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.
Bitter Weather, Frigid Wind Chills Set in – Next Up, the Snow
The second storm of the week could bring up up to 3 inches of snow to New York City and spots along the I-95 corridor on Thursday, Storm Team 4 says. And places well north and west of the city could see nearly half a foot.
Temperatures plunged overnight, and comparatively bitter, blustery conditions are expected through the day Wednesday, which is only expected to see a high near 40 degrees. Temps drop into the 30s on Thursday, though the wind chill will make you want to keep your hands in your pockets most of the day.
Overall, Thursday will feel more like January for most of the day as the coldest air of the season moves in, Storm Team 4 says.
Clouds will gradually start to float back into the area after midnight leading into Thursday, and will continue to fill in as the next storm system approaches. Much of the morning will stay cold, cloudy and dry before a wintry mix of precipitation arrives Thursday afternoon.
Given marginal temperatures near or just slightly above freezing, precipitation associated with this system could initially start off as snow, but will transition over to a wintry mix before completely changing over to rain Thursday night once milder air pushes in, Storm Team 4 says.
In general, the city and areas along the I-95 corridor could see a slushy 1 to 3 inches of snow accumulate by the evening commute, while areas south and east (and along the immediate coastline) will see mostly just rain out of this system. Colder places well to the north and west will see more snow before rain mixes in, with accumulations ranging anywhere between 3 to 5 inches (and possibly more across the higher elevations).
Storm Team 4 emphasizes the totals are likely to change as the storm gets closer. Keep checking with Storm Team 4 for the latest updates.
Regardless, hazardous traveling conditions Thursday evening will make for a rather slow and slushy commute home for many. By Friday morning, most of the area will see plain rain, with only the distant suburbs north and west seeing icy conditions. Highs bump back into the mid-40s on Friday and are expected to stay in that range through the weekend, Storm Team 4 says.
Biggest names in entertainment share thoughts on Stan Lee’s death at 95
Stan Lee, the co-creator of Marvel Comics and a plethora of its iconic characters, died at the age of 95 early Monday morning, Nov. 12.
Lee’s daughter reportedly confirmed the news of her father’s passing on Monday to TMZ. The outlet reports an ambulance went to Lee’s house in the Hollywood Hills early Monday, and that he was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he died.
“Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created. A super hero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect,” Bob Iger, Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO, said in a news release.
“The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart.”
The co-creator — with Jack Kirby — of Marvel, Spider-Man, Black Panther, the X-Men, The Avengers, Fantastic Four and many more had battled a number of health problems in recent years. He started Marvel with Kirby back in 1961, and wrote some of the most iconic comic characters and stories for many years.
Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber in New York City — which served as the homebase for so many of his iconic characters –, and started using the name “Stan Lee” with a 1941 issue of “Captain America.”
In the past couple of decades, Lee continued to stay involved on the comic con scene and by having a cameo in so many movies featuring characters he had a hand in either creating or writing.
In the 1940s, he served in the U.S. Army’s Signal Corps and returned to comics in 1945 once his service was complete.
He became the head of Marvel Comics in the early 1970s as he transitioned from enthusiastic, lively writer to the person in command. Lee’s patented dialogue, character development and clever use of sound effects helped bring comic books out of its dark ages and into the state we see today.
His creations now make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is the most wide-ranging, profitable entity of its kind in the world.
As if his influence or impact on the entertainment industry wasn’t evident enough, scroll through the rest of this post for a collection of tributes and reaction to the news of Lee’s death on Monday. From Seth Rogen to longtime competitor DC Comics, the memories and comments came from every direction once word made the rounds:
Brooklyn woman spends year trying to prove she’s alive after being declared dead
For a woman in Brooklyn, the good news is that she’s alive. The bad news is that she’s been locked in a year-long battle to prove she’s not dead.
Over the weekend, Marzena Pogorzelska celebrated a most unusual anniversary – one year since the day she ‘died’.
“And after a whole entire year, they still cannot put me back to life,” she said.
It was hard enough to believe when we first met Marzena earlier this year.
She had been cut off from health insurance, her credit frozen, all because of an error by the Social Security Administration, linking her Social Security number to someone who actually had died.
It’s been quite a story to tell.
“People look at me like I’m not all there, or they look at me like wow, this is like a Lifetime movie,” she said.
When Eyewitness News first reported on Marzena, the federal government apologized and issued a letter for her to show creditors, saying she had been wrongly shown as deceased.
But still, every month she gets letters from one of her banks: “Please accept our condolences for the loss of Marzena Pogorzelska”, freezing her accounts all over again.
Her name evidently made it onto a national registry of dead people, meant to prevent identity theft by locking their Social Security numbers. And it works.
“It’s crazy, sometimes I wake up in the morning and say oh God, here’s another day,” said Marzena.
She says the stress of it all almost killed her for real. She suffered a heart attack over the summer and now her insurance won’t cover the $45,000 hospital bill because, you guessed it, on paper she was already dead.
And now with the close of another year, it’s almost time for this small business owner to file her tax return, which of course poses more questions.
“Even my accountant does not know what the IRS will ask for in this situation, because last year we filed for 2017 so I was only dead for two months,” she said. “Now I’m dead for the whole year so we don’t know.”
Death and taxes are about the only constants in her very real life.
We reached out to the agency that keeps track of the registry of people who died. But we didn’t get a response – because of the holiday.
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