Review Category : National News

Heroin Overdose Deaths Have Tripled in Five Years, DEA Says

National Center for Health Statistics/CDC(WASHINGTON) — The Drug Enforcement Administration is out with a new report on heroin use in the United States and the news is grim.

Deaths from heroin overdoses have spiked in recent years, tripling between 2010 to 2014, according to the DEA National Heroin Threat Assessment Summary, released this week.

In 2014, the most recent year of the study, 10,574 people died, compared to 3,036 four years earlier.

The increased demand is being driven by greater availability, as well as prescription drug abusers switching to heroin for the cheaper price tag, according to the DEA.

Other possible reasons for the increase in deaths include an increase in new and inexperienced users, as well as the use of highly toxic heroin adulterants such as fentanyl in certain markets, according to the DEA.

DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg said last month that the agency is increasingly encountering counterfeit prescription drugs laced with fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives, as well as heroin laced with fentanyl.

“The trafficking of this drug [fentanyl], which is significantly more potent than street level heroin, presents a significant risk of overdose,” he said in his statement to the Judiciary Committee on June 22.

Heroin availability is increasing across the county, but the threat is particularly high in the Northeast and Midwest, where white powder heroin is used, according to the 2016 National Drug Threat Survey.

Over the five-year period covered in the report, the DEA said Mexican traffickers gained a larger share of the most lucrative heroin markets in the United States — Baltimore, Boston and its surrounding cities, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

Mexican trafficking organizations also moved operations into suburban and rural areas, where they believe they can more easily conceal their activities, the report noted.

What is not seen in these numbers, which end in 2014, is the steep rise in deaths caused by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. More recent state numbers, however, show an alarming trend.

In Virginia, fentanyl overdose deaths went from 50 in 2012 to 218 in 2015. In New Hampshire, 283 died from fentanyl overdoses in 2015 and authorities expect to smash through that number this year.

However, the numbers do show that starting in late 2013, several states reported spikes in overdose deaths due to fentanyl.

DEA officials say they expect to see the deaths from fentanyl increase and perhaps outpace deaths from heroin. The drug is so deadly that a mere 2 milligrams can be lethal. It is increasingly showing up on American streets not just as an adulterant to heroin but pressed into pills that look identical to prescription painkillers.

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Marine Corps Job Titles to Become More Gender-Neutral

Cpl. Andrianna Daly(WASHINGTON) — The Marine Corps is planning to rename at least 19 of its job titles to be more gender-neutral as the military services open more combat positions to women, an official notice by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said.

The Marine Corps will make an announcement regarding the title changes as early as Friday, a Marine official confirmed, adding that the name changes are just that since “it’s the same jobs, same Marines.”

For 15 job titles, the word “man” will be replaced with “Marine.” Some other changes will include the new title “antitank gunner” for the job called “antitank missile man,” and “field artillery operations chief” instead of “field artillery operations man.” The remaining changes will be associated with positions named with reconnaissance Marine — formerly reconnaissance man.

Although these several jobs will have new titles, a few existing titles that contain the word “man” will remain intact, such as rifleman.

The upcoming changes to these Marine job titles are not without controversy and some in the military have complained. Indignation has been expressed on social media, including concerns about moving away from the traditions of the Marine Corps.

Some posted on Twitter about the updates on terminology:

The current size of the Marine Corps is 186,500 and about 7.7 percent of the force is comprised of women. Historically, the Marines have the lowest percentage of women serving among the military services.

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NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins Prepares for First Trip to Space

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins will be the next American to travel out of this world when she launches one week from Wednesday on her first mission to the International Space Station.

On July 6th, Rubins and her two crew mates, cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin of Russia and astronaut Takuya Onishi of Japan, will blast off from Kazakhstan inside a Soyuz rocket to join the rest of their Expedition 48 colleagues at the space station.

“Funny enough, my scientific and personal goals are almost identical. I am looking forward to every second, hour and day of observing how life operates in free-fall and watching our planet below,” Rubins told ABC News in an email from Kazakhstan.

Rubins was selected in 2009 for the 20th NASA astronaut class after helping develop the first smallpox infection model for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The self-described “former virus hunter” holds a doctorate in cancer biology from Stanford University.

Once at the space station, she will be conducting research in biological and human studies, including how human bone mass and cardiovascular systems are affected in microgravity.

“I think it’s going to be amazing to see how the world of microbiology, molecular and cellular biology and human physiology is massively changed by microgravity. This is the only laboratory we have as humans to study gravity as a variable,” she told ABC News. “There’s a world of insights to be gained into human health and disease by understanding how gravity and space radiation influence biology.”

Rubins will be the first female astronaut from the U.S. to go to space in three years and the 59th woman in space. During a NASA crew preview she gave a word of advice to future scientists.

“If you find something that you’re excited about and you’re interested in, my advice to young women and young men would be do what you’re really interested in and what drives and motivates you,” she said.

Rubins was born in Farmington, Connecticut in 1978 and raised in Napa Valley, California. She and her husband Michael Magnani live in Houston, outside of the Johnson Space Center.

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FEMA Expands Funding to 3 More Flood-Ravaged W. Va. Counties, Bringing Total to 8

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, W.Va.) — Five additional West Virginia counties are now eligible for federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) following devastating flooding in the state, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has announced.

Fayette, Clay, Roane, Summers and Monroe counties now join Greenbrier, Kanawha, and Nicholas counties, as those eligible funding, following preliminary damage assessments (PDAs) conducted by FEMA in those counties.

And Gov. Tomblin has also requested that Webster and Pocahontas counties be declared disaster areas, so its may be be eligible for federal assistance, but that request is pending.

“To ensure all those affected by these devastating floods have access to the assistance they need to rebuild their homes, businesses and communities, I have expanded my request for federal aid to include seven additional counties,” Gov. Tomblin said Tuesday.

He continued, “I appreciate the continued support of our congressional delegation as we work with federal partners to provide critical resources to West Virginians in need as quickly as possible.”

As ABC News previously reported, FEMA had received over 1,000 applications from individuals and households seeking assistance, as of Monday. With the addition of these five counties, the number of applications is expected to rise significantly.

Federal assistance includes individual assistance, Damage-Frequency Assessment(DFA), Emergency Protective Measures and debris removal.

The declaration by President Obama on June 25 that West Virginia is a major disaster area, released federal funding for individuals and communities affected by the severe storms, flooding, landslides, and mudslides that began on June 22, that left 23 dead.

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Woman Shot at Denver Office Building Was Targeted, Police Say

Denver Police(DENVER) — A woman shot several times at an office building in downtown Denver Tuesday was targeted, the Denver police said.

She was hospitalized in critical condition, police said.

The suspect died at the scene, apparently from a self-inflicted wound, police said.

No one else was shot in the incident, police said.

This story is developing. Check back for more updates.

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Rights Groups Air Concern Over Proposed ‘Terrorist Watch List’ Gun Ban

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Inclusion on so-called terrorist watch lists, which currently draw from a database of about 1.5 million names, is being touted as a possible criterion for limiting guns sales in the U.S., prompting concern over errors that have seen innocent people flagged under the system.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released Tuesday found that 86 percent of those surveyed favored a ban on firearm purchases by people on the FBI’s terrorist watch list. A majority of respondents also favored increased surveillance of suspected terrorists, even if such action would intrude on a person’s privacy.

The possibility of basing further gun control measures on the database has prompted concern by civil liberties advocates and pro-gun lobbyists alike. The lists have been known to flag civilians with no ties to terrorist organizations, and it can be difficult for people to be removed after an error has been made — giving credence to critics who worry that restricting gun rights on the basis of the lists would violate the civil liberties of innocent parties. Nonetheless, since a shooter killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a number of bills aimed at tighter gun control have called for people on the databases to be barred from purchasing guns.

A part of the problem, say critics of the latest bills, is the secretive environment in which the lists are compiled. There isn’t one list but a collection of indexes, beginning with the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), run by the National Counterterrorism Center. As of June 2016, some 1.5 million people were on that list, according to an official fact sheet on the program, including 15,000 U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The no-fly list — a subset of the TIDE database — has tens of thousands of names on it, having grown from just 16 names after 9/11, according to a former counterterrorism official who spoke to ABC News but asked for anonymity, due to the sensitive nature of the lists.

How “suspected terrorist” is defined is critical in understanding how many people without ties to terrorist organizations have been included on the lists, according to the former official. He insisted that the no-fly list is likely to contain fewer innocent names. “If a person meets the criteria where we restrict the rights of him or her to board an airplane, I think it’s reasonable to also keep that person from purchasing a gun,” the former official said.

It is a view shared by a number of members of Congress. Last week Democrats in the House staged a 24-hour sit-in over the lack of progress of gun control bills. One of the bills being discussed, the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act 2016, would deny firearm sales to “individuals who appear on the no-fly list or the selectee list,” another subset of the TIDE list.

In response to the proposals, the NRA released a statement last Wednesday saying that it “believes that terrorists should not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms, period,” but also that “protections should be put in place that allow law-abiding Americans who are wrongly put on a watch list to be removed.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has also aired concerns, saying, “American citizens who are wrongly placed on the federal terrorist watch lists must be afforded the constitutional right to due process and the ability to effectively challenge inappropriate watch list designations.”

But sometimes, just having the same name as someone else on the list can prevent an air traveler from boarding a plane. In 2008, The New York Times reported that this has happened to children as young as 6. Alex Harris, who was born in 2000, was kept in a holding room with his family upon arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport from London in 2006 because his name matched a name on the list, the Times reported. He was allegedly detained again when he was 7, according to The Times.

Dave Joly, who serves as the congressional and public affairs coordinator for the Terrorist Screening Center at the FBI, confirmed to ABC News that errors due to “name similarities” occur with the government’s consolidated terrorist watch list but that they can be “quickly rectified” when law enforcement agencies or encountering authorities contact his unit to vet the individuals.

But the process of removing your name from the lists can be lengthy and daunting.

It took Rahinah Ibrahim, a Malaysian architect with a doctorate from Stanford, almost a decade. She exposed errors on the no-fly list in January 2014 when she won a critical case against the Department of Homeland Security, according to court documents, demonstrating that the U.S. government violated her right to due process by putting her on the no-fly list without telling her why.

Elizabeth Pipkin, a San Jose, California, attorney who represents Ibrahim, told ABC News that Ibrahim approached her in 2005 after not being permitted to board a plane to Hawaii to deliver an academic paper. Pipkin said that attempts to bring the case to trial were delayed by the government, which, she said, tried to get the case dismissed multiple times.

When the case finally went to trial, the decision, written by U.S. District Judge William Alsup, addressed mistakes made by the government in putting Ibrahim’s name on the list.

“In order for the district court to grant relief on a claim that a plaintiff has been wrongly listed in a government terrorist [watch list], that listing must first result in concrete, reviewable adverse government action against the plaintiff, such as refusal of permission to board a plane,” he wrote.

He continued, “In light of the confusion caused by the government’s mistake, such cleansing-certification relief is ordered in this case.”

Pipkin said that an FBI agent “checked the wrong box” when attempting to place her client on one or more terrorist watch lists, mistakenly adding her name to the no-fly list.

She added that Ibrahim’s daughter, who is in her 20s, encountered difficulties flying as recently as 2014 because of her relation to Ibrahim.

Pipkin described Ibrahim as being a nonviolent person who “views America as her second home” and does not support terrorism. Pipkin noted that her client, whom she called “a strong believer in women’s equality,” has broken barriers as a woman in working a male-dominated field and said she has sought to build bridges between her country and ours.

“Dr. Ibrahim is one of the thinkers America needs,” Pipkin said. “And we said that she’s a terrorist and refused to allow her to participate in our academic discourse.”

Once a person’s name goes on a list, his or her information can be shared with the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State, the Agency for International Development, foreign partners and state, local and tribal police, according to documents first obtained by The Intercept.

People who believe they have been wrongfully added to a watch list can file a complaint through a redress program, which launches an internal review not subject to oversight by any court or entity outside the counterterrorism community, according to the documents. The review can result in the removal of an individual’s name, but the person won’t necessarily be notified of the result, because the government maintains a general policy to “neither confirm nor deny an individual’s watch list status,” the documents state.

Individuals may even be kept on the list after being acquitted of a terrorism charge if authorities still have reasonable suspicion.

Despite perceived problems with the terrorist watch list system, it looks as though the databases are here to stay. Both major parties’ presumptive presidential nominees, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have recommended expanding terrorist watch lists in the wake of the Pulse massacre.

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Three Crew Members Missing After Texas Freight Train Crash, Authorities Say

iStock/Thinkstock(PANHANDLE, Texas) — Texas authorities said Tuesday that three train workers remained missing as emergency crews continued to fight a fire caused by an explosive train crash in Texas this morning.

Joe Faust, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, said that two of its mixed-freight trains were involved in the accident at 8:40 a.m. in Panhandle, Texas.

“BNSF has confirmed that the lead locomotives on two intermodal trains collided near Panhandle, TX, this morning, Tuesday, June 28, 2016, at approximately 8:40 a.m. CT. Four BNSF employees were involved in the incident. Local first responders and BNSF personnel were deployed to the scene. By 9:02 a.m., one employee was transported to a local hospital and is being treated. Rescue efforts are underway at the scene with respect to the three other railroad employees involved in the incident,” Faust said in a statement.

Images from the scene showed derailed box cars on fire and piled atop each other. The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team of six to investigate.

Faust said that each train had two crew members — an engineer and conductor — on board.

The Department of Public Safety Amarillo said it was not known whether the three missing crew members were still alive. Authorities said due to fire conditions at the crash site, it would take time before emergency crews could reach the compartments where the members were working.

Sgt. Dan Buesing of the Department of Public Safety said that the freight cars were not carrying hazardous materials but that authorities could not verify the contents of the cars.

ABC affiliate KVII-TV said the city of Panhandle had asked residents to reduce their water usage so that firefighters could effectively fight the blaze.

Evacuations that had been put in place for the east side of Panhandle because of shifting winds were lifted. One area highway remained shut down near the area of the fire.

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Inside Flooded Richwood, West Virginia: How the Devastated Small Town is Rebuilding

iStock/Thinkstock(RICHWOOD, W.V.) — It’s been almost one week since devastating flash floods tore through Richwood, West Virginia, turning a beautiful small town into what looks like a “war zone,” according to one resident. But now a local Facebook campaign to rebuild has gained so much momentum it has more members than the town population.

The Facebook group “I am Richwood” was created by local resident Jeromy Rose as a way to coordinate relief efforts locally, and has over 2,800 members as of this afternoon. Richwood is in Nicholas County, one of the West Virginia counties receiving federal assistance in the wake of the flooding.

For Stacy Raffo, one of Richwood’s roughly 2,000 residents, the social media campaign offers a glimmer of hope in hard times.

“Richwood looks like a war zone,” Raffo told ABC News. “But everywhere you look, you see people helping out.”

Raffo grew up in Richwood and is the executive director of a local charity leading fundraising efforts, the Nicholas County Community Foundation.

“You can’t see its beauty now through the mud, but a week ago you would’ve come into Richwood and been overwhelmed by the natural beauty and the beauty of the people,” she said. “We’ve had lots of contacts from churches and other organizations who want to help, and they’ve all learned about it through the social media campaign.”

Now days after the deadly flooding that wreaked havoc and left at least 23 dead across the state, the Nicholas County Community Foundation raised nearly $59,000. The foundation aims to raise $500,000.

The donations will go almost entirely toward rebuilding Richwood, said Raffo, with other portions going to help the West Virginia town of Birch River.

Some funds will be earmarked for the Richwood High School band — the Lumberjack Express — which is “truly the heart of Richwood,” Raffo said. The flood left four to five feet of water in the music room and damaged uniforms and instruments.

Donations were also raised locally. Two local high school basketball teams hosted a car wash, raising $4,000. They were then shocked to learn an anonymous donor agreed to match that, raising a total of $8,000, according to team volunteer Jack Winthrow. All those proceeds will go toward four schools damaged by the flooding, said Withrow.

Beyond the outpouring of donations, physical assistance is the most prevalent offer on the “I am Richwood” group.

Raffo said a U-Haul full of supplies arrived in town from Kanawha Valley in Virginia — coordinated by law students at West Virginia University.

Then there was the truckload of bedding delivered overnight from a Holiday Inn Express in Charlotte, North Carolina.

When a representative of the nearby Summersville Public Library posted about dropping off supplies to Richwood, the response was so strong it took 35 truckloads more than two days to deliver all the goods, Raffo said.

To help those who need immediate assistance, local construction services used the Facebook group to offer free services to residents who can’t get to or from their homes. John Bounds, owner of Bounds Construction in Mount Nebo, West Virginia, garnered more than 250 shares on a post offering free excavation equipment and services.

For Richwood residents, the Facebook response has been overwhelming.

“It’s really mind blowing for us, being such a small town,” said lifelong Richwood resident Tiffany Russell. “Anything you think of, you just put it on [Facebook] or you speak of it and within minutes or hours, you have help.”

“We have hope, we have each other,” Raffo said, “And we know that we’ll bounce back.”

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FEMA: 1,000 Applications Received for W.Va. Flooding Assistance So Far

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has received over 1,000 applications for assistance so far, after the devastating flooding that slammed West Virginia.

Those numbers reflect applications from only three counties FEMA has designated eligible for federal funding — Greenbrier, Kanawha, and Nicholas counties — so the number of applications may increase if additional counties are added to the eligibility list.

“As of [Monday] morning, more than 1,000 individuals and households in these counties have applied for federal funding,” a FEMA spokesman told ABC News. “We will be conducting PDAs in several other affected counties over the next few days in order to determine their eligibility for federal funding.”

The preliminary damage assessments conducted by FEMA in the aforementioned trio of counties resulted in President Obama issuing a major disaster declaration for the state of West Virginia on June 25, the spokesman said.

“This declaration has released federal funding for individuals and communities affected by the severe storms, flooding, landslides, and mudslides that began on June 22nd, 2016 and are ongoing,” the spokesman said.

The federal agency said it has also deployed over 250 staff to the state to assist in response and recovery.

And there are 470 West Virginia National Guard troops on the ground, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said during a press conference Monday.

FEMA also said in a statement Monday that the first Disaster Recovery Center “is planned to be open soon, where survivors can go to get assistance and information.”

Twenty-three people died as a result of the flooding, the worst the state has seen in three decades.

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Crews Fighting to Contain Blaze After Morning Freight Train Crash in Panhandle, Texas

iStock/Thinkstock(PANHANDLE, Texas) — Emergency crews are still responding to a fiery train crash in Texas that occurred Tuesday morning, resulting in the derailment of multiple freight cars and billows of black smoke.

According to Joe Faust, a spokesman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, two of its mixed-freight trains were involved in the accident at 8:40 a.m. in Panhandle, Texas. Images from the scene showed box cars on fire and piled atop each other.

Faust said four employees were involved in the crash.

Carson County Sheriff Loren Brand said that there were an unknown number of injuries and that one person had been taken to a hospital. Brand said crews still did not know what the freight cars were carrying.

According to ABC affliate KVII, the city of Panhandle had asked residents to reduce their water usage so that firefighters could effectively fight the blaze.

Evacuations had been ordered for the east side of Panhandle because the winds had shifted, blowing smoke toward homes and putting residents at risk.

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