Review Category : Health

Opioid-Related Deaths Reach Pace of 5 Per Day in Massachusetts

iStock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) — As the opioid epidemic continues to spread in the U.S., Massachusetts health officials have reported that at least 1,005 people in the state have died from opioid overdoses in the first nine months of this year. Another 392 to 470 deaths are suspected to be opioid-related during that time period.

This means there are on average approximately four to five opioid-related deaths in the state every day.

The opioid epidemic has continued to worsen in Massachusetts, according to the report issued Monday.

While heroin-related deaths have decreased, fentanyl-related deaths have increased proportionately, according to the Massachusetts Department of Health. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid thought to be significantly stronger than heroin.

“In our commitment to combat the opioid epidemic, we believe the constant release of data is a powerful tool to help us better understand the trends of this public health crisis,” Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker said in a statement Monday. “We will continue to utilize every tool available from prevention to treatment to break the cycle of addiction to support healthy families and communities across the Commonwealth.”

Massachusetts has been on the front lines of the current nationwide opioid epidemic and opioid-related deaths have increased dramatically in recent years. In 2015, there were 1,574 related deaths, while in 2005 there were just 554 deaths in the state.

“While we continue to see a decline in the number of deaths involving heroin, the data released today are a sobering reminder of why the opioid crisis is so complex and a top public health priority,” Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said Monday. “This is a crisis that touches every corner of our state, and we will continue our urgent focus expanding treatment access.”

There were also some bright spots in the state report.

The report found a decline in the number of patients receiving prescription opioids as compared to the same time in 2015. The health department also highlighted initiatives aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic, including 75 new beds at drug treatment centers, a new online prescription monitoring tool and an order that allows EMTs to give high doses of the opioid antidote naloxone to drug users who have overdosed.

“In the midst of another report showing the toll that opioids are taking, it’s understandable to ask: where are we on the road to a solution?” Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel said in a statement. “That is not an easy question to answer in any epidemic, but I find hope in the work of communities across the state to bend the curve of these trends and bring us closer to a solution. We must continue those efforts — no matter how long it takes.”

The death rate from opioid-related overdoses has increased to 25.8 deaths per 100,000 Massachusetts residents in 2015. That rate is 32 percent higher than it was in 2014. This number is higher than the rate of death for suicides in the U.S., which is 13.4 deaths per 100,000. It’s also higher than the rate of death from car accidents, which is 11.1 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there were more opioid-related deaths in 2014 than any other year on record. Every day, an estimated 78 people die in the U.S. due to opioids, according to the CDC.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Woman Born the Year Women Gained the Right to Vote Casts Ballot for Hillary Clinton

Courtesy Dennis McDougle(WORTHINGTON, Ohio) — Virgnia McDougle was born in 1920, the same year that women received the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Now 96 years later, McDougle said she had a “very good feeling” as she cast her ballot Tuesday for Hillary Clinton, who could become America’s first female president.

“I was always hoping that it would happen,” McDougle, of Worthington, Ohio, told ABC News of voting for a female leader. “When I saw other countries doing it, I did wonder why we don’t do it.”

“And now we’ve done it,” she said. “It was a very good feeling.”

McDougle, the mother of three sons and a grandmother to five boys, is one of more than 120 women featured on the website who were born in or prior to 1920 and are voting for Clinton.

The website was started when the granddaughter of Estelle Schultz, 98, of Rockville, Maryland, shared a photo of Schultz with her absentee ballot for Clinton on Facebook.

McDougle cast her first presidential ballot for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She said in all her years of closely following politics, she had never seen a presidential election as tumultuous as this year’s.

“I have been ever hopeful that we would have a woman president,” McDougle said. “I think it’s about time and I think [Clinton] is very wonderfully experienced in government and will make a wonderful president.”

McDougle described an “excitement in the air” at her polling place, where she was taken to vote by her son, Dennis McDougle.

She said she will be “blissfully happy” if Clinton wins the presidential race.

When asked if she plans to stay up to watch the election returns, McDougle quickly replied, “Oh, all night.”

Social media users also took to Twitter today to show examples of women born before passage of the 19th Amendment exercising their right to vote.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Your Body: Multivitamins vs. Supplements

iStock/ThinkstockBy DR. JENNIFER ASHTON, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor

As we hear more and more about studies that suggest that daily multivitamins may not be all they’re cracked up to be, this has not stopped Americans from buying single supplements such as fish oil.

So what supplements may you need and which could you skip? Well, certain groups of people should take vitamin supplements. This includes pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, people who take acid-blocking medications or who have had weight loss surgery. They generally need vitamin supplements.

Otherwise ABC News Senior Medical Contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton recommends getting vitamins and minerals from your food in the form of my favorite superfoods: eggs, avocados, berries, and fish. And don’t forget, it’s not just about what you eat, but how you move. Fitness matters.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Massachusetts Doctors Are Helping Patients Vote from Their Hospital Beds

iStock/Thinkstock(CAMBRIDGE, Mass.) — A group of Massachusetts doctors is helping sick patients to vote this Election Day in a new effort to make sure even those in the hospital have a chance to exercise their democratic right.

Dr. Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu co-founded the Social Justice Coalition for Cambridge Health Alliance this summer. Last month the coalition decided on finding ways to help recently hospitalized patients to vote.

“We do serve a population that can be low income or vulnerable [in] other situations,” said Okwerekwu, who works at Cambridge Hospital, part of the Cambridge Health Alliance.

As a doctor, she wanted to help her most vulnerable patients. “As a physician I feel like I am temporarily the guardian of someone’s well-being,” she said.

In October, the alliance started calling electoral officials to find out what patients could do if they were unexpectedly hospitalized. It turned out there was a specific provision in Massachusetts that would allow patients to submit an absentee ballot. If patients filled out an application and designated a proxy, that proxy can exchange the application for an absentee ballot, which would then be mailed in by Election Day.

“The coalition wanted to make sure that their patients’ votes were not suppressed and their voice was heard…that’s why we took on this project,” Okwerekwu explained. “Once we figured out the logistics and rules and what the actual policy was, we put together some literature…that literature we attached to an application for the actual ballot.”

Okwerekwu said the initiative is just a first step and just a few patients had participated as of today. However, she is hoping other medical centers might create their own initiatives to help patients in the future. Okwerekwu also wanted to draw attention to the issue on a national level, writing an essay for STAT News about the program today.

“The Social Justice Coalition’s mission is simple: honor the intrinsic and indisputable worth of all people,” she wrote. “Promote equity across all domains. Improve the social, cultural, economic, environmental, and political health of the communities we serve. Empowering hospitalized patients to vote is part of that mission.”

While Okwerekwu and other members of the Social Justice Coalition focused on getting ballot applications to patients, Okwerekwu said some patients still require extra assistance.

“We’ve been giving out the applications and helping patients get in touch with local election offices or faxing and emailing the forms,” said Okwerekwu. “I’m actually in the car. I’m on the way to a town hall to drop off a ballot.”

She said other doctors have been designated as proxies for patients who had no friends or family members who could exchange the application for an absentee ballot.

“That’s the one other thing we take for granted…not every one in the hospital has someone,” she said.

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How to Stay Calm This Election Day

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — After a seemingly endless campaign season, Election Day has finally arrived. The polarizing campaign has put so many people in both political parties on edge, that the American Psychological Association (APA) has pointed to Election Day as a significant source of stress.

Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist and member of APA’s Stress in America Team, said even the biggest poll junkies need to take time to unwind. Here are some of her tips for staying sane this Election Day.

Do an Activity Unrelated to the Election

If you’re biting your nails as you obsessively check your social media feeds and exit polls, Wright says do something that takes you away from your screens.

“Do some non-election related [activity] today,” said Wright. Meditating, praying or doing yoga can help clear the mind of election news, she said.

“I think one of the things people need to do is just take care of themselves,” said Wright. “Do some activities that are soothing.”

Relaxation techniques, which includes activities such as yoga and meditation, have been shown in medical studies to relieve stress. The National Institutes of Health found that 85 percent of people who practice yoga said it helped to reduce their stress levels.

Turn Off the TV (or Computer or Phone)

Wright says that compulsively watching news about the election is probably not going to reduce any nerves or anxiety.

“[Give] yourself permission to pay attention to it,” said Wright, but do not make it “your sole focus.”

While she knows many will eagerly want to watch the results come in, if the stress is too much, Wright advises either turning off the TV or going to another room to do something else.

“You’ll find out in the morning, if you don’t want to watch” the results, she said.

Take a Few Deep Breaths

Another simple way to bring down your heart rate is doing a basic breathing exercise. Simply breathe in deeply for a few seconds — Wright recommends about three or four seconds — hold your breath for a moment and then slowly breathe out.

“Focusing on your breathing is one of the easiest things you can do,” said Wright. “That is something where you’ll feel an immediate reaction.”

It’s also an exercise you can do anywhere including “waiting in line to vote,” said Wright.


If you’re obsessively following the election, Wright has one very simple piece of advice: go vote. Taking action will help relieve stress around Election Day, no matter which party you belong to.

“What we’ve been telling people is to vote early,” Wright said.

Knowing where your polling place is and knowing when you’re going to vote, can all help reduce stress surrounding the election, said Wright.

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Four US Cities to Vote on Soda Tax on Election Day

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Sipping that sweet soft drink with lunch might be a little more expensive in four cities after this year’s election.

Initiatives asking voters to support or oppose new taxes on sweetened drinks like sodas are on ballots in Boulder, Colorado, and the California cities of Albany, San Francisco and Oakland.

If passed, these cities will join Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia as the only cities in the nation to have the taxes that are designed to combat bulging bellies.

According to the World Health Organization, several countries across the Americas have introduced similar taxes including Barbados, Chile and Dominica.

However, one country’s implementation of a soda tax appears to have turned the most heads: Mexico.

The United States’ southern neighbor instituted the tax in 2014, and experts and reports suggest that it has been very successful in curbing consumption of beverages that can lead to negative health outcomes.

Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition and economics at the University of North Carolina who is studying the efficacy of these so-called sin taxes, told ABC News that a year after Mexico’s soda tax went into effect, consumption rates had dropped by 17 percent among low-income individuals. For the average Mexican, consumption dropped 12 percent.

He said that preliminary data suggested that rates dropped even further during the second year after the tax was imposed.

This matters, Popkin pointed out, because Mexicans consume “about the same of level of sugary beverages as the low-income Americans consume.”

Americans consume the highest amounts of soft drinks (including sparkling juices, but not energy drinks) per person than any other country, according to market research firm Euromonitor. Mexico is in fourth place by the same measure.

Popkin said that he saw a shift in consumer behavior after Berkeley’s tax became law.

The proposal in Oakland would see a tax of 1 cent per ounce imposed on sugary drinks, according to ABC station KGO-TV. The same amount would be levied under San Francisco and Albany’s proposals, according to the local governments in San Francisco and in Albany. And in Boulder, the proposal would see a 2 cent per ounce tax imposed, according the local government.

Votes on the ballot measures comes just weeks after the World Health Organization released a report saying that there are “reasonable and increasing evidence that appropriately designed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages would result in proportional reductions in consumption.”

The report recommended that “countries consider the use of economic tools that are justified by evidence, and may include taxes and subsidies, to improve access to healthy dietary choices and create incentives for behaviors associated with improved health outcomes and discourage the consumption of less healthy options.”

That’s bureaucratic speak for using taxes and subsidies to encourage people to eat and drink healthy foods and drinks.

But these measures aren’t without opposition.

Lauren Kane, senior director for communications at the American Beverage Association, a trade group representing the non-alcoholic drink industry in the U.S., told ABC News that “taxes singling out one item in the grocery cart do not make people healthier and real word evidence backs this up.”

“While we disagree with some in the public health community on discriminatory taxes, America’s beverage companies recognize we have a role to play in addressing complex public health challenges because we too want a stronger, healthy America,” she added. “That’s why we are working with prominent public health organizations to reduce calories and sugar from beverages in the American diet with a focus on communities where the obesity challenge is the greatest.”

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Texas School Mourning Sudden Death of Teen Injured in Football Game

WFAA-TV(DALLAS) — A high school in Texas is in mourning after the sudden death of a student whose family said he passed after sustaining a head injury during a football game last week.

Aaron Singleton, 15, was a member of the marching band and junior-varsity football team at Joshua High School in north-central Texas, according to ABC affiliate WFAA-TV in Dallas.

He had been playing safety during an away game against Cleburne High School last Thursday when he took a hit, WFAA-TV reported.

Singleton suffered seizures and was immediately rushed to a Cook Children’s Health Care System hospital, his family told WFAA-TV. Doctors discovered he had a blood clot and swelling in his brain, his family added.

The 15-year-old was put on life support, but his mother made the decision to pull him off the next day — Friday, Nov. 4 — after doctors determined he was still unresponsive, WFAA-TV reported.

“He’s unresponsive. They’ve done everything they can.” his mother, Cassondra Singleton, told reporters through tears outside the hospital. “He will live on through others because we are going to donate his organs. He would want to be that hero to others.”

After hearing the tragic news, Joshua High School turned its football stadium blue — the school’s official color — in Aaron Singleton’s honor, video from WFAA-TV showed.

The video also captured band members marking his spot in the stands with flowers as football players on the sidelines appeared to struggle to hold back tears.

Students at the stadium also released balloons into the sky, and a member of the junior-varsity football team took the field holding Aaron Singleton’s jersey, number 33.

“When you’re on a football team together, you’re like brothers,” teammate Elijah Bols told WFAA-TV. “It’s a pretty hard loss for the whole team, for the whole Joshua community.”

The Joshua Independent School District did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for Cook Children’s Health Care System told ABC News Monday she could confirm that 15-year-old Aaron Singleton arrived at a hospital in the system on Thursday, Nov. 3, and that he died on Friday, Nov. 4. She said that the healthcare system had not been authorized by Singleton’s family to release any further details.

Cassondra Singleton, Aaron Singleton’s mother, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for additional comment Monday.

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Searching for Cause of Paralyzing Illness Affecting Eight Children in Washington State

Seattle Children’s Hospital(SEATTLE) — Eight children in Washington state have been confirmed with cases of a rare syndrome that can result in paralysis — and health officials are searching for answers.

But the reason the children developed the condition has remained a mystery. Federal and state health officials continue investigating why these eight children developed the debilitating syndrome — acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) — that affects the nervous system.

Historically, the syndrome has been caused by a variety of infections, including the polio virus. The illness often causes the spinal cord to be inflamed, which can, in turn, cause temporary or permanent paralysis.

The eight known cases of AFM were reported last week by the Washington State Health Department, which continues to investigate the cluster along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We haven’t found evidence to identify what’s causing these cases,” a CDC spokesman told ABC News Monday, “but this investigation is ongoing. We are continuing to work with Washington to examine case reports for potential causes and risk factors as well as providing technical assistance and communication support.”

The children in the confirmed cases range in age from 3 to 14 years old and were identified in five different counties in Washington state.

All of the children had weakness or loss of movement in one or more limb, according to the state health department. The syndrome is known to cause varying degrees of paralysis.

Three of the sickened children remain hospitalized and five have been released. One child, who died after developing neurological symptoms, was found not to have AFM.

When a cluster of cases is confirmed, health experts will quickly examine samples to see if all of the affected patients have been infected with a common virus, Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center told ABC News.

“They’ll say ‘OK, they’re all AFM and they’re grouped geographically and roughly in time,'” Schaffner said.

“At that point, they start to look for all the causes,” he explained, “they get the clinical specimens … get blood and stool and cerebral spinal fluid.”

Many viruses that cause AFM, including the polio virus, can be identified through tests. But it has been difficult in past outbreaks to identify the viruses in sick patients, Schaffner said.

In 2014, the CDC suspected that an outbreak of respiratory virus called enterovirus D68 might have led to an increase in AFM cases. However, as they investigated, they could “not consistently detect a pathogen” in the affected patients’ spinal fluid. They were not able to point to the virus as a cause in those AFM cases.

Another complication when looking for a root cause in AFM outbreaks is that it can be an immune system response to an infection that has already passed.

“That would be a question that would be asked, ‘Is this more an illness like Guillian Barre syndrome or is this more like polio myelisitis [polio-caused spinal inflammation] where it gets in the spinal cord and destroys nerve cells?” said Schaffner.

“They’re trying to keep an open mind,” he said.

Infection control procedure is important in any viral-related illness, even when the specific source of the infection is not known.

At Seattle Children’s Hospital, where all the children in the Washington State outbreak have been treated, officials said they are taking steps to keep possible infections from spreading.

“Patient safety is our top priority at Seattle Children’s, and parents should know that it is safe to bring their children to the hospital,” Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, chief medical officer at Seattle Children’s Hospital said in a statement Friday. “We are using appropriate standard infection control, including putting patients with symptoms of active respiratory infections in isolation so they do not have contact with any other patients.”

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End of Daylight Saving Time Can Kick Off Seasonal Affective Disorder

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The winter blues can set in as temperatures drop and days shorten, but for some people, winter can mean developing an actual case of seasonal depression called seasonal affective disorder.

As the sun sets earlier after the end of Daylight Saving Time, many people start to develop the telltale signs of seasonal affective disorder, including irritability, excessive sleeping and loss of interest, said Jeff Janata, professor of psychiatry and director of psychology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

“The weeks immediately after the switch to Daylight Saving Time is often the period of time when this emerges,” Janata told ABC News.

While many people may exhibit some depressive symptoms in the winter months, he estimated approximately 3 percent of the population is affected by the disorder.

“It’s not so much melancholy depression as it is what we think as neurovegetative depression,” Janata explained. This means symptoms can run the gamut from a constant need for sleep, feeling low energy to having a constant craving for carbs. If this sounds like people with the disorder are basically trying to hibernate, Janata said that is not far off the mark.

“It actually follows animal models were there is an effort to conserve energy in the winter,” Janata said. To be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, a person has to develop these acute symptoms for at least two years, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Thankfully, for those who crave sunlight, a light therapy box recommended by their doctor can help. The light from those boxes mimics the broad spectrum of sunlight. In addition, a simple “15 to 20 minute walk daily” can help with seasonal affective disorder symptoms, Janata said.

However, if you’re feeling like your winter blues might be signs of seasonal affective disorder, Janata recommends first going to a primary care physician for a diagnosis.

“The first step that anytime you develop any inexplicable depressive symptoms is be sure to go see a primary care doctor,” Janata said. “There are many physical causes.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Your Body: The Benefits of the HPV Vaccine

iStock/ThinkstockBy DR. JENNIFER ASHTON, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor

For the last 10 years, health experts have urged parents to get their kids the HPV vaccine. Now, a new study may add ammunition to this effort.

Researchers looking at data on pap tests in New Mexico found that between 2007 and 2014 the rates of all stages of pre-cancerous cervical conditions in women declined by 9 percent, presumably attributable to more of these young women receiving the HPV vaccine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that both girls and boys get vaccinated against HPV. Even though most people who get exposed to HPV do not go on to get cancer, many of these cancer cases could be prevented with the vaccine.

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