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Health Highlights: Dec. 13, 2019

Last Updated: December 13, 2019.

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

U.S. Will Have 3-Digit Number for Suicide Prevention Hotline

A new three-digit number in the United States to contact a suicide prevention hotline is being created by federal officials.

People will just need to dial 988 to reach a suicide prevention hotline, similar to calling 911 for emergencies, the Associated Press reported.

The goal is to make it easier for people to get help. Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses a 10-digit number, 800-273-TALK (8255).

"The three-digit number is really going to be a breakthrough in terms of reaching people in a crisis," Dwight Holton, CEO of Lines for Life, a suicide prevention nonprofit, told the AP. "No one is embarrassed to call 911 for a fire or an emergency. No one should be embarrassed to call 988 for a mental health emergency."

There will be a months-long comment period before the Federal Communications Commission orders implementation of the 988 number for mental health emergencies.

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U.S. House Passes Drug Pricing Bill

A U.S. House Democrat bill that would give Medicare the authority to negotiate prescription drug prices and provide new benefits for seniors was passed Thursday in a 230-192 vote along party lines.

However, the bill has no chance of being passed by the Republican-controlled Senate and the White House has threatened to veto it, the Associated Press reported.

The AARP is among the groups that support the bill, while the pharmaceutical industry strongly opposes it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's bill would limit Medicare patients' out-of-pocket costs for medicines to $2,000 a year and create coverage for dental care, hearing and vision by using the $360 billion of expected 10-year savings from lower drug costs, the AP reported.

The bill "is a serious proposal but everyone knows that the Senate isn't going to go for it," according to John Rother, CEO of the National Coalition on Health, a group that represents health care industry groups and consumers.

"It is about legislating, but even more it's about establishing a platform that Democrats can run on going into the next election cycle and lays the groundwork for legislative activity in 2021," Rother told the AP.

Pelosi said her bill would deliver on Donald Trump's promise during the 2016 presidential campaign to "negotiate like crazy" to lower prescription drug prices for Medicare recipients.

As president, Trump has backed away from the promise, the AP reported.

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Hahn Confirmed as New FDA Chief

Dr. Stephen Hahn was confirmed as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a 72-18 Senate vote on Thursday.

Hahn, 59, chief medical executive at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, replaces Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who left the position in the spring. Two acting commissioners have run the FDA since then, The New York Times reported.

One of the major challenges facing Hahn is the teen vaping epidemic and making a decision on a proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

In recent appearances before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Hahn dodged questions on whether he supports the proposed ban, saying only that he would base regulatory decisions on science, not politics, The Times reported.

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Magic Mushroom Ingredient Could Treat Depression

The active ingredient in magic mushrooms may offer a new treatment for depression, according to researchers.

Results from the phase I study in the U.K. indicate that the ingredient, called psilocybin, could be effective in treating depression in patients who've failed to respond to other medications, CNN reported.

The study, conducted by King's College London and mental healthcare company Compass Pathways, included 89 healthy adults who received 10mg and 25mg doses of psilocybin.

They had "changes in sensory perception and positive mood alteration," according to a Compass Pathways news release, CNN reported.

The results from U.K. researchers were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

"The results of the study are clinically reassuring and support further development of psilocybin as a treatment for patients with mental health problems that haven't improved with conventional therapy, such as treatment resistant depression," co-lead researcher James Rucker, King's College London, said in the news release.

A phase II trial will include more than 200 patients with depression across Europe and North America, CNN reported.


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