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Drug overdose deaths killed a record 72,287 Americans last year, according to new provisional estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 9.5 percent increase from the previous year’s estimate translates to 6,000 more deaths.
The rising estimate represents nearly 200 Americans dying from a drug overdose every day.
Because some recorded overdose deaths are still under investigation, the numbers won’t be finalized until the CDC releases its official mortality numbers in December.
The new estimates indicate that the record deaths were largely driven by synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, which is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Synthetic opioids were involved in an estimated 29,406 deaths in 2017, up from 19,413 deaths the previous year.
Some experts believe laws aimed at curbing prescriptions may be doing more harm than good.
“The rise in overdoses across the country is definitely a direct result of powerful fentanyl analogs that are readily available on the streets,” said Dr. Hansel Tookes, an assistant professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Unfortunately, with tougher prescribing laws, more people with pain and opioid use disorder are being pushed toward these powerful street drugs.”
While overdose deaths involving fentanyl ― along with cocaine and meth ― all rose, heroin deaths plateaued between 2016 and 2017 and now stand at 15,958, which could be an early indication that the opioid epidemic is reaching its peak.
The highest death rates were in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, but a few states ― including Massachusetts, Vermont and Wyoming ― saw their overdose rates fall.
Additionally, New England states including Vermont, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, where deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl first appeared, are starting to see a decline in opioid overdoses. All three states have made efforts to expand access to harm-reduction methods like clean-needle exchanges and the overdose reversal drug naloxone, as well as access to addiction treatment for residents.
Still, experts are cautious. Fentanyl has largely been sequestered east of the Mississippi River, where white powder heroin is prevalent. West of the Mississippi, where black tar heroin is more prominent, fentanyl has traditionally been less of a problem, since the two substances are more difficult to mix. Should distributors find a way to mix fentanyl into black tar heroin, that could upend the relative safety from fentanyl the western U.S. has had up until now.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
In a joint statement Thursday, a dozen of the nation’s leading former intelligence officials slammed President Donald Trump’s recent decision to revoke former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance.
The officials, who served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, include former CIA Directors Michael Hayden, Leon Panetta, William Webster, Porter Goss, David Petraeus and George Tenet, several of the agency’s former deputy directors and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
“We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar action against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances ― and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” they wrote. “You don’t have to agree with what John Brennan says (and, again, not all of us do) to agree with his right to say it, subject to his obligation to protect classified information.”
Robert Gates, a former CIA director and secretary of defense who has largely refrained from criticizing the Trump administration, signed onto the statement Friday.
Trump announced Wednesday that he had revoked Brennan’s clearance, part of an ongoing effort to retaliate against those who have criticized the administration. Former top intelligence and law enforcement officials have traditionally been allowed to retain their clearances as a professional courtesy, which also allows future administrations to call upon them for their expertise.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday also read a list of several other former officials whose credentials are currently being reviewed, including two people who signed Thursday’s statement.
“We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool, as was done in this case,” the 12 intelligence leaders wrote. The officials, who served under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, stressed that Brennan was an “enormously talented, capable, and patriotic individual who devoted his adult life to the service of this nation.”
Brennan himself fired back at the White House after the announcement, saying it was “an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge” Trump.
Despite the outcry, The Washington Post reported Thursday that Trump felt bolstered by his decision and was eager to revoke the clearances of others in the near future, an effort sure to provoke the signers of Thursday’s statement.
“As individuals who have cherished and helped preserve the right of Americans to free speech ― even when that right has been used to criticize us ― that signal is inappropriate and deeply regrettable,” the former intelligence officials wrote.
This article has been updated to include Gates signing the letter.
- This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
The bodies of two missing Colorado girls who disappeared along with their mother were allegedly discovered inside oil and gas tanks not far from where their mom's body was found, according to KMGH.
High-ranking sources with knowledge on the case told the outlet on Thursday evening that the bodies of 4-year-old Bella Watts and 3-year-old Celeste Watts were found inside of "mostly full" oil and gas tanks owned by Anadarko Petroleum.
Their mother, Shanann Watts, was also found dead on Thursday on land owned by the same company, where her husband and the girls' father, 33-year-old Chris Watts, had been employed.
Shanann Watts, 34, was 15 weeks pregnant with a baby boy at the time of her death.
Photos of the family:
Watts was arrested on Wednesday night but has not been formally charged with any crimes in relation to the case. However, law enforcement sources allegedly told KMGH that he confessed to killing his wife and daughters and showed them where he hid their bodies.
The outlet reports that Chris Watts is being investigated on one count of first-degree murder after deliberation, two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body.
Weld County prosecutors have until Monday to file formal charges against Watts. He is being held without bond until his next court appearance.
Watts made a chilling television appearance on Wednesday to plead for his family's safe return.
"My heart is racing a mile a minute," Watts told reporters just hours before he was arrested. "It's not something I could ever, ever fathom would happen in my lifetime, and I have no inclination of where she is. She said she was going to a friend's house with the kids and that’s the last thing I heard, and that was it. It was very vague."
"My kids are my life. Those smiles light up my life," he added.
- This article was initially published on AOL.com: Bodies of missing Colorado girls allegedly killed by dad found in oil and gas tanks: report