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Friday
Jul192019

Watchdog: Border protection stored enough fentanyl to kill 794 million, but isn’t doing enough to protect its agents

iStock(NEW YORK) -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection has stored enough fentanyl in the past year to kill an estimated 794 million people, and now a government watchdog office is warning that the agency is "unnecessarily jeopardizing the lives" of its own agents by not sufficiently protecting them from accidental exposure to the lethal synthetic opioid.

In a report released Friday, the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General said the amount of fentanyl seized by agents and stored in vaults has skyrocketed -- from 70 pounds in 2015 to 3,500 pounds so far in this budget year. A single 2 milligram dose of fentanyl (there are 453,592 milligrams in a pound) is lethal for most people, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In some cases, the powerful drug can sit in a vault for years while the government prosecutes its case.

But when officials inspected several of the 62 vaults around the country operated by CBP, they found cases in which agents handling the powerful narcotic didn't have access to naloxone, the drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. In other cases, inspectors found that the naloxone was locked away in boxes and agents couldn't remember the code.

Naloxone is also known by its brand name Narcan.

“With the recent rise in fentanyl seizures, CBP staff now routinely handle fentanyl more than ever," according to the IG report. "However, without easy access to naloxone in case of exposure, CBP is unnecessarily jeopardizing the lives, health, and safety of its staff."

It was unclear if any CBP personnel were harmed by the fentanyl in the agency's custody.

In a response letter, CBP said it concurred with the findings and promised that by the end of September all its vaults storing fentanyl will have Narcan kits and that its agents will be trained in how to use them.

CBP said it has trained more than 4,500 officers in how to recognize the signs of an overdose, deployed 3,300 dual-use Narcan kits in the field and outfitted its storage vaults with safety equipment such as gloves, masks and Tyvek suits.

Fentanyl may be mixed with other drugs and present in powder, tablet or liquid form, according to the IG. It is 80-100 times stronger than morphine and 30-50 times more potent than heroin. The drug can be ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

"Just touching fentanyl or accidentally inhaling the substance during enforcement activity or field testing the substance can result in absorption through the skin and that is one of the biggest dangers with fentanyl. The onset of adverse health effects, such as disorientation, coughing, sedation, respiratory distress or cardiac arrest is very rapid and profound, usually occurring within minutes of exposure," the DEA said in a 2016 release.

"Canine units are particularly at risk of immediate death from inhaling fentanyl. In August 2015, law enforcement officers in New Jersey doing a narcotics field test on a substance that later turned out to be a mix of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl, were exposed to the mixture and experienced dizziness, shortness of breath and respiratory problems."

The DEA says that handling samples should be done in a well-ventilated area and that gloves should be worn at minimum.

Deaths from fentanyl in the United States climbed more than 1,000 percent from 2011 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number of fatalities was relatively stable in 2011 and 2012, with roughly 1,600 deaths each of those years, but it began to increase in 2013, reaching just over 1,900 deaths.

Then the death rate doubled each year, skyrocketing to 18,335 overdoses in 2016, the CDC stated.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

EPA allows continued use of pesticide linked to developmental issues in children

iStock(NEW YORK) -- The Environmental Protection Agency is not banning a pesticide linked to developmental issues in children, the agency announced this week despite years of calls to pull it from use, saying further study of its effects is needed.

Chlorpyrifos is a pesticide used mostly on fruit and other produce. California and some other states have moved to ban the chemical from agricultural use because of the health risks, but the federal government has denied longstanding petitions from environmental groups.

This is despite a finding from the EPA under the Obama administration that the pesticide should be completely banned, and a previous court order telling the agency to act on it.

Environmental health experts say there's evidence that exposure to even low levels of chlorpyrifos through conventional produce can lead to developmental and cognitive problems in infants and children and that they haven't found a safe level for children or pregnant women.

Catherine Karr, a pediatric environmental medicine specialist at the University of Washington, said doctors are concerned about what happens when the vulnerable, developing brain is exposed to chemicals like chlorpyrifos. She said studies have documented issues with learning and cognition, inattention or behavioral issues, and even behavior similar to what is seen with children on the autism spectrum.

"These are outcomes that as a pediatrician these are major problems in childhood, issues with learning, issues with ADHD or autism. So here we have evidence that this chemical, this pesticide used in the food supply, and exposures in our population that really have effects on kids," Karr said.

Karr and environmental advocates like the Environmental Working Group say buying organic produce can reduce exposure to pesticides for pregnant women and children, but that higher prices for organic products can be a problem for many households.

Chlorpyrifos currently isn’t allowed for residential use, but can be used on a commercial scale using guidelines intended to prevent exposure and spray from drifting out of the intended area. In late 2016, the EPA found that the level of chlorpyrifos residue on produce was above what the government considered safe and would likely restrict or ban it completely, but in 2017 the Trump administration reversed that decision and said they needed to look into the issue further.

Karr said there's even more concern for populations that work in or live near agriculture, saying there's evidence that low income farm-working communities are exposed to even higher levels in addition to the food they eat.

"This is sort of an environmental justice issue I think because we do see that they [the local residents] have the burden from the food supply that anyone in our country might experience but also living near agricultural production," she said.

The EPA says it denied a petition to ban chlorpyrifos again saying it needs further review. The agency says it will continue to study chlorpyrifos but says it has concerns with some of the outside studies used in EPA's previous risk assessments.

“EPA has determined that their objections must be denied because the data available are not sufficiently valid, complete or reliable to meet petitioners’ burden to present evidence demonstrating that the tolerances are not safe.”

The company that manufactures chlorpyrifos, Corteva Agriscience, said in a statement they support the EPA’s decision and the ongoing review of potential risks from the chemical, adding that they will work with EPA if it determines some uses of the pesticide need to be more limited.

“Completion of Registration Review will provide needed certainty to growers who rely on chlorpyrifos and needed reassurance for the public that labelled uses will not pose unacceptable risk to public health or the environment,” the company said in a statement.

Environmental and health groups critical of what they say is the EPA's inaction say the decision shows the Trump administration is choosing the side of chemical companies over children’s health.

“Every day we go without a ban, children and farmworkers are eating, drinking and breathing a pesticide linked to intellectual and learning disabilities and poisonings,” said the 12 plaintiff organizations challenging EPA’s previous decision to deny a ban. “We will continue to fight until chlorpyrifos is banned and children and farmworkers are safe from this dangerous chemical.”

The EPA says it is expediting its review of the risks associated with chlorpyrifos, which it expects will be complete in 2022. That assessment will be used to determine if the agency will revoke the registration for the pesticide, effectively banning it, or if there should be new restrictions imposed on how it can be used.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Mosquito milestone: use bacteria and radiation to eliminate the bugs

iStockBY: Dr. Laith Alexander
Is repellent just not doing the trick to rid you of mosquitoes this summer? What about a different approach, like infecting the critters with bacteria topped up with a dose of radiation?

It's a serious idea.

Researchers from Sun Yat-Sen University in China and Michigan State University have used the technique to all but eradicate the world’s most invasive mosquito -- the Asian tiger mosquito -- from two Chinese islands, and they have published their findings in the journal Nature.

The Asian tiger mosquito, or the aedes albopictus, causes more than just an itchy bite. It can spread deadly viruses such as dengue fever and Zika. Controlling numbers of the winged bloodsuckers is key.

“Mosquitoes are being transported around the globe and establishing themselves in places they have never been seen before,” said Stephen Dobson, professor of medical entomology at the University of Kentucky. “There is a great need to control mosquito numbers, both in China, and globally. And pathogens such as Zika virus are being seen in the United States.”

The researchers’ first line of attack was to create a colony of male and female mosquitoes that were infected with a strain of the bacteria Wolbachia.

“To create a colony of male and female mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia, you just have to infect one ‘Eve’ female,” Dobson said to ABC News, “because she will pass it on to all her offspring.” The approach was first pioneered at the University of Kentucky.

The infected male offspring then mate with uninfected females in the wild, and the bacterium stops the females’ eggs from hatching. Because female mosquitoes can only mate once, that’s a great way to reduce mosquito numbers -- termed ‘population suppression.’

Unfortunately, if any infected females from the colony were accidentally released into the wild and mated, they could still hatch eggs -- but on the plus side, the offspring are less able to transmit deadly viruses.

So even the worst-case scenario would be a population of ‘safer’ mosquitoes. This is what researchers called ‘population replacement.’

But the researchers wanted to go one step further and make sure that only the infected males they released were able to mate.

That’s where the low-dose radiation comes in: they exposed mosquito babies, which sterilized the females and only slightly impaired males’ ability to mate.

Not everyone agrees that the radiation step is necessary.

“From a practical perspective, irradiation probably isn’t a critical step of the process,” Dobson said. “Instead, automating the removal of female mosquitoes is the way to go, to lower the cost and prevent loss of viability to the males.”

Nevertheless, the team now had their weapon of choice: a population of sterilized females and infected males to release into the wild. The infected males could pass on the bacteria to wild females, stopping hatching eggs, and the irradiated females were sterile.

During the peak breeding seasons of 2016 and 2017, over 160,000 of the infected insects were released per week on two islands in the river city of Guangzhou – which has a big mosquito and dengue fever problem.

In total, around two-hundred million of the winged warriors were set loose. And their campaign was staggeringly successful -- a 94% decline in viable eggs across both years.

When the team counted female mosquito numbers -- because females bite infect people -- the population fell dramatically: 83% down in 2016 and 94% down in 2017.

“This is a powerful species-specific, non-chemical approach, which doesn’t affect other insects unlike pesticides,” Dobson said. Another problem with traditional pesticide-based approaches to controlling mosquito numbers is that many mosquitoes are now resistant -- “mosquitoes are laughing them off now,” Dobson said.

The Wolbachia-based approach could usher in a new era of mosquito control.

Fewer itchy bites: good. Fewer deadly diseases: that’s the great part.

Dr. Laith Alexander is an MB/PhD student at the University of Cambridge, U.K., and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Broken heart syndrome found more commonly in people with cancer, study shows

ktsimage/iStock(NEW YORK) -- One in six people with broken heart syndrome had cancer, according to an international study across nine countries, including the U.S.

The findings were published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Broken heart syndrome, otherwise known as stress-induced cardiomyopathy or Takotsubo syndrome, is a real phenomenon. Emotional or physical stress causes the heart to stop pumping well. Stress could be from anything: money problems, unemployment, divorce, a bad breakup, anger, a bad infection or a recent surgery.

This temporary condition causes the main heart chamber to balloon, so blood does not flow well. Chest tightness or pain and shortness of breath make people with broken heart syndrome feel like they could be having a heart attack.

The reason broken heart syndrome has this effect on the heart is unknown, and in the past, doctors have written about patients with broken heart syndrome and cancer. But no one has ever looked more closely at the relationship -- until now.

The study looked at 1,604 people with broken heart syndrome, 267 of whom had cancer. The most common cancer was breast cancer, followed by cancers of the digestive system.

Although broken heart syndrome is often thought to be related to emotional stress, physical stress is also a cause. People who had both broken heart syndrome and cancer said that they actually had less emotional stress than those without cancer. Their broken heart syndrome came after surgery or some physical trauma.

This means that it could be a two-way relationship; cancer may be a physical stress that causes broken heart.

“They don’t know the direct reason why there seems to be this association between cancer and the broken heart syndrome,” Dr. Nieca Goldberg, cardiologist and medical director of the Joan Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone, said in an interview with ABC News. “But I would say that being hospitalized or treated for cancer is an emotionally stressful event, and they may have been more likely to have procedures, and this could also be a stressful event.”

“Our study also should raise awareness among oncologists and hematologists that broken heart syndrome should be considered in patients undergoing cancer diagnosis or treatment who experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or abnormalities on their electrocardiogram,” Dr. Christian Templin, the study's senior author and director of Interventional Cardiology at Switzerland's University Heart Center Zurich, said in a statement from the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Basically more research needs to be done," said Goldberg. "If someone comes with a diagnosis of broken heart syndrome, they shouldn’t automatically think they have cancer. They should be evaluated by their physicians. It’s another opportunity to have their normal preventive health care screening done.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Florida to require mental health courses in public schools beginning in sixth grade

recep-bg/iStock(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) - Florida public schools will now be required to offer at least five hours of mental health instruction to all students in sixth through 12th grades every year.

The state Board of Education unanimously voted on Wednesday to approve the new requirements, which are part of a mental health initiative spearheaded by Florida first lady Casey DeSantis, the wife of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“Ron and I have traveled the state and have heard from many families who voice concern about the struggles that adversely affect so many of our children," the first lady said in a statement. "We know that 50 percent of all mental illness cases begin by age 14, so we are being proactive in our commitment to provide our kids with the necessary tools to see them through their successes and challenges. Providing mental health instruction is another important step forward in supporting our families.”

Under the new mandate, public school students in grades six through 12 must take courses every year related to youth mental health awareness and assistance to grades sixth through 12th.

The courses must include instruction that will help them identify the signs and symptoms of mental illness, take them through the process of getting or seeking help for themselves or others, provide awareness of the resources available, and teach them what to do or say to their peers who are struggling with mental health disorders.

“We are going to reinvent school-based mental-health awareness in Florida, and we will be the number one state in the nation in terms of mental health outreach and school safety, all because of the governor’s and First Lady’s remarkable vision,” the state's Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said in a statement released following the vote on Wednesday.

A study published in 2016 by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found that one in six children in the country, aged 2 to 8, had a diagnosed mental, behavioral or developmental disorder.

Depression and anxiety are the most common diagnoses among adolescents, aged 12 to 17, while behavior problems are most common among children aged 6 to 11, according to a study published in 2018 by The Journal of Pediatrics.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

How to keep your pets safe and cool in a heat wave 

Chalabala/iStock(NEW YORK) -- With an extreme heat wave set to bake the U.S. from New York City all the way to Kansas City for the next few days, here are some ways to keep your four-legged and furry family members safe and cool as the temperatures outside soar.

The American Society for the Prevention of Animal Cruelty released guidelines for how to keep your pets safe from overheating.

How to keep pets safe from overheating

- Know the symptoms of overheating in pets. This can include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse, according to the ASPCA. Other symptoms include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit or a body temperature of over 104 degrees.

- As temperatures rise, keep your dogs away from hot asphalt. Sensitive paw pads can burn on hot asphalt, and an animal's body that is very low to the ground can heat up quickly, so keep walks to a minimum.

- Don't over-exercise your animals during a heat wave.

- Trim longer hair on your dog, but never shave your dog completely as the layers of a dog's coat can protect from overheating and sunburn.

- Brush cats more often than usual during excessive heat.

- Provide plenty of water for pets when it gets hot out.

- Never leave your pets alone in parked cars.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Jul192019

Carrie Underwood opens up about her workout routine after giving birth

John Shearer/WireImage(NEW YORK) -- Between her family, her music career and her clothing brand, country superstar Carrie Underwood definitely keeps busy.

And just months after having her second child, her life is back in full swing.

"It takes a while to feel like yourself again," she told ABC News' Good Morning America.

At the event for her brand CALIA by Carrie Underwood, the singer said she was "frustrated" getting back to the gym and feeling like she wasn’t performing at the level she was at pre-baby No. 2.

"I get frustrated because I have high expectations for myself," she said. "And after having my second child, going into the gym when I got the clear from my doctor, doing a push-up was way harder than it was not too long ago."

Underwood said she's learned the importance of listening to her body to tell her the type of workout she needs, taking it day by day.

It "really depends on the day, you just gotta listen to your body," she said, adding that she welcomes a good run or a great walk that's "nice for your soul."

This approach translates to her inclusive clothing line, which she said strives to help women start out by looking and feeling their best while training (or even just lounging around).

"A lot of people will go workout in order to feel great, but if you feel great in the first place, you’re one step ahead," she said.

Underwood is currently on tour in the U.S. and her two boys are with her on the road.

"I consider myself so lucky that I do have a job that I get to take my children with me, and they get to be around me and I don’t have to choose anything," she said. "Life and work colliding makes for a mess sometimes, but [mine is] good."

"It’s hard," she added, "but it’s worth it."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

Feds charge pharma execs, pharmacists with conspiring to distribute controlled substances

Darwin Brandis/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Two former pharmaceutical executives and two pharmacists were charged on Thursday by federal prosecutors in Ohio with conspiring to distribute controlled substances.

Anthony Rattini, the former president of pharmaceutical distributor Miami-Luken and James Barclay, the former compliance officer of Miami-Luken were charged alongside pharmacists Devonna Miller-West and Samuel “Randy” Ballengee, according to court documents.

In one instance, prosecutors claim that Miami-Luken distributed 3.7 million hydrocodone pills to a single pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia -- a town with a population of about 400 people from 2008 to 2011.

That averages out to 9,250 hydrocodone pills for every resident of the town.

Neither attorneys for the four defendants or the defendants themselves immediately responded to ABC News requests for comment. Three of the four defendants were arrested on Thursday morning, officials said. An arrest warrant for Barclay remained outstanding as of Thursday evening.

It is alleged in court documents that the pharmaceutical executives filled suspicious orders from the two pharmacists in an effort to enrich themselves while the opioid crisis in the Appalachian region was peaking.

Distributor Miami-Luken made over $173 million in profit from 2008 to 2015, according to federal prosecutors, and was a drug wholesaler for 200 companies in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

Miami-Luken, continued to fill large, suspicious orders even after being warned, prosecutors charge.

“Today’s arrests should be a wake-up call to distributors and pharmacists who are allowing opioid prescription pills to be illegally sold and dispensed from their facilities,” Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Assistant Administrator John Martin said in a release. “These actions will not be tolerated by the DEA, and they will be brought to justice.”

The company closed up shop earlier this year according to local news reports.

In addition to the hydrocodone pills that the former executives allegedly distributed 2.2 million pills over the span of two years to a pharmacy that prosecutors say had been cut off by other wholesalers.

The former executives also allegedly distributed 1.8 million Oxycontin's to a doctor and pharmacy that was believed to be under DEA investigation for over prescribing, those entities are not named.

In one instance, Ballengee, who ran Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson, WV, purchased 120,700 hydrocodone pills from Miami-Luken and from 2008-2014 bought 6 million dosage units of hydrocodone.

"It was further part of the conspiracy that Devonna Miller-West and Samuel “Randy” Ballengee purchased excessive amounts of controlled substances from Miami-Luken through their respective pharmacies," prosecutors charged in court filings. "As pharmacists, Devonna Miller-West and Samuel “Randy” Ballengee failed to ensure that controlled substances were distributed properly, for a legitimate medical purpose, ignoring obvious signs of abuse and diversion."

The records go on to contend that Miller-West and Ballengee "distributed controlled substances, namely oxycodone and hydrocodone, Schedule II and III controlled substances, to customers outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

200th New York firefighter dies from 9/11 illness as funding debate rages on

FDNY(NEW YORK) -- As 9/11 first responders push Congress to extend funding for their care, a grim new marker was reached with the death of the 200th member of the New York City fire department from World Trade Center related illnesses.

Firefighters Kevin Nolan died on Tuesday and Richard Driscoll died on Wednesday, according to the Fire Department of New York (FDNY).

"It is almost incomprehensible that after losing 343 members on September 11, we have now had 200 more FDNY members die due to World Trade Center illness," fire commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement Thursday. "These heroes gave their lives bravely fighting to rescue and recover others. We will never forget them."

Congress is currently considering a 9/11 victims compensation bill that would ensure funding through 2090.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House overwhelmingly last week, but proponents are waiting for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill to the Republican-led Senate floor for a vote. The Senate bill has been held up since Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., raised concerns about how it would be paid for.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted about the deaths and called for the fund to be fully funded.

"They didn’t hesitate to run into danger. They stayed until the work was done. The Senate MUST fully fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund," de Blasio wrote in his tweet.

 Nolan retired from the FDNY in 2007 and is survived by his wife and three adult children, the New York Daily News reported. The specific nature of his illness was not immediately publicly disclosed.

The Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York said his funeral is scheduled for Saturday. On their website, they asked all off-duty members to attend in their class A uniforms.

Driscoll, retired from the department in 2002 after serving for 32 years, was the 200th FDNY member to die of a World Trade Center-related illness, and died of cancer.

He was a Vietnam veteran and the FDNY confirmed that he had been cited five times for bravery in the course of his career.

According to a list compiled by the union, there have been eight FDNY deaths so far in 2019 as a result of World Trade Center-related illnesses.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Jul182019

Working women may have slower memory loss later in life than stay-at-home moms, research finds

pixdeluxe/iStock(LOS ANGELES) -- New research found that working mothers had a slower rate of memory decline and loss later in life compared to non-working mothers.

The research from a team at the University of California, Los Angeles, was presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Tuesday, and looked at over 6,000 American women born between the years 1935 through 1956.

The researchers asked the women to complete standardized memory tests every two years between the ages of around 55 to 80, and found that working mothers who are paid to work in young adulthood and midlife (whether single or married) had a slower rate of memory decline compared to non-working mothers.

Marriage played a comparatively smaller role in age-related memory decline compared to work, the researchers found.

The average memory performance for married women with children who never worked between the ages of 60 and 70 years old declined 61 percent faster compared to married mothers who participated in the paid labor force.

“We have to be crystal clear here. This is not about which one is harder. This is about possible different engagement in the brain, different parts of the brain that may exist when women leave the home and interact either with adults or work just in a different environment outside the home,” Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News' chief medical correspondent said on Good Morning America explaining the study.

“A couple years ago, data in Australia showed that women who worked harder through their middle age actually had higher rates of cognitive decline,” she added. “So we have to caution: association does not prove cause and effect. We’re not saying which one is harder. We’re just saying that not only can you lead by example, show children that women can work, can financially contribute, but it might be good for the brain.”

Meanwhile, the average memory performance for women who experienced a prolonged period of single motherhood without working declined 83 percent faster between the ages of 60 and 70 years old, compared to married mothers who participated in the workforce, researchers found.

"Though preliminary, our research provides evidence that participation in the paid labor force may help prevent late-life memory decline among women in the United States. Possible pathways include mental stimulation, financial benefits, and social benefits," Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said in a statement.

"Future research should evaluate whether policies and programs that facilitate women’s full participation in the paid labor force are effective strategies to prevent memory decline," she added.

The research comes at a time when two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. are women, according to the Alzheimer's Association.

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