U.S. life expectancy fell in 2016 as opioid overdoses surged: CDC

A used container of the drug Narcan used against opioid overdoses lies on the ground in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Life expectancy in the United States dipped in 2016 as the number of deaths due to opioid drug overdoses surged and total drug overdose deaths rose 21 percent to 63,600, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

Life expectancy fell to 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2015, the second annual decline in a row and the first two-year decline since a drop in 1962 and 1963.

Opioid-related overdose deaths have been on the rise since 1999, but surged from 2014 to 2016, with an average annual increase of 18 percent, to become a national epidemic. From 2006 to 2014 the rise was only 3 percent annually on average and between 1999 to 2006 averaged 10 percent per year.

In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid-related overdoses, up 28 percent from 2015, while the number of deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as fentanyl and tramadol, more than doubled to 19,413, the CDC said.

The 2016 rate of overdose deaths was up across all age groups but was highest rate among people aged 25 to 54.

West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania had the highest age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2016.

The number of drug overdose deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, which include drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, was 14,487 in 2016.

As the U.S. opioid addiction epidemic has worsened, many state attorneys general have sued makers of these drugs as they investigate whether manufacturers and distributors engaged in unlawful marketing behavior.

President Donald Trump in October declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, which senior administration officials said would redirect federal resources and loosen regulations to combat abuse of the drugs. However, he stopped short of declaring a national emergency he had promised months before, which would have freed up more federal money.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)

At Trump rally, West Virginia governor switches parties

President Trump talks with West Virginia's Democratic Governor Jim Justice after he announced that he is changing parties during a rally in Huntington, West Virginia. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (Reuters) – West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, standing next to President Donald Trump at a rally on Thursday night, announced that he was changing political parties, ditching the Democrats and joining Trump’s Republicans.

“I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” Justice told the crowd. “So tomorrow I will be changing my registration to Republican,” he said to loud cheers.

Justice, a billionaire businessman with interests in coal and agriculture, won election in November as a Democrat in his first attempt at political office. Until 2015, he had been a registered Republican.

Trump, who won West Virginia by 42 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton, campaigned on a promise to bring back coal jobs, an important industry in the state.

Justice said his late mother would have told him about switching parties: “Jimmy, it’s about damn time you came to your senses.”

Justice told the crowd he had met with Trump twice at the White House in the past several weeks to present ideas on coal and manufacturing.

“He’s got a backbone. He’s got real ideas. He cares about America. He cares about us in West Virginia,” Justice said of Trump, a fellow billionaire businessman.

Trump, who earlier in the day promised a “very big announcement” at the rally, welcomed Justice into the party’s ranks.

“Having big Jim as a Republican is such an honor,” Trump said of the 6-foot-7-inch governor.

With Justice changing his affiliation, there are now 34 Republican governors, 15 Democrats and one independent. Republicans will now control both the legislature and the governorship in 26 of the 50 states.

Republicans control both houses of the West Virginia legislature.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Bernard Orr)

West Virginia’s worst flooding in a century kills 24

Emergency crews take out boats on a flooded I-79 at the Clendenin Exit, after the state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of rain on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow into neighboring communities, in Kanawha County, West Virginia, June 24, 2016.

By David Bailey

(Reuters) – West Virginia’s three most devastated counties and possibly others will receive federal assistance after the state’s worst flooding in more than a century killed at least 24 people, officials said on Saturday.

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster for West Virginia and ordered federal aid to affected individuals in Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties that could include grants for temporary housing, repairs and other programs.

Obama spoke with West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin on Saturday afternoon to give his condolences and make sure the governor has the federal resources he needs, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

West Virginia’s death toll from flooding is the highest for any U.S. state this year, with 16 deaths reported in Greenbrier County in southeast West Virginia, where the heaviest rain fell, and six in Kanahwa County, officials said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and state officials were assessing damage in at least six other counties and the state may ask for additional assistance, Tomblin said. Ohio and Jackson counties also reported one death each.

The death toll in West Virginia is the highest in any state from flooding this year. At least 16 people, including nine U.S. soldiers, were killed in flooding in Texas earlier in June.

Up to 10 inches (25.4 cm) of rain fell on Thursday in the mountainous state, sending torrents of water from rivers and streams through homes and causing widespread devastation.

Tomblin has declared a state of emergency in 44 of 55 counties and expects 400 members of the West Virginia National Guard to help rescue efforts on Saturday. About 32,000 homes and businesses remained without power on Saturday.

Hundreds of people have been rescued and search and rescue teams were looking for more people on Saturday, said Tim Rock, spokesman for the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Some towns were completely surrounded by water and hundreds of houses and buildings have been lost, Rock said.

The Greenbrier resort was closed indefinitely and PGA Tour officials said on Saturday the Greenbrier Classic golf tournament due to begin on July 7 had been canceled because of extensive flood damage.

West Virginia received one-quarter of its annual rainfall in a single day and multiple rivers surged to dangerous levels, including the Elk River, which broke a record at one stage that had stood since 1888.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)

Four dead in West Virginia floods as rain-swollen rivers crest

(Reuters) – West Virginia declared a state of emergency amid the worst flooding in more than a century that killed at least four people and prompted rescues of hundreds of others forced to evacuate swamped homes, officials said on Friday.

The mountainous state was pummeled by up to 10 inches of rain in a single day on Thursday, causing rivers and streams to overflow, National Weather Service meteorologist Frank Pereira said.

“The flooding we experienced Thursday and into today is among the worst in a century for some parts of the state,” Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said.

The governor declared a state of emergency in 44 of 55 counties and deployed up to 150 members of the West Virginia National Guard to help rescue efforts on Friday.

“Rivers hopefully are going to crest sometime today between noon and tonight,” said Tim Rock, spokesman for the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“Recovery and rescue is expected to last through the weekend,” he said.

Three people died in the flooding in Kanawha County, the most populous in the state, including a woman in her car, a senior citizen and another person, as well as one person in Ohio County in the state’s northern Panhandle, Rock said.

“There have been towns that have been completely surrounded by water,” Rock said. “People say there is 8 to 9 feet of water in their house.

“It’s at least into the hundreds forced to get emergency shelter,” he said. “Even if you can get back into your home, who knows what kind of shape it’s in.”

West Virginia received one-quarter of its annual rainfall in a single day, Pereira said.

“It was multiple rounds of thunderstorms that continued to move across the same area, a relatively small area, and the mountainous terrain exacerbated the flooding,” Pereira said.

Rains eased on Friday with only scattered showers expected, he said.

The storms that drenched West Virginia were part of a severe weather system that has swept through the U.S. Midwest, triggering tornadoes.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

West Virginia Fetal Pain Bill Banning Abortions After 20 Weeks Takes Effect

A bill that prohibits abortion in West Virginia after 20 weeks unless the health of the mother is endangered went into effect this week.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed both houses of the legislature and then both houses voted to override the governor’s veto.

“It is thrilling to see the unborn baby being put into the abortion debate by making an issue of their pain. Pain is something that we can all relate to,” said West Virginia For Life Program Director Mary Anne Buchanan.

“In a nationwide poll of 1,623 registered voters in November 2014, The Quinnipiac University Poll found that 60% would support a law such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks, while only 33% opposed such legislation.”

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the bill not over the idea of banning abortion but because he didn’t think the bill would stand up to a court challenge on its Constitutionality.

“Tomblin’s veto message reflected the same concerns he sent out in a veto response to a similar bill that passed the Legislature in 2014,” reported WOWK TV.

“Despite Tomblin’s veto, this year, the GOP-led Legislature had the numbers to override any piece of legislation sent back within a reasonable time. The WV House voted to override the veto by a vote of 77-16; the Senate’s vote was 27-5.”

Buchanan noted that the law has not been challenged in nine of the 11 states where similar bills have become law.

Memorial To Teacher Threatened By Anti-Christianists

The anti-Christian Freedom From Religion Foundation wants to destroy a monument to a beloved teacher because they cannot stand her Christian faith being referenced in the memorial.

Ravenswood Middle School in West Virginia has a monument to Joann Christy, a 26-year educators who died in a car accident.  The memorial had bench, two stone planters and several crosses to represent her deep Christian beliefs.

“There’s so many kids that came through this school that were affected by her death, that were affected by her teachings, and now we’re just trying to keep her memory alive here,” Tracy Sadecky, a family friend, told a local TV station.

The family of the late teacher agreed to have the crosses removed in an attempt to appease the hate group, but left angels saying that Christy had a collection of angels and the angels represented her.

Legendary West Virginia Coach Banned From Graduation

A legendary West Virginia high school football coach has been banned from speaking at graduation because a few people objected to his references to God in last year’s speech.

Despite an overwhelming majority of students, parents and faculty wanting Leon McCoy to speak at the 2014 graduation of Winfield High School, he was told he would not be welcomed back because a few people didn’t want to be exposed to someone mentioning God.

“There were complaints on me allowing prayer and so forth. Unfortunately, the law says we can’t do that,” school principal Bruce McGrew told the Charleston Daily Mail. “I don’t like it and by no means agree with it. … It’s a difficult situation when I am forced to do something as part of my job.”

McCoy said he understands the decision.  He said that in the past Christians were allowed to speak in public with their views but now laws keep them from being able to share their beliefs.

Several students and parents plan to protest graduation, saying that a handful of anti-Christianists should not be able to dictate a ceremony for everyone else.

Bible Verse Removed Because of Anti-Chrsitianist Complaint

Another school has been forced to remove a Bible verse after the virulent anti-Christianist group Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint.

Parkersburg South High School in West Virginia had Philippians 4:13 hanging in their gymnasium and also posted on the school wrestling team’s website.  The team has been using the verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” as a way to encourage the team’s members to strive to be their best.

The FFRF, which is not even located in West Virginia, filed a complaint with the school earlier this month as part of their campaign to eradicate Christians and any reference to Christianity from the public.

The foundation’s attorney claimed the simple existence of the verse meant the school was endorsing Christianity.

Wood County Superintendent said they painted over the verse on the wall of the gym that was above the entrance to the wrestling room and has removed it from the website.

West Virginia Governor Vetoes Pro-Life Bill

The governor of West Virginia has vetoed a bill that would have extended protection to unborn children.

Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin is the governor in the nation to veto a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks.  Tomblin, who has previously claimed that he was pro-life, said his reason for vetoing the bill was that he believed it was unconstitutional.

“The bill is also problematic because it unduly restricts the physician-patient relationship. All patients, particularly expectant mothers, require the best, most unfettered medical judgment and advice from their physicians regarding treatment options,” Tomblin said. “The medical community has made it clear to me that the criminal penalties this bill imposes will impede that advice, and those options, to the detriment of the health and safety of expectant mothers.”

Pro-life groups were stunned by the governor’s move because of his previous claims of being pro-life.

“The governor has placed himself in a minority position on this bill,” Wanda Franz, president of West Virginians for Life, told Christian News.

West Virginia Legislature Passes New Abortion Bill

The West Virginia legislature has passed a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks and have sent it to the governor for his signature.

House Bill 4588, called the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” says that except in the case of medical emergency no abortion may be performed or induced unless the doctor performing the abortion has made a determination of the post fertilization age of the unborn child.

West Virginians for Life released a statement hailing the bill’s passage, saying it will protect West Virginia’s unborn babies and fulfills the state’s interest in making sure unborn children do not experience pain.

“Scientific research demonstrates that unborn babies can feel pain beginning by at least 20 weeks after conception,” the group said.

Pro-abortion groups in the state are making the normal claims that the bill takes away abortion rights.

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has expressed concerns in the past that the bill won’t stand up to a challenge in court.