(NEW YORK) -- Two types of artificial tears eye drops have been voluntarily recalled following 55 reports of adverse use effects, including eye infections, vision loss and even a bloodstream infection that led to one death, according to federal officials.
The affected eye drops were distributed by Aru Pharma, EzriCare and Delsam Pharma under Global Pharma Healthcare.
According to a health alert released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday, federal, state and local health agencies have identified at least 55 individuals -- some in health care facilities -- across 12 states who had been infected with a strain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa that expresses bacterial enzymes, making it highly resistant to many antibiotics.
Those impacted were in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
Artificial tears are often used to relieve burning and irritation due to dryness of the eyes and provide lubrication while preventing further eye irritation.
"Use of contaminated artificial tears can result in the risk of eye infections that could result in blindness," Global Pharma Healthcare said in a recall statement posted on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website Thursday.
"Global Pharma Healthcare is notifying the distributors of this product, Aru Pharma Inc. and Delsam Pharma and is requesting that wholesalers, retailers and customers who have the recalled product should stop use," the statement continued. "...Consumers should contact their physician or healthcare provider if they have experienced any problems that may be related to using these over-the-counter drug products."
The CDC issues similar guidance, stating that anyone who may have used EzriCare's artificial tears and suspects they have an eye infection should seek medical care. Signs of an eye infection may include discharge from the eyes, pain or discomfort, redness of the eye or eyelid, blurry vision, increased light sensitivity, a feeling of something in the eye, according to the CDC.
The CDC also recommended people reach out to their health care providers if they were using the eye drops under the care of a doctor.
EzriCare, one of the distributors of the impacted eye drops, has set up a website with information for consumers.
"We immediately took action to stop any further distribution or sale of EzriCare Artificial Tears. To the greatest extent possible, we have been contacting customers to advise them against continued use of the product. We also immediately reached out to both CDC and FDA and indicated our willingness to cooperate with any requests they may have of us," the company said in a statement.
The artificial tears were available over-the-counter online. The CDC, FDA and EzriCare are advising consumers to discontinue using any recalled eyedrops.
When reached by phone, Delsam Pharma president Kuppusamy Arumugam told "Good Morning America" the eyedrops Delsam distributed were recalled after the company was notified of a problem with Ezricare's eyedrops. Arumugam said any recalled eyedrops from Delsam can be sent back to the company for a refund.
According to the FDA, the recalled eye drops were packaged in bottles with safety seals and small cartons, with Ezricare drops having the NDC number 79503-0101-15 and UPC number 3 79503 10115 7, and Delsam Pharma drops labeled with the NDC number 72570-121-15 and UPC number of 72570-0121-15.
(NEW YORK) -- Many were stunned when videos were released of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, being beaten to death by five Memphis police officers during a traffic stop.
Officers pulled Nichols from his car on Jan. 7, pepper sprayed him and used a taser, the footage shows. He managed to flee, but the officers caught up with him and held him on the ground as they punched and kicked him in the head and hit him with a baton, according to the video that was released last week.
Seven Memphis police officers have been relieved of duty, with the five involved in the beating charged with murder. Additionally, three Memphis Fire Department personnel were fired.
While it's unclear what motivated the officers to act in that way, psychologists and other social experts told ABC News some people act differently in groups than when they are alone and may participate in group-based violence because of it.
Police may misperceive someone as a threat
George Smith, director of outpatient group therapy at McLean Hospital -- a psychiatric hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts -- said police group violence might be different from other forms of group violence because they may act when they view someone as a threat.
"I was just thinking about the five police officers, and they may have believed that there was an actual threat, either to the community or to themselves," he told ABC News. "Thinking this person is a menace to the community, and we need to do something to protect humanity from this genuine threat, or it may be that they believe that this person was a threat to one of them."
"And when that happens, your good judgment can go completely out the window," he added.
Smith said the person police officers might think to be a threat could be completely innocent, but the violence can still occur anyway.
"Even in a more benign situation, when a traffic cop pulls somebody over, it may be a completely innocent person whose taillight was out," he said. "But they don't know if this person has a weapon in their glove compartment so there's this unnatural tendency for them to get adrenalized and to approach the situation in a more belligerent way than was warranted."
Wanting to feel part of a group
Experts told ABC News wanting to belong to a group is nothing new and extends from wild animals running in a pack to humans wanting to affiliate.
While joining a group may have been necessary for survival in prehistoric times, it is now for developing a sense of camaraderie and belonging, experts said.
"As people are part of a group, they start to feel identified with this group, they feel like it's an important part of who they are, they might even come to define themselves in terms of being a member of a group," Dr. Rebecca Littman, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago, told ABC News.
"There's different kinds of groups, some that are based on the premise of violence and others that are not," she continued. "So, you feel like you're very identified with this group, you want to be a good group member, you want to get along with everyone else. And that can lead kind of ordinary people who generally in their individual lives would never end up participating in violence."
Those same people, even though they know violence is wrong, may still participate because they'll feel shunned by the group if they don't.
"People are afraid of losing a social status, particularly when it's a group that they really care about," said Littman, who has studied why people participate in group-based violence. "They don't want to be ostracized or, even just in a less extreme form, they don't want to be seen as the odd person out."
Dr. Vivian Zayas, a professor in the department of psychology at Cornell University in New York, said if a person starts to go against what the group thinks, they might be seen as undermining the group.
"Strategically, there are consequences to people who don't work well in a group," Zayas told ABC News. "They can be left out of the group, they can be left out of decision-making, they can be marginalized, they could lose power and status. Those sorts of social punishments can be used to silence differing opinions."
Groups can normalize violent behavior
Research has shown that people's thoughts and actions are often influenced by how those around them think and act.
If a group normalizes a behavior, even if that behavior is bad -- such as violence -- then we might believe that behavior is acceptable.
"What can happen is that this group is creating this new set of social norms. Maybe in this group, we're often in situations where we feel a lot of threat and we have to protect ourselves, and the way we protect ourselves is violence," Littman said.
"So, you can kind of see how that violence in particular groups can become normalized in a lot of different ways and make people either themselves genuinely feel like it's okay or at least feel like this is what is normal in my group," she added.
Leaders can influence behavior
The experts told ABC News that because we are influenced by leaders -- and leaders set examples for the group -- if the leader believes in bad behavior, the group may follow.
"If that person has status in that group and if they're saying that the behavior is appropriate for group members -- even if initially, someone thought that the behavior is problematic -- they might feel that or come to think that it's more appropriate," said Zayas.
Zayas added that someone in the group might also see that the leader was elevated by engaging in problematic behaviors and wasn't punished or reprimanded so they think they can also engage in the behavior without getting in trouble.
Reports have emerged that Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis adopted a "tough on crime" strategy when she took on the role.
Part of that included launching the SCORPION unit, which stands for Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhood, of which the five officers were members. Activists and residents have said members of the unit used excessive force. The unit has since been disbanded.
"The process of listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders, and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignments, it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION Unit," a statement from the department read.
This doesn't mean that Davis advocated the use of violence nor that she encouraged her officers to be violent, but the officers may have felt they were fulfilling her mission, experts said.
"So, it became part of a shared mission and when you get that mission, and there's buy-in, because you're part of a group that believes this mission," Smith said. "One's ability to discern whether it actually is a perceived threat can get totally overshadowed by this belief that we together are saving the community from these threats that are out there."
In a video posted on Jan. 26, Chief Davis condemned the officers' actions and called the circumstances surrounding Nichols' death "horrific."
“I am not wavering in my commitment to you to have a police force that is here to serve and protect you," she said. "Those five officers and others failed our community and they failed the Nichols family and that is beyond regrettable.”
(NEW YORK) -- Shoppers have seen significant price spikes on eggs as of late and since everyone wants to make the most of their hard-earned money, there are a few simple rules and tricks you should know to prevent prematurely tossing or wasting the staple protein.
Most egg cartons sold in stores get stamped with a "best if used by" or "best before" date for stores to control and rotate inventory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture explains that the printed "expiration date" is there so consumers know how long the eggs will be at their highest quality and best taste when stored in ideal conditions.
"Use by" dates show shoppers how long they have to consume the eggs before their overall quality diminishes. According to the USDA, the "use by" date "may not exceed 45 days including the day the eggs were packed into the carton."
However, in many cases eggs can still be safely consumed beyond that date if they aren't spoiled.
Eggs can last up to five weeks after they were packed, when stored in proper refrigerator conditions, according to The American Egg Board.
Here are some Grade A tips from the USDA to keep in mind when you need to know if you still have a good egg:
How to properly store store-bought eggs
Eggs purchased at the store should be brought straight home and refrigerated immediately at 40 degrees or colder, the USDA advises: "Keep them in their carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator, not in the door."
Typically, the coldest part of the fridge is lower shelves and towards the back of the unit.
Due to risk of bacteria growth and salmonella, don't leave store-bought eggs out of the refrigerator for more than 2 hours. Any bacteria present in an egg can multiply quickly at room temperature, according to the USDA. When a cold egg sweats at room temperature, it can cause bacteria to move into the egg and spread more easily.
How long are eggs good once cracked?
Because bacteria can enter eggs through cracks in the shell, the USDA says to never purchase an egg that's cracked.
"If eggs crack on the way home from the store, break them into a clean container, cover it tightly, keep refrigerated, and use within two days," the agency states. "If eggs crack during hard cooking, they are safe. Remember that all eggs should be thoroughly cooked."
How to use water to test if eggs are still fresh
Despite a "best by" or "packed on" date -- or if you have a couple extra eggs out of their carton in the fridge and don't remember when they got there -- this sink or float test is a good baseline to determine if an egg is still fresh.
First, fill a bowl with enough cold water to cover the egg, and gently lower the egg in.
If it sinks to the bottom and stays on its side, the egg is very fresh, according to The Spruce Eats, which regularly tests common kitchen and cooking tricks like this one.
An egg that sinks to the bottom but floats on an angle or upright is slightly older but still safe to eat.
Eggs that float completely should be discarded as they're too old to safely consume, The Spruce Eats notes.
As eggs age, the shell becomes more porous so more air is able to flow through and can create a larger air pocket between the egg membrane and shell. That small sack of air, once large enough, is what makes the egg float.
How long do you have to safely eat eggs once cooked?
Cooked eggs and dishes made with eggs should be eaten immediately after cooking. They can also be stored in a shallow container for quick cooling and then refrigerated for later use within three to four days.
When it comes to hard boiled eggs, the USDA states that the shell's protective coating, or "bloom," which is produced by a hen when it lays an egg, gets washed away "leaving bare the pores in the shell for bacteria to enter and contaminate it."
For that reason, the USDA recommends hard-cooked eggs be refrigerated within two hours of cooking and used within a week.
How long do farmers market eggs stay fresh?
Because farm stands and farmers aren't bound by the same USDA requirements to be washed, these eggs are often sold unrefrigerated and protected by their bloom.
According to The Happy Chicken Coop -- an online publication and "group of chicken enthusiasts from around the world who have been raising chickens in their backyards for decades" -- farm fresh eggs can be left unrefrigerated for up to a month, though after that, should be stored in a refrigerator, where they can be kept for up to six months.
Freeze raw eggs to use later
Yes, you can freeze eggs, just not in their shell because they will expand and break. So if you know you won't finish an entire carton before the expiration, this is a great way to cut down on food waste.
According to The American Egg Board, there is a simple way to freeze eggs.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, gently whisk until whites and yolks are combined (not so much that air is introduced), and pour the eggs into an ice cube tray to freeze in individual servings. One cube is approximately half an egg. Once the cubes are frozen solid, transfer from the tray into a freezer-friendly, air-tight plastic bag.
Chef Jürgen David, director of pastry R&D at the Institute of Culinary Education, told ABC News' Good Morning America that he suggests separating the whites from the yolks first "because many pastry applications call for just yolks or an unequal amount of yolks and whites."
Gently beat the yolks until it forms a liquid and freeze and store as explained in the first method. One cube equals two egg yolks.
For the whites, pour directly into an ice cube tray, then freeze and store accordingly.
Frozen eggs keep best for two to three months, but can last up to a year in the freezer.
When ready to use the frozen eggs, thaw them in the refrigerator overnight or under running cold water and use them as intended.
(NEW YORK) -- When the highly infectious Mpox virus, formerly called Monkeypox, was declared a public health emergency in August of last year, more than 450 people were testing positive every day. With more than 30,000 cases and 28 deaths, many feared Mpox could become the next pandemic.
The virus -- characterized by a painful rash and deep lesion -- was primarily spreading via skin-to-skin contact among sexual networks.
Now, roughly six months later, the emergency is over, with the nation averaging fewer than three cases per day. According to doctors and public health experts interviewed by ABC News, the virus didn't disappear on its own. Instead, the virus was controlled through an aggressive, highly coordinated public health response.
"Mpox is a success story of conquering an outbreak," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.
The successful control of Mpox was due largely to the rapid deployment of vaccines and treatments paired with an aggressive public awareness campaign that leveraged trusted voices in the LGBTQ community, which was hit first by the outbreak.
"Of course there have been criticisms," said Dr. Vincent Hsu, an infectious disease specialist and AdventHealth's infection control officer. "But the fact remains that in a relatively short period of time, we have been able to get the number of cases down to where there's just very few."
Key to that success was public outreach and education.
"Health departments and community advocates got the message out about Mpox -- how the disease presented, how it was spread, how it could be treated and how it could be prevented, including vaccination," said Dr. Roy M. Gulick, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. "The sharp decrease in cases directly resulted from these efforts."
Public health experts credited a strong, unified response from leaders in the LGBTQ community. In fact, the rapid response in the LGBTQ community did not allow the virus to spread even further, Hsu said.
"The LGBTQ community has a strong record of community advocacy and successful interactions with the public health system from the time of the HIV epidemic," said Gulick. "Education led to behavior changes in the community, including limiting the number of sexual partners, as well as the enthusiastic uptake of the vaccine."
"Some of the secret sauce came around communication," added Chin-Hong, including "using trusted messengers from the community" to deliver the message. Chin-Hong pointed to Reggie Aqui, an ABC anchor in San Francisco and an openly gay man, as an example. Aqui was nominated for a GLAAD award for his work and community discussions about Mpox.
Another smart move was appointing Dr. Robert Fenton and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis to head the federal government's MPox response, Chin-Hong said. Fenton and Daskalakis deployed evidence-based guidelines which helped doctors like him feel comfortable trusting their advice, he said.
Beyond education, an equally crucial factor in controlling the outbreak was the rapid deployment of existing vaccines and treatments that had been stockpiled for smallpox, a closely related virus.
"The prior availability of therapeutics meant we weren’t flying the plane as we were building it," said John Brownstein, an ABC News contributor and chief innovation officer at Boston's Children's Hospital.
In August -- with limited supplies of the only FDA-approved mpox vaccine -- government public health officials made a controversial choice to break up a single vaccine into multiple doses, tweaking the route of administration to maximize the body’s immune response.
Thankfully, this new vaccine strategy worked -- as did existing treatments, according to doctors and public health experts.
Still, experts warn the virus hasn’t been fully eradicated and could return. Although "the emergency is largely over," Hsu said, "we need to continue to be vigilant."
"The Mpox response is now a model by which to prepare for future infectious disease threats," Brownstein said.
Added Chin-Hong: "I think Mpox generally provides a great playbook of how to deal with an outbreak: the alignment of science and politics needed, a national a local strategy that was implemented and having strong and unified consistent messaging that is empathic and specific."
(NEW YORK) -- A new warning from the Food and Drug Administration urges consumers to beware of marketers attempting to sell illegal and unproven mpox "medication" and "cures" in order to swindle scared, vulnerable people and bilk them out of their money.
The agency also shared a series of pictures of the alleged illegal products for sale.
These products, often sold online, have not been reviewed by FDA, the agency says, and are not proven safe or effective to treat mpox and other health conditions that they claim to address.
Several warning letters have been sent by FDA to the companies allegedly peddling these products.
One company's website falsely claims that an "herbal natural remedy" for mpox comes from the carnivorous purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia Purpuria, the agency said.
"For decades, research has shown the effectiveness of Sarracenia Purpurea (Pitcher Plant) against past outbreaks of small pox [sic] in the 19th Century, found to halt viral replication in viral, derived from the Variola Virus also associated with Monkey Pox," the company's site says, according to FDA's warning letter.
FDA notes that site also uses additional metatags and social media posts with key terms like "Monkey Pox," "Herbal Natural Remedy" and "remedy coming soon!" to bring consumers to their site for purchases.
Another company's site, which appears to target young parents, allegedly falsely claims that colloidal silver can help fight viral infections -- not only mpox, but also COVID-19, RSV and other upper respiratory tract infections.
The FDA quotes this company as saying on its website, "What Can Colloidal Silver Treat? … As an antiviral, silver can kill the virus that causes COVID-19 and may be an effective adjunctive treatment. There is also evidence that it may be effective against other viruses of interest including monkeypox, herpes, RSV, and viruses that cause upper respiratory tract infections (like influenza)."
Claims like these are particularly concerning in light of their appeared marketing toward infants and children, the agency says -- with marketers allegedly preying on parents' scrambling to take care of their kids after a difficult fall and winter when pediatric patients were slammed hard with the tripledemic of RSV, Covid, flu and other viruses -- amid notable shortages of the cold, fever and cough medications which are actually approved to help their symptoms.
The FDA said it's "particularly concerned" that the second company marketed their colloidal silver product "for use in infants and children," the letter says. The agency singled out a blog post for parents that advertised the product as tasting "like water and is easy to give to even the pickiest kids."
"The use of untested drugs can have unpredictable and unintended consequences, especially in vulnerable populations such as children and infants who may be at greater risk for adverse reactions," the FDA said, since their bodies absorb and metabolize drugs differently.
Health experts say the best way to get medical care for mpox -- or any other malady -- is to speak with your healthcare provider. Wellness products aren't rigorously tested and don't have great oversight, especially on the internet -- something which marketers know they can take advantage of, according to experts.
(NEW YORK) -- The growing popularity of drugs like Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy, designed to help people with Type 2 diabetes and obesity, has raised new questions about what those drugs could mean for pregnancy and fertility.
The medications, all brand names for a compound called semaglutide, have grown in popularity thanks to reported use by celebrities and posts from everyday people on social media about successful weight loss, many from women of childbearing age.
Given as a daily oral medication or weekly injection, drugs like Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy, called GLP-1 RAs, help people produce insulin and lower the amount of sugar in the blood.
They also work by slowing down movement of food through the stomach and curbing appetite, thereby causing weight loss.
Side effects of the drugs can include severe nausea and constipation.
Because semaglutides are relatively new on the market -- approved by the Food and Drug Administration within the last five years to treat Type 2 diabetes and obesity -- there is still research to be done on exactly how they impact women of childbearing age, experts say. In addition, people who don't have diabetes or obesity can still be prescribed the drugs "off-label," which may have different impacts.
ABC News' Good Morning America spoke with two experts who shared the latest on semaglutides and pregnancy.
Are Ozempic and other semaglutide medications safe to take during pregnancy?
No, according to Dr. Amanda Velazquez, director of obesity medicine in the Department of Surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"This class of medications are not recommended for women who are pregnant," Velazquez told GMA. "There have not been any studies that have been conducted to test these drugs in women who are currently pregnant, so they're not at this time recommended."
The FDA also says in its safety profiles of Ozempic, Wegovy and Mounjaro that they should not be taken during pregnancy, noting there is "insufficient data" available.
The FDA also explains that the drugs could cause weight loss, and that "weight loss offers no benefit to a pregnant patient and may cause fetal harm."
Velazquez noted that in addition to there not being enough human research to show GLP-1 RAs are safe during pregnancy, animal studies have shown complications.
"For a human, what's the effect on baby or mom? We don't know," she said. "However, from animal studies we know that animals that were on these medications and pregnant, it reduced the embryo size and it can cause abnormalities, developmental abnormalities, for the developing fetus."
How long do you have to be off a semaglutide medication before getting pregnant?
The FDA recommends that people discontinue semaglutide treatment at least two months before they plan to become pregnant.
Dr. Sarah Lassey, a board-certified OB-GYN and co-director of the diabetes in pregnancy program at Boston's Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that window of time allows the medication to leave the body.
"We know that these medications can kind of be in your body for a longer period of time," Lassey told GMA. "So we recommend transitioning off of this class of medication essentially two to three months prior to when you plan to start getting pregnant."
Going off of the medications should be done under the supervision of a medical provider, just as when you start the medications, according to both Lassey and Velazquez.
Is the risk of semaglutides and pregnancy atypical?
No, according to Velazquez.
"This is a very standard risk," she said. "These drugs are like drugs in other medical classes that we use in the sense that you shouldn't be looking at these as unique."
Velazquez said the medications for Type 2 diabetes and obesity should not be looked at differently than other drugs that a person would take for heart disease or high blood pressure, for example.
"It's not the drugs, it's that we see them as an option versus something that's medically necessary," she said, "when really this is medically necessary for many patients who find it difficult to lose weight, and that's 70% of the population who are overweight or obese right now."
Why would a person who wants to become pregnant take a semaglutide medication?
Drugs like Ozempic, Mounjaro and Wegovy can be very effective in helping people lower their blood sugar levels and get to a healthy weight, which can be critical for a healthy pregnancy, according to Lassey.
"We know that poorly controlled diabetes during pregnancy is associated with both maternal and fetal outcomes in a pregnancy," she said, noting those risks can include miscarriage, birth defect, stillbirth and preeclampsia. "Our way to prevent any of these adverse outcomes is to control blood glucose levels and hemoglobin A1c in the time prior to conceiving as well as throughout the pregnancy."
Lassey said that while the medications aren't recommended generally for people who want to become pregnant in a short amount of time, for others, they can be lifesaving.
"If you're a 20 to 30-year-old with diabetes and obesity, potentially, I think these classes of medications have really significant benefit for improving your blood sugar values and improving your overall cardiovascular profile," she said. "So we'd recommend those medications knowing that down the line, if and when you were to conceive, we would have to change those medications."
Do semaglutide medications impact fertility?
Lassey said there is not enough long-term research at this point to know how the medications may impact fertility.
"We just don't know," she said, adding, "However, we know that when people have better blood sugar control and things like that, they have lower rates of miscarriage and improvement in their fertility, typically."
What to do if you get pregnant while taking a semaglutide medication
A person who becomes pregnant unexpectedly while taking a semaglutide should contact their healthcare provider, who can help them transition off the medication and make sure they are receiving proper maternal care.
The FDA also says on its website that there will be a "pregnancy exposure registry" that monitors outcomes in women "exposed to semaglutide during pregnancy," and says pregnant women who are impacted and healthcare providers should contact the drug's manufacturer.
Can you take a semaglutide medication while breastfeeding?
No, the medications have not been proven to be safe while breastfeeding, according to both Lassey and Velazquez.
"The data about breastfeeding, even about the availability of whether or not you can find these drugs in the breast milk, is very limited," Lassey said. "It just hasn't been studied yet, so we wait to initiate these medications until patients report that they have stopped breastfeeding."
Both doctors also said that knowing that the medications will need to be stopped during pregnancy and breastfeeding should not prevent a person from considering them.
"This shouldn't be a barrier to one trying out these drugs if they qualify and if they think this would be a good adjunct to their treatment plan from their healthcare provider," said Velazquez. "What we do is we start the drug, in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle plan, we help them lose weight, improve their weight-related medical conditions and optimize their health for a healthier pregnancy and a healthier overall being ... and then you [can] resume the medication once you're done breastfeeding."
(NEW YORK) -- With the nation still in the grips of an opioid epidemic that began decades ago, the crisis has deepened in recent years with the introduction of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.
The driving force behind a record-breaking 100,000 overdose deaths per year, fentanyl is now being laced in traditional opioids like oxycodone and heroin, and increasingly, in non-opioids like cocaine and various counterfeit pills.
But with its high death rate, why would drug dealers lace drugs with fentanyl, effectively killing off their potential customers?
According to experts, there are many reasons fentanyl has become such a widely used illicit drug, despite its high overdose potential.
Fentanyl is not always a death sentence
Fentanyl isn’t just a street drug. It is also a legal painkiller than can be given safely under the right circumstances.
When it comes to why some people overdose after taking fentanyl and some do not, it’s really “the fluctuation in purity that makes it unpredictable and deadly,” according to Nabarun Dasgupta, PhD, epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying opioids.
According to law enforcement officers and former drug dealers interviewed by ABC News, drug dealers often think they can mitigate the risk for their clients by measuring the fentanyl carefully.
Done correctly, lacing illicit drugs with fentanyl often creates a return stream of customers because fentanyl is considered highly addictive. This is why fentanyl is often found in drugs like cocaine, counterfeit Xanax, counterfeit Adderall, or other drugs not classified as opioids.
“Fentanyl is good for business if you layer addiction into it,” Dasgupta said.
Fentanyl is a cheap alternative to other opioids
A fraction of fentanyl could mimic the highs of other opioids, like heroin or prescription painkillers. Dealers will often use simple binding agents and a small amount of fentanyl when making counterfeit opioid pills or what they say is heroin, according to law enforcement.
Because a smaller dose has a similar effect relative to other opioids, it is also easier to smuggle.
Eric Falkowski, an incarcerated former fentanyl dealer interviewed by ABC News, claimed he could make over ten times the amount of counterfeit opioid pills with a kilo of fentanyl rather than with a kilo of traditional components.
Fentanyl production does not have tight quality control
Legal pharmaceutical products are manufactured with safeguards in place to ensure quality control. Drug dealers may not have professional chemistry skills and may not have quality control tests, which means that small mistakes when mixing the drug can be fatal.
“Street drugs have gotten a lot more variable since the start of the pandemic. Now you have mom and pop shops making street drugs - that creates disincentives for stability and control,” Dasgupta said.
In a phone interview with ABC News from prison last year, Falkowski spelled out his process and blamed the death in Tennessee on faulty equipment/mismanagement.
“I felt like I could mitigate some of the dangerousness by using better manufacturing techniques […] and that worked for a long time.” He said, adding that the Tennessee overdose outbreak caused by his counterfeit pills “really came from some inadequate procedures and equipment."
Falkowski was ultimately convicted and sentenced to up to 25 years in prison in 2018 for intentionally adding fentanyl to counterfeit pills that resulted in someone's death and over a dozen near-fatal overdoses in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Overdose deaths usually lead to investigation by law enforcement, which is bad for business and can often result in the dealer's arrest. However, the drug is so profitable that it's worth the risk. Falkowski told ABC he was able to have "a pretty long run” selling drugs laced with fentanyl before his pills killed someone.
(UVALDE, Texas) -- Gladys Gonzales says she felt the urgent need within hours to find mental health services for her 10-year-old daughter, Caitlyne Gonzales, who survived the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
"I came home to the realization of what had transpired, and it hit me that they had undergone a terrible, terrible thing, and so I knew right then and there that she was going to need in-depth therapy," the mother told ABC News.
Nineteen children and two of their teachers were shot to death by an 18-year-old shooter, a former student, who attacked the school on May 24, 2022. Caitlyne's best friend, 9-year-old Jackie Cazares, was one of the children killed.
Caitlyne has been outspoken since the shooting and has advocated for gun reform. She traveled to Washington, D.C, in December and called for an assault weapons ban to be passed on Capitol Hill.
"I decided to be a voice for my friends who can't use their voice no more," Caitlyne said at the time.
Gonzales said her daughter went through several traditional cognitive behavior therapists for post-traumatic stress disorder, but Caitlyne had a difficult time making progress and instead began "regressing." Gonzales says she even brought her daughter to the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center, a site for long-term mental health services offered by Uvalde County officials and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, however, Gonzales said the services weren't effective for Caitlyne.
Gonzales said that as Caitlyne began to regress, she lost interest in her favorite activities, became more isolated, and more paranoid about the thought of losing her mother.
It was last summer that Gonzales says she took Caitlyne to a grief camp in San Antonio and met a counselor who suggested Caitlyne try a form of therapy called eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR.
The American Psychological Association describes EMDR as an eight-phase treatment in which patients "briefly focus on the trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation." The bilateral stimulation is typically done with side-to-side eye movements or other rhythmic stimulations like taps or tones. This treatment causes a reduction in the "vividness and emotion associated with the trauma memories."
According to a spokesperson for the APA, EMDR is "conditionally recommended" in their 2017 Clinical Practice Guideline for the treatment of PTSD and "evidence that indicates that they can lead to good treatment outcomes."
In an email to ABC News, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization said that EMDR can be an effective treatment for children and is a recommended option for PTSD in the WHO guidelines.
Danielle Brown, an associate professor of social work at the University of Southern California and a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist who uses EMDR in her private practice, said that in simpler terms, EMDR "re-files" traumatic memories and allows the brain to make new connections around them.
"We're not wiping out memories, but we're reprocessing and reintegrating them with more positive—more kind of clear-eyed associations—so that it's something that you'll remember but it won't trigger the same emotional or physiological response that we see in PTSD," Brown said in an interview with ABC News.
Gonzales says Caitlyne's struggles with talk therapy caused some of those emotional and physiological triggers, but in addition to this, Gonzales recalled one specific example in which she says a cognitive behavioral therapist dismissed her concerns.
"That therapist—after one session—told me, 'There's nothing wrong with her,' those were her words and I was just shocked," Gonzales said.
But Gonzales knew better since Caitlyne opened up to her about how she was feeling, and she says she also began experiencing night terror, which left Caitlyne unable to sleep alone because of excruciating fear. Gonzales also attributed her current graduate studies in counseling at Sul Ross Rio Grande College, and her previous work as a mental health caseworker for children who had severe emotional disturbance.
Caitlyne was officially diagnosed with PTSD in December, Gonzales said.
Gonzales said she had never heard of EMDR prior to the grief camp's recommendation, and after an arduous approval process and waitlist, Caitlyne finally started EMDR therapy in San Antonio in January.
"I made a promise [the day of the shooting] that I would help my daughter the best to my ability, and if it's driving an hour and a half to two hours to get her the appropriate health services, then so be it," she said.
The 10-year-old survivor immediately expressed her satisfaction after the first session and her mom said she is finding success so far with EMDR.
Brown, who does not treat Caitlyne, said she is not surprised to hear about the trajectory of Caitlyne's therapy.
"A lot of CBT approaches have you retell or recount the story start to finish, which is problematic in a couple of ways," Brown said. "If you don't have the language for the experience—which often happens in trauma because our language centers can turn off during a trauma—you'll hear victims sometimes say, 'I don't have the words,' or 'I can't articulate it,' because literally the language isn't there, so there's not a cohesive narrative to describe."
"The other problem is that sometimes recounting the details, that in itself is re-traumatizing," she said. "So with EMDR, we approach it from a different way. You don't have to have all the words and you don't have to have all the memories for it and you don't have to retell the story and relive it as we're reprocessing the events or the memory."
Gonzales said she now aspires to become an EMDR therapist and hopes that spreading awareness about her daughter's experience will help inform other families dealing with PTSD.
"If a therapist doesn't work for your child, don't stay there, move on to the next one until you do find the correct therapist for your child," she said. "For kids going through PTSD and trauma, it's so important because they already have these risk factors in the future, and I would hate for them to fall into the cracks just because they didn't receive appropriate treatment."
Even though CBT did not work for Caitlyne, it still remains one of the recommended interventions for PTSD, according to the APA.
(NEW YORK) -- The amount of time babies spend watching computer, TV and phone screens in their first year of life may be indirectly linked to lower cognitive skills later in life, according to a new study.
Babies who watched on average two hours of screen time per day performed worse later on, at age 9, on executive functions, according to the study, which was published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
Executive functions, linked to long-term academic success, are defined by the study's researchers as "a collection of higher-order cognitive skills essential for self-regulation, learning, and academic achievement, as well as mental health."
The researchers studied more than 400 children.
"They did EEGs to test and study brain waves at about 18 months and then connected the dots between how much screen time they were seeing in infancy to how they performed on memory and attention tests around the age of 9," explained Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News chief medical correspondent, who was not involved with the study. 'What they found was that the babies who had the most screen time ... did the worst on attention and memory testing by age 9."
The study did not prove that screen time directly leads to lower cognitive functioning. Other factors, such as a family's income level, also seemed to be linked to lower cognitive functioning scores.
Nevertheless, the findings track with guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under the age of 2 should not have any screen time.
The AAP recommends that children between the ages of 2 to 5 be limited to just one hour of screen time per day that is supervised by a caregiver.
More than 75% of children younger than 2 and 64% of kids ages 2 to 5 exceed the recommended guidelines, according to researchers at the University of Calgary, who analyzed over 60 studies looking at more than 89,000 children around the world.
Above the age of 5, the AAP says parents should set boundaries on screen time and work with their children to create a Family Media Use Plan that sets time limits and establishes guidelines on the type of media children are consuming.
"There are some studies that suggest with older children, particularly adolescents, that there could be some social or emotional advantages," Ashton said. "So it’s really not only how much, it's what our teenagers and children are consuming on the screen that really makes a big difference."
Earlier this week, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy made headlines by saying he believes 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms, despite some of the most popular platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, setting that as their minimum age requirement.
Social media use has been linked with symptoms of depression and anxiety, body image issues, and lower life satisfaction for some teens and adolescents, research shows. Heavy social media use around the time adolescents go through puberty is linked with lower life satisfaction one year later, one large study found.
Not every teen has those experiences. Researchers are still working to understand who is most at risk of negative effects from social media, and it's not clear yet if there are differences in mental health effects based on when kids first start using social media.
For parents trying to navigate guidance around social media and screen time with their kids, Ashton shared these four tips:
1. No phones at the table for meals or family gatherings.
2. Stop screen time one hour before bedtime.
3. Keep phones and screens out of the bedroom when sleeping.
4. Lead by example as parents by limiting your own screen time and social media use.
(NEW YORK) -- On May 11, the U.S. will no longer officially be in a COVID-19 emergency for the first time since the pandemic began three years ago.
While hundreds of COVID-19 deaths are still reported each day in the U.S. -- adding to a toll of more than one million -- public health experts said the Biden administration is likely looking to end the national and public health emergencies related to COVID-19 because the omicron subvariants that are circulating are producing milder disease and the U.S. has high levels of immunity from previous vaccinations or infections.
The threat of the virus has also receded for many Americans, thanks to testing, treatments and vaccines.
Jen Kates, with the nonpartisan nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), called the end of the emergencies "symbolically a big change." But it will also alter systems that people have come to rely on without realizing they were temporary, at the same time that experts say that it's unclear what the future will hold.
"I think the administration is hoping that we are clearly transitioning into an endemic period, and that the pandemic period is in the past," Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, told ABC News.
"Now, that said, those of us in infectious diseases and public health are a little nervous. And the reason is, here we are at the end of January predicting what the circumstances will be in May," Schaffner added. "This is a very unpredictable virus."
Here are the biggest impacts of the public health and national emergencies ending, according to experts:
Millions could lose Medicaid
After three years of major enrollment increases for Medicaid, anywhere from five to 14 million Americans could soon lose their access to the government's health insurance program for low-income people and others, according to KFF, which focuses on national health.
And according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly seven million of these people could still be eligible but will fall through the cracks of the renewal process and lose their health insurance.
For context, almost 20 million people enrolled in Medicaid during the COVID-19 public health emergency, an increase of nearly 30% since before the pandemic, and uninsured rates dropped to record lows.
That increase was fueled by a rule under the public health emergency that barred states from removing anyone from Medicaid while the pandemic was at its worst -- allowing people to avoid the bureaucratic renewal processes that experts said could often lead to people losing their coverage even when they were still eligible.
But a recently passed law in Congress returned the right to states to disenroll people from Medicaid beginning on April 1, ending the continuous enrollment afforded to people during the public health emergency.
"This is going to lead to people who are eligible for the program losing out," said Kates, a senior vice president at KFF. "And so I think this is a concern right now, because they would lose coverage for all of their health care during that period."
In the year after the Medicaid rules change, KFF estimates that enrollment will decline between 5% and 13%.
There are efforts to catch some of those people who lose their Medicaid insurance, like a special open enrollment period through the Affordable Care Act.
And some Americans will be disenrolled from Medicaid because they get a job that offers health insurance instead -- or because they then are making too much money to qualify for Medicaid.
"As a person on the street, I understand where the government is going. But as a physician, I'm a little bit worried, because [losing Medicaid] makes a difference between the haves and have nots," Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told ABC News.
"Particularly with a price tag of $500 for a Paxlovid course [to treat COVID-19], $130 for a shot, we already know how much testing costs for going to Walgreens and CVS," he continued. "So I think all of these things together makes it difficult for everyone to protect not only themselves but each other."
New COVID costs for tests and treatments
The end of the public health emergency will mean that Americans start paying more for certain COVID-19 health measures, but the increase likely won't all be felt at once.
One of the most obvious new costs will be at-home rapid tests, which have been free for most of the time they've existed. People can get eight free tests a month covered by their insurance, for example, or order free tests in the mail from the government.
But that ends with the public health emergency on May 11, Kates at KFF said. The same is true for walking into a clinic or doctor's office to get a test. That could come with costs in the future, whereas it is free under the emergency order.
As for treatments, like the antiviral Paxlovid, that will depend on when the federal government's supply runs out, at which point insurance companies will change their policies. Until then, people will likely not see a huge cost increase on treatments.
"The federal declaration has big implications, mainly financial, that many people don't even realize," Chin-Hong said.
"All of a sudden, you have to be paying for copays and office visits, or even lab tests," he added. "And then people may not want to seek health care because they are afraid of paying some sort of copay or being saddled with a huge bill."
But vaccines will remain free for people with insurance. Because of work in Congress and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, COVID-19 vaccines are mandated to be covered by insurance -- through the end of the public health emergency and even once the government stops buying and distributing them for free.
Telehealth access remains through Medicare
Congress moved to ensure telehealth access for all Medicare recipients for the next two years, so the audio and video visits that those patients have come to rely on are not threatened by the end of the emergency.
As for people on private insurance, telehealth access will depend on state laws and insurance company policies. People can check with their providers for more information, as there's no one-size-fits-all answer.
Pandemic data may be harder to track
The public health emergency mandated that states share certain data with the CDC, like COVID-19 case counts and deaths. Though a senior Biden administration official said that the CDC will continue to encourage states to voluntarily share that information with them, some states will choose not to.
The result could be a cloudier picture of the pandemic, including less insight into possible infection surges and slower responses from health officials.
"It means that we won't be able to track simple things like hospital capacity," Chin-Hong said.
"So there'll be less ability to sound the alarm before the storm comes essentially," he said.
Schaffner, the professor of preventive medicine, said that the end of all the emergency measures will signal to the public that the pandemic is over -- when infections and deaths continue.
"Somewhere between 300 to 500 people die of COVID in the United States daily, at the present time," he said. "So we're going to have to keep our guard up. But if we declare an official end, I think the general public will hear that as a message that they don't have to worry about it anymore and that may lead, as you can imagine, to an increase in COVID."
Title 42 is still up in the air
The end of the COVID-19 emergencies is linked to a very different issue -- immigration.
The public health emergency has allowed both the Trump and Biden administrations to cite Title 42 of federal law to quickly expel migrants seeking asylum from the border based on the threat of spreading COVID-19.
While the Biden administration is now seeking to end Title 42, a group of mostly Republican-led states wants to keep it in place, arguing they would be harmed from the resulting immigration.
The issue is before the Supreme Court. Their decision will come sometime before June, when the court's term ends.
Student loan debt cancellation may get more complicated
Ending the COVID-19 emergencies could legally complicate the position the Biden administration has taken while arguing it has the ability to cancel government-held student loan debt for some 40 million Americans.
That plan has been challenged in court and goes before the Supreme Court next month.
The administration has been using the COVID-19 national emergency as justification for the secretary of education's authority to change the status and terms of the student debt.
"There was a national emergency that impacted millions of student borrowers. Many of those borrowers still face risk of default on their student loans due to that emergency. Congress gave the Secretary of Education the authority under the HEROES Act to take steps to prevent that harm, and he is," an administration official said in a statement to ABC News.
Nebraska and five other GOP-led states challenging the plan argued in court filings that the White House can't have it both ways, pointing to President Joe Biden's remarks last year suggesting Americans could live with the virus going forward.
"The government has been undermining what the [Department of Education] said in the rationale memo. As to the COVID-19 justification, the president declared 'the pandemic...over' in September 2022. And as to the current economic conditions, the White House announced that 'household finances are stronger than pre-pandemic,'" the GOP states argued.
(NEW YORK) -- The number of births in the United States increased in 2021 for the first time in seven years, reversing trends that continued during the pandemic, according to new federal data.
A report published early Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics showed there were 3,664,292 babies born in 2021, which is a 1% increase from 2020.
The figure marks the first increase seen since 2014. Between 2014 and 2019, births were declining by an average of 1% per year, and there was a decline of 4% from 2019 to 2020.
The report did not provide reasons for the increase, but Pew Research Center polls suggest women in the U.S. delayed having babies during the first year of the pandemic due to public health and economic uncertainty, so the rising number could be the result of a rebound.
The report also found the fertility rate for women in the U.S. rose by 1% from 2020 to 2021, sitting at 56.3 births per 1,000 women who are of reproductive age. It's also the first increase since 2014 after the rate declined by 4% from 2019 to 2020 and by 2% per year on average from 2014 to 2019.
Although the overall number of births rose from 2020 to 2021, the figure was still lower than the 7.74 million recorded in 2019, according to federal data.
When researchers looked at the number of births by race/ethnicity, disparities could be seen.
Among white and Hispanic women, the number of births rose 2% for each group between 2020 and 2021.
For Black and Asian women, the number of births declined by 2% from 2020 to 2021, and for American Indian/Alaskan Native women, the number of births declined 3%, the report showed.
According to the report, birth rates declined for women aged 15 to 24, rose for those aged 25 to 44 and were unchanged for the youngest age group, ages 10 to 15, and the oldest, ages 45 to 59.
The birth rate for those between ages 15 and 19 declined from 7% in 2020 down to 13.9 per 1,000 and the rate for those aged 20 to 24 fell by 3% to 63.3 per 1,000.
According to the report, both rates are record lows for their respective age groups.
By state, the number of births increased in 16 states from 2020 to 2021 and declined in one state, New Mexico. Of those 16 states, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire had the highest increases of between 5% and 6%.
The report also looked at infant characteristics. Researchers found the premature birth rate rose 4% from 2020 to 2021, to 10.49%, which was the highest recorded figure since at least 2007.
The biggest increase was among early pre-term infants, or those born under 34 weeks gestation, at 4% from 2020 to 2021 compared to late pre-term infants, which are those born between 34 weeks and 37 weeks gestation.
Additionally, the number of babies with a low birth weight -- less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces -- rose 3% in 2021 to 8.52 from 2020.
It comes after the low birth weight declined from 2019 to 2020 following nearly 29 consecutive years of increases.
(NEW YORK) -- U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said he believes 13 is too young for children to be on social media platforms, despite some of the most popular platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, allowing users to be that age.
Murthy told CNN on Sunday that he believes being on social media "does a disservice" to kids early in their teen years.
"I, personally, based on the data I've seen, believe that 13 is too early," Murthy said on CNN Newsroom. "It's a time where it's really important for us to be thoughtful about what's going into how they think about their own self-worth and their relationships and the skewed and often distorted environment of social media often does a disservice to many of those children."
Murthy did not say if there will be any official guidelines or advisory based on that perspective.
Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, requires users to be at least 13 years old to use its platforms, according to the company's website.
TikTok and Snapchat each also require users to be at least 13 years old, according to their respective websites.
Google, the parent company of YouTube, does not allow kids under age 13 to create their own Google Account. YouTube allows parents to set up a "supervised account" for a child under age 13, for which they can control the content settings, according to its website.
In most cases, the social media sites require people to enter their birth dates in order to sign up as users.
Murthy said he would like to see parents "band together" to keep their young teens off social media given they are allowed on the platforms starting at age 13.
"If parents can band together and say you know, as a group, we're not going to allow our kids to use social media until 16 or 17 or 18 or whatever age they choose, that's a much more effective strategy in making sure your kids don't get exposed to harm early," he told CNN.
Murthy's comments come just over one year after he issued an advisory highlighting a crisis in youth mental health, and said the need to address the issue was "critical."
Murthy's advisory noted that technology can have many benefits for youth, but can also expose kids to unhealthy content. It also urged stakeholders throughout society to take action to address youth mental health challenges.
Social media use is linked with symptoms of depression and anxiety, body image issues, and lower life satisfaction for some teens and adolescents, research shows. Heavy social media use around the time adolescents go through puberty is linked with lower life satisfaction one year later, one large study found.
But not every teen has those experiences. Researchers are still working to understand who’s most at risk of negative effects from social media, and it’s not clear yet if there are differences in mental health effects based on when kids first start using social media.
“We still know very little about what age is right for young people to start using social media, especially as social media use is very varied and impacts different people in different ways,” Amy Orben, a psychologist who heads the Digital Mental Health program at the University of Cambridge, said in an email to ABC News.
Tips for parents
With social media such a prevalent part of daily life, it may seem overwhelming for some parents to try to limit their child's use.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends no more than two hours of screen time or social media use a day for young people.
For children under the age of 2, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all.
For older kids, limits on screen time should be individualized and age-based, according to the AAP.
The AAP recommends parents encourage physical activity, set social media and screen time limits for older kids -- such as not going on social media while doing homework -- and create unplugged spaces, like the dinner table, in the home. The organization also recommends parents create a "Family Media Plan" with their kids that can help set priorities and act as a type of contract.
In 2019, ABC News' Diane Sawyer led a special report, that looked at the impact of screen time and social media.
In the special, a panel of experts shared tips for parents looking to rein in children and teenagers' use of technology, in their homes and in their day-to-day lives.
Here are their seven tips:
1. Children younger than 18 months should avoid screens entirely with the occasional exception of a few minutes of FaceTime with family, according to Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, director of Temple University's Infant Language Lab, and Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, a professor of psychology at New York's Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
2. For children older than the age of 2, limit screen use to one hour with parental supervision, according to Hirsh-Pasek and Dennis-Tiwary.
3. Have an open-ended discussion about screen time in the house and what family members feel they need. Allow everyone to weigh in on the conversation, according to husband-and-wife therapists Don and Carrie Cole of the renowned Gottman Institute in Seattle.
4. Agree on some simple things, like establishing one phone-free hour after dinner so that everyone can do something together, Don and Carrie Cole recommend.
5. Use social media to connect with each other rather than making it the enemy, according to the Coles.
6. If there's conflict or the screen-time plan doesn't seem to be working, take a deep breath, be kind to each other and begin again -- without criticism, defensiveness or contempt, according to the Coles.
7. Discuss the consequences for breaking a screen time limit ahead of time so that if your child has a meltdown, the consequence is known, according to Don Cole.
(NEW YORK) -- The World Health Organization said Monday that COVID-19 remains a public health emergency but the pandemic is at a "transition point."
The agency said its International Health Regulations Emergency Committee met on Friday to analyze data on the state of the pandemic.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus "acknowledges the Committee's views that the COVID-19 pandemic is probably at a transition point and appreciates the advice of the Committee to navigate this transition carefully and mitigate the potential negative consequences," the statement read.
According to a transcript of Tedros' speech at the meeting provided by the WHO, he said there is still a high risk of COVID-19 global transmission, which means the virus is still classified as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
However, he said the world is in the best position it has been in -- due to diagnostics, vaccines and treatments -- to beat back COVID.
"As we enter the fourth year of the pandemic, we are certainly in a much better position now than we were a year ago, when the omicron wave was at its peak, and more than 70,000 deaths were being reported to WHO each week," Tedros said during the meeting, according to a transcript provided by the WHO.
"When you last met in October, the number of weekly reported deaths was near the lowest since the pandemic began -- less than 10 thousand a week. However, since the beginning of December, the number of weekly reported deaths globally has been rising," Tedros continued. "But the global response remains hobbled because in too many countries, these powerful, life-saving tools are still not getting to the populations that need them most – especially older people and health workers."
Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital, said the WHO's comments show that the agency recognizes the public health emergency is winding down but that the virus' threat remains.
"What we have to remember is the pandemic won't end on a given day," said Brownstein, an ABC News contributor. "The metrics around cases, hospitalizations and deaths are painting a more optimistic picture and we're seeing more countries getting out of this acute phase."
He added that the danger of COVID is still very real, with deaths twice as high from COVID as they are from the flu.
"If you look at data around deaths, we're still seeing twice as many people dying from COVID than flu every season and flu is only a quarter of a year, and we're seeing that number," Brownstein said.
During the WHO meeting, Tedros urged groups at higher risk of severe disease and death -- including those who are immunocompromised and elderly -- to be fully vaccinated and boosted.
He also encouraged more countries to ramp up testing and use antivirals early on among those who test positive for COVID-19.
(NEW YORK) -- School-aged children faced significant learning loss during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, data shows.
The finding shows that, even though we have developed new tools, like effective vaccines, to protect us from COVID-19, long-term ramifications persist.
Children lost out on about one-third of what they usually would have learned during the academic year from 2020 to mid-2022, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.
"Children still have not recovered the learning that they lost out at the start of the pandemic," said Bastian Betthäuser, an assistant professor at the Observatoire Sociologique du Changement at Sciences Po in France and lead author of the new study, during a press briefing.
They didn't appear to lose additional ground as the pandemic went on, he said -- but governments also weren't able to recover the initial deficits, the study said.
The new data joins a bigger-picture evaluation of how the disruptions caused by the pandemic -- like school closures, widespread illness and social changes -- affected children's learning. And it's contributing to the growing efforts to figure out the best way to move forward.
"It's very hard to recover learning deficits, once they're there," Betthauser said during the press briefing.
To understand learning loss during the pandemic, researchers collected data from 42 previous studies from 15 countries, published within the March 2020 to August 2022 time frame. The researchers estimated that, collectively, students experienced a decline in knowledge and skills equivalent to approximately 35% of the overall school years' worth of learning. These deficits remained constant for the approximately 2.5-year time period studied.
The research team saw a similar pattern when they looked at data from the United States alone.
The new study also suggested that COVID-19 increased the educational inequalities between children of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Although most data was from high-income countries and middle-income countries, researchers found that students in middle-income countries had greater learning deficits than students in higher-income countries.
The new study also showed that math skills were harder hit than reading skills.
That might be because parents were better equipped to help their kids with reading than math, and the greater need for closer guidance in the STEM fields, the research team suggested in the study.
What contributed to learning loss?
The new study did not evaluate the actual causes of the learning losses, but experts point to a number of factors -- changes to the school environment, disruption in family life, limited face-to-face instruction, reduced extracurriculars, along with many other possibilities.
"There's been a lot of debate on how variation in academic decline plays out across states and policy choices about closing schools, but, at this point, it's not clear that school closure policies were the main driver of the drops in performance," Nathaniel Schwartz, director of applied research at Brown University's Annenberg Institute for School Reform, told ABC News.
And it's not clear what the alternatives could have been, experts said. During the start of the pandemic, when much was still unknown about the virus, policy makers and school leaders across the world had to make quick decisions and adapt to a volatile landscape.
Rachel Ohayon, a former 5th grade science teacher at a New York City charter school experienced the challenges of transitioning to online school. Setting disciplinary boundaries and simulating the classroom environment in a completely new virtual platform was not easy, she told ABC News.
"I think my school had a slight advantage because we gave out chrome books to our students, so they were all set up when we went remote," she said.
But even with these measures in place she said it was still difficult to achieve the same level of focus among her students.
School closings likely impacted more than just educational progress. Children's learning online may have also impacted their social and emotional development according to Paul Peterson, director of the program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University.
"The transition back to in person learning was exhausting and stressful, we had to deal with a lot of acting out and intense emotions as children came back to school," said Ohayon.
How do we help kids recover?
Along with understanding the learning gaps, experts are working to identify the best way to recover from them.
"There are two points of view: that we can make it up or that we can't make it up," Peterson said.
"I'm concerned we didn't really think about this during the pandemic -- what we would do the day schools reopened," he said.
Peterson added that actions taken to help combat these deficits may have been insufficient and too slow.
Schools are also struggling to find staff for programs that could try to close gaps, Shwartz said.
"Schools and districts are facing a landscape where hiring for these positions is difficult, where other ongoing work is crowding out possible new programs -- and truly, where many of the people in schools at both the staff and student level are often feeling drained," Schwartz said.
Betthäuser is more optimistic.
"I wouldn't say it's a hopeless case at all," he said in the briefing.
Peterson said one-to-one instruction may be the most effective type of intervention.
"My own view is that tutoring is the best intervention. It's expensive but allows you to target the intervention to the specific child," he said.
Parents can also use time at home to provide one-to-one support to their kid, he said.
In Ohayon's school, they tripled the size of the guided reading program in an effort to "close the gap from remote learning," she said.
It's hard to balance additional instruction against the risks of overloading kids with work.
"Kids only have so much capacity to take in new material to learn new skills," Betthauser said in the briefing.
He thinks summer time break may be a good time for targeted interventions.
"We know from the summer learning literature that there is potential for summer learning programs to help children learn and also to prevent inequalities from widening during this period," he said.
Experts said there needs to be a collaborative effort to critically assess how these gaps can be addressed. Such actions are especially critical in lower-income settings, where access and quality of education was already compromised. Students with special educational needs may also require extra attention.
Ohayon said her biggest takeaway as a science teacher was on the "importance of connecting with students." The best way she's found to help her students make up their gaps is by coming up with creative ways to engage them in the classroom.
"There's a lot that can be done," Betthauser said in the briefing, "I think it's important that we're honest about the size of the problem and try to match that."
(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it is withdrawing its emergency use authorization of a COVID-19 antibody therapy as a prevention tool because it is unlikely to be effective against variants that are currently circulating.
Evusheld, which is made by British-Swedish pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, AstraZeneca, was first authorized in December 2021 as pre-exposure prophylaxis against the virus for those who are immunocompromised and less likely to generate antibodies from vaccination.
However, the FDA said the medication does not neutralize several omicron subvariants including BQ.1, BQ.1.1, BF.7, BF.11, BA.5.2.6, BA.4.6, BA.2.75.2, XBB and XBB.1.5.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these subvariants make up at least an estimated 90% of cases in the U.S.
"This means that Evusheld is not expected to provide protection against developing COVID-19 if exposed to those variants," the FDA said in a press release.
"Today's action to limit the use of Evusheld prevents exposing patients to possible side effects of Evusheld such as allergic reactions, which can be potentially serious, at a time when fewer than 10% of circulating variants in the U.S. causing infection are susceptible to the product," the press release continued.
The FDA has been warning for months that Evusheld might not be very effective, starting in February 2022 when data showed a higher dose may be able to prevent against infection from omicron subvariants BA.1 and BA.1.1 than the originally approved dose.
As recently as Jan. 6 of this year, the FDA said it didn't believe Evusehld would be able to neutralize the XBB.1.5 subvariant "because of its similarity to variants that are not neutralized by Evusheld."
AstraZeneca did not immediately reply to ABC News' request for comment. In a statement, the pharmaceutical company said it is aware of the decision and that it is cooperating with the FDA.
"AstraZeneca will continue to work with the FDA and other health authorities to collect, assess and share relevant data regarding Evusheld and SARS-CoV-2 variants," the statement read. "Evusheld currently remains authorized in other countries where it is approved for COVID-19 pre-exposure prophylaxis and treatment, including the EU and Japan."
Evusheld is a type of monoclonal antibody treatment, which are a cocktail of antibodies that are manufactured in a lab and mimic the antibodies the body naturally creates when fighting the virus.
They bind to the spike protein, which prevents the virus from attaching to -- and infecting -- cells.
The FDA said if someone tests positive for COVID-19 and develops symptoms, they should contact their primary care provider and, if needed, ask to receive antiviral medications Paxlovid, molnupriavir or remdesivir, which work against the currently circulating variants.
Despite Evusheld losing emergency use authorization status, the FDA urged providers not to discard their doses of the drug.
"The U.S. Government recommends that facilities and providers with Evusheld retain all product in the event that SARS-CoV-2 variants which are neutralized by Evusheld become more prevalent in the U.S. in the future," the FDA said in its press release.