National news briefs: 2/22/14

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FDA testing generic drugs

WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration has begun the nation's first widespread testing program for generic drugs that make up almost 80 percent of U.S. prescriptions.

The $20 million effort, coming as concerns grow over the quality of products from abroad, started in September without any public notice. At least a dozen academic centers are involved in a testing program that will run through 2017, agency officials confirmed. The research this year will focus on heart drugs, ADHD treatments, immunosuppressants, anti-seizure medicines, and antidepressants. Results aren't yet available.

Testing of generic drugs previously has been done only on an occasional basis in the U.S. The program, testing medicines made domestically and overseas, reflects a new emphasis by the FDA on the quality of copycat drugs.

Cell phone calls on planes?

WASHINGTON -- Even as one federal agency considers allowing cell phone calls on planes, another now wants to make sure that doesn't happen.

Passengers -- particularly those who fly often -- oppose allowing calls in flight, polls show. In line with that sentiment, the Transportation Department signaled in a notice posted online Friday that it is considering retaining the 23-year-old ban on the calls and asked for public comments.

But the notice comes just two months after the Federal Communications Commission voted to pursue lifting the ban.

Fannie Mae reports profits

WASHINGTON -- Mortgage giant Fannie Mae passed a symbolic milestone at the end of the fourth quarter, generating profits that will push its total payments to the federal government higher than the amount it received in the 2008 bailout, the company reported Friday.

The company earned a record $84 billion in profit in 2013, it said, and the fourth quarter was its eighth consecutive profitable quarter. Next month it will hand over its fourth-quarter dividend of $7.2 billion.

That means that Fannie and its competitor Freddie Mac, which also received a bailout, will have poured more into federal coffers, $192.4 billion, than they received in government support, $189.5 billion.

Making antifreeze less deadly

Toxicologists have long considered ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in many antifreeze and engine coolant formulas, to be a seductive and uniquely dangerous poison.

Now the Consumer Specialty Products Association, which represents the key manufacturers of those products, has voluntarily agreed to require its members to make antifreeze taste so very bitter that it will be nigh impossible to drink by accident.

Seventeen states already require manufacturers to add bittering agents to ethylene glycol products. The first batches of unpalatable antifreeze started hitting store shelves last year; this year customers can buy only the bitter versions.

Va. approves execution drug

RICHMOND -- Facing a critical shortage of drugs to carry out executions, Virginia's Department of Corrections has approved the use of a new chemical for lethal injections.

Midazolam, which is used in surgery to calm patients and induce sleepiness, will serve as an alternative first drug in Virginia's three-drug protocol. It will stand in for pentobarbital or thiopental sodium, drugs that states across the country have found difficult to acquire as manufacturers have started refusing to sell their products for use in executions.

That shortage prompted a failed attempt in Virginia's legislature this year to allow the use of the electric chair as a backup when lethal injection is unavailable.


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