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Heart risks tied to Parkinson's disease

Symptoms of poor cardiovascular health may be linked to an increased risk for Parkinson's disease, a new study has found.

Researchers used data on 17,163,560 South Koreans over 40 years old and found 44,205 cases of Parkinson's over the course of a five-year followup. They looked for five cardiovascular risk factors that define the metabolic syndrome: abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and high glucose readings. The study is in PLOS Medicine.

After controlling for age, sex, smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity, income, body mass index and history of stroke, they found that each component of the metabolic syndrome significantly increased the risk for Parkinson's disease.

The more risk factors a person had, the greater the risk. Compared with having none of the risk factors, having all five was associated with a 66 percent increased risk for Parkinson's disease. The association was particularly strong for people over 65.

There are about 60,000 new diagnoses of Parkinson's each year in the United States, and about a million Americans are living with the disease.

"The metabolic syndrome and its components are independent risk factors for Parkinson's," the authors wrote. "Future studies are warranted to examine whether control of metabolic syndrome and its components can decrease the risk of Parkinson's disease development."

Opioid epidemic threatens many of Georgia's elderly

A recent overdose case in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody involved a 55-yearold woman.

The cause of her death was determined to be the toxic effects of cocaine, morphine and methamphetamine, says Patrick L. Bailey, director of the DeKalb County Medical Examiner's Office. Of those three drugs, morphine is an opioid.

It's a tragic reminder that while many of the roughly 1,000 opioid overdose deaths in Georgia annually are of people under 50, no one is too old to be killed by such drugs.

In fact, older adults are among the major users of opioid drugs – because their doctors prescribe them. Chronic conditions such as arthritis become more common with age, and often require the use of painkillers. And older folks, like younger ones, may need relief from pain after medical procedures such as oral surgery.

But the fact that an opioid is being used legally and for a valid medical purpose does not mean it is harmless. What many ordinary users may not realize is how dangerous it can be to mix opioid medicines with other prescription drugs.

Benzodiazepines (sold under such familiar brand names as Ativan, Xanax and Valium) are a type of prescription sedative commonly prescribed for anxiety or to help with insomnia.

When an opioid like OxyContin (the generic name is oxycodone) is taken with a benzodiazepine, the combination can be deadly.

Some Georgia pharmacists are educating their customers – including many older ones – on the dangers of opioid use.

From June 2016 to May 2017, the total number of opioid doses prescribed to Georgia patients surpassed 541 million, according to the Office of Attorney General Chris Carr.

Drug overdoses have become the leading cause of death of Americans under 50, with two-thirds of those deaths from opioids.

Still, AARP's recent data suggest a sharp increase of opioid use among Americans of all ages, including those over 55.

55-plus years: 32 percent

35-54: 36 percent

25-34: 31 percent

15-24: 7 percent

Additionally, Georgia's Department

of Public Health data show that older people are the demographic with the highest rate of opioid prescriptions.

Georgia Pharmacy Association's Jeff Lurey says 19 independent pharmacies are working on an opioid education program.

Barney's Pharmacy in Augusta is one of them. Pharmacist Ashley London says there's a substantial Medicare population in the Augusta area, which was "perfect for patient education."

Some of that education involves Narcan, a brand name for the medication naloxone. It's an opioid antagonist, which means it can temporarily reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone is used when breathing is slowed or suddenly stops. It has often been a lifesaver when given to people who were overdosing.

Gov. Nathan Deal, sensing an imminent danger, signed executive orders in 2016 to put naloxone into the hands of more people in Georgia. The General Assembly later codified those orders by passing legislation. The law supports expanding naloxone awareness and availability to the general public.

"In Augusta, we identified a large number of patients who might be at risk for accidentally mixing medications,'' says London.

"It could have been an awkward conversation with our customers," London says. But they focused on patients and families who wanted to learn more.

She says their pharmacists compared naloxone purchases to EpiPens — if you need one in a hurry, then it's good to have it on hand. And as with EpiPens, which can stop severe allergic reactions, no prescription is required in Georgia to purchase naloxone.

"Pharmacists are ideally suited to help educate older adults of about opioid harm," says Michael Crooks of Alliant Quality, Medicare's Quality Improvement Organization for Georgia.

Crooks, who is also a pharmacist, and the QIO team identified more than 200,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Georgia who used prescribed opioids for 30 or more days in 2017.

"Communicate before you medicate," says Ira Katz, pharmacist at Atlanta's Little Five Points Pharmacy. Katz has been credited with saving lives recently after the individuals suffered opioid overdoses.

At 64, Katz works 50 to 60 hours a week in the same pharmacy he opened more than 35 years ago. He shares the importance of having Narcan handy. Katz had access to naloxone at the right time and in the right place, and he's glad he did.

But he'd prefer to keep overdoses from happening altogether. He constantly reminds his customers to talk to a pharmacist before taking any new medication for sleep, pain or anxiety — especially if they are already taking a controlled substance for the treatment of pain.

"A lot of people think, for example, if there is a popular [non-controlled] medication such as gabapentin, no danger exists,'' says Katz. "That's not true.''

According to a recent Pew Trust article, "gabapentin [an anti-seizure drug] has started showing up in a substantial number of overdose deaths, especially in the hard-hit Appalachian states."

The problem stems from casually thinking such drugs are safe. They are ... but only when used properly and not in combination with other medications.

It's the "interaction" with opioids that concerns pharmacists like Katz. His advice is to discuss every medication with your pharmacist, physician or health care provider.

Official: Case against woman whose 911 call triggered fatal shooting probably over

Dorothy Gass

The case against Dorothy Gass in State Court is apparently a dead issue, though the local DA could press new charges in Superior Court, the incoming State Court solicitor said late last week.

Gass is the 66-year-old Walker County woman whose false 911 phone call on New Year's Day triggered a sequence of events that ended with a deputy fatally shooting a man.

When contacted Thursday, Aug. 30, for an update in the case, State Court Solicitor Pat Clements said the case was "still open" but that any further action would have to come from Chris Townley.

Townley was set to become the new State Court solicitor on Saturday, Sept. 1.

Clements, asked if he would like to see the charge pursued and the case reopened, said he had "no comment."

On Thursday, Townley said the case would have to be revived by Friday, Aug. 31, the last day of the month, for it to move forward in State Court. He also said that since he is partners with attorney Thomas Lindsay, who is representing Gass's son Steven in his divorce, he would have to recuse or remove himself from the case if it continued in the Solicitor's Office. That means an outside prosecutor would have to pick up the case in order to try it again.

Townley said that after Friday the district attorney would have to make new charges against Gass if he wished to pursue the case, but those would be in Superior Court, not State Court. Buzz Franklin, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit district attorney, was not available and did not return a call seeking comment on Thursday.

Last month, Clements said he was not consulted in a Judge Billy Mullinax's decision to drop a charge against Gass of falsely reporting a crime report.

Clements, the designated prosecutor in the case, told

the Walker County Messenger last month that he did not recommend the charge be dropped against Gass.

Mullinax, a State Court judge for Walker County, on June 13 dismissed the charge, a misdemeanor, against Gass.

The nolle prosse order that Mullinax used in dismissing the case is issued upon the recommendation of the case prosecutor, Clements confirmed. The order in the case declares the prosecutor does not want to continue prosecution in the case and/or that the charges cannot be proved.

Clements said at that time, "I'm trying to find out who did" make the decision to drop the charge, adding he was checking to see if someone else in his office made that recommendation. Asked if Mullinax could have legally initiated the nolle prosse order on his own, Clements said he did not know.

On New Year's Day, police say, Gass lied to a 911 dispatcher, resulting in the fatal shooting by Walker County Deputy John Chandler of Mark Parkinson, 65, the father of Gass's daughter-in-law.

A grand jury is scheduled to hear evidence in the case on Sept. 4 to decide whether to indict Deputy Chandler in Parkinson's death.

When officers responded to the 911 call, they knocked on the Parkinson residence in Rossville and announced their arrival. Hearing the commotion and his dogs barking, Parkinson grabbed a gun and went into the kitchen to check out someone banging on his kitchen window. From the porch, Deputy Chandler saw him with the gun and fired three shots, one of which struck Parkinson in the jugular vein, causing him to bleed to death.

After trying to determine if the 911 call was made maliciously or in good faith, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrested Gass on Feb. 23 for the false report of a crime. She turned herself in to the Walker County jail, where she was released on her own recognizance.

The June 13 hearing in the case at which Mullinax dismissed the charge was not attended by either law enforcement representatives or members of the victim's family. Greg Ramsey, GBI special agent in Calhoun and who investigated the case, said his office did receive a notice of the hearing. Because of timing conflicts, however, he could not attend the hearing and asked, in writing, for a continuance or postponement of the hearing so he could be in attendance.

Ramsey said his office received no response from Judge Mullinax. He said he definitely would have fought dismissing the charge against Gass and was confident in GBI's supporting evidence and arguments in securing the charge against Gass.

Marking history of LaFayette's oldest church

Two markers now help tell the history of the LaFayette Presbyterian Church, the oldest church building in the city, dating back to 1836.

A dedication ceremony for the historical markers, costing $2,500 each, was held on Sunday, Aug. 12, at 12:30 p.m., followed by punch and cookies in the fellowship hall of the church, located at 107 N. Main St., LaFayette, Ga.

One marker notes the origin and history of the church, including its use as a field hospital during the Civil War. The other marker across the street notes Presbyterian Memorial Park, established in 2011 as a joint effort between the church, the city and the county.

The church was organized on Aug. 12, 1836, as Ebenezer Church when LaFayette was only a village called Chattoga. After Chattooga was rechristened LaFayette in 1836 in honor of Revolutionary war hero Marquis de LaFayette, the church was renamed LaFayette Presbyterian Church in 1841.

The present sanctuary was built in 1848. On June 24, 1864, during the Civil War, a battle was fought in LaFayette, and the church was used as a field hospital during and following the battle. In 1883, the church building was repaired from damage caused during the war. In 1922-1923, the church was rebricked in the cream colored brick, so the present sanctuary walls are three bricks thick. The basement of the church was added in 1942 and was dug by the men of the church. In 1972, a Fellowship Hall, additional classrooms, and office space were added to the rear of the old building.

"The Presbyterians have a reputation of being very, very conservative, but our church is a very welcoming church, a very inclusive church," said Richard Carlton, a church trustee, noting that the plaque shows that the church had African-American members back in the 1800s, which he said was rare in the Civil War era.

The park now includes a small pantry stocked with noodles and a variety of canned goods. The pantry is refilled several times each week and is visited by young parents in the community who are struggling to support a family.