03/30/14 10:00am
03/30/2014 10:00 AM
Discarded cigarettes under a bench outside the entrance to the criminal courts building in Riverside. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Discarded cigarettes under a bench outside the entrance to the criminal courts building in Riverside. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

Come 2015, like it or lump it,  young smokers in this area likely won‘t be able to buy a pack of smokes at local convenience stores until they turn 21, now that the Suffolk County Legislature has voted to increase the minimum age for legal purchases of tobacco products.  (more…)

03/23/14 11:00am
03/23/2014 11:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | (left to right) Town Councilman John Dunleavy, Maureen O'Connor, program director of the Cancer Services Program of Eastern Suffolk County at Peconic Bay Medical Center, Dr. Claire Bradley, board president of American Cancer Society Eastern Division, Dr. Brett Ruffo, colorectal and general surgeon at PBMC, Sherry Patterson, chair of PBMC Health foundation, Joseph Abbate, colorectal cancer survivor, Dennis McDermott, owner of The Riverhead Project, Legislator Al Krupski, Janine Nebons, general manager of Tanger Outlets, and town councilwoman Jodi Giglio.

(left to right) Town Councilman John Dunleavy; Maureen O’Connor, program director of the Cancer Services Program of Eastern Suffolk County at Peconic Bay Medical Center; Dr. Claire Bradley, board president of American Cancer Society Eastern Division; Dr. Brett Ruffo, colorectal and general surgeon at PBMC; Sherry Patterson, chair of PBMC Health foundation; Joseph Abbate, colorectal cancer survivor; Dennis McDermott, owner of The Riverhead Project; Legislator Al Krupski; Janine Nebons, general manager of Tanger Outlets and town councilwoman Jodi Giglio. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

What you put into your body must eventually go down and then come out, making a healthy colorectal tract indispensable.  (more…)

03/09/14 6:00am
03/09/2014 6:00 AM
Carrie Miller

Carrie Miller

A new painkiller that packs large amounts of hydrocodone into a single pill has quickly become one of the most controversial medications in years to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, as health officials debate whether its benefits outweigh the likelihood of being abused.

Zohydro, which is manufactured by the pharmaceutical company Zogenix Inc., is comparable to the painkiller Vicodin, said Dr. Brian Durkin, director of the Center for Pain Management at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

But unlike Vicodin, which has between five and ten milligrams of hydrocodone in a single pill, Zohydro can contain up to 50 milligrams depending on the prescribed dose — making it up to five times more powerful than the highest dose of Vicodin currently on the market.

In addition, unlike Vicodin and other opioid painkillers, Zohydro pills do not include an embedded tamper-resistant mechanism, meaning abusers can easily crush them and snort them or dissolve them in a liquid to be injected.

“We’re risking having another Oxy-Contin crisis,” said Dr. Durkin, recalling a 1996 spike in prescription drug abuse that occurred after another hydrocodone pill hit the market without a tamper resistant mechanism.

In 2010, OxyContin was reformulated to include a system in the pill that prevents people from crushing it. “It turns into a paste,” he explained.

“We’re going in the opposite direction of where we should be for these dangerous drugs,” the doctor said. “I am surprised they approved it.”

Dr. Durkin isn’t the only one: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) held a press conference Monday calling on the Department of Health and Human Services to reverse the “confounding” FDA decision or at least pull the drug until it is tamper-resistant.

Anti-addiction activists have also called on the FDA to revoke its approval of the controversial drug.

Overdose deaths in the U.S. due to prescription painkillers have increased 300 percent since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, 2 million people — nearly 5,500 each day

— reported using prescription painkillers the fi rst time for nonmedical purposes.

In Riverhead, Community Awareness Prevention executive director Felicia Scocozza said she has seen an increase in prescription drug abuse since she started at the nonprofi t in 1999. While rates of abuse are lower in Riverhead than in the rest of the county, she said, “across Long Island, it’s becoming a huge problem.”

Zohydro, which could hit the market sometime this month, was granted FDA approval in October — despite an overwhelming 11-to-2 vote against that approval by the FDA’s advisory committee, Dr. Durkin said.

So what is so special about the new drug? Dr. Durkin said he isn’t really sure.

“There are plenty of drugs on the market now that are just as good,” he said. “I don’t see any need for this. Not these days.”

Hydrocodone is the most prescribed pain medication in America, given most often following surgery, Dr. Durkin explained — but for longterm chronic pain management, its use is still “controversial.”

“Frankly there are other drugs that have better efficacy and better patient safety profi les than hydrocodone,” he said. “I don’t see myself needing to prescribe this.”

On Monday, Pamela Mizzi, director of prevention with the Suffolk County Resource Center, said she agreed.

“It’s a legitimate controversy,” she said. “On one side, you have the addiction professionals — and I’m a substance abuse counselor — who feel strongly that there is not the need for another variety of hydrocodone to be available. Especially without the anti-tampering preparation.

“But on the other hand,” Ms. Mizzi said, “there are people who have legitimate needs for pain and pain management.”

Dr. Durkin and Ms. Mizzi said the only advantage of Zohydro they can see is that it does not include acetaminophen (tylenol), which some patients cannot have. But there are still other usable alternatives.

03/02/14 12:00pm
03/02/2014 12:00 PM
Carrie Miller

Carrie Miller

The winter season tends to keep people indoors, depriving them of the sun’s vitamin D-filled rays. And recent studies have linked defi ciencies in vitamin D to a wide range of conditions — among them an increase in severe asthma reactions.

More than 25 million people in the U.S. suffer from asthma and close to 7 million of them are children, according to the National Institutes of Health.

02/02/14 10:00am
02/02/2014 10:00 AM

If listening to loud music, playing in the school band, or even mowing the lawn is part of your kid’s normal routine, parents may want to tune into their child’s hearing ability.

While infants’ and children’s hearing are closely examined during the language development years, Dr. Judy Rasin, a licensed audiologist with McGuire’s hearing services, said hearing loss may not always be on a pediatrician’s mind while conducting a teen’s checkup.

Because hearing loss is an invisible condition, parents can only be vigilant and watch out for its signs and symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, simple signs in teens include turning up the volume too high while watching television and frequent replies of “huh?” or “what?” when others speak to them.

While these signs may be characteristic of almost any teen during their coming-of-age years, parents can also keep an eye on how long and how often their children use their music devices and at what volume.

Pressure from sound waves can damage the “hair cells” in the ear, which sense vibration and sends signals to the brain. Sound causes part of the hair cell to rock back and forth — but if a sound is too loud, the hair cell can be bent or broken. And once it’s broken, there’s no growing a new one, according to the nonprofit Dangerous Decibels, which educates children about hearing loss. Susceptibility to hearing loss is nearly double among 12- to 19-year-olds who are also exposed to second-hand smoke, according to a 2011 New York University study.

That type of damage can be caused by a one-time exposure to loud sounds or by repeated exposure over time to sounds of various intensities, such as those that come through earphones, Dr. Rasin said.

“If the earphones don’t fit correctly, teens have a tendency to crank up the volume so they can hear it above all the other environmental sounds,” she said.

“The idea is not to crank them up to dangerous levels,” Dr. Rasin said, “even if it doesn’t sound uncomfortable to them.”

Researchers have found people exposed to noise at 85 decibels or higher for prolonged periods are at risk for hearing loss. Most of the MP3 devices teens use today can play at maximum of about 105 decibels, which is almost 100 times more intense, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A good tip for your teens to follow is the 60/60 rule: MP3 players should be played at no more that 60 percent of maximum volume, for no more than 60 minutes, she said. This precaution will help ensure that kids benefit from a fully functioning auditory system.

“We can hear a range of sounds, from tiny to loud, across a wide range of pitches,” Dr. Rasin said, “and we can focus on a specific sound within a background of many sounds. We should be mindful of how exquisite [this capability] is so we keep it safe to use for our whole lives.”

If your teen complains of ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus, consider scheduling an evaluation. Tinnitus is sometimes the first symptom of damage and should serve as a warning sign that the ears have been exposed to too much sound. Another tip for parents who are smokers is this: Your habit can affect your child’s hearing.

Got a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at cmiller@timesreview.com.

01/26/14 9:00am
01/26/2014 9:00 AM

A healthy dose of skepticism and a grain of salt can do the body some good when it comes to medical information — particularly the findings of medical studies.

“A lot of times they are presented in a way that is sort of sensationalizing the results, so it’s not giving the public a true picture at all,” said Dr. Iris Granek, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

Multiple factors can help determine how reliable a study is and whether it’s worth stocking up on vitamin E or scheduling time for an afternoon glass of green tea. Readers should go beyond the articles and get their hands on the study itself.

“Just because it is in a good peer-reviewed journal that’s famous doesn’t mean that the study is flawless,” Dr. Granek said. “No study is flawless.”

So even when the information comes from well-known publications like the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) or the New England Journal of Medicine, it’s important to take a good, long look.

“People have to understand who was being studied — and this is not always reported by the media,” Dr. Granek said.

One of the best ways to determine if a study applies to you is seeing if you would fit into the study group itself. “A well-conducted small study that was done in a very specific population — it’s likely the results may not apply to you,” she said.

The best kind of study is a large, randomized, double-blind trial, which is known by research experts as the “golden standard” of clinical trials.

These studies split the target population randomly, with one group receiving treatment and the other receiving a placebo — neither knowing which they are getting. Both groups are followed and studied in the same way, so data is collected objectively, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Other types of trials are often not taken as seriously, Dr. Granek said.

The studies people should consider with the most skepticism, she said, are prevention studies — the idea that something is going to prevent a condition or disease.

“That really does take a long time to study, and in the end a measure may be doing harm, so that’s where I would be cautious — jumping on the bandwagon that something is preventive,” she said.

She said studies promoting aspirin were a good example. Aspirin had a positive effect in preventing heart attack in men and stroke in women — but also proved to have the negative effect of gastrointestinal bleeding.

“So there’s always weighing the benefit over potential risk in the long run,” the doctor said.

Before starting a daily regimen of any over-the-counter medications, Dr. Granek said, it’s important to consult with a physician first.

Got a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at cmiller@timesreview.com. Follow her on twitter @carriemiller01.