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Users of a lethal drug 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin are dying in far greater numbers than those reported by some federal agencies, a study of medical examiner reports in those states hardest hit by the epidemic reveals.

The most widely quoted figure for deaths linked to the use of fentanyl is from a nationwide alert issued March 2015 by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which estimated the number, between the end of 2013 through 2014, at 700.

But a study of medical examiner and other reports from eight of ten states where the largest number of seizures of fentanyl were reported reveals much larger and more frightening numbers.

More than 2000 fentanyl-linked deaths were reported in 2014 by medical examiners in those states, which include Ohio, Florida and Massachusetts.

In Ohio, in 2014, 502 died from fentanyl-linked overdoses, up from 92 the previous year, while 397 perished in Florida that same year, up from 185.

And in the small state of New Hampshire, where ahead of the state’s primary the presidential candidates were moved to raise the issue of opioid abuse but failed to specifically mention fentanyl, the 2014 death toll stood at 261, up from 19 the previous year.

Massachusetts reported 336 in the year up to the end of September, 2015.

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill to tackle the opioid abuse crisis, but it does not include specific language addressing fentanyl. The House Judiciary Committee is this week considering its own version of the bill.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an 80 percent increase in the number of fentanyl-linked deaths between 2013 and 2014, meaning it is a key driver of what health professionals and addiction experts are describing as a health emergency linked to opioid and heroin use.

In total, some 28,000 people died from opioid or heroin overdoses in 2014, up from 22,000 the previous year, and compared to 7,000 in 2001, according to the CDC. The centers, in a warning issued February, said the number of fentanyl seizures increased from 618 to 4,585 between 2012 and 2014, the majority in ten states in the east and midwest.

But the full extent of the fentanyl crisis may not yet have fully emerged, as many medical examiners across the country did not test for the drug until recently, marking the death as a heroin overdose.

The overall death toll would be even greater but for the wider availability of a drug called naloxone, also known as Narcan, which reverses the effects of an overdose, Even then, multiple doses are need to counter the effects of fentanyl.

Originally designed as pain medication for stage four cancer patients and severe burn victims, fentanyl is often prescribed to those suffering from much lesser pain, which made it easier for some to leak on to the black market.

Now, Mexican drug cartels are in the game, with chemists hired to make illicit fentanyl, which is then either mixed in with heroin or packed by itself and marketed as heroin. It is also mixed with cocaine and is now appearing in tablet form.

The demographic of those dying from fentanyl is mixed, though a high proportion are young, white, and male, often from suburban or rural areas, according to the CDC. Many progressed from pain killers to heroin, then often unwittingly to taking fentanyl.

Erin Artigiana, deputy director for policy at the University of Maryland’s Drug Policy, said fentanyl, both legal and illicit, is marketed and distributed as heroin.

On the numbers of deaths, Artigiana said, “The short answer is it’s probably more than 700. States have got better at identifying fentanyl as they realize the situation they have to address.”

“It’s easy to have a bad reaction especially if you do not know what you are taking.”

Michelle Hillman, interim director of communications at the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services, described it as a “serious problem” in the state.

“In 2014 alone, 1099 people died from unintentional overdoses. Opioids, including powerful combinations such as heroin cut with fentanyl, are taking almost four lives a day in the Commonwealth,” Hillman said.

Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healy have moved to tighten criminal sanctions against those caught with more a certain amount of fentanyl, making it a trafficking offense.

In a briefing, Healy’s office said fentanyl is a major contributing factor to the opioid and heroin epidemic, and to the sharp increase in overdoses.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, whose state has been badly hit by the crisis, introduced — along with Democratic colleague Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse — a bill to combat the health emergency.

The bipartisan bill was passed by the Senate 85-1 last month. It does not have any measures to specifically address the issue of fentanyl.

And Sen. Portman, a Republican, fears the bill now being considered by the House contains major changes to that passed by the Senate, specifically that it reduces the number of grants and allows states more control over what should be funded.

The House Judiciary Committee began considering its version of the bill Wednesday.

Photo: Fentanyl. Wikimedia Commons/ Alcibiades.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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