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US overdose deaths hit record high as opioid crisis spirals further out of control

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overdose deaths hit record high

America’s spiralling opioid epidemic has helped push US overdose deaths to a record high, according to provisional data released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Drug overdoses are estimated to have killed just over 72,280 people in the US last year, which represents an increase of approximately 10% on 2016, which saw around 64,000 drug deaths.

With nearly 200 people losing their lives to overdoses across the US every day, the country’s drugs crisis is more deadly than Aids, firearms violence and road traffic accidents, none of which have been responsible for so many fatalities in a single year.

The vast majority of the deaths (nearly 49,000) were caused by opioids, which are being used by a growing number of Americans, and are becoming more potent.

West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio experienced the highest number of overdose deaths in 2017.

In total, the opioid crisis is now estimated to account for more than 1.5% of American deaths, more than the 1% of the population who died during the Vietnam War in 1968.

The rising death toll comes after US President Donald Trump last October declared the opioid crisis currently engulfing America a public health emergency, and laid out a number of measures his administration would take to help tackle the epidemic.

“As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue,” he told reporters at the White House.

“It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction. Never been this way. We can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic. We can do it.”

In January, the President signed a new bill designed to tackle the country’s opioid crisis into law.

The bipartisan INTERDICT Act provided Customs and Border Protection officers with $15 million of extra funding to be spent on new screening devices and lab equipment.

Taking to Twitter after signing the act into law, Trump wrote: “Yesterday, I signed the #INTERDICTAct with bipartisan members of Congress to help end the flow of drugs into our country.

“Together, we are committed to doing everything we can to combat the deadly scourge of drug addiction and overdose in the United States!”

Separately, Nebraska this week became the first US state to use fentanyl to carry out the death penalty.

The synthetic opioid was one of four drugs used to kill double murderer Dean Moore, who was put to death on Tuesday morning for killing two taxi drivers in 1979.

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Customs officers in Taiwan catch woman smuggling dozens of gerbils strapped to her legs

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smuggling dozens of gerbils

Coastguard officials on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen have caught a woman attempting to smuggle 24 gerbils in small bags strapped to legs.

Reportedly returning from a trip to mainland China, the 60-year-old Taiwanese woman was pulled aside for questioning after customs officers noticed that she walking in a strange way and acting nervously.

During a search of the woman, officials were surprised to find the animals individually wrapped in plastic bags that had been strapped to her legs and concealed underneath a long skirt.

The woman, identified by local media outlets only as Wu, is said to have claimed that she smuggled the gerbils into the country on behalf of friends having purchased them from a pet shop in China.

She is reported to have confessed to buying each gerbil at a price of 50 Chinese yuan ($7.38) for a male, and 150 Chinese yuan for a female.

In Taiwan, the going rate for a male gerbil is the equivalent of around $16, while a female can fetch up to double that amount.

Wu is said to have told investigators that she was paid a fee of 60 Chinese yuan to smuggle each gerbil into Taiwan.

Noting how the woman was unable to identify who she was smuggling the animals for, coastguard officials said she may have been testing security procedures at the port on behalf of a smuggling gang that may be planning to sneak other contraband past customs officials.

After being questioned by coastguard investigators, the woman was passed to the local prosecutor’s office and charged with violating Taiwan’s Infectious Animal Disease Prevention and Control Act.

The gerbils she attempted to sneak into the country were later destroyed.

In a similar incident earlier this month, customs officers caught a man attempting to cross from Malaysia into Singapore with four kittens stuffed down the front of his trousers.

In a statement issued on Facebook, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) of Singapore said: “On 2 January, ICA officers detected four live kittens concealed in the pants of a 45-year-old male Singaporean in a Singapore-registered car at Tuas Checkpoint.

“Officers were prompted to conduct further checks when they heard ‘meowing’ sounds coming from a bulge in his pants.

“The case was referred to Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) for investigation. The kittens are now under the care and quarantine of AVA.”

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Al Jazeera-owned beIN Media Group publishes sports content piracy allegations against Saudi rival

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sports content piracy

The Qatar-based beIN Media Group has published “dossier of evidence” on a new website that it claims demonstrates how Saudi Arabia-based pirate TV channel beoutQ and Riyadh-headquartered satellite provider Arabsat are stealing its content and repackaging it as their own.

beIN, a subsidiary of the Al Jazeera Media Network that runs a global network of sports channels, claims the website outlines how the two organisations have stolen its sports and entertainment content on “an industrial scale” over the past 18 months, detailing all the commercial rights that have been infringed since beoutQ was launched in August 2017.

According to beIN, its rival has “brazenly” stolen its original coverage of top sporting events from around the globe and repackaged it as its own, even producing its own beoutQ-branded set-top boxes.

The website, which beIN said will be regularly updated with details of legal challenges it launches against its rival, outlines how beoutQ has illegally broadcast premium sports and entertainment content worth billions of dollars since it was launched, stealing other media groups’ content as well as its own.

It claims that while beoutQ began life as a website that was geo-blocked to Saudi Arabia, it has grown to become “the most sophisticated piracy operation that the world has ever seen”.

beIN alleges that its Saudi rival inserts its own logos and branding over its own and other media firms’ content, allowing it to sell subscriptions, carrying separate advertising, and add its own commentary.

The website claims that beoutQ illegally broadcasts live sports content every day, stolen from rights holders including Fifa, Uefa, the Premier League, LaLiga and other football leagues, as well as the NFL, the NBA, world tennis, Formula 1 and the Olympics.

Evidence published on the website links beoutQ with Saud al-Qahtani, an advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been implicated in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Commenting on the allegations featured on the new website, Yousef Al-Obaidly, CEO if the beIN Media Group, said: “For the past 18 months beoutQ has brazenly stolen on a daily basis the commercial rights of almost every major sports rights holder and every movie studio around the world; and attempted to sabotage our broadcast business at the same time.

“We have a very simple message on behalf of the whole sports and entertainment industry: we will not cease our fight against this unprecedented piracy operation until it is eradicated.”

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants accused of helping drugs gang smuggle heroin and crystal meth

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants

Two flight attendants working for Malaysian airline Malindo Air were among eight people arrested by police in Australia over the past two weeks during an investigation into an organised crime network suspected to be behind the importation of heroin and methamphetamine worth an estimated A$20 million ($14.35 million) into the country.

The two cabin crew members are suspected of having links to a Melbourne-based Vietnamese gang involved in the importation of high-purity heroin and methamphetamine into Australia from Malaysia.

In a series of raids on a number of properties in Melbourne that resulted in the arrest of the suspects, investigators from a coalition of Australian law enforcement agencies seized 6kgs of high-grade heroin with an estimated street value of A$14.5 million, and 8kgs of methamphetamine with a street value of $6.4 million.

Police also confiscated 0.5kgs of cocaine, assorted drug paraphernalia, a large quantity of cash, and a number of cars, including a Porsche Macan.

Six of the suspects were remanded into custody after appearing before Melbourne Magistrates Court, where they were charged with a multiple offences including importing a marketable quantity of border controlled drugs, and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Malindo Air, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s Lion Air, said it had suspended one of the cabin crew members with immediate effect pending termination.

In a statement, the company said: “Malindo Air stands ready to co-operate with all the relevant authorities be it in Australia or in Malaysia in this regard…

“As a responsible international air carrier, Malindo Air does not condone any act that is criminal in nature or misconduct by our personnel.”

Congratulating the officers who took part in the operation, Victoria Police Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh said its success sent a strong message that Australian law enforcement agencies remain focused on disrupting major drug trafficking conspiracies.

“This was a well organised syndicate we know had operated across Australia undetected for many years,” she said.

“To be in a position to make these arrests and dismantle this group is a significant win for both police and the Victorian community.

“The amount of heroin alone involved in this investigation amounts to almost fifty thousand hits in real terms.

“We know the harm that drugs bring – not just the physical and health impacts on users, but the negative flow on effects to the broader community such as property crime, assaults and drug driving.”

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