“It’s raining needles”: Drug crisis creates danger to public, environment

Activist Rocky Morrison, founder of the “Clean River Project” in Lowell, Massachusetts, holds up a fish bowl filled with used hypodermic needles found in 2016. Morrison leads a clean-up effort along the Merrimack River, which winds through Lowell.


They hide in weeds along hiking trails and in playground grass. They wash into rivers and float downstream to land on beaches. They pepper baseball dugouts, sidewalks and streets. Syringes left by drug users amid the heroin crisis are turning up everywhere.

In Portland, Maine, officials have collected more than 700 needles so far this year, putting them on track to handily exceed the nearly 900 gathered in all of 2016. In March alone, San Francisco collected more than 13,000 syringes, compared with only about 2,900 the same month in 2016.

People, often children, risk getting stuck by discarded needles, raising the prospect they could contract blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV or be exposed to remnants of heroin or other drugs.

It’s unclear whether anyone has gotten sick, but the reports of children finding the needles can be sickening in their own right. One 6-year-old girl in California mistook a discarded syringe for a thermometer and put it in her mouth; she was unharmed.

“I just want more awareness that this is happening,” said Nancy Holmes, whose 11-year-old daughter stepped on a needle in Santa Cruz, California, while swimming. “You would hear stories about finding needles at the beach or being poked at the beach. But you think that it wouldn’t happen to you. Sure enough.”

They are a growing problem in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, two states that have seen many overdose deaths in recent years.

“We would certainly characterize this as a health hazard,” said Tim Soucy, health director in Manchester, New Hampshire’s largest city, which collected 570 needles in 2016, the first year it began tracking the problem. It has found 247 needles so far this year.

Needles turn up in places like parks, baseball diamonds, trails and beaches – isolated spots where drug users can gather and attract little attention, and often the same spots used by the public for recreation. The needles are tossed out of carelessness or the fear of being prosecuted for possessing them.

One child was poked by a needle left on the grounds of a Utah elementary school. Another youngster stepped on one while playing on a beach in New Hampshire.

Even if adults or children don’t get sick, they still must endure an unsettling battery of tests to make sure they didn’t catch anything. The girl who put a syringe in her mouth was not poked but had to be tested for hepatitis B and C, her mother said.

Some community advocates are trying to sweep up the pollution.

Rocky Morrison leads a cleanup effort along the Merrimack River, which winds through the old milling city of Lowell, Massachusetts, and has recovered hundreds of needles in abandoned homeless camps that dot the banks, as well as in piles of debris that collect in floating booms he recently started setting.

He has a collection of several hundred needles in a fishbowl, a prop he uses to illustrate that the problem is real and that towns must do more to combat it.

“We started seeing it last year here and there. But now, it’s just raining needles everywhere we go,” said Morrison, a burly, tattooed construction worker whose Clean River Project has six boats working parts of the 117-mile (188-kilometer) river.

In Santa Cruz, California, the community group Take Back Santa Cruz has reported finding more than 14,500 needles in the county over the past 4 1/2 years. It says it has received reports of 12 people getting stuck, half of them children.

  • Why Ohio lawmaker wants emergency responders to ignore overdose calls

“It’s become pretty commonplace to find them. We call it a rite of passage for a child to find their first needle,” said Gabrielle Korte, a member of the group’s needle team. “It’s very depressing. It’s infuriating. It’s just gross.”

Some experts say the problem will ease only when more users get treatment and more funding is directed to treatment programs.

Others are counting on needle exchange programs, now present in more than 30 states, or the creation of safe spaces to shoot up – already introduced in Canada and proposed by U.S. state and city officials from New York to Seattle.

Studies have found that needle exchange programs can reduce pollution, said Don Des Jarlais, a researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York.

But Morrison and Korte complain poor supervision at needle exchanges will simply put more syringes in the hands of people who may not dispose of them properly.

After complaints of discarded needles, Santa Cruz County took over its exchange from a nonprofit in 2013 and implemented changes. It did away with mobile exchanges and stopped allowing drug users to get needles without turning in an equal number of used ones, said Jason Hoppin, a spokesman for the Santa Cruz County.

Along the Merrimack, nearly three dozen riverfront towns are debating how to stem the flow of needles. Two regional planning commissions are drafting a request for proposals for a cleanup plan. They hope to have it ready by the end of July.

“We are all trying to get a grip on the problem,” said Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini. “The stuff comes from somewhere. If we can work together to stop it at the source, I am all for it.”

Here’s what to do if you find a needle:

  • Don’t pick it up. You could get infected.
  • Call the proper authorities to come pick it up. Call a drug hotline or your local health department. Don’t call 911 unless there is a health risk, imminent danger, or an emergency.
  • If you opt to discard of it yourself (which is not advised), minimize hand contact. Use sturdy gloves, disposable tongs, a shovel or dustpan, and put needles in a puncture-proof container.
  • If you get poked, don’t suck the wound. Go immediately to your doctor, emergency room, or urgent care and ask about medical tests and immunizations.
  • Tell your kids about needle stick risks. Show them what a syringe looks like and use age-appropriate language to describe why they should stay away from it. Tell them if they see any needles to find an adult, who should follow the steps described above.



Opioid prescriptions dropped for the first time in the modern drug crisis

According to the CDC, opioid prescriptions are on the decline.

According to the CDC, opioid prescriptions are on the decline.

The number of prescriptions for opioids written by health care providers declined between 2012 and 2015, the government reported Thursday, introducing a glimmer of progress in efforts to quell the worst drug epidemic in U.S. history.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said prescriptions for highly addictive painkillers such as oxycodone dropped 13.1 percent over the three-year period, from 81.2 per 100 people to 70.6.

[Opioids hospitalize nearly 23 Mainers a day]

But Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s acting director, expressed tempered optimism about the first national decline in opioid prescriptions that the CDC has reported since the crisis began in the late 1990s. She said the prescription rate is still triple the level it was in 1999 and four times as much as it is in some European countries. Even at the reduced prescribing rate, she said, enough opioids were ordered in 2015 to keep every American medicated round-the-clock for three weeks.

“It looks a little bit better, but you really have to put that in context,” Schuchat said in an interview. “We’re still seeing too many people get too much for too long.”

The overprescribing of legal opioids sparked the addiction crisis, but some addicts eventually move to cheaper or stronger drugs, especially if they run into difficulty obtaining prescription opioids. In recent years the overdose death rate from illicit drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, has risen much faster than the rate of overdoses from medical narcotics. That means the decline in prescriptions may trigger fewer first-time addictions in the future, Schuchat said.

The improvement should be viewed “as prevention,” she said. “The fewer we get started, the fewer we get addicted to opioids.”

[The Penobscot County Jail is trying something new to fight the opioid crisis]

Gary Mendell, founder of the anti-drug advocacy group Shatterproof, noted “the improvements being made,” citing estimates that 80 percent of opioid abusers first become addicted to prescription narcotics, not street drugs. But, he said, the reduction is “not even close to what could occur in this country.”

In particular, Mendell said, prescribing practices should be measured and responded to in real time. The cumbersome CDC process of collecting data from states and counties is inefficient, he said.

“Can you imagine being on a conference call with a company and they announce data that’s two years old?” said Mendell, a former hotel executive. “There’s a simple saying in business: What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.”

The opioid crisis appears to have left no community untouched as it’s mushroomed into an epidemic since the turn of the century. Prescription opioids alone killed nearly 180,000 people from 2000 to 2015 and those overdoses, abuse and dependence on medical narcotics created an annual “economic burden” estimated at $78.5 billion, according to the new report.

In 2015, the latest year for which the CDC has released data, more than 33,000 people died of overdoses that involved an opioid, including more than 15,000 who had taken a prescription narcotic. Nearly 13,000 more were killed by overdoses of heroin.

State data and a nationwide survey conducted by the New York Times indicate that those figures may be rising sharply in 2016.

More than two million people are addicted to opioids, the government estimates. In 2014 alone, there were 1.27 million emergency room visits or inpatient hospital stays for opioid-related health problems, another government agency reported in June.

The critical shortage of treatment for people with opioid use disorder also has complicated plans by the President Trump and Republicans in Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. States confronting major drug problems have resisted federal proposals to roll back Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, which is helping to fund treatment for many people.

[Maine’s health care providers have a chance to save lives lost to opioids. It’s time they seize it.]

There are also indications that prescriptions for opioids have been dropping since 2015. In the past year, some private-sector data collectors have reported prescription declines on par with the data in the CDC report. Customers of Cigna Health Insurance, for instance, have consumed nearly 12 percent fewer opioids in the past year, according to Will Lopez, senior medical director of Cigna Behavioral Health.

The CDC report also confirmed another critical factor in the crisis: It found wide disparities in opioid prescriptions in counties across the nation. Doctors in some counties in hard-hit parts of Appalachia, the southwest and New England prescribed the equivalent of 958 to 5,543 milligrams of morphine per capita in 2015. In other locations, prescribers authorized zero to 454 milligrams in the same year.

The report also determined, as other researchers have, that opioids are more heavily prescribed in small town America, in counties with larger white populations, and in places where unemployment and Medicaid enrollment are higher. It also found that they are prescribed more frequently in counties where arthritis and diabetes rates are higher than average.

Still, those factors only explain about a third of the variation among counties, Schuchat said. “That suggests to me that clinicians may not know what the right amount of prescribing is. They may be prescribing based on custom and tradition and what they were taught” in medical school, she said.

In the last few years, medical and public health authorities, including the CDC, have been urging doctors to cut back on the number of pills, the dose and the duration of the prescriptions they offer – a turnaround from just 15 years ago, when a nationwide movement urged physicians to more aggressively treat their patients’ pain. Even before the CDC issued guidelines last year, studies were warning prescribers of the dangers of dispensing too many opioids.

The data indicate that at least some prescribers are heeding the message. Nationally, prescribing peaked at the equivalent of 782 milligrams of morphine per person in 2010, declining to 640 milligrams per person in 2015.

The study also found a continued increase in long-term prescribing of opioids. The average length of prescriptions rose steadily from about 13 in 2006 to about 18 in 2015, the data show. But Schuchat cautioned that as fewer people are receiving short-term prescriptions, those who take opioids for years for chronic pain may have skewed the average. The CDC has said that there is no evidence that opioids are effective long-term and suggests that people with chronic pain, one of the most common reasons for visiting a health-care provider, seek alternatives.

“Improving the management of chronic pain is very important,” Schuchat said. “There are multiple approaches. Larger-scale studies suggest that opioids, even high-dose opioids, are not in the long run effective for chronic pain, and in the long run may even be dangerous.”



Punjab University has submitted its report to the HRD Ministry to introduce distance courses to bring in more revenue.

Punjab University

Punjab University
Visa issue behind massive fall in number of Indian students in UK
IIMC to begin post-graduate course in Urdu journalism
VIT surpasses IIS Bangalore and IITs in terms of research paper publication in 2016
Delhi government to focus on skill-based education: More vocational training centres to be set up
IIT JAM 2017 to be held on February 12: Check out the paper pattern here

Following the implementation of 7th pay commission, the already bankrupt Punjab University will have to bear 30 per cent of the fiscal liability owing to the revision of employee’s pay scales.

The move comes after the Union Finance Ministry, in a letter, informed the university that the ministry will provide only 70 per cent of the revised pay scales and asked the university to bear the remaining 30 per cent, which is around Rs 150 crore.

The university, intimidated by the figures and its severed financial stance, expressed concerns over the ministry direction fearing the university will face irreparable financial crisis.

“If the government is saying that the university should pay 30 per cent of the fiscal liability and also generate money to clear its deficit, then PU will be in severe fiscal crisis and it will be hard to overcome the situation. It is a double harassment. Secondly, the autonomy of the institution should not be punctured, as being done by the government and MHRD. The PU is only autonomous by name now and there is no free hand in taking decisions,” said former president of Punjab University Teachers’ Association (PUTA), Mohammed Khalid, as reported in the Indian Express.

Fees hike in various courses

The university has, of late, mulled a hike in its tuition fees in various courses due to the revision of pay scales wherein the university was asked to bear 30 per cent of fiscal liability. It is decided that the university will hold a discussion at its syndicate meeting on January 21 regarding the proposal to increase fee structure to incur for the revised 7th pay commission.

It is speculated that there will be 12 to 13 per cent fees hike in the self-financed courses while 5 to 6 per cent will be hike in traditional courses, according to the proposal submitted by a committee
Fees for diploma courses will be increased to Rs 15,000 from the previous Rs 2,000
However, the committee has proposed to reduce fees for pharmaceutical courses from Rs 50,000 to Rs 25,000
Fees in law courses are proposed to decrease from Rs 25,000 to Rs 20,000, while fees for educational technology and vocational education will be reduced from Rs 43,000 to Rs 32,000
Distance courses to garner revenue

The university, in order to incur more revenue, has submitted it’s report to the HRD Ministry seeking permission to introduce distance education and online education in various courses. The university believed that introduction of distance education will bring more revenue.


School dropout is India’s biggest crisis, says Singapore Deputy PM

In picture, Deputy PM of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Bringing to light the high dropout rate in upper primary schools, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, on Friday said that schools in India are facing the “biggest crisis”.

Condition of Indian education through the eyes of Deputy PM of Singapore

What is the “biggest gap” in Indian education?

  • “The world’s second-most populous country also has the “biggest gap” between talent at the top and unfulfilled potential at bottom,” said Deputy PM on his first lecture of government think-tank Niti Aayog’s ‘Transforming India’ initiative
  • “India has the biggest gap, I know and I have spent many years in education.Talent at the top and the unfulfilled potential of those in the rest of the society. And these things can be fixed. And it is not by way of ever-increasing budgets,” he said
  • Highlighting the example of his own country,  the Deputy Prime Minister said it is not about spending more, but is about organisation and culture
  • “How do we recruit our teachers, how do we train them, how do we hold the teachers accountable, how do we provide for quality across the system and not just at its most exclusive end? How do we ensure that every school is a good school?” he explained.

About child’s education

  • Emphasising the need for social mobility, Shanmugaratnam said that experiments have shown that starting as early as possible in a child’s life cycle helps
  • “Intervention at pre-natal stage are critical, followed up with pre-school opportunities,” he said, adding that India has some notable schemes in this regard citing the results of the Integrated Child Development Services and Anganwadis
  • Rural-level intervention from reaching out to the mother and the child as early as possible and then schools can help to achieve the things, he added.

43 per cent students drop out before finishing upper primary school

  • “Schools are the biggest crisis in India today and have been for a long time. Schools are the biggest gap between India and East Asia. And it is a crisis that cannot be justified,” the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore said
  • As per data, the deputy PM said 43 per cent students drop out before finishing upper primary school. There is a dearth of 7,00,000 primary school teachers, 74 per cent schools have access to daily drinking water and only 53 per cent schools have girl’s toilets
  • He said this explains that when India took part in OECD PISA study in 2009, it was ranked 73rd out of 74 countries. “And this is in a country which has exceptional talent with people who go to IITs and IIMs and lead companies all over the world and are first-rated,” he added.

Higher education system- a big challenge

  • “Higher education system is a big challenge not only in India but all over the world US, UK, China, Europe and Korea,” he said
  • “We are over-producing graduates who go through a general academic education. We have over-academised learning. We are producing students who do not have the skills required in the real world. We have to re-orient our system to focus on the skills required in the real world,” he stressed.

His view on the socio- economic condition of India

Human Resource Development

  • On human resource development, Shanmugaratnam said, “Human capital development is not just what happens in first 12 years or 18 years of our life, it is about what happens through (rpt) through the life. It is about life-long learning. We need to refresh ourselves.”
  • “It means developing potential throughout life, having an infrastructure that encourages people to learn,” he noted.

Role of cities

  • Shanmugaratnam also underscored “a very special role” cities play in Reform, Perform and Transform, particularly in a large continental-scale society like India. “Because it is cities which are crucibles of both innovation and inclusivity,” he reasoned
  • “It is in cities where you get a working relationship between government, business, ITIs and schools. We have to empower them. Hold them accountable, give them some financial autonomy and hold competition among them. Cities will play a special role in future,” he predicted.

A strong nation is impossible without a strong society

  • Endorsing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy, Shanmugaratnam said that he had rightly emphasised that without a strong society, there is no strong economy and no strong nation
  • “And the social policies and the interaction between the social and economic policies have to be the primary arena for the government’s ambition. Social policy at the end of the day is economic policy,” he added
  • He concluded saying the need of the hour is “what the Prime Minister emphasised in his speech”
  • “It’s not just about budgets, it’s not just about programmes, it is at the end of the day about a social and political culture,” he added
  • He also stressed on the need for enhancing social cohesion and the need to bring various sections of society together
  • Drawing attention on developing culture, he said: “A culture that focuses on the long term is essential for all that we want to achieve in an inclusive society. Short-termism is an enemy of social mobility.”