Tropical Storm Elsa edges toward US after battering Caribbean

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(NEW YORK) — Tropical Storm Elsa has set its sights for the U.S. after it wreaked havoc on islands in the Caribbean.

The system, which was downgraded to a tropical storm over the weekend after becoming the first hurricane in the 2021 Atlantic season, was about 50 miles southeast of Cayo Largo, Cuba, Monday morning as it headed northwest at 14 mph. Maximum sustained winds were clocking in at 65 mph.

Elsa destroyed several structures in Barbados, when it hit as a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds at 74 mph on Friday.

The heavy rainfall also damaged homes in Haiti on Saturday and flooded parts of Jamaica on Sunday.

Elsa is expected to bring gusty winds and rain across central and western Cuba through Monday and pass near the Florida Keys with heavier rain and tropical force winds early Tuesday.

The storm will then move near or over the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday, possible sparing recovery efforts at the site of the collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, near Miami Beach on the east coast of the state.

What remained of the Champlain Towers condominium was demolished Sunday night ahead of the storm.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett described Tropical Storm Elsa as a “blessing in disguise” because it fueled discussions to demolish the building left standing after the partial collapse on June 24.

Tropical storm watches and warmings have been issued in parts of Cuba and the Florida Keys, while a storm surge watch is in effect for the west coast of Florida.

By Wednesday morning, the storm will move inland inland into North Florida and parts of Georgia.

The Florida peninsula, coastal Georgia and the Carolinas should monitor the progress of the storm, as additional watches and warnings will likely be issued Monday afternoon.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Man dies in fireworks accident after mortar shell explodes next to him

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(NEW YORK) — A man has died after in a tragic fireworks accident after a mortar shell exploded inside of a firework tube, sending shrapnel into the man’s body and killing him on site.

The incident occurred at approximately 12:20 a.m. on Sunday, July 4, in Salamonie Township — about 95 miles northeast of Indianapolis — in Huntington County, Indiana, when first responders were called to the scene of a man reportedly suffering from an injury sustained while setting off fireworks, according to a statement from the Huntington County Coroner’s Office.

When authorities arrived they say that they found the victim, 41-year-old Steven E. Sims of Hartford City, Indiana, with critical injuries to his abdomen after being struck by a firework.

The Huntington County Coroner said that lifesaving efforts were immediately attempted to save Sims’ life but that he ultimately succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead by the Huntington County Coroner’s Office at the scene of the accident.

“An initial investigation into the incident determined the mortar shell exploded inside the tube, causing the pressure to breech the side of the tube, and striking the victim,” said Huntington County Chief Deputy Coroner Philip Zahm. “An autopsy is being conducted to determine the extent of injury.”

Toxicology reports are also pending in this case and the final cause and manner of death will be determined by the outcome of the autopsy, said Zahm.

The investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sims’ death is ongoing.

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Surfside building collapse latest: Remaining structure demolished

WPLG

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — The remains of the partially collapsed condo building in Surfside, Florida, was demolished at around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Earlier Sunday, police had urged citizens who live within the designated shelter-in-place area, between 86th St and 89th St and Abbott Ave and the shoreline, to remain indoors “effective immediately,” warning about dust from the demolition.

Some residents and animal welfare advocates had expressed concerned about the fate of pets left behind in the partially collapsed tower and the demolishing of the structure. But there are no animals remaining in the building, mayor of Miami-Dade County Daniella Levine Cava said during a news conference Sunday evening.

“As an animal lover and a pet owner myself my entire life, I have made it a priority since day one to do absolutely everything possible to search for any animals that may still in the building. And in the days since the collapse, the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Team has conducted three full sweeps of the place, including searching in closets, under beds, and all the other places that they could to see an animal that might have been in hiding … The latest information we have is that there are no animals, remaining in the building,” Levine Cava said.

The mayor also advised residents of nearby buildings to “close your windows, put your air conditioning on recirculation” in the case of dust of other fallout from the demolition. However, she said: “It is not expected anything other than some light debris would potentially affect all those buildings.”

The mayor of Surfside, Charles Burkett, called Tropical Storm Elsa predicted to hit the area, a “blessing in disguise ” because it initiated the discussion to demolish the remaining part of the building.

“That discussion has accomplished several things. It’s eliminated a looming threat, a dangerous threat for our rescue workers. It will potentially open up probably a third of the pile so we can all, you know, so the teams can focus not just on two thirds of the pile, but on the whole thing, which is important. And, you know, we want to make sure that we control which way the building falls and not, not a hurricane,” Burkett said.

Miami-Dade Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said that once the building comes down, “there’ll be several different features that we’ll have to address obviously with the demolition and that’ll be the priority and securing the scene in that sense.” Afterward, the rescue mission will continue, Cominsky said.

The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach.

Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through debris in hopes of finding survivors.

As of Sunday, the death toll has risen to 24 people. Rescuers were still searching for 121 people as of Sunday afternoon.

A letter from the board of directors of Champlain Towers East, obtained by ABC News, told residents on Sunday that they didn’t know when the other building would come down but “the most common estimate is sometime early evening today.”

The board advised residents to evacuate as soon as possible to avoid traffic.

Levine Cava said other residents nearby wouldn’t need to evacuate but were urged to stay indoors, close their windows and turn off their air conditioners to keep out dust from the demolition.

She said the demolition will be in the form of an “energetic felling,” which “uses small, strategically placed detonations and relies on the force of gravity to bring the building down in place, right on this footprint.”

Search and rescue teams will continue with their operations, “very shortly after the demolition,” Levine Cava added.

The mayor also noted that all of the crews are working to get as much work done before Tropical Storm Elsa arrives.

Preparations are now being made for Elsa, which weakened from a hurricane Sunday morning and is expected to come near southern Florida on Monday, into Tuesday. A cover has been placed on the part of the debris field that is closest to the building, Cava said.

On Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for several counties in anticipation of Elsa. Heat, humidity, heavy rain, strong winds and lightning storms also have made the conditions difficult for rescuers, periodically forcing them to pause their round-the-clock efforts in recent days.

On Friday, two more bodies were found in the wreckage as crews search the area of the collapse, officials said. Two more bodies were recovered overnight, officials announced Saturday.

Two bodies were discovered Thursday evening, including that of a 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter, according to Levine Cava. The firefighter was not part of the crew that discovered the girl’s body.

“It goes without saying that every night since this last Wednesday has been immensely difficult,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Friday morning. “But last night was uniquely different. It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders.”

Meanwhile, 191 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has stressed that the figures are “very fluid” and “continue to change.”

The number of those accounted for has gone up as detectives continue to audit the list of people reported missing, a development that Levine Cava called “very good news.”

However, no survivors have been discovered in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed, and the hope that more people would be found alive appeared to be fading Friday.

Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said rescue workers are “emotional” after the discovery of a first responder’s own daughter, which “takes a toll.” But he said that won’t stop them from continuing to search for those who are still missing.

“I just was hoping that we would have some survivors,” Cominsky said at a press briefing on Friday morning.

Speaking on the signing of the emergency order to demolish the remainder of the building earlier this week, Levine Cava said the move will “help us move quickly.”

The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been shifted to focusing on the pile of rubble. But the two sites are side-by-side and the remaining building has posed challenges for the rescuers trying to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage.

“Given our ongoing safety concerns about the integrity of the building, we’re continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Thursday evening.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, as well as families of the victims. Recalling the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and 1-year-old daughter as well as badly injuring his two sons, the president told reporters: “It’s bad enough to lose somebody but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ll survive or not.”

The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation.

Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.

A structural field survey report from October 2018, which was among hundreds of pages of public documents released by the town of Surfside late Sunday, said the waterproofing below the condominium’s pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”

A slew of lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging the partial collapse could have been avoided and that the association knew or should have known about the structural damage. A spokesperson for the association told ABC News they cannot comment on pending litigation but that their “focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”

The association’s board released a statement Friday saying its surviving members “have concluded that, in the best interest of all concerned parties, an independent Receiver should be appointed to oversee the legal and claims process.”

“We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation,” the statement continued, “and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy.”

In the wake of the Surfside building collapse, the city of North Miami Beach ordered that another condominium close immediately amid safety concerns connected to the 40-year recertification process, officials said.

The Crestview Towers Condominium is “structurally and electrically unsafe,” based on the review of a recertification report submitted Friday, city officials said in a statement.

“The city of North Miami Beach has taken the steps that we recommended to review to make sure that the recertification process was being done in a timely basis. And as I understand it, as a result of that audit, they found a building that had not been recertified, and when the information came in, they took some steps,” Levine Cava said Friday evening.

Some 300 residents have to evacuate, according to ABC Miami affiliate WPLG-TV, while a full structural assessment is conducted.

The 156-unit condo was built in 1972.

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One dead, three injured after raft overturns on water ride at amusement park

Adventureland Park

(ALTOONA, Iowa) — One person is dead and three more have been hospitalized after a raft overturned on a water ride at an amusement park.

The incident occurred at approximately 7:35 p.m. on Saturday, July 3, at Adventureland Park in Altoona, Iowa — part of the Des Moines metropolitan area — when a boat on the Raging River ride overturned with six riders on it, according to a statement from Adventureland Park.

The overturned raft caused critical injuries to three people and left one with minor injuries, the statement continued.

“Altoona Fire and Police were on property and responded immediately,” said Adventureland Park in their initial statement on Saturday night. “We want to thank them as well as Des Moines, Ankeny, Bondurant, Pleasant Hill and Delaware Township Emergency Services for their fast response … Our thoughts are with the affected families at this time.”

Adventureland Park said the ride had been inspected the day before and “was found to be in good working order” at the time of the accident. The Raging River ride will now remain closed for a more thorough inspection.

Adventureland Park released a second statement on Sunday night after they learned of the passing of one of the injured riders.

“Adventureland is saddened to learn of the passing of one Guest involved in the Raging River accident on the evening of 7/3/21,” the park’s second statement said. “This investigation is ongoing and the ride remains closed. Adventureland is working closely with both the State and local authorities, and would like to thank them again for their efforts. At this time, we ask for your thoughts and prayers for the Guest and their family, as well as for our team members who were onsite.”

There have been no additional updates on the conditions of the other three survivors since the initial statement.

This, however, is reportedly not the first fatal accident to have taken place in connection with the Raging River ride at Adventureland Park.

According to the Des Moines Register, 68-year-old Adventureland Park employee, Steve Booher, reportedly died in 2016 while he was working on the ride as he was helping riders get out of the Raging River rafts at the end of the ride but fell onto the conveyor belt and suffered a fractured skull along with a major brain injury. Booher died four days later.

Iowa’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration subsequently fined the theme park $4,500 following Booher’s death, according to the Des Moines Register — the maximum the agency could assess for that type of violation.

The circumstances that led up to Saturday’s incident are currently unclear and the investigation is ongoing and the ride will remain closed during that time.

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Sidewalks outside White House reopen to pedestrians, bikes

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(WASHINGTON) — As the president looked to celebrate the country’s reopening following pandemic lockdowns, there was a reopening earlier Sunday just outside the White House: The sidewalks there are now open to foot and bike traffic.

“The portion of Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House sidewalk between 15th and 17th Streets NW has been reopened to foot and bicycle traffic. The Secret Service is committed to facilitating public access to Pennsylvania Avenue as well as protecting the safety of the public and agency protectees,” a Secret Service spokesperson told ABC News in a statement.

The spokesperson cautioned that the area will have to temporarily close again later this summer for a National Park Service paving project that will require Pennsylvania Avenue and adjacent areas to be closed.

This area was one of many that was closed to the public amid protests last summer following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Lafayette Square, the park north of the White House, quietly reopened in May after almost a year of being closed to the public.

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Premature fireworks ignition startles unsuspecting beachgoers in Maryland

Twitter/@GillyOfThe412

(OCEAN CITY, Maryland) — A Fourth of July fireworks celebration in Ocean City, Maryland, was canceled after some rockets ignited prematurely and shocked a crowd of beachgoers.

Firefighters responded to a call to the beach in the morning to discover fireworks going off. Beachgoers were seen fleeing and looking on with confusion.

No beachgoers were injured. An employee of the fireworks company received minor injuries but refused transportation to the hospital, investigators said.

City leaders announced later Sunday afternoon that all holiday fireworks displays would be canceled out of an abundance of caution.

The cause of the premature discharge is under investigation, with authorities closing off parts of the boardwalk to pedestrians.

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Surfside building collapse latest: Demolition time not set

WPLG

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — Search and rescue crews looking for 121 people at the partially collapsed South Florida condominium remained in a holding pattern Sunday afternoon as demolition crews prepared to bring down the rest of the structurally compromised building.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters Sunday morning that she didn’t have a definitive timetable as to when the demolition would begin as crews ae still were doing preliminary work on the site. Search crews suspended efforts Saturday and won’t resume until after the demolition.

“As both the governor and I made clear, our top priority is that the building come down as soon as possible, no matter what time that occurs, and as safely as possible,” Levine Cava said.

The partial collapse occurred around 1:15 a.m. on June 24 at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach.

Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Raide Jadallah. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through debris in hopes of finding survivors.

As of Sunday, the death toll has risen to 24 people.

A letter from the board of directors of Champlain Towers East, obtained by ABC News, told residents on Sunday that they didn’t know when the other building would come down but “the most common estimate is sometime early evening today.”

The board advised residents to evacuate as soon as possible to avoid traffic.

Levine Cava said other residents nearby wouldn’t need to evacuate but were urged to stay indoors, close their windows and turn off their air conditioners to keep out dust from the demolition.

She said the demolition will be in the form of an “energetic felling,” which “uses small, strategically placed detonations and relies on the force of gravity to bring the building down in place, right on this footprint.”

Search and rescue teams will continue with their operations, “very shortly after the demolition,” Levine Cava added.

The mayor also noted that the all of the crews are working to get as much work done before Tropical Storm Elsa arrives.

Preparations are now being made for Elsa, which weakened from a hurricane in the morning and is expected to come near southern Florida on Monday, into Tuesday. A cover has been placed on the part of the debris field that is closest to the building, Cava said.

On Saturday, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for several counties in anticipation of Elsa. Heat, humidity, heavy rain, strong winds and lightning storms also have made the conditions difficult for rescuers, periodically forcing them to pause their round-the-clock efforts in recent days.

On Friday, two more bodies were found in the wreckage as crews search the area of the collapse, officials said. Two more bodies were recovered overnight, officials announced Saturday.

Two bodies were discovered Thursday evening, including that of a 7-year-old daughter of a Miami firefighter, according to Levine Cava. The firefighter was not part of the crew that discovered the girl’s body.

“It goes without saying that every night since this last Wednesday has been immensely difficult,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Friday morning. “But last night was uniquely different. It was truly different and more difficult for our first responders.”

Meanwhile, 191 people who were living or staying in the condominium at the time of the disaster have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has stressed that the figures are “very fluid” and “continue to change.”

The number of those accounted for has gone up as detectives continue to audit the list of people reported missing, a development that Levine Cava called “very good news.”

However, no survivors have been discovered in the rubble of the building since the morning it partially collapsed, and the hope that more people would be found alive appeared to be fading Friday.

Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky said rescue workers are “emotional” after the discovery of a first responder’s own daughter, which “takes a toll.” But he said that won’t stop them from continuing to search for those who are still missing.

“I just was hoping that we would have some survivors,” Cominsky said at a press briefing on Friday morning.

Speaking on the signing the emergency order to demolish the remainder of the building earlier this week, Levine Cava said the move will “help us move quickly.”

The structure was cleared by crews last week, and all search and rescue resources have since been shifted to focusing on the pile of rubble. But the two sites are side-by-side and the remaining building has posed challenges for the rescuers trying to locate any survivors or human remains in the wreckage.

“Given our ongoing safety concerns about the integrity of the building, we’re continuing to restrict access to the collapse zone,” Levine Cava said during a press briefing in Surfside on Thursday evening.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Surfside on Thursday to meet with officials, first responders, search and rescue teams, as well as families of the victims. Recalling the 1972 car accident that killed his first wife and 1-year-old daughter as well as badly injuring his two sons, the president told reporters: “It’s bad enough to lose somebody but the hard part, the really hard part, is to not know whether they’ll survive or not.”

The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation.

Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.

A structural field survey report from October 2018, which was among hundreds of pages of public documents released by the town of Surfside late Sunday, said the waterproofing below the condominium’s pool deck and entrance drive was failing and causing “major structural damage to the concrete structural slab below these areas.”

A slew of lawsuits against the Champlain Towers South Condo Association have already been filed on behalf of survivors and victims, alleging the partial collapse could have been avoided and that the association knew or should have known about the structural damage. A spokesperson for the association told ABC News they cannot comment on pending litigation but that their “focus remains on caring for our friends and neighbors during this difficult time.”

The association’s board released a statement Friday saying its surviving members “have concluded that, in the best interest of all concerned parties, an independent Receiver should be appointed to oversee the legal and claims process.”

“We know that answers will take time as part of a comprehensive investigation,” the statement continued, “and we will continue to work with city, state, local, and federal officials in their rescue efforts, and to understand the causes of this tragedy.”

In the wake of the Surfside building collapse, the city of North Miami Beach ordered that another condominium close immediately amid safety concerns connected to the 40-year recertification process, officials said.

The Crestview Towers Condominium is “structurally and electrically unsafe,” based on the review of a recertification report submitted Friday, city officials said in a statement.

“The city of North Miami Beach has taken the steps that we recommended to review to make sure that the recertification process was being done in a timely basis. And as I understand it, as a result of that audit, they found a building that had not been recertified, and when the information came in, they took some steps,” Levine Cava said Friday evening.

Some 300 residents have to evacuate, according to ABC Miami affiliate WPLG, while a full structural assessment is conducted.

The 156-unit condo was built in 1972.

ABC News’ Will Gretsky, Meredith Deliso, Marlene Lenthang and Morgan Windsor contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Man arrested for crashing car into Washington Monument barrier: Police

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(WASHINGTON) — A man has been arrested after allegedly crashing his car just outside the Washington Monument, missing several people who were walking around the landmark Saturday night, police said.

No pedestrians were injured during the incident, which took place around 7:23 p.m., the United States Park Police said in a statement.

Officers responded to the scene and found the SUV, which was covered in signs and had an American flag hanging from its passenger-side door, crashed into the security barrier at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue.

The unidentified driver suffered minor injuries and was arrested at the scene, the police said. The suspect was charged with attempted assault with a dangerous weapon (automobile) and is awaiting a court appearance as of Sunday morning.

No motive has been revealed, and the investigation is ongoing, police said.

The incident took place about 24 hours before crowds were expected to gather at the National Mall for Fourth of July celebrations.

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Spike in drug, alcohol related jail deaths puts spotlight on fallout from ‘war on drugs’

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(NEW YORK) — Drug and alcohol-related jail deaths have skyrocketed in recent years, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and experts say that spike goes hand-in-hand with the continued criminalization of substance abuse in the United States and lack of treatment.

Deaths spiked between 2000 and 2018, increasing by roughly 381% — the largest increase of any cause by a margin, according to the BJS report. The report did not elaborate on the specific causes of death.

The time period also coincided with increased opioid use and large numbers of drug arrests, mainly for possession.

Substance abuse is classified as a mental illness, by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal agency, but has long been treated as a criminal offense by the justice system, rather than a public health issue, NIDA’s Dr. Redonna Chandler told ABC News.

“The fact that we have criminalized some of these things and used punishment as a form of dealing with it goes along with the stigmatized idea that substance use disorders and addiction are a moral choice,” Chandler said. “What we actually know from many years of science is that substance use disorders are involved in a fundamental change within the brain, and within neural circuitry.”

Some experts, like Dr. Kevin Fiscella, a professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, predict that the number of drug and alcohol-related deaths could be higher because these fatalities may have been recorded as being related to other underlying conditions.

Chandler and Fiscella say that improving systems of treatment and rehabilitation can prevent these deaths, reduce recidivism and end the stigma against people who experience substance abuse.

The first step to addressing the problem, Chandler said, is addressing the over-policing and under-treatment of substance abuse.

The criminalization of substance abuse in the U.S.

Willy Sorila, a 28-year-old formerly incarcerated man and an operations manager at the Aspen Ridge Recovery Center in Colorado, said he could have died while in jail for drug distribution due to a forced withdrawal from benzodiazepine, a psychoactive drug.

Sorila, who is still in recovery, recalls having seizures while experiencing withdrawal and receiving no formal treatment for his substance abuse while incarcerated. After leaving jail after a week, he said he later fell into opioid abuse.

“That first time around was very scary,” Sorila said of the withdrawal. “If we’re truly wanting to release people from jail or prison back into society and give them a fair chance at fighting, I think that’s where the treatment really needs to start.”

Sorila said he was given a sports drink and ibuprofen to treat his pain.

Sorila now works to help others on their path to recovery — but he said he’s one of the lucky ones who was able to get out of the cycle of incarceration and addiction.

Of all the people who are incarcerated, the Drug Policy Alliance reports 1 in 5 people are jailed for a drug offense.

And roughly 63% of sentenced people in jail met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse, according to data collected by the National Inmate Surveys in the late 2000s, released in 2017.

In this survey, about 61% of people sentenced and incarcerated for violent offenses met the criteria for drug dependence or abuse. That number rose to 72% for property damage offenses and 74% for drug offenses.

“Many poor folks who don’t have insurance can’t get access or very easy access to substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, and they end up cycling into the jails,” Fiscella said. “The jails, based on training, based on the culture and based on the resources, their budgets are really struggling to treat people with drug and alcohol [abuse].”

More than 1 million of the approximately 1.5 million drug law violation arrests in 2019, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, were caused by heroin, cocaine, synthetic drugs, and non-narcotic drugs. The remaining 545,000 were marijuana arrests. There were more than 10 million arrests made in 2019.

Since the justice system has disproportionately impacted marginalized, low-income communities, activists have long fought to end the criminalization of hard drugs, and in 2020, they achieved that goal in Oregon.

Oregon is the first and only state to decriminalize the possession of hard drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone and more. Now, possession of these drugs could lead to a fine or addiction counseling.

Supporters of the law said that it would help focus on addressing the source of abuse issues, instead of forcing mostly impoverished and marginalized people into incarceration.

“Criminalizing the addict makes it harder for them to have the opportunity of seeking out treatment,” Sorila said.

It is unclear how this decriminalization in Oregon has impacted incarceration rates thus far. Though more states are considering the decriminalization of hard drugs to focus on rehabilitation, the push by advocates for proper treatment continues in jails across the country.

What addiction looks like behind bars

Forced withdrawal, as Sorila experienced, particularly from alcohol and benzodiazepines, can be deadly, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Library of Medicine. Benzodiazepine withdrawal often requires medications to help patients safely discontinue its use and reduce life-threatening withdrawal complications.

Symptoms of withdrawal can include headaches, nausea, tremors, hallucinations, heart palpitations, seizures, and more, the organizations say.

When paired with an underlying health condition, Fiscella said, forced withdrawal, overdosing and drug or alcohol use can be fatal without proper or immediate access to care.

It is not clear how many people have died while in withdrawal, but there have been reports in several states.

In the Journal of Correctional Health Care article “Drug- and Alcohol-Associated Deaths in U.S. Jails,” Fiscella and his fellow researchers from across the country found that drug- and alcohol-related deaths may be a bigger problem than realized in the data due to how deaths are tracked by the facilities.

The study looked at more than 1,400 drug- and alcohol-related deaths nationwide in jails from 2000-2013 and found that 103 were associated with withdrawal.

“Many of these deaths are preventable, but we need new ways of addressing the problem,” Fiscella said.

Most correctional facilities in the U.S, according to research from NIDA and the National Institute of Health, have discontinued their methadone treatment for opioid addiction — leading to more forced withdrawals.

Treatment and rehabilitation for substance abusers

To prevent these deaths, Chandler and her peers at NIDA say a medically supervised withdrawal and access to other health needs while incarcerated could help address these issues.

“Educate them about their high risk and vulnerability when they return to the community and provide them with Naloxone,” a medication that used to treat opioid overdose, Chandler said.

The National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) recommends pharmacotherapy and evidence-based behavioral treatment to ensure that incarcerated people who enter the system with addiction, leave with the resources they need to rehabilitate.

The commission reports that rehabilitation can reduce relapses and recidivism, meaning it is less likely that someone who leaves jail or prison will be jailed or imprisoned again soon after.

The U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment on standards of correctional care regarding substance abuse disorders.

NIDA recommends that treatment must begin during incarceration and be maintained after release through community treatment programs to end the cycle of drug addiction, substance abuse and incarceration.

The more addiction is policed and stigmatized, experts say, the more likely the rise in deaths are to continue.

“The war on drugs has criminalized behaviors that are associated with drug use … and these highly vulnerable people are often sort of cycling in and out of this system,” Chandler said. “Good public health is good public safety — they’re not competing.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Oakland Zoo begins experimental COVID-19 vaccine program on its wildlife

Oakland Zoo

(OAKLAND, Calif.) — The Oakland Zoo has begun a vaccination program to inoculate their highest risk animals from COVID-19 with an experimental vaccine that has been authorized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The Oakland Zoo received their first shipment of the experimental vaccine developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis and began to give doses to their tigers, black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions and ferrets, who were the first animals to receive the vaccine, according to a statement from the Oakland Zoo. They next plan to give doses to their primates, including chimpanzees, as well as fruit bats and pigs.

“Up until now, we have been using public barriers at certain habitats to ensure social distancing, along with enhanced PPE worn by staff to protect our susceptible species from COVID-19. We’re happy and relieved to now be able to better protect our animals with this vaccine, and are very thankful to Zoetis for not only creating it, but for donating it to us and dozens of other AZA-accredited zoos across the U.S.,” said Dr. Alex Herman,VP of Veterinary Services at Oakland Zoo.

Zoetis plans to donate more than 11,000 doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine to help protect the health and well-being of more than 100 mammalian species living in nearly 70 zoos, more than a dozen conservatories, sanctuaries, academic institutions and government organizations across 27 states.

“We are proud that our innovative research and development work and vaccine donations can help veterinary professionals within the zoo community continue to provide a high standard of care to the primates, big cats, and many other species they care for and reduce the risk of COVID-19,” said Dr. Mike McFarland, Chief Medical Officer at Zoetis.

The experimental vaccine has been authorized for use on a case by case basis by the USDA as well as appropriate state veterinarians and comes after the San Diego Zoo requested help in January following an outbreak of COVID-19 among the zoo’s great apes.

“When the first dog was infected with COVID-19 in Hong Kong last year, we immediately began to work on a vaccine that could be used in domestic animals, and in eight months we completed our initial safety studies, which we presented at the World One Health Congress last year. While thankfully a COVID-19 vaccine is not needed in pets or livestock at this time, we are proud that our work can help zoo animals at risk of COVID-19,” said Mahesh Kumar, Senior Vice President, Global Biologics at Zoetis. “More than ever before, the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the important connection between animal health and human health, and we continue to monitor for emerging infectious diseases that can impact animals as well as people.”

Although the virus is the same as in human vaccines, vaccines for animals vary based on the carrier that is used, according to the Oakland Zoo.

“The unique combination of antigen and carrier ensures safety and efficacy for the species in which a vaccine is used,” said the zoo in the statement.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 75% of emerging infectious diseases have an animal origin, including COVID-19.

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