Today's Papers

COX-2: The Return

Everyone leads with news that an expert panel has advised the FDA not to ban COX-2 inhibitors Celebrex, Bextra, and Vioxx, but did advise the agency to restrict the drugs’ marketing and require them to carry stronger warnings.

The FDA panel decided that COX-2 inhibitors—a class of painkillers designed to treat pain and arthritis without the gastric distress associated with older painkillers—should continue to be available. But it advised the FDA to ban consumer advertising of the drugs, require “black box” warnings on their labels, and require written guides outlining their risks. The Los Angeles Times says the panel “overwhelmingly agreed” that the drugs significantly increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but the Washington Postand a New York Times editorial say the decision was, in fact, unanimous.

The panel determined that the benefits of the drugs outweigh the risks, but the papers are skeptical. As the WP points out, studies showed that millions of users were not at risk for the gastrointestinal problems the drugs were designed to avoid. As for the dangers, the NYT notes that it is “far from clear” that older medicines like ibuprofen do less harm to the heart, and the WP adds that the panelists recommended that older painkillers carry warnings also. Panel members concluded that naproxen is the safest painkiller. Of the three COX-2 drugs, the panel thought Vioxx was the riskiest, though it nevertheless voted to potentially allow Merck to reintroduce it.

All three papers front news that suicide bombers attacked mosques on the eve of the Shiite holy day Ashura, killing 35 people and making it the bloodiest day since the election. Suicide bombers disguised as religious pilgrims exploded bombs amid crowds of Shiite worshipers. The violence is likely the work of Sunni militants enraged by the Shiite triumph in the election, and the NYT and WP quote two different sources who say the bombers were trying to incite civil war. The LAT notices that “up to half” the victims were Iranians on pilgrimage. The WP notes that the bloodshed didn’t distract the worshippers from doing what they came to do: The Shiites “defied the bombs and surged back into their mosques, vowing not to retaliate.”

Following close on the heels of yesterday’s NYT story about how African AIDS widows are being exploited by the relatives of their dead husbands, the WP fronts a piece about HIV-positive mothers in Ethiopia who leave their children at orphanages. Part of the problem is that health authorities warn HIV-positive women not to breastfeed their babies, but many do so anyway because of the social stigma of having the virus. “I thought my lady neighbors would know,” said one.

In related news, teased by the NYT and stuffed by the WP, South Africa is reporting a dramatic increase in “AIDS-linked deaths.” Overall deaths are up 57 percent in the last five years, and among people aged 15 to 49, deaths have doubled. AIDS-related diseases like tuberculosis and pneumonia account for much of the spike. Both papers say the report provides “indirect evidence” that HIV in South Africa is raising mortality levels, although the WP explicitly calls it an epidemic and the NYT does not.

The LAT off-leads with news that the chairman of a Senate environmental committee has asked for financial documents from two pollution-control organizations 10 days after the organizations criticized the Clear Skies proposal. The air-pollution-control officials say demanding tax returns is payback for trashing Bush’s proposal. A staff director maintains that the committee just wants to make sure the organizations aren’t getting any cash from environmentalists or foundations. “If we wanted to intimidate them, we would have done it before they testified, not after,” he said.

The WP fronts the observation that the poorest Americans have the most to lose from Bush’s Social Security plan. The poor lack pensions and savings, and for many of them, Social Security winds up being their main source of income. But Social Security was designed to provide a guaranteed stream of income, and, as one critic of Bush’s plan put it, “The federal government cannot guarantee performance of stocks.”

Bush’s plan is likely to pass only if skeptical lawmakers can be convinced that it will benefit the neediest. So far, says the LAT, this hasn’t happened: GOP Rank and File Not Sold on Social Security.

The WP and NYT tease and the LAT stuffs news that the number of allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests has gone up. Last year, more than 1,000 people reported being abused, according to a church report. Church flack’s spin: Only 22 of those were “fresh cases,” i.e., incidents that happened in the last 12 months. Survivor group’s spin: Twenty-two fresh incidents is no “cause for joy.”

The Spamish Prisoner … The LAT reports that a New York man was arrested on suspicion of broadcasting 1.5 million porn and mortgage ads. It’s the first criminal case involving “spim,” spam sent via IM. Responding to efforts to fight unsolicited e-mail, spammers have innovated. One percent of traffic on AOL Instant Messenger is now spim. As an AOL rep put it, “We’re forcing spammers to look for other avenues to get their junk in front of members’ eyes.”