As part of the LEAD program, police officers Victor Maes and Lesley Mills are tasked with getting to know users in the Seattle neighborhood Belltown and target those most at risk. Credit: ABC News (SEATTLE) — In the war on drugs, Seattle police are on the frontlines, capturing users addicted to crack cocaine and heroin.

The United States is currently in one of the worst heroin epidemics in history. Heroin deaths have skyrocketed from 2002 to 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But in Seattle, where heroin has been a problem for decades, authorities are taking a new approach with the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.

Watch the full story on ABC News’ Nightline Wednesday night at 12:35 a.m. ET.

“Decisions have been made to not incarcerate — and for the right reason — low-level drug offenders. You can’t jail or incarcerate your way out of a problem,” LEAD Officer Leslie Mills told ABC News’ Nightline.

LEAD, the first program of its kind in the U.S., includes a specially trained group of officers who have the option of keeping low-level drug offenders out of jail and instead putting them onto a path to recovery. It’s all part of a radical new idea that treats drug addiction as a disease, hoping a reduction in crime will follow.

“They’re not bad people — the people that are using — they’re being victimized by these drug dealers that are preying on their addictions. Of course they’re not going to get better,” LEAD officer Felix Reyes told Nightline.

As part of the program, the specially trained officers are tasked with getting to know users in the Seattle neighborhood Belltown and focus on those most at risk.

“Jail’s always been the answer. We as officers think, ‘Great, we did our job. He’s gone. Now it’s the jail’s problem. It’s the court’s problem,'” LEAD officer Victor Maes told Nightline. “And basically they get right out and they are on the same path they were before. That’s what’s good about LEAD.”

Users who join LEAD get a counselor like Najja Morris. Morris works with the police to make sure users are supported in recovery and to help users feel part of society again by finding them housing and medical care even if they continue to abuse drugs.

“There are no requirements for us to work for you or with you. I’m going to work just as hard for you if you decided that you’re not ready to stop using drugs because you’re not at that point,” Morris told Nightline. “We work for them and show up for them, and eventually they decide they’re going to work and show up for themselves.”

One of Morris’ clients is Turina James, whose hand is badly injured from shooting heroin at an early age. James told Nightline she first tried heroin at 17, after the death of her 1-year-old son.

“It took all the pain and sorrow, that sadness. Everything went away and I didn’t feel nothing. I was numb,” James, 46, said.

She became addicted, giving birth to her second child, Deanna James Lopez, while high.

Lopez said she was a teenager when she first found out her mom was high when she was born. “She just told me. ‘You know, I’m not well right now,’ and I didn’t understand,” Lopez, 25, told Nightline. She recalled thinking, “Just stop. Just fix it. Why can’t she fix it?”

“And the reality is it doesn’t work that way,” Lopez said.

Last year, James was arrested on a drug charge, and police gave her a chance to join LEAD. Morris set up a small motel room for her to live in. Before joining LEAD, James said she slept in a small cubby hole in the side of a building.

“I’d say this was the breaking point for me, and that’s why that day I went ahead and said, you know, ‘I want some help,'” James said.

With drug dealers on nearly every corner, Morris keeps a watchful eye on James.

“She can [tell me anything], and she knows that. She doesn’t lie because there’s no reason to,” Morris said. “She doesn’t lie because there’s not going to be a hammer if she does, so she can tell me the truth.”

“It’s so hard to get off drugs. It’s so hard,” James said. “If I go to treatment, I get out. I’m clean. They send me right back to the street, or they send me to a housing that I’m not going to be able to comply with but most of the time you go back to the street.”

In the four years since the LEAD program began, overall drug crime in Belltown has dropped, according to authorities. LEAD clients are 34 to 58 percent less likely than other addicts to commit new crimes — from shoplifting to breaking into cars — to support their habit, and the program is being replicated throughout the country.

Not all users are eligible for LEAD. Most violent offenders with felony convictions are not chosen for the program.

“It’s about preventing crime. It’s about stopping things from happening. And it isn’t that that individual is the problem. It’s that they’re the ones that are taking up your 911 service call,” Mills said. “They’re the ones in your hospitals. They’re the ones in your treatment beds, so you have to look at each individual and find out ‘Why are you here? Why do you remain here?'”

“The amount of money it takes to funnel the addicts through the system simply for being addicted is way more and is actually costing taxpayers more dollars, more than what this program is costing to give them an opportunity to actually do something different with their life than to sit in a prison cell or a jail cell,” Morris said.

A few months after Nightline first met her, James is now on methadone and working to rebuild her relationship with her daughter.

“I tell her quite frequently, ‘I forgive you,'” Lopez said. “I wish she just saw how wonderful she really is because I think the day she does see it is the day that she’ll be alright.”

“I was a happy mom, a happy wife, and right now I’m, you know, I’m getting back to myself, but I’m still a little bit of a struggle and [I have] a little bit of a road ahead of me, you know, to get there,” James said. “But I will get there again.”

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Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The World Health Organization announced Wednesday that last week was the first since March 2014 without a single new confirmed case of Ebola.

The international agency notes that that timespan represented the entirety of the West African Ebola outbreak, but that risk of transmission still exists. The WHO says it still has to follow up with more than 500 contacts in Guinea, and that some high-risk contacts had “been lost to follow-up.” Those facts create “a near-term risk of further cases.”

Still, the WHO notes that there have been fewer than 10 new cases confirmed for the last 11 weeks, and transmission of the virus has been confined to small geographical areas.

Since the outbreak began more than a year ago, 28,421 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone have been reported with either confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola. As of Oct. 4, 11,297 of those individuals died from the disease.

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iStock/Thinkstock(OXFORD, Maine) — A petting zoo and animal barns at a Maine county fair are being investigated after two children who visited the fair were infected with E. coli, health officials said.

The Maine branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched a probe into the cases and is currently focusing on the children’s visits to the petting zoo and animal barns at the Oxford County Fair, officials said.

“Maine CDC is working with the State Veterinarian and the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to investigate the fact that each child attended the Oxford Fair and visited the animal barns and petting zoo,” a CDC spokesman said in a statement.

“Shiga toxins,” which are associated with E. coli, were found in laboratory tests earlier this week, health officials said.

The Oxford County Fair did not immediately respond to calls from ABC News seeking comment. The fair ran from Sept. 16 to 19.

One of those infected was identified by his family as 20-month-old Colton Guay, according to ABC’s Portland affiliate WMTW-TV. A week after visiting the fair, the toddler developed symptoms of E. coli infection, including severe diarrhea, before he was hospitalized, his father told WMTW-TV, noting that Colton later died from a complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).

“To the best of our knowledge, he never touched an animal but he was in the petting zoo,” Colton’s grandmother, Lucy Guay, told ABC News on Wednesday, adding that Colton was admitted to the hospital on Sept. 29 and died on Monday.

The boy’s parents are devastated, she said. “He had a smile that would win everyone over. He was daddy’s little buddy and mama’s little man,” she said.

The CDC has not disclosed the condition of the other infected child.

HUS is most likely to affect young children with E. coli and occurs when red blood cells are destroyed and start to clog the kidneys. Younger children can be especially susceptible to E. coli infections, since their immune systems are not fully developed.

E. coli bacteria is naturally occurring and often live in the intestines of both people and animals. If people are exposed to a strain of E. coli bacteria that is infectious, they can become ill. The bacteria is often spread through contaminated food or water, or contact with animals or infected people.

“As the agricultural fair season winds down, it’s important that those who are exposed to animals and their environment wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water,” a CDC spokesman said in a statement. “This offers the best protection against E. coli.”

State veterinarian Dr. Michele Walsh told WMTW-TV that her office was working with Oxford County Fair officials and that inspectors are looking to sample animals for signs of the bacteria.

“It’s a challenge to get a smoking gun,” Walsh told WMTW-TV about testing animals.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In an effort to keep minors and minorities from smoking, the Food and Drug Administration is using hip-hop culture to reach them.

It’s called the “Fresh Empire” campaign. The agency will spend $128 million to advertise to African-American and Hispanic youth to create hip-hop infused advertising, events and other outreach efforts in order to reduce the use of tobacco products, including cigarettes.

Why use hip-hop to make the point? The FDA says that young people immersed in hip-hop are more likely to smoke than their friends who prefer other genres of music.

Still, it’s interesting to note that, according to the Wall Street Journal, about 70 to 75 percent of people who buy hip-hop music are white adults between the ages of 18 to 34.

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iStock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) — A 12-year-old Texas girl began sneezing uncontrollably three weeks ago and hasn’t been able to stop ever since.

“I was walking out of a clarinet lesson and all of a sudden it kind of started in just like, little spurts,” Katelyn Thornley explained. “It was like just a few sneezes here and there but by the time I went to bed I had sneezed 30 times that night.”

Per day, Thornley is averaging about 12,000 sneezes, or 20 per minute.

Doctors at the Texas Children’ s Hospital in Houston haven’t been able to figure out exactly what is causing the sneezing and have referred to the condition as a tic.

For more on Thornley’s condition, watch the report from ABC News’ Good Morning America below:

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Annual performance reviews are often an uncomfortable moment of truth at work. But could performance reviews be good for your marriage?

“Performance reviews are a growing trend in many marriages today and I think couples are really realizing how important it is to be proactive and check in,” relationship expert Andrea Syrtash told ABC News.

These regular “check-ins” are something that Josselyne Saccio and her husband Michael have been doing for the past 10 years.

“When I was pregnant with our third child, it became clear that we were about to become outnumbered by children,” Josselyne, of New York City, recalled. “It was on the tipping point of having a little too much on our plate so I wanted to come up with a method for us to stay on top of what was happening.”

Together they decided to have weekly conversations about their relationship.

“We have a lot of moving parts and those moving parts will get away from you unless you communicate about them,” she said.

While there’s no need for an exact schedule, it’s helpful to check in on a regular basis to avoid misunderstandings. And just like at work, experts say it’s important to not be too critical.

“You want to talk about what’s working, not just what’s not working,” Syrtash explained. “And you want to be mindful of how you phrase things. You don’t want to attack someone’s character and say something like, ‘You are so lazy. The kitchen’s always a mess, the home’s always a mess,’ because that’s going to shut down communication.”

But the Saccios admit these conversations aren’t always easy.

“I needed a little guidance so I basically took Josselyn’s lead,” said Michael. “I have a great life. That’s the result.”

“Every year our marriage gets better and better because we do communicate this way,” his wife added.

Author and relationship expert Demetria Lucas D’Oyley said on ABC News’ Good Morning America Wednesday that she thinks having these “check-ins” every week might make it feel more like a chore rather than doing something positive for the relationship.

“I would say every four to six weeks is probably better,” she said. “It makes it feel like something regular, a check-in, good communication. A lot of couples ideally they would communicate on a regular basis, but a lot of couples don’t and it leads to a lot of conflict so you’re making sure that you are having the communication you need in a relationship.”

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — For years, government dietary guidelines have told us to avoid whole milk and drink either 2 percent, 1 percent or skim. But now, a number of scientists say that advice might be bad.

The thinking was that whole milk contains saturated fat, which is linked to heart disease. But some studies say Americans who drink more milk fat are less likely to have heart disease, and people who drink low-fat or no-fat milk tend to eat more carbs.

The guidelines are up for review and may come up on Wednesday when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell at a congressional hearing.

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

Women get breast implants for cosmetic or medical reasons. But some are deciding later in life they’d rather go au-natural.

Former childhood actor Melissa Gilbert decided earlier this year to remove the breast implants she’s had for the last 20 years permanently. Gilbert, 51, says she wanted to focus on what’s real and true.

If you’re considering doing the same, how do you know if this is the right decision for you? And what should you know before having your implants removed?

Removing implants doesn’t have to leave you deformed. Recovery is quick — it usually takes about six weeks for the bruising and swelling to go down. And this is a safe, easy operation.

But, as always, see a board-certified plastic surgeon and do what feels right to you.

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David McNew/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The family of Brittany Maynard is speaking out one day after California Governor Jerry Brown approved controversial “right-to-die” legislation. Tuesday also marks the one-year anniversary of Maynard’s public battle to pass the legislation.

Maynard, who suffered from brain cancer, grabbed headlines last year after she announced that she moved to Oregon in order to take advantage of the state’s “Death With Dignity” Act. Maynard decided to end her life last November with the support of her family and husband after doctors determined that her cancer was incurable.

A video posted Tuesday from Compassion and Choices, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes “aid in dying” legislation, shows new footage of Maynard weeks before her death.

“When you realize you’re going to die and you realize how you’re going to die, you have choices to make and those choices aren’t easy,” she said in the video.

Maynard was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma, a particularly virulent form of brain cancer, in January 2014. Two months after her diagnosis Maynard’s doctors told her she only had six months to live, according to her husband Dan Diaz.

Brittany Maynard died last year after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.

Diaz, who petitioned California lawmakers to pass the “right to die” legislation, told ABC News he was relieved after Gov. Brown signed the bill. The law allows physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to terminally-ill patients with less than six months to live.

“I felt a huge sense of pride and love for Brittany for beginning this conversation last year,” Diaz said.
Diaz said Maynard had wanted to speak out so that no one else would have to go through the same experience she did. He said he remains frustrated that they had to move states and find a new medical team after Maynard was given just six months to live.

“All of these people, these stories, that’s why Brittany was speaking up. It was not just about her,” said Diaz. “It was about anyone who would find themselves in this horrible predicament.”

Maynard moved to Oregon so she could be given a prescription that would end her life.

In the new video Maynard said her decision to share her story publicly wasn’t easy. “I decided to share it because I felt that this issue of death with dignity is misunderstood by many people in our community and culture,” she said.

Diaz said he plans to continue his fight to pass “aid-in-dying” legislation in more states.

“My promise with Brittany was to do what I can to help move legislation forward so that no one else goes through what she went through,” said Diaz. “The fact that one voice can make such a difference and Brittany’s voice certainly did…it’s a tribute to her.”

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Courtesy of the Exkorn Family(NEW YORK) — When he was 2 years old, Jake Exkorn couldn’t talk, make eye contact or follow instructions because he had autism.

But today, Exkorn is a nineteen-year-old freshman at the University of Michigan and hardly even remembers what it was like to have autism.

“My memories are pretty limited,” Exkorn told ABC News’ “Nightline.” “I don’t say, ‘Hi I’m Jake. I used to have autism when I was little.’ But if it comes up, if they see an article or something or a segment where I’m in it or ask about it, I’m more than happy to tell them about my past.”

It’s a remarkable change from when “Nightline” first met Exkorn when he was 4 years old.

In 2001 Exkorn had been recently diagnosed with autism, which many people think of as a lifelong condition. But in some cases, individuals can recover from autism.

When he was 2 years old, Jake Exkorn couldn’t talk, make eye contact or follow instructions.

Starting in 1998, two-year-old Exkorn went through an intensive therapy called applied behavior analysis (ABA) treatment, which has become a standard treatment, but it was not well known then.

During these therapy sessions, children are taught in small steps how to wave and how to speak. Month after month, Exkorn sat in a chair for 40 hours a week taking lessons and slowly making progress.

Though Exkorn has few memories of his ABA therapy sessions, his parents remember it all.

“I think that part of our lives was so intense and the therapy was so intensive and it was like we were living in this snow globe,” Exkorn’s mother Karen Siff told “Nightline.” “And the rest of the world didn’t exist. I mean we barely–I barely left the house during those two years.”

Through ABA treatment, Jake Exkorn learned how to wave and how to speak.

His parents still keep the chair that their son had his therapy sessions in because they credit the treatment for his extraordinary transformation.

“Hours and hours and hours and hours in this chair learning, learning how to learn and seeing some of the videos and seeing the little boy in this chair learning…it’s happy memories for me,” Exkorn’s father Franklin Exkorn told “Nightline.”

However, there is no predicting which children will respond to ABA treatment as dramatically as Jake Exkorn did.

Fifteen years ago, “Nightline” also met 10-year-old Andrew Parles, who was making progress with ABA therapy.

Parles had learned to ride and skate, and though it was clear he was not going to make the same transformation as Exkorn, Parles was learning to communicate by pointing and speaking a few words.

“Nightline” visited Parles again in 2006 when he was 15 years old and attending a basketball game with his family. But today, Parles is a 25-year-old man living with a severe autism.

Parles’ parents say when he was 19, things started going wrong after years of progress. He no longer speaks, so his parents are his voice.

“The pain of the regression for me was worse than the pain of diagnosis. Because at diagnosis, there were plans. There was evidence that people move forward,” Lisa Parles said. “Maybe for a brief period I thought, ‘Oh, he’ll be a lucky one that recovers.’ But even when we knew it wasn’t that, it was still always moving forward.”

Andrew Parles lives at Bancroft, a specialized caregiving setting in New Jersey, where a staff helps him cope with daily life, tasks like eating breakfast to cleaning himself.

Because of his severe autism, Parles strikes himself constantly. He’s damaged his ears and had to be hospitalized three times in the past year to save his vision after he detached his own retinas.
Still, Parle’s parents said they are certain he understands them and they spend as much time with him as possible, though they can’t care for him on their own.

“It’s so hard to admit that you can’t do it, because you can’t imagine that anyone will love your child the way you love them and do it the way that you do it,” Lisa Parles said. “But the truth was that we weren’t serving him well because we were so exhausted it was hard to follow the plan.”

Siff’s experience raising an autistic child is obviously very different from Lisa Parles’ experience. Siff’s turned her journey of raising son Jake into the play “Do This,” which will be opening shortly in New York, and wrote “The Autism Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Know About Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping, and Healing–from a Mother Whose Child Recovered.”

“I have moments where I have what I would call gratitude attacks,” Siff said. “Gratitude attacks where [I watched] him get his diploma at graduation, [and] people talked about living beyond their wildest dreams. Things like that or watching him put on his tux and get ready for prom.”

“He’s grown up to be his own man,” Franklin Exkorn said.

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