Blue Marble

White Men Are Overdosing on Heroin at a Record Rate

| Mon Mar. 9, 2015 6:20 AM EDT

A decades-long surge in heroin use has left behind a trail of overdose victims. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released this week found that the number of heroin overdoses quadrupled from 1,842 in 2000 to 8,257 in 2013—with a significant boost among people between the ages of 18 and 44, particularly white men.

Dr. Len Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist who studies drug overdoses at the CDC's Injury Center, says that both the growing availability of heroin nationwide and the shift among prescription drug users to heroin use may have contributed to the dramatic rise in deaths. "Thirty years ago, people snorting heroin never used OxyContin or Vicodin before" using heroin, says Paulozzi, who did not contribute to the CDC report. But now the drug's abusers start with prescription drugs, he says, turning these meds into gateway drugs. A National Survey on Drug Use and Health study found that heroin abuse was 19 times higher among people who had previously abused pain relievers. 

The increase in overdoses follows a federal crackdown on prescription painkillers, beginning toward the end of the Clinton era and lasting through the Bush administration, that resulted in a rash of arrests for illegal use during the mid-2000s. While the rate of deaths involving prescription painkillers like OxyContin appears to have leveled off, heroin overdoses have risen 348 percent. Most of the deaths occurred after 2010. That year, a new tamper-resistant form of Oxy hit the market, making it less potent and harder to abuse. 

The rate of heroin deaths accelerated among people between the ages of 18 and 24, from 0.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000 to 3.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2013. For people between 25 and 44 years old, the rate jumped from 1.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000 to 5.4 per 100,000 in 2013. Among young and middle-aged white people, that death rate reached 7.0 per 100,000 by 2013.

The CDC report also highlighted the stark gender and regional disparities among those who overdose. Deaths among men from heroin overdoses were four times higher than those among women between 2000 and 2013. While heroin overdoses increased throughout the country, the greatest number occurred in the Northeast and Midwest. In those regions, particularly near cities, the Justice Department observed the illicit drug as a rising threat—especially given the reported spike in the use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid some 30 times more potent than heroin.

According to the Washington Post, the Justice Department predicted the emerging trend in 2002: "As initiatives taken to curb the abuse of OxyContin are successfully implemented, abusers of OxyContin…also may begin to use heroin, especially if it is readily available, pure, and relatively inexpensive." A flood of heroin from Mexico, the world's third-largest opium producer, also factored into the drug's availability in the United States. In 2013, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 2,196 kilograms of powder and black tar at the US-Mexico border, a nearly 160 percent bump from 2009.

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This GOP Congressman's Solution to Homelessness Involves Getting Eaten By Wolves

| Fri Mar. 6, 2015 3:28 PM EST

Homelessness is a very serious problem. Nearly 600,000 Americans don't have a home, including one in every 30 children. Recently, we've reported on some innovative solutions, including tiny houses and free, no-strings-attached apartments.

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) has a different idea. It involves wolves. Specifically, releasing grey wolves into the districts of 79 of his peers in Congress who had recently called for greater protections for the endangered species.

From the Washington Post:

"How many of you have got wolves in your district?" he asked. "None. None. Not one."

"They haven’t got a damn wolf in their whole district," Young continued. "I’d like to introduce them in your district. If I introduced them in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore."

Wow.

If you're unfamiliar with Don Young, he is renowned for his outlandish antics, mostly about animals, like that time he brandished an 18-inch walrus penis bone on the House floor or the time he called climate change the "biggest scam since Teapot Dome" (a major bribery scandal in the 1920s involving the Harding administration).

A Young spokesperson told the Post that the comment was "purposely hyperbolic."

Here's What Will Happen If Antarctica Melts

| Fri Mar. 6, 2015 1:47 PM EST

When we talk about global warming at the poles, the Arctic tends to get more press than the Antarctic, because it's happening faster there than anywhere else on Earth. But Antarctica is still a juggernaut. As ice sheets there collapse—a process some scientists now see as irreversible—global sea level could rise 10 feet. The complete meltdown could take hundreds of years, but if you live anywhere near the coast, it's not hard to imagine why my colleague Chris Mooney called that discovery a "holy shit moment for global warming."

Tonight, our friends at VICE will kick off their third season of documentaries on HBO, and they're headed to Antarctica to get a close-up look at the potentially catastrophic changes underway there. We'll also hear from Vice President Joe Biden, who says denying climate change is "like denying gravity." Check out the trailer above; the show airs tonight at 11pm ET.

Yet Another Oil Train Has Derailed and Caught Fire

| Thu Mar. 5, 2015 10:44 PM EST
The scene of crude oil train that derailed in Ontario, Canada on February 14.

Earlier today, yet another massive train carrying crude oil derailed and caught on fire, this time in northern Illinois near the Mississippi River. One-hundred-and-three of the the train's 105 cars were carrying crude oil—from where was not immediately clear (Update: BNSF has since confirmed the train was traveling from North Dakota; see below for their response)—eight of which derailed. Two of the derailed cars have caught on fire, according to BNSF Railway which owns the train, sending plumes of smoke and fire into the sky above Galena, Illinois, a town of just over 3,300.

The image of smoldering oil train cars is now a familiar sight: Incidences of exploding oil trains have been rapidly rising in North America thanks to the fracking boom in North Dakota's Bakken oil fields (Bakken oil is potentially more flammable than normal crude) and the slow transition away from old, unsafe rail cars. Oil-by-rail carloads are up 4000 percent from 2008 in the United States and this is the the third derailment in North America in the last three weeks, including a massive explosion in West Virginia on February 16 that injured one person and spilled oil into the nearby Kanawha River. In fact, a Department of Transportation report predicted trains carrying crude and ethanol would derail an average of 10 times per year in the next two decades. This is bad news for people who live near railways and the ecosystems in which they reside.

People living within a mile radius of today's derailment have begun evacuating, and authorities are monitoring the Mississippi River for leakage. BNSF Railway has not responded to inquiries from Mother Jones about the age of the trains' cars and whether the train was carrying Bakken crude. (Update: See below for a response from BNSF). The Birkshire Hathaway subsidiary did tell Reuters, however, that no injuries had been sustained.

Below are pictures of the spill from Twitter:

 

Update 3/6/15 11:30 AM PST: BNSF spokesman Mike Trevino has confirmed to Mother Jones that the train was traveling from North Dakota, and the AP is reporting its tankers were carrying Bakken crude. Trevino said the cars were the CPC-1232 model (newer than the notorious DOT-111 that has raised concern amongst lawmakers), but were nonetheless "unjacketed." Kristen Boyles, an attorney with environmental advocacy group  Earthjustice, told Mother Jones that "unjacketed" tankers do not have the insulated steel shells that US regulators have proposed mandating for new cars to prevent puncturing after derailment. "This derailment is yet another indication that these trains are not good enough and we've got to get federal standards greatly strengthened," Boyles said. The White House's Office of Management and Budget says it will finalize the DOT's proposed rules in May.

McDonald's Just Banned Antibiotic-Laced Chicken. Here's Why That Matters.

| Thu Mar. 5, 2015 7:49 PM EST

This week, McDonald's pledged to phase out serving chicken raised on antibiotics that can also be used to treat humans. To understand the giant implications this has for the meat industry, consider my colleague Tom Philpott's previous reporting on the topic. For starters, the livestock industry uses an astounding four-fifths of all antibiotics consumed in the United States. Mostly, these drugs are used not to treat infections but to promote growth in animals.

There is evidence that livestock antibiotic use contributes to antibiotic resistance, lessening the effectiveness of drugs that are medically important to  humans. And scientists have observed so-called "superbugs" migrating from farms to outside communities. It's a major problem—indeed, scientists predict that antibiotic failure will kill 20 million people by 2050. And yet, despite all this, the government still allows livestock producers to dose their animals with antibiotics.

McDonald's chicken move is a tacit acknowledgement that antibiotics are a precious resource. And considering that the chain serves 68 million people a day in practically every nation on Earth, it sends a powerful message indeed.

Ringling Bros. Announces It's Finally Ending Elephant Acts

| Thu Mar. 5, 2015 3:29 PM EST

On Thursday, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey said it will end the use of elephant acts by 2018—a move that follows decades of mounting criticism and public concern over the show's abusive treatment of the animals. Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, cited a "mood shift" experienced by circus-goers who have grown "uncomfortable with us touring with elephants" for the decision.

President Kenneth Feld also said local legislation barring certain circus practices, such as the use of bullhooks, made it increasingly difficult for the company to continue including elephants in its performances. "This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers," he said in a statement.

In 2011, Mother Jones published an explosive, yearlong investigation looking into Ringling's treatment of elephants, including the regular employment of electric shocks and whippings to control them:

Several of the beatings targeted Nicole, a twentysomething elephant named after Kenneth Feld's eldest daughter. Sweet-natured but clumsy, Nicole would frequently miss her cues to climb atop a tub and place her feet on the elephant next to her, Stechcon said in his videotaped statement. "I always rooted for her, 'Come on, Nicole, get up,'" he said. "But we left the show, brought the animals back to their area, and…we took the headpieces off, and as I was hanging them up, I heard the most horrible noise, just whack, whack, whack. I mean, really hard. It's hard to describe the noise. Like a baseball bat or something striking something not—not soft, and not hard…I turned around to look, and this guy was hitting her so fast and so hard [with the ankus], and sometimes he would take both hands and just really knock her, and he was just doing that. And I was, like, I couldn't believe it."

The investigation also exposed that Feld Entertainment had spent millions of dollars on PR campaigns to hide such abuse from the public and fend off lawsuits:

It was part of a multimillion-dollar spy operation run out of Feld headquarters to thwart and besmirch animal rights groups and others on the company's enemies list, according to a stunning Salon piece by Jeff Stein. Feld had even hired Clair George—the CIA's head of covert operations under President Reagan until his conviction for perjury in the Iran-Contra scandal. (George, who died in August, received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush.)

Thursday's announcement to phase out the elephants, which have been a staple for the Ringling brand for more than a century, has been met with praise from animal rights activists. Feld Entertainment said the elephants will be transitioned to the company's elephant conservation center in Florida.

For more, read our in-depth investigation here.

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Mitch McConnell Is Now Telling States To Ignore Obama's Climate Rules

| Wed Mar. 4, 2015 3:55 PM EST

It's no secret that Republicans leaders hate President Barack Obama's flagship climate initiative, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. So far, the main opposition has been at the state level. The new rules require every state to submit a plan for cleaning up its power sector, and a host of bills have cropped up—primarily in coal-dependent Southern states—to screw with those plans. These bills tend to be backed by GOP state lawmakers, the coal industry, and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

The thrust of much of this legislation is to effectively stonewall the Environmental Protection Agency and hope that the rules get killed by the Supreme Court. It's a long shot, given the Court's long history of siding with the EPA. And the longer states delay in coming up with their own plan, the more likely they'll be to have one forced on them by the feds.

But in a column for Kentucky's Lexington Herald-Leader yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threw his weight behind this obstructionist strategy:

This proposed regulation would have a negligible effect on global climate but a profoundly negative impact on countless American families already struggling…

Don't be complicit in the administration's attack on the middle class. Think twice before submitting a state plan—which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits—when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won't be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism.

Refusing to go along at this time with such an extreme proposed regulation would give the courts time to figure out if it is even legal, and it would give Congress more time to fight back. We're devising strategies now to do just that.

There's plenty to take issue with in McConnell's analysis. For starters, the EPA rules are unlikely to cause any problems with blackouts or sky-high electric bills, as the senator implies. But I'm sure it'll make good ammunition for state lawmakers and fossil fuel interests as battles over this thing play out this year.


Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/03/03/3725288_states-should-reject-obama-mandate.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2015/03/03/3725288_states-should-reject-obama-mandate.html#storylink=cpy

Netanyahu and Obama Agree: Global Warming Is a Huge Threat

| Tue Mar. 3, 2015 1:15 PM EST

Today Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress on Iran's nuclear ambitions, at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The speech has caused a considerable flap, with Democrats criticizing it as an unprecedented affront to President Barack Obama.

But while the president and Netanyahu might have vastly different visions for how to deal with the threat posed by Iran, they do seem to agree on one thing: the threat posed by climate change. Over the past few months Obama has repeatedly emphasized the dangers associated with global warming. In his State of the Union address in January, he said that "no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations" than climate change. And in a recent national security document, Obama called climate change an "urgent and growing threat." Despite GOP protestations to the contrary, Obama's concerns are legitimate: New research released yesterday, for example, found that man-made climate change was a key factor in the Syrian civil war.

It seems Bibi had the same thought as early as 2010, when his cabinet approved a wide-reaching plan to reduce Israel's carbon footprint. At the time, the prime minister said that "the threat of climate change is no less menacing than the security threats that we face." From the Jerusalem Post:

At the UN Copenhagen Climate Summit in December 2009, Israel pledged to reduce emissions by 20 percent from a "business as usual" scenario by 2020.

"The recent dry months, including the driest November in the history of the state, are a warning light to us all that the threat of climate change is no less menacing than the security threats that we face. I intend to act determinedly in this field. In a country that suffers from a severe water shortage, this is an existential struggle," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting.

Israel doesn't face the kind of political resistance from climate change deniers that is all too common in the United States, said Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of EcoPeace Middle East. But the country is struggling to meet its carbon emission and renewable energy targets because government spending is so heavily concentrated on defense, he said.

"They've given the issue a great deal of lip service," he said, "but in practice none of these [targets] have been met."

Still, Israel has been at the forefront of developing seawater desalination technology to confront drought. The country has the biggest desal plant in the world, and last year Netanyahu signed a deal with California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to share research and technology for dealing with water scarcity.

Watch a US Senator Use a Snowball to Deny Global Warming

| Fri Feb. 27, 2015 12:09 PM EST

 

This story was first published by the Huffington Post and is reproduced here via the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Senate's most vocal critic of the scientific consensus on climate change, Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, tossed a snowball on the Senate floor Thursday as part of his case for why global warming is a hoax.

Inhofe, who wrote the book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, took to the floor to decry the "hysteria on global warming."

"In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair, 'You know what this is?'" he said, holding up a snowball. "It's a snowball, from outside here. So it's very, very cold out. Very unseasonable."

"Catch this," he said to the presiding officer, tossing the blob of snow.

Inhofe went on to list the recent cold temperatures across parts of the United States, which included 67 new record lows earlier this week according to the National Weather Service, as evidence that global warming claims are overhyped. "We hear the perpetual headline that 2014 has been the warmest year on record. But now the script has flipped."

Despite the record lows in some parts of the country, the nation overall has been experiencing a warmer than average winter.

This Koala Is So Cute You'll Want It To Get Away With Stealing This Kid's Car

| Wed Feb. 25, 2015 5:52 PM EST

Never leave your Land Rover unattended in the Outback. This "cheeky" koala tried to drive off before the car's owner, a teen about to return home from school, foiled its getaway.

Happy Wednesday.