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    The Environmental Protection Agency rejected a key legal challenge Thursday to a pesticide linked to brain damage in children, saying environmental groups had failed to prove that a ban was warranted. The agency's defense of continued use of the widely used bug-killer chlorpyrifos could set the stage for a pivotal federal court decision on whether to overrule the EPA and force the agency to ban it. 'To me, this starts the clock on the use of chlorpyrifos on food crops in the US,' said former senior EPA attorney Kevin Minoli. Scientists say studies have shown that chlorpyrifos damages the brains of fetuses and children. The pesticide has been used nationally on dozens of food crops, but California — the nation's largest agricultural state — and a handful of other states have recently moved to ban it. The agency said the environmental groups had failed to prove that the pesticide wasn't safe. Last summer, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to ban all sales of the pesticide. The court decided to reconsider that ruling with a slate of 11 judges, who gave the EPA until this month to respond to the environmental groups' arguments for banning chlorpyrifos. The EPA under the Obama administration had initiated a ban, but the agency reversed that decision shortly after President Donald Trump took office. The EPA defense Thursday showed that 'as long as the Trump administration is in charge, this EPA will favor the interests of the chemical lobby over children's safety,' said Ken Cook, head of the Environmental Working Group environmental advocacy organization. In a statement, the EPA said it was separately speeding up a regular agency review of the pesticide's continued use, and expected a decision on that well ahead of a 2022 deadline. The EPA said it also was talking with chlorpyrifos makers about further restrictions on how farmers use the pesticide.
  • Florida can limit who gets to give dietary advice, a federal court ruled. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by a health coach who was fined for practicing without a dietary license. Heather Del Castillo had argued Florida's law violated her First Amendment right to free speech, noting dietary advice is ubiquitous online, in books and on TV. The case underscored the varying state laws on who can charge for personalized dietary advice. Some states do not require licenses, while some protect the use of titles such as 'dietitian.' Others such as Florida restrict the practice more broadly to licensed professionals. The inconsistencies stand to cause confusion about the qualifications of people who offer nutrition counseling. Health coaches generally say they can help people achieve their goals and may get certificates from a variety of programs. But anyone can use the title, which doesn't have a consistent meaning. By contrast, registered dietitians with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have education and training that generally qualify them to meet any state licensing requirements. The academy says it doesn't oppose bloggers and influencers who share dietary views online, but that dietitians have the background to advise people with medical conditions such as diabetes. In its ruling Wednesday, the U.S. District Court in Pensacola said the state law is intended to protect people from incompetent advice, and that the law requires a license specifically to charge for individualized counseling. It said the law does not prevent Del Castillo from giving dietary advice for free, or from giving speeches or writing about nutrition. The case was taken up by the Institute for Justice, a free-market group that has challenged other occupational licensing laws, such as for tour guides . The court said licensing for dietary advice is different because clients are given individualized advice, whereas tour guides give everyone the same information. The Institute for Justice said it planned to appeal. ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
  • The numbers are staggering: An average yearly total of 107 opioid pills per resident were distributed over a seven-year period in this rural county deep in Appalachia. The newly released federal data is shocking even to people who live here in Jackson County, where nearly everyone seems to have known someone who died from drug-related causes. Five children in one elementary school class were said to have lost a parent to an overdose death this past academic year. Standing at his son's grave in Coalton, a village of fewer than 500 people, Eddie Davis remembers vividly his last conversation, in his home nearly 10 years ago, with the son he called Bub, 'not knowing that would be the last time I would see him or hear his voice or be able to hug him.' Soon, Jeremy Edward Davis was dead, at age 33. 'My son was accountable for himself; he did what he did, he chose to do that,' Davis, 67, said Wednesday. But then he wondered aloud about the role of the drugmakers, and those who did the overprescribing. 'Again, how did the drugs get here, how did the pills get here, who is responsible for it? I think they should pay.' The outsized numbers of prescription pain pills have helped fuel many heartbreaking stories of overdose deaths like Davis'. They've also contributed to uneven addiction recovery and surging foster care rates as parents lose their children or leave them orphaned. 'When I was an addict, this town was misery,' said William Carter, who struggled with an addiction to pain pills, and then heroin, for more than a decade. 'It was nothing but trying to hustle to make your next fix.' The 42-year-old resident of Jackson, the county seat, started on pain pills in 2000, then later turned to far cheaper and more available heroin as law enforcement crackdowns reduced the availability of pills. Carter said his life 'was pure hell. It was just trying not to be sick. It was shooting up in every gas station bathroom in this town,' he said. 'When I think about that, it disgusts me.' Such stories are all too common here. 'Essentially, there is no segment of our communities that are not impacted by this,' said Robin Harris, executive director for a governmental board that helps provide addiction and mental health services in the region. Treatment centers and psychiatric hospital beds are full, and while churches and faith organizations are helping the government and agency efforts, resources don't stretch nearly far enough in an impoverished area, said Harris. She said that in the elementary class of 53 children, the five who experienced the deaths of parents from overdose included a boy who was alone with his dead father for 12 hours because he had no telephone service to call for help. Census data shows nearly one in five of the county's more than 32,000 residents live in poverty in a region that has long lagged behind the rest of the nation economically as a result of losing coal, iron and steel industry jobs. Yet people will buy drugs, said Jackson County Municipal Judge Mark Musick, who oversaw Carter's recovery. 'It's amazing how many young adults have told me across the podium what the cost of their habit is daily. And you think, 'I wouldn't be able to spend $250 a day. Where do they get that?'' Musick said many county residents are disabled by addiction — struggling to keep jobs and support their children. 'The amount of grandparents raising grandkids in that area is just unbelievable,' said state Rep. Ryan Smith, a Republican whose district includes Jackson and Gallia counties. The drug data released this week by a federal court in Cleveland shows that drug companies distributed 8.4 billion hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to commercial pharmacies in 2006 and 12.6 billion in 2012. That's an increase of over 50%. Records kept by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration show that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills — the vast majority of them generics, not brand names — were shipped to U.S. pharmacies from 2006 to 2012. The data was reported first by The Washington Post, which had sued along with HD Media to obtain the data. During that time, prescription opioids contributed to more than 100,000 deaths in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The distribution database is a key element of lawsuits filed by more than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments. The first trials are scheduled for October. A spokeswoman for one distributor, McKesson Corp., said Wednesday it didn't push sales or influence the numbers of prescriptions or use. McKesson distributed more than 18% of the nation's opioids from 2006 to 2012, the most of any company. For those on the front lines, the drug companies' roles in the epidemic are infuriating. 'It looks like a war zone down here,' Perry County, Kentucky, Sheriff Joseph Engle said Wednesday while patrolling a hard-hit town around 170 miles (274 kilometers) south of Jackson, Ohio. The federal data showed that on average, 175 pills a year per person were distributed in Perry County during the period covered. Engle said that in his two decades of law enforcement he's watched as prescription painkillers flooded his community, causing widespread addiction. Every family has felt it, he said. He has relatives struggling with addiction. He's buried high school friends to overdoses. The drug companies should 'have to come down here and rebuild this place,' Engle said. In West Virginia, Mingo County was among the hardest-hit rural areas with a rate of 203 pills per person per year. Tommy Preece, volunteer fire chief in the town of Kermit, doesn't need to see the statistics to know the area's history of drug problems. He lost his brother, assistant fire chief Timmy Dale Preece, to a drug overdose in August 2017. 'I've seen so much of it, it's unreal,' he said Wednesday, adding: ' I don't see no end to it as long as these pharmaceutical companies are going to keep shoving these pills out there.' Carter, the recovering pain pill and heroin user in Jackson, says he feels fortunate to have a job, a marriage, and 'a beautiful 13-year-old daughter.' But he's also scared for his daughter growing up in the area, as he sees the region's misery continue. 'I am short-staffed at work right now because a co-worker is planning a memorial for their family member from last week for an overdose,' Carter said. 'It's to the point everyone is like, 'Well, it's another one.'' ___ Associated Press writers Dan Sewell in Cincinnati, John Seewer in Toledo, Julie Carr Smyth and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Mark Gillispie in Cleveland, Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, Geoff Mulvihill in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Matthew Perrone in Washington D.C., contributed to this report.
  • Congolese soldiers and police will enforce hand-washing and fever checks now that the deadly Ebola outbreak has been declared an international health emergency , authorities said Thursday. Soldiers and police will 'force' people who resist taking the key steps to help contain the disease that has killed more than 1,600 people in the past year , said the outbreak response coordinator at Congo's health ministry, Dr. Aruna Abedi. 'It's not possible that someone refuses to wash their hands and have their temperature checked at a very critical moment in this outbreak,' Abedi told reporters in Goma, the city of more than 2 million people where a first Ebola case was announced early this week. The major regional crossroads is on the Rwanda border and has an international airport. The World Health Organization's rare emergency declaration Wednesday night for the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history came after a WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to recommend it, to the impatience of some health experts who for months had expressed alarm. Congo's increased use of soldiers and police could bring objections from some residents and health workers in an outbreak taking place in what has been called a war zone. This outbreak is like no other, unfolding in a turbulent part of northeastern Congo where dozens of rebel groups are active and wary communities had never experienced the disease before. Health workers have faced misinformation and even deadly attacks that have hampered the critical work of tracing contacts of infected people and deploying an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine. Wednesday's declaration quickly led to fears among some Congolese authorities and residents that governments might close borders or take other measures that could hurt the local economy. Congo's health minister has resisted the characterization of the outbreak as a health emergency. Rwanda's government said surveillance measures at the border would be tightened, but traffic was flowing normally through the border on Thursday. One Congolese, 25-year-old Clovis Mutsuva, told The Associated Press that while the declaration might bring in needed funds to help contain the outbreak, any border closures would make locals 'more unhappy.' A lot of key local merchandise such as fuel comes from Kenya and neighboring Uganda, Mutsuva said. 'This scares us because Goma risks becoming isolated from the rest of the world,' added Katembo Kabunga as some people in the city received vaccinations. While the risk of regional spread remains high, the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after Wednesday's announcement. Last month saw the first confirmed cases in Uganda and a case just 70 kilometers (43 miles) from the border with South Sudan, where a recently ended civil war badly weakened the health system. The international emergency 'should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help,' Tedros said. WHO has estimated 'hundreds of millions' of dollars would be needed to stop the outbreak. Some aid groups say they hope the declaration will spark a radical shift in Ebola response efforts to help address community resistance. The medical charity Doctors Without Borders said the outbreak is still not under control. This is the fifth such declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio. WHO defines a global emergency as an 'extraordinary event' that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. WHO was heavily criticized for its sluggish response to the West Africa outbreak, which it repeatedly declined to declare a global emergency until the virus was spreading explosively in three countries and nearly 1,000 people were dead. ___ Maliro reported from Beni, Congo. ___ Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa
  • Federal authorities say a wholesale pharmaceutical distributor and others have been charged in Ohio with conspiring to distribute millions of painkiller pills. A Justice Department release says the pharmaceutical distributor, two of its former officials and two pharmacists were indicted Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati. The U.S. attorney for Ohio's southern district and federal law enforcement officials planned a news conference Thursday to announce the charges formally and provide more details. Authorities say those indicted were arrested on Thursday morning. Prescription opioid statistics were made public this week by a federal court in Cleveland that is overseeing lawsuits against drug companies. Those statistics show the number of distributed painkiller pills soared as the nation's overdose epidemic grew over a seven-year period through 2012.
  • The nation's former major suppliers of lead paint have agreed to pay California's largest cities and counties $305 million to settle a nearly 20-year-old lawsuit, attorneys said Wednesday. The settlement comes after years of legal and legislative battling in California and other states. Former lead paint manufacturers tried to change California law last year with a ballot initiative that they later withdrew. A judge initially required Sherwin-Williams Co., ConAgra Grocery Products Co. and NL Industries Inc. to pay $1.15 billion to clean up lead paint. An appeals court in 2017 affirmed that lead paint is a public nuisance but ruled that the companies only would have to pay for cleaning up homes built before 1951, leading to the settlement. 'We're very pleased that we have hundreds of millions of dollars to dedicate to cleaning up this hazard in our communities,' Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said. 'The real beneficiaries of this case will be the current and future children of California who will now have far less chance of being poisoned by lead.' It's unclear if the settlement will spark other lead paint lawsuits, he said, citing legal conditions unique to California. The money will go to Alameda, Los Angeles, Monterey, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Ventura counties, as well as Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco. Sherwin-Williams said the court ruling that prompted the settlement 'remains an aberration at odds with other judicial decisions across the country, where all other appellate courts have found that companies should not be held retroactively liable for lawful conduct and truthful commercial speech decades after they took place.' Lawsuits in Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Wisconsin all were rejected or voluntarily dismissed, the company said in a statement, warning that it will 'continue to vigorously and aggressively defend against any similar current or future litigation.' Sherwin-Williams said it advertised the paints when they were the 'gold standard' required by federal, state and local governments nationwide. ConAgra and NL Industries both said they were pleased to end the long-running lawsuit. Lead-based paint was banned for residential use in 1978, but attorneys for the cities and counties said it remains in millions of homes and is still the leading cause of childhood lead poisoning in California. Williams said attorneys presented evidence during the 2014 trial on 'the marketing and the knowledge they (the companies) had around the harm and just how toxic and poisonous lead paint was. It will ring bells to some of the tobacco-era stuff.' Aside from cleanup, the settlement can be used to help children with lead poisoning. Young children are particularly vulnerable because it can harm their mental and physical development and can be fatal at high levels. Paint suppliers financed a ballot initiative that would have wiped out the court rulings and shifted $2 billion in cleanup costs to California taxpayers. The companies ended the effort last year when state lawmakers agreed to drop pending legislation targeting the companies. California lawmakers said last year they would have to consider how to pay for cleaning up homes in places that are not part of the settlement, though there is no legislation now addressing that issue. The settlement already covers California's biggest population areas and the majority of residences, Williams said. 'There are still many Californians who need assistance that were not covered in the lawsuit, and that certainly will be a conversation for the Legislature for the future,' Assemblyman David Chiu said. The San Francisco Democrat is sponsoring legislation to protect homeowners from liability if they participate in lead-clearing programs. With just four weeks left in this legislative session, Chiu said the coverage gap is unlikely to be considered until next year.
  • The maker of OxyContin has been cast as the chief villain in the nation's opioid crisis. But newly released government figures suggest Purdue Pharma had plenty of help in flooding the U.S. with billions of pills even as overdose deaths were accelerating. Records kept by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration show that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills — the vast majority of them generics, not brand names — were shipped to U.S. pharmacies from 2006 to 2012. The annual number swelled by more than 50 percent during that period of time even as the body count climbed. The powerful painkillers flowed faster even after Purdue Pharma was fined $635 million for falsely marketing OxyContin as less addictive than other opioids. 'I think the scale of this is stunning,' Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University professor who researches opioids, said in an interview. He also noted that the data shows that the places that received the most drugs per capita are the ones with the most overdoses per capita: 'It really looks like wherever you spread the most gas, you get the most fires.' At the same time, the data illustrates how complicated it could be for the courts to figure out who should be held accountable for the public health disaster. More than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have sued members of the drug industry in the biggest and possibly most complicated litigation of its kind ever in the U.S. A federal judge who is overseeing most of the cases and pushing for a settlement ruled this week that detailed drug-shipment data compiled by the DEA should be made public over the industry's objections. The judge has not allowed the release of information from 2013 and 2014. But the material unsealed constitutes the most comprehensive picture yet of how the crisis unfolded. The Washington Post, which along with HD Media, the owner of newspapers in West Virginia, went to court to seek the information, was first to publish the data. Prescription and illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl have been factors in more than 430,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000, according to the CDC. From 2006 to 2012, annual opioid deaths rose from under 18,000 a year to more than 23,000. During that time, prescription drugs were cited as factors in just under half the deaths. Since then, overall opioid deaths in the U.S. have doubled, though on Wednesday the CDC reported that drug overdose deaths of all kinds probably fell last year for the first time in nearly three decades. The newly released information shows in detail the flow of drugs from manufacturers to communities. West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Nevada all received more than 50 pills for every man, woman and child each year. Several areas in the Appalachian region were shipped an average of well over 100 pills per person per year. 'It's like being on the front lines of a war every day,' said Joe Engle, sheriff of Perry County, Kentucky, which received 175 pills per person per year. 'Our people here in eastern Kentucky have been taken advantage of by these pharmaceutical companies. It's one of the worst things you can do to a society, to a people. And we're suffering.' Nearly every state has filed a lawsuit, and most of them have focused on Purdue and members of the Sackler family, who own the Stamford, Connecticut-based company and are major philanthropists whose donations to museums and universities have now come under scrutiny. Many local governments have also sued other drugmakers, distribution companies and pharmacies. The lawsuits say that with the introduction of OxyContin, a time-released opioid, in 1995, Purdue created a new playbook to push the use of opioids for more patients and in higher doses. But Purdue points out, accurately, that the company produced only a small fraction of the nation's opioids — about 3% between 2006 and 2012, according to the data. Three companies — SpecGX, Par Pharmaceutical and Activis Pharma — that sold lower-priced generic drugs, including versions of OxyContin, combined to make 90% of the pills. The three companies say that they didn't market the drugs and were just meeting the demand of prescriptions filled out by doctors — and that they didn't produce more than the DEA allowed. Perry Rowthron, a former Connecticut deputy attorney general, said those factors could make it hard to blame those generic manufacturers. 'It's always been the view that branded manufacturers created the demand that is now being met by generics,' he said. As for the distributors, they contend they functioned as a delivery service and keep federal authorities apprised of the quantities of drugs being shipped. Four companies — McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — each distributed more than 10% of the opioids sent to pharmacies. McKesson distributed more than 18% of the nation's opioids from 2006 to 2012 — the most of any company — but said it didn't push sales. 'Any suggestion that McKesson influenced the volume of opioids prescribed or consumed in this country would reflect a misunderstanding of our role as a distributor,' a spokeswoman said via email. The figures are from the DEA's Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS. The DEA agreed to provide the ARCOS data to lawyers in the opioid litigation but pushed judges to keep it from being made public. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein of Johns Hopkins University said the lack of transparency around the prescribing data probably slowed the federal response to the opioid epidemic. 'To a certain extent, no agency really felt responsible and had access to the data in real-time to see what was happening,' he said. DEA officials declined to comment on the litigation but said the agency is working to ensure patients have access to the medications they need, while also policing excessive drug shipments. Elizabeth Burch, a law professor at the University of Georgia, called the release a 'game-changer' in the legal cases. 'Making it public shows the vast disparity between say, Mingo County, West Virginia (with 203.5 pills per person per year) and Hooker County, Nebraska (with 0 pills per person per year),' she said in an email. She said the information could help the hardest-hit places get a bigger piece of any settlement reached. Yale law professor Abbe Gluck said the drug distribution details are already being used by the parties negotiating settlements, so their impact could be minimal there. 'On the other hand,' she said in an email, 'releasing the data feeds the public's hunger for knowledge and accountability and so may put additional pressure on the defendant companies.' ___ Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. ___ Associated Press writers Mike Balsamo in Washington, D.C., and Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report. ___ Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill and Perrone at http://www.twtitter.com/AP_FDAwriter
  • The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday after a case was confirmed in a city of 2 million people . A WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, even though other experts say it has long met the required conditions. More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone. A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures. The declaration comes days after a single case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border, with an international airport. Also, a sick Congolese fish trader traveled to Uganda and back while symptomatic — and later died of Ebola. While the risk of regional spread remains high, the risk outside the region remains low, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the announcement in Geneva. The international emergency 'should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help,' he said. Tedros insisted that the declaration was not made to raise more money — even though WHO estimated 'hundreds of millions' of dollars would be needed to stop the epidemic. Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said she hoped the emergency designation would prompt a radical reset of Ebola response efforts. 'The reality check is that a year into the epidemic, it's still not under control, and we are not where we should be,' she said. 'We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results.' Liu said vaccination strategies should be broadened and that more efforts should be made to build trust within communities. The U.S. Agency for International Development applauded the WHO decision and said USAID officials would 'continue to scale up life-saving support' to end the outbreak. This is the fifth such declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio. WHO defines a global emergency as an 'extraordinary event' that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. Last month, the outbreak spilled across the border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial in Congo of an infected relative. Even then, the expert committee advised against a declaration. Alexandra Phelan, a global health expert at Georgetown University Law Center, said Wednesday's declaration was long overdue. 'This essentially serves as a call to the international community that they have to step up appropriate financial and technical support,' she said but warned that countries should be wary of imposing travel or trade restrictions. Such restrictions 'would actually restrict the flow of goods and health care workers into affected countries so they are counterproductive,' she said. Future emergency declarations might be perceived as punishment and 'might result in other countries not reporting outbreaks in the future, which puts us all at greater risk.' WHO had been heavily criticized for its sluggish response to the West Africa outbreak, which it repeatedly declined to declare a global emergency until the virus was spreading explosively in three countries and nearly 1,000 people were dead. Internal documents later showed WHO held off partly out of fear a declaration would anger the countries involved and hurt their economies. The organization's emergency committee will meet again within three months to assess the situation. Committee members will review whether the outbreak is still a global emergency and whether other measures are needed. Wednesday's announcement prompted fear in eastern Congo, where many do business across borders and travel overseas. 'I am vaccinated and I protect myself against Ebola,' said Zoe Kibwana, a 46-year-old shoe salesman who does business in Uganda, just 70 kilometers (40 miles) from Beni. 'Closing the borders would handicap our economy. The health ministry and WHO need to end this epidemic as soon as possible.' The current outbreak is spreading in a turbulent Congo border region where dozens of rebel groups are active and where Ebola had not been experienced before. Efforts to contain the virus have been hurt by mistrust among wary locals that has prompted deadly attacks on health workers. Some infected people have deliberately evaded health authorities. The pastor who brought Ebola to Goma used several fake names to conceal his identity on his way to the city, Congolese officials said. WHO on Tuesday said the man had died and health workers were scrambling to trace dozens of his contacts, including those who had traveled on the same bus. Congo's minister of health resisted the characterization of the outbreak as a health emergency. 'We accept the decision of the committee of experts but one hopes that it's a decision that wasn't made under pressure of certain groups that want to use this as a way to raise funds for certain humanitarian actors,' said Dr. Oly Ilunga. Those working in the field say the outbreak is clearly taking a turn for the worse despite advances that include the widespread use of an experimental but effective Ebola vaccine. Dr. Maurice Kakule was one of the first people to survive the current outbreak after he fell ill while treating a woman last July, before the outbreak had even been declared. 'What is clear is that Ebola is an emergency because the epidemic persists despite every possible effort to educate people,' he told the Geneva meeting. ___ Cheng reported from London. Associated Press writers Krista Larson and Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro in Beni, Congo, and Saleh Mwanamilongo in Kinshasa, Congo, also contributed to this report. ___ Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa
  • U.S. overdose deaths last year likely fell for the first time in nearly three decades, preliminary numbers suggest. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday posted data showing nearly 68,000 drug overdose deaths were reported last year. The number may go up as more investigations are completed, but the agency expects the tally will end up below 69,000. Overdose deaths had been climbing each year since 1990, topping 70,000 in 2017. The numbers were celebrated by the U.S. secretary of health and human services. 'Lives are being saved, and we're beginning to win the fight against this crisis,' Alex Azar wrote in a tweet. But the overdose death rate is still about seven times higher than it was a generation ago. 'We're still in a pretty sad situation that we need to address,' said Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan researcher. Researchers do not believe this is the start of a dramatic decline. Data from the first months of this year likely will show that the decrease is not gaining steam, said Farida Ahmad of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. The improvement was driven by a drop in deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers. Those falls were offset somewhat by continuing growth in deaths involving a different opioid, fentanyl, as well as other drugs such cocaine and methamphetamines. Overdose deaths often involve more than one drug. The improvement is not uniform: Some states seem to be making dramatic progress, while deaths continue to rise in others. The preliminary CDC data suggested deaths last year were down by as many as 1,000 or more in Ohio and Pennsylvania — each seeing declines of about 20%. Meanwhile, deaths increased by about 17% in Missouri, which had more than 200 additional deaths. It can take months for authorities to complete toxicology tests and other elements of a death investigation involving drugs. And some states report faster than others. The CDC is expected to report more complete data later this year. The current overdose epidemic has killed more people than any other in U.S. history, and it had been on a soaring trajectory. From 2014 to 2017, overdose deaths jumped by 5,000 or more each year. Experts trace the epidemic's origins to 1995 and the marketing of the prescription painkiller OxyContin. It was meant be safer and more effective than other prescription opioids, but some patients got hooked and found they could crush the tablets and snort or inject them to get high. Gradually, many turned to cheaper street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. In 2015, heroin began causing more deaths than prescription painkillers or other drugs. In 2016, fentanyl and its close cousins became the biggest drug killer, and in 2018 they were involved in about 46% of the reported overdose deaths, according to the preliminary CDC data. Strategies to reduce drug overdose deaths have included tougher policing, treatment program expansions, policies to limit opioid painkiller prescriptions and wider distribution of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. Haffajee and other researchers are trying to figure out what measures are most responsible for the slight improvement. 'It's complicated because there are so many policies going on, and as an evaluator it's very hard to separate them out and determine which is working,' she said. Valerie Hardcastle, a Northern Kentucky University administrator who oversees research and other work on local health issues, has seen the overdose epidemic play out in her region, near Cincinnati. She believes a major factor is Narcan, a nasal spray version of naloxone, that has been widely distributed through the efforts of philanthropists and local, state, and federal officials. 'It's fantastic that we have fewer deaths, don't get me wrong,' she said. 'But I'm not sure it's an indication that the opioid problem per se is diminishing. It's just that we have greater availability of the drugs that will keep us alive.' ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. ___ This story has been corrected to show Ahmad's first name is Farida, not Farid.
  • Bernie Sanders vigorously defended his signature 'Medicare for All' proposal Wednesday after criticism from his 2020 rival Joe Biden and called on his fellow Democratic presidential candidates to join him in refusing to accept contributions from the health care industry. Saying he wanted to address 'some of the half-truths' and 'outright lies' about his single-payer health care plan, Sanders insisted that coverage for seniors would increase and that Americans would be able to choose their own doctors and clinics without worrying whether their health care provider is in network. He also tried to ease fears that his proposal was too radical and said a big change was needed to improve health care in the country. 'Now is not the time for tinkering around the edges,' the Vermont senator said in an apparent swipe at Biden's plan to expand the Affordable Care Act. Sanders' speech at George Washington University came as he is seeking to breathe new life into his campaign ahead of the second presidential debate later this month. He has slipped in some public polling and has been outraised by several of his rivals, including Biden. Despite not mentioning Biden or any of his Democratic rivals by name, Sanders drew sharp contrasts in the speech between himself and the former vice president as the question of how to best provide health care for Americans has become an animating focus of the presidential race. Biden released his own health care plan on Monday, and the two campaigns have engaged in an increasingly bitter dispute over the issue. Biden has warned that it would be dangerous to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, implemented when he was vice president in the Obama administration, and replace it with Medicare for All. While Sanders' plan would eliminate most private insurance, Biden's would create a public option that would allow people to sign up for a government-run health system like Medicare if they were unhappy with private insurance. 'Medicare goes away as you know it. All the Medicare you have is gone. It's a new Medicare system,' Biden said this week at a presidential candidate forum held by the AARP. 'It may be as good, you may like it as well, it may or may not, but the transition of dropping 300 million people on a totally new plan, I think is a little risky at this point.' On Wednesday, Sanders countered, 'When our opponents talk about destabilization of the current system, they forget to tell you that the current system is already disrupting and destabilizing millions of people's lives.' And in challenging his 2020 rivals to avoid taking money from the health care industry, Sanders said any candidate who refused to take that pledge 'should explain to the American people why those corporate interest and their donations are a good investment for the health care industry.' Nine years after the Affordable Care Act was passed, Americans are still more likely to support than oppose the law, 48% to 30%, according to an April poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research , though a sizable share doesn't take either side. Views of a single-payer health care system, in which all Americans would get their insurance from one government plan, are mixed: More Americans favor than oppose single-payer, 42% to 31%, and an additional 25% say they hold neither opinion. The public is even more supportive of a government health insurance plan that can be bought instead of a private insurance plan: 53% express support, compared with just 17% who oppose; 29% are neither in favor nor opposed. A central question in the debate over Medicare of All is how the cost of such a plan would be covered. Sanders has said taxes would increase on middle-income earners. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who supports Medicare for All, told CNN this week that she wasn't 'prepared to engage' in such tax hikes. The roaring health care debate also is likely to further draw in the full Democratic field. Beyond Harris, several other leading 2020 candidates, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, support Medicare for All. However, some other Democratic hopefuls have warned that the party is moving too far left and have supported a more centrist approach. Among them is Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who prefers a public option for health coverage that could be included in the current structure of the Affordable Care Act. While campaigning in Iowa, Bennet said that Democrats would 'never unify around Medicare for All,' but that plans like his could bring the party together and notch wins in states like Colorado. 'If you're gonna stand up and commit the Democratic Party to taking away from 180 million people, you'd better be clear on what the nuances are because when you're running against Donald Trump, it's going to be too late,' he said. ___ Associated Press writers Elana Schor and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report. ___ Follow Summers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jmsummers .

News

  • A New Jersey judge who said a teenage boy accused of rape deserved leniency because he came from a 'good family' and got good grades has resigned. >>Read more trending news Monmouth County Superior Court Judge James Troiano resigned Wednesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court announced. The resignation came after weeks of criticism from the public and death threats to Troiano's family, The New York Times reported. In 2018, Troiano, 69, was called out of retirement to hear the case of an alleged rape involving teenagers at a party the previous year, The Washington Post reported. Police said a 16-year-old boy recorded cellphone video of himself sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl. The boy allegedly sent the video to others with the caption, “When your first time having sex was rape.” Both teens were intoxicated during the incident, prosecutors said. Prosecutors in the case pushed for the teen to be tried as an adult, calling his alleged crime 'sophisticated and predatory,' CNN reported. Troiano denied prosecutors' request. He wrote in his July 2018 decision that he didn't think the teen's actions were necessarily rape, because in 'traditional' rape cases there are 'two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person.' Troiano further wrote, “This young man comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school where he was doing extremely well. He is clearly a candidate for not just college but probably for a good college. His scores for college entry were very high.” The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court reversed Troiano's decision in June, and sent the case back down for further judgement, CNN reported. Monmouth County prosecutors are planning their next move in the case. 'While we have the utmost respect for the Family Court and the judge in this case, we are grateful that the Appellate Division agreed with our assessment that this case met the legal standards for waiver to Superior Court,' Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said in a statement. 'As with all cases, we are assessing our next steps, which will include discussions with the victim and her family.
  • The first trailer for the upcoming musical film 'Cats' has been released. >>Read more trending news 'Cats' is an adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical of the same name. Based on a collection of poems by T.S. Eliot and featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Weber, 'Cats' follows a tribe of cats called the Jellicles as they decide which cat will come back to life, according to the film's Internet Movie Database page. The original Broadway production ran for nearly 28 years and won several awards, including the 1983 Tony Award for Best Musical. The movie's star-studded cast includes Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden and others. It introduces ballerina Francesca Hayward in her first movie role. Viewers tweeted their reactions to the trailer. Many reactions were negative, as viewers said they found the appearance of the cat characters unsettling. 'Cats' is set for a December 20 release date.
  • A photo of a dog tied up on the back of a tow truck as it goes down busy Massachusetts highway has upset so many drivers who saw it that they now won't stop calling the tow company. >> Read more trending news The Animal Rescue League and Massachusetts State Police are now investigating the alleged crime. The picture snapped by a Brockton, Massachusetts, man and posted on Facebook drew instant criticism. People quickly began posting their objections and flooding the towing company with calls. Apparently, the two people in the van being towed were in the cab of the tow truck and that's why the dog was chained to the bed. The dog is owned by the driver of the truck. The man who took the picture, Mike Gerry, also has a dog: Molly.  Mike says he saw the dog on the flatbed while driving down Route 128 near Route 2 on Wednesday. He beeped and tried to get the tow truck driver’s attention but had no luck. 'I posted it on Facebook for my buddies to put it out there. and it went unreal, it went ballistic,' Gerry said. 'And ever since then people have been commenting on it, 'you're doing the right thing.'' To be clear the company told WFXT the dog being chained to the back of a flatbed truck is not their policy. The driver has reportedly been fired and the dog is OK.  The company also says it is donating $1,000 to the MSPCA and has set up a call center so it can answer and return every single call about the incident.
  • An Oklahoma man is in custody after allegedly raping a 4-year-old girl in a McDonald’s bathroom while the child was on a field trip with her day care class, according to news reports. >> Read more trending news  It happened Tuesday inside a McDonald’s in Midwest City in metro Oklahoma City when the little girl went to the bathroom alone, WXIN-TV reported. Day care employees told responding officers they went to check on the girl after she had “been gone for a while.”  They said they found the bathroom door locked and when they knocked, a man opened the door.He allegedly came out with his hands up and said, “I was just washing my hands,” the news station reported. The 4-year-old allegedly told police she was touched inappropriately by the man, identified as Joshua Kabatra, 37. Police arrested Kabatra at the scene, according to WXIN. He’s facing two rape charges and a count of lewd acts with a child.
  • Do you feel you’re better focused on the job with a little light background jazz or coffee shop chatter compared to pin-drop silence? Scientists might know why. >> Read more trending news According to Onno van der Groen, a researcher with Australia’s Edith Cowan University school of medical and health sciences, some background noise can actually be beneficial for our senses. This phenomenon is called “stochastic resonance.” First studied in animals, stochastic resonance experiments suggest “sensory signals can be enhanced by noise and improve behaviour in various animals,” van der Groen wrote for The Conversation last week. “For example, crayfish were shown to be better at avoiding predators when a small amount of random electrical currents were added to their tail fins. Paddlefish caught more plankton when small currents were added to the water.” In human experiments, where noise levels were manipulated by getting participants to listen to noisy sounds or feel random vibrations on the skin, people were better able to see, hear and feel at “a certain optimum noise level.” If it were too loud, however, performance dropped. Van der Groen pointed out that stochastic resonance has several real life applications for humans, too. “Adding noise to the feet of people with vibrating insoles can improve balance performance in elderly adults,” he wrote. For patients with diabetes or those recovering from stroke, this can also be used to augment muscle function. His own research has found that when brain currents are applied to participants’ brains with random noise stimulation, “it improved how well they could see a low-quality image.” When he and other researchers applied the same technique to other groups, they noticed “decisions were more accurate and faster when brain cell noise levels are tuned up.” Transcranial random noise stimulation also influenced what participants saw during a visual illusion, suggesting noise could help people approach a situation from multiple perspectives. But the thing about stochastic resonance is it differs from person to person.  The optimal amount of noise for top-notch cognitive function depends on a variety of factors, such as brain variability. Excessive brain variability, van der Groen wrote, is common in those with autism, dyslexia, ADHD and schizophrenia. Elderly folks also tend to have more brain noise (or brain variability) than younger individuals. However, because brain noise can be altered with random noise stimulation, van der Groen believes there are opportunities to explore “interventions or devices to manipulate noise levels, which could improve cognitive functioning in health and disease.”  For example, a study of children with ADHD found white noise delivered specifically through Etymotic earphones at 77 decibels improved memory and concentration. Plenty of downloadable ambient, white and “pink” noise apps have also popped up in recent years. There’s Coffitivity, which plays an infinite loop of coffee-shop sounds — and Noisli, which suggests different sounds for different goals. If you want to improve productivity, you might mix raindrops and train tracks. For those who want to relax, listen to crashing waves. Generally, ambient noise is ideal for creativity, white noise is sound for concentration and pink noise might be most helpful in improving sleep quality. But remember, finding stochastic resonance isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Play around and see which background noises and volumes work best for you. This guide from Techlicious is a good place to start.
  • An act of kindness extended by three young men has gotten a lot of attention on social media since then.  >> Read more trending news Sean Wetzonis says it all started when he, Pedro and two other friends from Malden planned to attend the game.  But one friend backed out, leaving Pedro with an extra ticket.  'And Pedro's father had suggested, he was like, 'find a girl. Find a girl to take to the game,'' Sean Wetzonis told Boston 25 News. But he said Pedro had another idea.  'He said, 'you know, I'll give it to a homeless person. If I could find a homeless person,' Wetzonis said. Finding a homeless person in Boston is not difficult. Enter John, who was sitting on a stoop near Fenway Park. 'When Pedro asked him if he wanted to go to a Red Sox game, at first I wasn't sure if he was going to get up, but then he said sure and he got up and he seemed pretty excited about it,' Wetzonis said.  He admits he was skeptical about taking a homeless guy to the game. 'I was kind of shocked. Everyone was like, 'dude. You got another ticket. You could try and sell it to make some money back.,' Wetzonis said.  But then he saw something you don't see enough of these days at professional sporting events: a fan actually watching the game.  'Everyone's there sitting on their phones, texting and looking around. He was really immersed in the game. He was there to enjoy the game,' Wetzonis said.  The Red Sox lost Tuesday night. But for three young men from Malden, it was, perhaps, the winningest night at Fenway ever.