OPIOID CRISIS: Feds say heroin, fentanyl remain biggest drug threat to US

WASHINGTON (AP) — Drug overdose deaths hit the highest level ever recorded in the United States last year, with an estimated 200 people dying per day, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Most of that was the result of a record number of opioid-related deaths.

Preliminary figures show more than 72,000 people died in 2017 from drug overdoses across the country. About a week ago, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said overdose deaths, while still slowly rising, were beginning to level off, citing figures from late last year and early this year.

The DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment, which was released Friday, shows that heroin, fentanyl and other opioids continue to be the highest drug threat in the nation. But federal officials are concerned that methamphetamine and cocaine are being seen at much higher levels in areas that haven’t historically been hotspots for those drugs. The DEA is also worried that people are exploiting marijuana legalization to traffic cannabis into the illicit market or to states that don’t have medicinal or recreational-use marijuana laws, according to the report.

The preliminary data also showed 49,060 people died from opioid-related overdose deaths, a rise from the reported 42,249 opioid overdose deaths in 2016.

President Donald Trump has declared the U.S. opioid crisis as a “public health emergency” and just last week pledged to put an “extremely big dent” in the scourge of drug addiction.

Fatal heroin overdoses rose nationwide between 2015 and 2016, with a nearly 25 percent increase in the Northeast and more than 22 percent in the South. Most of the heroin sold in the U.S. is being trafficked from Mexico, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seize the most amount of heroin along the Mexico border, near San Diego, California, the report said.

Fentanyl and other related opioids, which tend to be cheaper and much more potent than heroin, remain one of the biggest concerns for federal drug agents.

The DEA has said China is a main source of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that have been flooding the U.S. market. China has pushed back against the characterization, and U.S. officials have stressed they work closely with their Chinese counterparts as they try to stem the flow of drugs.

Legislation that Trump signed last week will add treatment options and force the U.S. Postal Service to screen overseas packages for fentanyl.

Azar said in a speech last week that toward the end of 2017 and through the beginning of this year the number of drug overdose deaths “has begun to plateau.” However, he was not indicating that deaths were going down, but that they appear to be rising at a slower rate than previously seen.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary figures that appear to show a slowdown in overdose deaths from December to March. In that period, the figures show that the pace of the increase over the previous 12 months has slowed from 10 percent to 3 percent, according to the preliminary CDC figures.

Even if a slowdown is underway, no one is questioning the fact that the nation is dealing with the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in its history. While prescription opioid and heroin deaths appear to be leveling off, deaths involving fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamines are on the rise, according to CDC data.

The DEA’s report also noted that methamphetamine is making its way into communities where the drug normally wasn’t heavily used, the report said. Chronic use of meth, a highly addictive stimulant, can cause paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions, studies have shown.

As the government enacted laws that limited access to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine — the ingredient used to cook meth with other household chemicals — or required the medications to be placed behind pharmacy counters, officials discovered the number of meth labs began to drop.

But the DEA has found the gap is being filled by Mexican and Latin American drug cartels that had primarily dabbled in heroin and cocaine trafficking. A saturated market on the West Coast is now driving the cartels to peddle methamphetamine into the Northeast, using the same routes they use for heroin and other drugs.

Officials also warn that because of more cocaine production in South American countries including Colombia, they expect to see larger shipments at the Mexican border.

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Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Michael Balsamo contributed to the contents of this report.

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AMERICA’S FUTURE GONE TO POT: 2 million teens now admit to vaping marijuana, says report

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) — A school-based survey shows nearly 1 in 11 U.S. students have used marijuana in electronic cigarettes, heightening health concerns about the new popularity of vaping among teens.

E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine, but many of the battery-powered devices can vaporize other substances, including marijuana. Results published Monday mean 2.1 million middle and high school students have used them to get high.

Vaping is generally considered less dangerous than smoking, because burning tobacco or marijuana generates chemicals that are harmful to lungs. But there is little research on e-cigarettes’ long-term effects, including whether they help smokers quit.

The rise in teenagers using e-cigarettes has alarmed health officials who worry kids will get addicted to nicotine, a stimulant, and be more likely to try cigarettes. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration gave the five largest e-cigarette makers 60 days to produce plans to stop underage use of their products.

Nearly 9 percent of students surveyed in 2016 said they used an e-cigarette device with marijuana, according to Monday’s report in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. That included one-third of those who ever used e-cigarettes.

The number is worrying “because cannabis use among youth can adversely affect learning and memory and may impair later academic achievement and education,” said lead researcher Katrina Trivers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students who said they lived with a tobacco user were more likely than others to report vaping marijuana.

It’s unclear whether marijuana vaping is increasing among teens or holding steady. The devices have grown into a multi-billion industry, but they are relatively new.

In states where marijuana is legal, shoppers can buy cartridges of liquid containing THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets people high, that work with a number of devices. Juul, by far the most popular e-cigarette device, does not offer marijuana pods, but users can re-fill cartridges with cannabis oil.

It was the first time a question about marijuana vaping was asked on this particular survey, which uses a nationally representative sample of students in public and private schools. More than 20,000 students took the survey in 2016.

A different survey from the University of Michigan in December found similar results when it asked for the first time about marijuana vaping. In that study, 8 percent of 10th graders said they vaped marijuana in the past year.

“The health risks of vaping reside not only in the vaping devices, but in the social environment that comes with it,” said University of Michigan researcher Richard Miech. Kids who vape are more likely to become known as drug users and make friends with drug users, he said, adding that “hanging out with drug users is a substantial risk factor for future drug use.”


Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report

TEENSVAPING

REPORT: One in three Americans taking medications that cause depression

New York, N.Y. (Medical Daily) — More than a third of Americans may unknowingly use prescription medications that include depression as a potential side effect. The use of multiple medications simultaneously is also on the rise.

The study titled “Prevalence of Prescription Medications With Depression as a Potential Adverse Effect Among Adults in the United States” was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on June 12.

Method and findings

The study looked at 26,192 adults, analyzing their medication use patterns from 2005 to 2014. It was found that more than 200 commonly used prescription drugs list depression or suicide as potential side effects.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans may be using these drugs which include hormonal birth control medications, painkillers, blood pressure or heart medications, proton pump inhibitors, antacids, etc. Around 8 percent of the total participants reported depression.

Risks of polypharmacy

Those who simultaneously used multiple medications (known as polypharmacy) were more likely to report depression, according to co-author Mark Olfson.

Approximately 15 percent of adults who used three or more of these medications at the same time reported depressive symptoms. It was 5 percent among those not taking the drugs, 7 percent among those taking only one drug, and 9 percent among those taking two drugs at the same time.

“We’re just showing that if you’re already taking them, you are more likely to be depressed,” Olfson said, emphasizing that the study did not imply causation.

Rates of depression, suicide

Clinical diagnoses of depression have risen by 33 percent since 2013, according to data released by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also noted a rise in suicide rates across the U.S. While mental health was a factor, the CDC also expressed concern about the access to lethal means.

“With depression as one of the leading causes of disability and increasing national suicide rates, we need to think innovatively about depression as a public health issue,” stated lead author Dima Qato, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

The takeaway message

According to Qato, what people could take away from the study was that polypharmacy may lead to depressive symptoms. Both patients and healthcare providers should be aware of the risk, she said. When screening for depression, physicians may consider evaluating medications, she said.

Donald Mordecai, a psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente in California, encouraged people to pay more attention to the risks and benefits of their drugs and also keep track of changes since starting medications.

“People who don’t have a history of depression and then, suddenly, start to have symptoms of depression should be concerned that it’s potentially due to a side effect, or potentially, an interaction,” he said.

By speaking to a doctor about concerning changes, medications can potentially be switched or reduced with the help of lifestyle changes.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.​ The line is available for free, 24 hours​ a day.

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TURNING RED? Seattle under fire as ultra-liberal companies blast city’s new ‘head tax’

Seattle, Wa. — A new tax aimed at forcing local businesses to pay for homeless services and affordable housing has caused even some of liberal Seattle’s most progressive companies to speak out in anger.

Starbucks and Amazon, both based in Seattle, are blasting the new tax, claiming they should not be forced to pay for city’s poor management of funds.

“The city does not have a revenue problem – it has a spending efficiency problem,” Drew Herdener, Amazon vice president, said in a statement. “We are highly uncertain whether the city council’s anti-business positions or its spending inefficiency will change for the better.”

The tax, which was passed by the Seattle City Council on Monday, aims to tax businesses making at least $20 million in gross revenues about $275 per full-time worker per year. The “head tax” is expected to raise about $48 million — which authorities say will be used for housing and homeless services.

“We have community members who are dying,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said before the vote. “They are dying on our streets today because there is not enough shelter.”

Seattle Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez responded harshly to Amazon’s criticism Tuesday, saying “their tone in this message that is clearly hostile toward the city council is not what I expect from a business who continues to tell us that they want to be a partner on these issues.”

But even uber-liberal Starbucks, a company that has made a name out of promoting leftist causes, has come out swinging against the tax, saying it has “no faith” that the city will utilize the funds to best serve the needs of the homeless.

“If they cannot provide a warm meal and safe bed to a 5-year-old child, no one believes they will be able to make housing affordable or address opiate addiction,” Starbucks’ John Kelly said in a statement.

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Seattle region had the third-highest number of homeless people in the U.S. in 2017, despite the city spending $68 million on combating homelessness last year.

A predominant cause of homelessness in the city, reports show, is drug use and government dependence.

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‘HE GAVE ME MY FIRST INJECTION’: Family wants answers after male escort dies of drug overdose at home of high level Hillary backer

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA — The family of Gemmel Moore says they’re still seeking answers more than 6 months after the male escort was found dead inside the home of a top ranking DNC donor.

Moore, 26, was discovered dead July 27, 2017 inside the home of Ed Buck, a high profile supporter of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Despite the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office ruling Moor’s death an accidental methamphetamine overdose, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide division announced on Aug. 14 that they would investigate the death as a criminal matter after Moore’s family disputed the coroner’s findings.

According to the coroner’s official report, dated July 31, Buck’s home contained vast amounts of discarded drug paraphernalia. The report cites 24 syringes containing brown residue, five glass pipes with white residue and burn marks, a plastic straw with possible white residue, clear plastic bags with white powdery residue and a clear plastic bag containing a piece of crystal-like substance being discovered by investigators.

The report also contains a witness statement from a woman who claimed Moore told her someone (whose name has been redacted) tied him up “over a year ago” and “held him against his will” inside Buck’s apartment.

A key piece of evidence that investigators have recovered is a journal kept by Moore prior to his death in which he details his drug use with Buck.

“I honestly don’t know what to do. I’ve become addicted to drugs and the worst one at that,” a December entry prior to Moore’s death reads. “Ed Buck is the one to thank. He gave me my first injection of crystal meth it was very painful, but after all the troubles, I became addicted…”

Moore’s final journal entry dated December 3, 2016, reads: “If it didn’t hurt so bad, I’d kill myself, but I’ll let Ed Buck do it for now.”

Seymour Amster, Buck’s attorney, denies his client’s culpability.

“There’s nothing there. As we always stated, this was an accidental overdose that Ed Buck had nothing to do with and it’s a tragedy,” Amster told Fox News (https://tinyurl.com/yam2jfa9) . “The coroner has not changed his opinion from an accidental death. Until that happens, and that’s not going to happen, we’re done.”

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‘BUILD THE WALL!’: TRUMP ORDERS REGULATIONS EASED TO EXPEDITE BORDER WALL CONSTRUCTION

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of Homeland Security announced late Monday Trump administration orders to waive environmental rules so extra barriers can be built to bar illegal immigrants from crossing the Mexican border into San Diego.

A DHS spokesperson says the move was necessary because the area is one of the busiest U.S. border sections with Mexico and is the sight of some of the highest volume of illegal entries.

“The sector remains an area of high illegal entry for which there is an immediate need to improve current infrastructure and construct additional border barriers and roads,” the DHS said.

According to DHS reports, more than 31,000 illegal aliens were taken into custody at the location and more than 9,000 pounds (4,000 kg) of marijuana and 1,317 pounds (597 kg) of cocaine were seized in the area in 2016.

“CBP officers maintain a strong work ethic and are committed to combating drug trafficking at our ports of entry,” said Pete Flores, director of field operations for CBP in San Diego, in a statement. “The drug trafficking organizations attempt to deceive us but we remain vigilant and will continue to apprehend those who attempt entry with contraband.”

The barriers, which will encompass about 15 miles of the frontier extending east from the Pacific Ocean, are part of President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Government estimates put the cost of the wall at about $21 billion, an amount that President Trump insists he will force Mexico to cover, but thus far Mexico has refused to comply.

Environmentalists and anti-border activists have been quick to cry foul over the waiver despite a 2005 mandate that gives Homeland Security broad authority to waive any law that could impede expeditious construction of barriers and roads.

American Oversight, a watchdog committee that has sued the Trump administration over similar issues, said the DHS statement was “proof” that Trump will “barrel ahead” with his plan to build the wall, no matter the cost to environment.

“Given the widespread skepticism towards the effectiveness of the border wall by leaders in both parties … effective safeguards are more important than ever,” American Oversight’s executive director, Austin Evers, said in a released statement.

Despite the protests a Trump administration spokesperson said the president has no plans on backing down on his highly touted campaign promise to build the wall and said the waiver is just the first further proof of the president’s intent to keep his word.

The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved a $68 billion spending package that includes funds to begin the wall’s construction.

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DUMB CRIMINAL ALERT: DRUG DEALER CALLS COPS FOR HELP IN FINDING STOLEN COCAINE

FORT WALTON BEACH, FL — Police in Florida were recently given a tip on an alleged drug dealer, courtesy the dealer himself after a man, angry that his stash of cocaine had been stolen called the cops pleading that they help him located his hijacked stash.

Police say David Blackmon, 35, of Fort Walton Beach, called the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department on Sunday to complain that someone had stolen a bag of cocaine and $50 in cash from his car.

When officers arrived, they say Blackmon voluntarily confessed to being a drug dealer and claimed that someone had broken into his vehicle while it was parked, stealing the money and a quarter ounce of cocaine.

Upon inspecting the vehicle, deputies say they observed what appeared to be powdered cocaine in clear view on the center console along side a rock of crack cocaine. Officers say they also observed a crack pipe on the car floor near the driver’s seat.

Shortly after Blackmon was arrested and charged with resisting an officer without violence, possessing drug paraphernalia and felony possession of cocaine. Records show (http://www3.co.okaloosa.fl.us/ArchonixXJailPublic/DetailPages/InmateDetails.aspx?ReferenceID=12815&InmateID=151138) he was released a short time later after posting a $4,000 bail.

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DEATH BY DRUGS: AUTOPSY REVEALS CARRIE FISHER HAD COCAINE, HEROIN IN SYSTEM AT TIME OF DEATH

LOS ANGELES, CA — Recently released autopsy results say that ‘Star Wars’ icon Carry Fisher had a slew of illegal drugs in her system at the time of her death.

The report (https://www.scribd.com/document/351717158/Carrie-Fisher-Autopsy-Report?irgwc=1&content=10079&campaign=Skimbit%2C%20Ltd.&ad_group=87443X1540253Xacfd87aa21f70b2e68db0239b2f63dd4&keyword=ft750noi&source=impactradius&medium=affiliate#from_embed), released on Monday, states Fisher likely took cocaine within a week of her death. The actress’ blood work also tested positive for heroin and MDMA, better known as Ecstasy, although it could not be determined when Fisher had ingested the later two.

The findings were based on toxicology screenings done on samples taken when the “Star Wars” actress arrived at a Los Angeles hospital shortly after falling ill during a flight four days prior to her death.

The coroner’s report states that although Fisher, who had been vocal about her struggles with substance abuse, had used drugs in the days prior to her death, it is not known what impact her recent drug use had on her cause of death.

The test results “suggests there was an exposure to heroin, but that the dose and time of exposure cannot be pinpointed.” Therefore we cannot establish the significance of heroin regarding the cause of death in this case” the report states.

In addition to sleep apnea, the report documents a series of other underlying medical conditions which the coroner says may have contributed to the 60-year-old’s death, among them, atherosclerotic heart disease.

“How Injury Occurred: Multiple drug intake, significance not ascertained,” the report concludes.

In a statement to People Magazine, Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lord, said revelations of her mother’s drug use were no surprise to those who knew her.

“My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases,” said Lord.

Fisher’s brother, Todd Fisher, echoed his niece’s remarks, saying his sister’s battle with drugs and bipolar disorder “slowly but surely put her health in jeopardy over many, many years.”

“I honestly hoped we would grow old together, but after her death, nobody was shocked,” he added.

The daughter of Hollywood stars Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Carrie Fisher was born into the entertainment business.

She documented her struggles with chemical abuse in the book, “Postcards From the Edge,” a novel about an actress battling drug addiction. In it, she also documented the pressure of growing up the daughter of Hollywood royalty.

Reynolds suffered a stroke upon hearing about her daughter’s death and died one day later on Dec. 28. The two, who had been inseparable throughout most of their lives, were buried together in a private ceremony.

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