Today’s Papers

 today’s papers
Pope Vaulted
By Eric Umansky
Posted Friday, April 8, 2005, at 12:41 AM PT

Everybody leads with the FDA’s decision effectively pulling painkiller Bextra from the market and ordering the strongest warnings for the only other prescription painkiller still available in the same class, Celebrex. Both drugs are a subset of what are known as NSAIDs. Over-the-counter NSAIDs, such ibuprofen and naproxen (Aleve), will also get new warnings, though not as strong as Celebrex. (They’ll basically tell people not to take them for more than two weeks at a time.) The only pain relievers not pegged with more warnings: aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol). The Los Angeles Times does a particularly good job of parsing all this out and avoiding putting all the pills in the same basket.

It’s not that there’s new data revealing previously unknown risks for the drugs. The problem is something of the opposite: There are few long-term studies so, as the New York Times puts it, "regulators are groping a bit in the dark."

"We think these risks apply to all of these drugs," said an FDA official "There may be some differences, but our conclusion is that we don’t have enough data to rank-order these risks."

The FDA said its decision on Bextra was driven by the fact that the drug doesn’t seem to have any benefits over similar pills yet has an increased risk for a rare, life-threatening skin condition. (No, the papers don’t name it.)

A few months ago, an FDA panel of independent experts had recommended in a close vote that Bextra not be taken off the market. But the chairman of the committee celebrated yesterday’s move. "When a bare minority votes to keep a drug on the market, that’s not a safety endorsement—it’s a devastating indictment," he said. "The FDA saw that and responded."

The LAT, smartly, spoke to the FDA whistleblower who helped set off the re-examination of the drugs. He said told-you-so but added that he was bummed that the agency didn’t ban the extra-strength version (400 mg) of Celebrex: "The benefit of the higher dose doesn’t exceed the risk, and I would challenge the FDA to present evidence to the contrary."

Everybody fronts the pope’s will, in which he seemed to flirt with the idea of stepping down. "I hope," he wrote in 2000, that God "will help me to recognize until when I must continue this service to which he called me." The last pope to quit on his own accord was Celestine V. He retired back in 1294.

The pope’s funeral began early this morning.

The LAT and NYT fronts Mexico seeming to take a step away from democracy, as its congress voted to remove immunity for Mexico City’s immensely popular mayor, which means he likely won’t be allowed to run for president. The opposition mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has been the leading candidate, but he’ll now face what most independent analysts view as trumped-up charges for ignoring a court order to stop building a road to a hospital. About a half-million Obrador supporters gathered in Mexico City to oppose the decision.

The LAT has a fine Op-Ed explaining what’s up in Mexico: "The proceedings this week against Lopez Obrador are not about the rule of law. They’re about kicking a popular left-wing front-runner out of the presidential race."

A Page One Washington Post piece announces that the Transportation Security Administration is effectively "slated for dismantling." Most of its responsibilities have already been snatched up by the Homeland Security Department, and its job now is mostly just screening, much of which could soon be outsourced to private firms. The White House has also fired the latest TSA director, the third one to leave since the agency’s founding three years ago.

The Post‘s Anthony Shadid has an in-depth check-in on Shiite enfant terrible Moqtada Sadr and his Mahdi militia. They’re not fighting GIs, but they’re still training and appear to have plenty of power in the south. "The silent majority is not with him, but the majority of active people are," said one cleric. "If you count the ballot boxes, the balance is with the moderates. If you count those in the streets, it’s the opposite."

Everybody mentions a small bomb that exploded in Cairo’s tourist bazaar, killing two, including a French woman, and wounding about 20.

(Department of unnecessary advisories … From the NYT: "The American Embassy in Cairo issued a warning to all American citizens to avoid the bazaar until further notice along with other areas where large numbers of tourists concentrate.")

The Post (and NYT in passing) reports inside that the Pentagon is finally issuing a draft policy delineating clear rules for the treatment of military detainees. That comes a mere 14 months after Pentagon investigators concluded that a lack of such rules greased the wheels for the torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees. The proposed policy clarifies chains of command and bars guards from being involved in interrogations. It also stipulates that prisoners can be held as "enemy combatants," a definition not recognized by the Geneva Conventions. As the proposed policy explains, such detainees would be "entitled to be treated humanely," ahem, "subject to military necessity."

Eric Umansky writes "Today’s Papers" for Slate. He can be reached at todayspapers@slate.com.

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