.

A 2006 report on the issue by the influential Institute of Medicine concluded that food and beverage marketing to children "represents, at best, a missed opportunity, and, at worst, a direct threat to the health of the next generation."

Improvements have come in the years since, especially after Mrs. Obama began drawing attention to childhood obesity with a campaign of her own in 2010.

She stood with the Walt Disney Co. last year when it became the first major media company to ban ads for junk food from its media channels, websites and theme parks. She also has praised the Birds Eye frozen food company for encouraging children to eat vegetables, including through promotions featuring characters from the Nickelodeon comedy "iCarly."

But the first lady and consumer advocates say more improvements are needed.

"Most of the food ads that kids see are still for unhealthy food, which makes it really hard for parents to feed their children healthfully," said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. Wootan planned to attend the summit.

In a speech earlier this year to a health conference, Mrs. Obama said limiting the promotion of unhealthy food to kids isn't the only solution.

"It's also about companies realizing that marketing healthy foods can be responsible and the profitable thing to do as well," she said.

The White House summit, which consumer advocates say marks the first time the White House has focused on this issue, could pick up where Congress and the administration left off a few years ago after the administration gave up trying to get the food industry to agree to voluntary marketing guidelines.

Preliminary guidelines released in 2011 asked food companies, advertisers and TV networks only to market foods to children if they are low in fats, sugars and sodium and included specified healthy ingredients. But the effort fizzled after many Republican lawmakers sided with the food industry, which accused government of overreaching.

The companies said the guidelines were overly broad and would limit marketing of almost all of the nation's favorite foods. The food companies also said they were feared government retaliation if they didn't go along with guidelines that were intended to be voluntary.

Large food companies then announced their own guidelines that, not surprisingly, were more lenient than what the Federal Trade Commission, the Agriculture Department, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had proposed under the direction of Congress.

The FTC publicly backed off some of the guidelines, including a recommendation that companies change packaging and remove brand characters from some foods. In late 2011, the agency said Congress "had clearly changed its mind" and said it would take another look. It never released updated guidelines.

New York University food and nutrition professor Marion Nestle, who also was attending the meeting, said studies show that voluntary restrictions don't work.

"Food marketing is the elephant in the room," she said. "If you're serious about childhood obesity, you've got to do something about food marketing." ---

Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report. ---

Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/DSUPERVILLEAP © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Wednesday, 18 September 2013 07:02
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CHICAGO (AP) -- Almost 1 in 10 U.S. high school seniors have engaged in recent extreme binge drinking - downing at least 10 drinks at a rate that barely budged over six years, according to a government-funded report.

Less severe binge drinking, consuming five or more drinks in a row, has mostly declined in recent years among teens. But for high school seniors, the 2011 rate for 10 drinks in a row - 9.6 percent - was down only slightly from 2005.

The most extreme level - 15 or more drinks in a row within the past two weeks - didn't change from 2005 to 2011. Almost 6 percent of high school seniors reported recently drinking that amount.

The number of seniors engaging in the most extreme drinking "is really concerning because they're most at risk for the really severe consequences," including reckless driving, car accidents and alcohol poisoning, said lead researcher Megan Patrick of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research.

Extreme binge drinking may be a behavior that's "more entrenched" among some teens, and thus harder to change, Patrick said.

The new report is an analysis of survey results that the university does for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. It's based on classroom questionnaires given to more than 16,000 high school seniors; a question on extreme binge drinking was added in 2005.

Whites and males were the most likely to engage in all levels of binge drinking, the report found. Students with more educated parents had higher rates of binge drinking than other kids, but lower rates of extreme binge drinking.

Extreme binge drinking was most common in rural areas and the Midwest and least common in the West.

The report was published online Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

Young adults generally have higher levels of extreme drinking; a 2012 survey by the same group found that more than 1 in 4 people aged 19 to 30 had recently consumed at least 10 drinks in a row and more than 1 in 10 had at least 15 drinks in a row.

A journal editorial says the new report may help explain why hospitalizations for alcohol and drug overdoses among teens and young adults have increased in recent years despite ongoing declines in less severe binge drinking.

In the early 1980s, before all states made 21 the minimum legal drinking age, more than 40 percent of high school seniors said they had recently downed more than five drinks in a row, according to data cited in the editorial.

The 5-plus binge drinking rate steadily declined in more recent years for seniors, to 22 percent in 2011, although it was 24 percent in 2012, according to a previous report from the survey group. The new report has slightly different percentages because it is based on a subgroup of previous surveys. Survey results for 2012 on extreme binge drinking among seniors haven't been published yet.

--- Online: Journal: HTTP://JAMAPEDIATRICS.COM

Monitoring the Future: HTTP://WWW.MONITORINGTHEFUTURE.ORG
--- AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/LINDSEYTANNER © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Tuesday, 17 September 2013 10:48
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ATLANTA (AP) -- For the first time, the government is estimating how many people die from drug-resistant bacteria each year - more than 23,000, or about as many as those killed annually by flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the number Monday to spotlight the growing threat of germs that are hard to treat because they've become resistant to drugs.

Finally estimating the problem sends "a very powerful message," said Dr. Helen Boucher, a Tufts University expert and spokeswoman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "We're facing a catastrophe."

Antibiotics like penicillin and streptomycin first became widely available in the 1940s, and today dozens are used to kill or suppress the bacteria behind illnesses ranging from strep throat to the plague. The drugs are considered one of the greatest advances in the history of medicine, and have saved countless lives.

But as decades passed, some antibiotics stopped working against the bugs they previously vanquished. Experts say their overuse and misuse have helped make them less effective.

In a new report, the CDC tallied the toll of the 17 most worrisome drug-resistant bacteria. The result: Each year, more than 2 million people develop serious infections and at least 23,000 die.

Of those, the staph infection MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, kills about 11,000, and a new superbug kills about 600. That bacteria withstand treatment with antibiotics called carbapenems - considered one of the last lines of defense against hard-to-treat bugs.

Germs like those have prompted health officials to warn that if the situation gets much worse, it could make doctors reluctant to do surgery or treat cancer patients if antibiotics won't protect their patients from getting infections.

"If we're not careful, the medicine chest will be empty" when doctors need infection-fighting drugs, said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.

It's not clear that the problem is uniformly growing worse for all bugs. Some research suggests, for example, that MRSA rates may have plateaued and a separate CDC report released Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine found that serious MRSA infections declined 30 percent between 2005 and 2011.

MRSA bacteria have been the target of many hospital infection control efforts. These germs often live without symptoms on the skin, but also can cause skin or tissue infections, and become more dangerous when they enter the bloodstream.

Serious, invasive MRSA declined in all settings for a total of 80,461 infections in 2011, the journal report found. Most were linked with health care in people who'd recently been hospitalized or received other medical treatment. But for the first time, the more than 16,000 infections picked up in community settings outnumbered the 14,000 infections that began in the hospital.

A 2005-2010 study in the same journal suggests that pig manure might be a cause of some mostly less serious MRSA infections in people living near fertilized farm fields.

The study is based on patients from Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System. It offers only circumstantial evidence, but the authors said the MRSA link is plausible because antibiotics are widely used on pig farms and other livestock operations to enhance animal growth, and the drugs are found in pig manure.

The study involved nearly 3,000 MRSA cases, about half of them not linked with health-care. The authors estimated that living near pig manure-fertilized fields may have accounted for about 11 percent of MRSA not linked with health care.

But how the germs might spread from pig manure to people with no close animal contact is uncertain, the study authors said. Close contact with an infected person or sharing personal items used by an infected person is the usual way MRSA spreads.

Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist, called the report "very provocative" but inconclusive.

Asked generally about antibiotic use in farm animals, the CDC's Frieden said it's an important problem, but he added, "Right now the most acute problem is in hospitals and the most resistant organisms are in hospitals."

---

Tanner contributed to his report from Chicago.

---

Online:

CDC: HTTP://WWW.CDC.GOV/DRUGRESISTANCE/THREAT-REPORT-2013/

JAMA Internal Medicine: HTTP://JAMAINTERNALMEDICINE.COM

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Tuesday, 17 September 2013 10:46
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   WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama has pushed America to eat healthier and to exercise more. Now she says we should "drink up" too. As in plain water. And as in more of it.

   She's getting behind a campaign being announced Thursday by the Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water.

   Organizers say too many people don't drink enough water daily and about one-fourth of kids below age 19 don't drink any water at all on any given day.

   The first lady launched an initiative in 2010 to tackle childhood obesity. In the past, she has advocated switching from sugary sodas to water. But officials behind this new effort say it's strictly about getting people to drink more water — not about promoting water over other beverages.

 
Thursday, 12 September 2013 05:29
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CHICAGO (AP) -- With the program known as "Obamacare" only weeks away from its key launch date, hectic preparations are in motion in communities across the country to deal with one of its major practical challenges: hiring and training a small army of instant experts who can explain the intricacies of health insurance to people who've never had it.

More than 100 nonprofits and related organizations, which specialize in everything from running soup kitchens to organizing farm workers, have been recruited by the federal government to sign up "navigators" to help the 30 million uninsured people who can now gain coverage.

Many of the groups have little expertise in health insurance. And the timeline for training the workers is tight. According to the new health law, people can begin shopping among the new policies on Oct. 1. The enrollment period lasts six months. Coverage begins in January.

"I think there's a lot of concern about whether, with all these state requirements, they are going to be ready to go," said Katie Keith, a former research professor at Georgetown University, who has been tracking the heath care legislation. "You want people out there educating consumers."

Deploying the guides for the uninsured is one of the first hurdles for the new health system as it transitions from an abstract political debate in Washington to a real-life process in communities. It is one of the steps government officials are concerned about as critics warn that the Affordable Care Act could become a "train wreck."

The guides will be sent to community events with laptops to help people sign up for insurance online. They will work at food banks, shelters, churches and free clinics where the uninsured are likely to be.

The short time available for training raises questions about how prepared the workers will be to answer people's questions about the different policies and government subsidies available. Community groups received the course materials for the 20-hour training only days ago. Many have just begun to post the openings on job boards.

A small scream came from Tara McCollum Plese when she was asked whether her group, Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, has hired any of the 45 workers authorized in its federal grant. "Ack! No," she said Thursday. Her group has posted a job description, she said, and is now flooded with inquiries for the positions, which pay about $15 an hour. She's since heard one worker has been hired.

Not one navigator has been hired yet under the $2 million grant obtained by the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. The Illinois Eye Institute, which will help with enrollment in the Chicago area, plans to train a dozen staffers for the task.

The work will be more difficult than what most other temporary employees, such as census workers, do. The navigators must listen to a family's real-world story, assess its income, and figure out eligibility for the Medicaid program, which provides health care for the poor, or for new tax credits, each with its own complicated rules.

If the system works as federal officials hope, more than half of the nation's uninsured, which amount to 15 percent of the population, will get coverage.

In Texas, with the highest percentage of uninsured residents, eight groups are receiving a total of $10.8 million and plan to train more than 150 paid workers and volunteers. Tim McKinney, CEO of United Way of Tarrant County, which got the largest grant, said many people without insurance are looking for information.

In Mississippi, workers will go into rural areas without Internet access to help people with the enrollment and policy-shopping process, which is done online.

"When Oct. 1 rolls around, we're going to be ready to rock 'n' roll," said the Rev. Michael O. Minor of Oak Hill Baptist Church in Hernando, Miss.

In 17 states, navigators have additional hoops to jump through because of new state laws affecting the federal health care law, such as required background checks for the workers.

Republican members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce have also called on some of the assisting groups to explain how consumers will be protected when they speak with a navigator. The Republicans' letter sets a Sept. 13 deadline for the groups to produce documents.

"This request threw us for a loop quite honestly," said Plese of the Arizona health center group. "We haven't even drawn down any funds from the grant."

Will there be enough time for the hiring and training?

"It has to be enough time," said Laura Goodhue, executive director of Florida CHAIN, a consumer health group involved in the training. "We have to do what we have to do."

--- AP writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.

--- AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson can be reached at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/CARLAKJOHNSON .

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 09:17
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NEW YORK (AP) -- Two scientists who illuminated how brain cells communicate, three researchers who developed implants that let deaf people hear and philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates have won prestigious Lasker Awards for medical research and contributions to public health.

The Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation announced the recipients of the $250,000 prizes on Monday. The awards will be presented Sept. 20 in New York City.

The Gateses won the public service award "for leading a historic transformation in the way we view the globe's most pressing health concerns and improving the lives of millions of the world's most vulnerable," the Lasker foundation said.

They have donated more than $26 billion to their philanthropic foundation. They often team up with agencies that can provide diverse expertise, the Lasker foundation said, noting that they supported an international partnership that has helped immunize hundreds of millions of children against killer diseases. Their current priorities include polio, agriculture and family-planning information and services.

The Lasker clinical medical research award will be shared by Graeme Clark, an emeritus professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, Ingeborg Hochmair of the company MED-EL in Innsbruck, Austria, and Blake Wilson of Duke University in North Carolina, for developing the modern cochlear (KAH'-klee-er) implant. More than 320,000 people around the world use the implants for severe hearing loss, the foundation said.

The devices stimulate the auditory nerve with electric signals. Hochmair and Clark worked independently, in the face of scientific skepticism that electrical stimulation could produce meaningful hearing. The implants were approved in the U.S. in 1985.

Wilson later designed a new way for implants to process speech, which has allowed most users to understand words and sentences with no visual cues. The advance fueled a growth in implant use that began in the early 1990s, the foundation said.

The Lasker award for basic medical research will be shared by Richard Scheller of the biotech company Genentech and Dr. Thomas Sudhof of Stanford University. With research they began independently in the late 1980s, they unraveled details of how brain cells release chemical messengers to communicate with each other. Scientists are beginning to find connections between the molecular equipment they studied and serious illnesses like Parkinson's disease, the foundation said.

--- Online: Lasker Foundation: HTTP://WWW.LASKERFOUNDATION.ORG © 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 08:31
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Coverage under President Barack Obama's health care law won't be cheap, but cost-conscious consumers hunting for lower premiums will have plenty of options, according to two independent private studies.

A study released Thursday by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found that government tax credits would lower the sticker price on a benchmark "silver" policy to a little over $190 a month for single people making about $29,000, regardless of their age.

By pairing their tax credit with a stripped-down "bronze" policy, some younger consumers can bring their premiums down to the range of $100 to $140 a month, while older people can drive their monthly cost even lower - well below $100 - if they are willing to take a chance with higher deductibles and copays.

A separate study released Wednesday from Avalere Health, a private data analysis firm, took a wide-angle view, averaging the sticker prices of policies at different coverage levels.

Before tax credits that act like a discount, premiums for a 21-year-old buying a mid-range "silver" policy would be about $270 a month, the Avalere study found. List-price premiums for a 40-year-old buying a mid-range plan will average close to $330. For a 60-year-old, they were nearly double that at $615 a month.

Starting Oct. 1, those who don't have health care coverage on the job can go to new online insurance markets in their states to shop for a private plan and find out if they qualify for a tax credit. An estimated 4 out 5 consumers in the new markets will be eligible for some level of tax credit.

Come Jan. 1, virtually all Americans will be required to have coverage, or face fines. At the same time, insurance companies will no longer be able to turn away people in poor health.

The Obama administration, which is running the markets or taking the lead in 35 states, is not expected to release final premiums until close to the Oct. 1 launch date. But the two private studies provide an early look at the emerging market.

Caroline Pearson, lead author of the Avalere study, said it will be competitive, but there will be big price differences among age groups, states and even within states.

The bottom line is mixed: Many consumers will like their new options, particularly if they qualify for a tax credit. But others may have to stretch to afford coverage.

"We are seeing competitive offerings in every market if you buy toward the low end of what's available," said Pearson, a vice president of Avalere.

However, for uninsured people who are paying nothing today, "this is still a big cost that they're expected to fit into their budgets," Pearson added.

The Obama administration said consumers will have options that are cheaper than the averages presented in the Avalere study. "We're consistently seeing that premiums will be lower than expected," she said. "For the many people that qualify for a tax credit, the cost will be even lower."

The Kaiser study found that while premiums will vary significantly across the country, they are generally coming in lower than forecast by the government's own experts. It cautioned against comparing premiums under Obama's law to what individually insured people currently pay, because the new coverage is more robust.

Avalere crunched the numbers on premiums filed by insurers in 11 states and Washington, D.C. Kaiser analyzed 17 states and the District of Columbia. Both studies included a mix of states running their own insurance markets and ones in which the federal government will take charge.

The states analyzed by Avalere were California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

In addition to those, Kaiser included Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico and Oregon.

No data on premiums were publicly available for Texas and Florida - together they are home to more than 10 million of the nation's nearly 50 million uninsured people - and key to the law's success.

However, Pearson said she's confident the premiums in the Avalere study will be "quite representative" of other states, because clear pricing patterns emerged.

Four levels of plans will be available under Obama's law: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Bronze plans will cover 60 percent of expected medical costs; silver plans will cover 70 percent; gold will cover 80 percent and platinum 90 percent.

All plans cover the same benefits, but bronze features the lowest premiums, paired with higher deductibles and copays. Platinum plans would have the lowest out-of-pocket costs and the highest premiums.

Mid-range silver plans are considered the benchmark, because the tax credits will be keyed to the cost of the second-lowest-cost silver plan in a local area.

And there's another important detail for consumers to be aware of: People with modest incomes may come out ahead by sticking with a silver plan instead of going for the lower premiums with bronze. Additional help with out-of-pocket costs like copays will only be available to people enrolling in a silver plan.

Although the sticker price for premiums rises dramatically above age 40, the tax credits are shaping up as a powerful equalizer for older consumers. That's because they work by limiting what you pay for premiums to a given percentage of your income.

For example, someone making $23,000 would pay no more than 6.3 percent of his or her annual income - $1,450 - for a benchmark silver plan. The amount you pay stays the same whether the total premium is $3,000 or $9,000.

However, those tax credits taper off rapidly for people with solid middle-class incomes, above $30,000 for an individual and $60,000 for a family of four.

The Avalere study also found some striking price differences within certain states, generally larger ones. In New York, with 16 insurers participating, the difference between the cheapest and priciest silver premium was $418.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
Thursday, 05 September 2013 11:33
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