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It’s not just a plague in the Rust Belt states



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Think the deadly opioid epidemic is just raging in the Rust Belt? Think again.

Prosperous and progressive Oregon had a 5.1 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period ending April 3, according to provisional figures from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Oregon has one of the highest rates of prescription opioid misuse in the nation; more drug poisoning deaths involve prescription opioids than any other type of drug, including alcohol, methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine,” the Oregon Health Authority states clearly on its website.

Three Oregonians die every week from prescription opioid overdose, it says.

The pattern in Oregon appears to be similar to that in the really hard-hit states, like West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania — addiction to prescription painkillers frequently drives people to heroin (often laced with fentanyl) and, for too many, death.

Tune in all week to see Lester Holt’s “Across America” reporting trip on “NBC Nightly News.”

In some neighborhoods in north Portland, which is the state’s biggest city, the crunch of needles underfoot has become a sad and not unfamiliar sound. And it’s a plague that doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor.

“Some people have lost everything,” Dr. Rachel Solotaroff of Central City Concern, a nonprofit in Portland dedicated to fighting homelessness that also helps addicts get back on their feet, told NBC Nightly News. “They had jobs, families, master’s degrees.”

In Clackamas County, which is south of Portland, paramedics like Amy Jo Cook told NBC that they aren’t just waiting for the next drug overdose call.

As one of the region’s first “community paramedics,” Cook actively checks on addicts she has helped. NBC’s cameras were rolling when Cook checked on Jackie Robertson, whose life she saved in February with the opioid overdose medication Narcan.

“Even if they get care in the hospital, when they leave that, there’s nowhere for them to go, no one to really reach out to,“ Cook said.

Overdoses from prescription painkillers are more of a rural plague, while heroin overdoses are more common in the big cities like Portland, Salem and Eugene, said Dr. Katrina Hedberg, who is Oregon’s state health officer.

“It really has to do with the distribution pattern,” said Hedberg, who noted that most of the state’s largest cities are located on Interstate 5, which traverses the length of the West Coast.

But just as in other parts of the country, the heroin being sold on the streets is increasingly being laced with fentanyl, making it that much deadlier.

Oregon health officials have responded by taking steps to make safer treatments available to pain patients, making sure anti-overdose remedies are widely and easily available, and by reducing the number of pills in circulation by revamping prescription practices.

“Oregon also has access to legal marijuana,” said Lindsey LaSalle, senior staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance. “Numerous studies have noted that states with access to marijuana have lower fatal overdose rates. People are using marijuana to manage their pain and it has been shown to be effective for people trying to get over an opioid addiction.”

The 513 deaths in Oregon tallied by the CDC in the 12 months ending April 3 were a drop in the bucket compared with hard-hit states like Pennsylvania (5,577 deaths, a 38.4 percent jump), Florida (5,516 deaths, a 28.9 percent increase) and Ohio (5,231, a 30.8 percent boost).

But at the same time, some rural counties in Oregon had some of the highest rates of opioid prescriptions in the nation, raising the risk of addiction.

“Even at low doses, taking an opioid for more than three months raises the risk of addiction by 15 times,” the CDC reported.

And it’s a short jump from prescription painkillers to heroin. Nearly half of the junkies who took part in a Portland needle exchange program reported that they were addicted to opioids before they began shooting up heroin, local rehab outfits reported.

To prevent more deaths, groups like the Portland People’s Outreach Project have, since February 2015, delivered about 5,000 clean syringes a week to local junkies and exchanged them for dirty needles, which they then discard.

And they do it in Portland style — by bicycle.

“We recognize that there is a vital need for clean injection supplies in our community, “ the group states on its website. “In our view, injection drug users are better serviced by compassion and respect than by criticism and punishment.”

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COVID-19: US president Joe Biden signs 10 executive orders to curb spread of coronavirus | US News



Joe Biden has signed 10 new executive orders in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus across the United States.

On his first full day in office, the newly-inaugurated president launched new measures on vaccines, masks and testing.

He hit out at Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic, saying his predecessor lacked the “urgency, focus and co-ordination we needed”.

“We have seen the tragic cost of that failure,” Mr Biden said.

He warned that “things are going to continue to get worse before they get better”, predicted the death toll will reach 500,000 next month and said the roll-out of vaccines in the US had been a “dismal failure” so far.

The US has seen the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths of any country in the world.

Mr Trump, who left the White House for Florida on Wednesday, was much-criticised for his handling of the pandemic.

He caught the disease in October, after hosting a reception where guests were seen not social distancing or wearing masks.

And when a US journalist said Mr Trump told him he knew how dangerous the virus was but liked “playing it down”, former first lady Michelle Obama accused him of trying to “gaslight the American people by acting like this pandemic is not a real threat”.

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COVID-19: Coffins stacked high in crematorium of German town ravaged by coronavirus | World News



A crematorium is a sobering place to visit during a pandemic. Especially the one in the town of Meissen, eastern Germany, where coffins are stacked on top of each other in every available space.

Attached to each simple wooden casket is a small piece of paper giving the basic details about the body inside. The name of the deceased, date of birth and death.

And chalked on to the side of so many is the word COVID. We are standing amongst the victims of a virus which has hit Meissen hard.

In the basement, vast furnaces and workers are operating around the clock. They need to, such is the demand for cremations in a town which has experienced one of the highest COVID-19 rates in Germany.

A crematorium in the German town of Meissen
Chalked onto the side of so many is the word COVID

We watch coffin after coffin disappearing into the flames knowing that family members, unable to be with their loved ones as they passed away, will be desperate to collect the urn of ashes to mourn.

Crematorium director Jörg Schaldach speaks of sadness for the families.

“For us, the problem isn’t storage. The problem is actually for the bereaved,” he says.

“The ambulance leaves the yard and they never see their relatives again. There are no hospital visits. People understand that this is a crisis and they accept that. But the psychological aspect of parting is very, very difficult.”

It is made all the more difficult by the fact that COVID restrictions mean normal funeral services aren’t possible.

Even the chapel at the crematorium is now a storage facility for the dead. The chairs, which before COVID would have accommodated mourners, have been moved out to make way for coffins.

At this, Meissen’s sole crematorium, they dealt with more than 1,400 bodies last month, double the number a year ago.

And Mr Schaldach worries that figure could be higher by the end of January.

The high COVID infection and death rate in Meissen has created nervousness amongst many residents, who ask why the town has been so hard hit.

A crematorium in the German town of Meissen
Meissen’s crematorium dealt with more than 1,400 bodies last month – double the number a year ago

One elderly man said: “It’s because the old live here in eastern Germany. The young are in the west. And COVID affects the old much more badly.”

Another says: “We are near to the Czech border. There is high incidence there and traffic.” He struggles to speak as he says it is so sad, so upsetting to see what is happening.

There is genuine fear and worry here. The crematorium sits in the middle of a residential area and it must be unnerving for people seeing the constant stream of hearses and vans arriving.

Mr Schaldach is hoping that tough lockdown restrictions the German government has decided to keep in place will make a difference.

He lives in the community where he works and feels the loss shared by so many here.

COVID rates are now falling in Germany, but he agrees with the government that there is no room for complacency.

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Baghdad: At least 28 killed and dozens injured in twin suicide attack on Iraq’s capital | World News



At least 28 people have died and dozens more are wounded after a double suicide attack in Iraq’s capital.

According to police in Baghdad, the explosions hit a commercial area in the centre of the city.

Many of the wounded – of which there are at least 73 – are reported to be in a serious condition and there was widespread damage to buildings.

The bombings are the first in years to target Baghdad’s bustling commercial area and all of the city’s hospitals were mobilised to treat the injured, the health ministry said.

Iraqi security forces keep guard the site of a suicide attack in Baghdad, Iraq January 21, 2021.
Iraqi security forces patrol the area after the blasts

They come amid heightened political tensions as Iraq looks to have early elections in October, while also battling a severe economic crisis brought about by low oil prices.

It is not clear who is responsible for the blasts, which left blood smeared across the floors of the busy Bab al-Sharqi market and piles of clothes and shoes.

The attack occurred as security forces pursued two suicide bombers who detonated their explosives in the market near Tayaran Square, according to military spokesman Yahya Rasool.

Iraq has seen attacks by both the Islamic State group and militia groups in recent months.

Militias have routinely targeted the American presence with rocket and mortar attacks, especially the US Embassy in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

Attacks has decreased since an informal truce was declared by Iran-backed armed groups in October.

The Islamic State group has carried out similar attacks in the past but has rarely been able to target the capital since being dislodged by Iraqi forces and the US-led coalition in 2017.

The last deadly suicide blast in the Iraqi capital took place in January 2018, killing at least 27 people.

An attack like this is rare these days making it all the more concerning
Analysis: Mark Stone, Middle East correspondent

Violence and Iraq may seem to be tragically synonymous, but in fact an attack like this is rare these days making it all the more concerning.

While the country is still deeply divided and troubled, bloodshed of this magnitude has not been seen since January 2018 when 27 people were killed in an attack.

The images, most of which are too horrific to broadcast, show bodies lying all around Tayaran Square.

Victims, some alive, but others clearly not, are seen being lifted into vehicles. One video clip shows the decapitated head of man.

It was mid-morning when the bombs detonated. It was a cruelly intentional “double-tap” attack – the second bomb detonated amid the crowd as casualties were carried away.

No one has yet claimed responsibility. The Islamic State terror group is still a threat in parts of the country despite a continued effort by Iraq’s security forces, with western coalition support, to defeat the group.

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