Birth trauma mother ‘wanted to die’

Alex Flowers and her daughter Ruby

“The midwife completely ignored me, I may as well not have been there.”

Alex Flowers, from Derbyshire, has told the BBC how she suffered physical and mental problems after “not being in control” during her daughter’s birth.

The lowest point came 18 months later when Alex’s best friend found her sitting on the kitchen floor saying she wanted to die.

In a Mumsnet survey, very few mothers felt they received “great medical care” for certain conditions after birth.

Only 6% of the 1,224 women surveyed by the parenting website whose pelvic floor or continence had been affected as a result of giving birth were “extremely happy” with the care they were given.

And 34% of women who suffered a tear while giving birth or had a Caesarean felt they did not have adequate care or advice in the first few weeks afterwards.

The women questioned had all experienced problems after giving birth between 2013 and 2016.

‘The baby is going to die’

Alex explained how a change of shift during her long labour with her daughter in November 2013 had long-term effects on both her and her husband.

“I was making really good progress with the labour but unfortunately the midwife who had been dealing with me was taken off the end of her shift and replaced by another one, who, I felt, didn’t really want to be there and had too many cases to deal with,” she said.

After Alex had been in labour for 23 hours she started to feel something was wrong with the movements of her baby.

However, Alex says, the midwife “was saying to my husband, ‘Don’t worry, it’s the throes of a woman in labour’ and ignoring me”.

“I thought, ‘I’ve got no control here’ and everything I was saying about there being something wrong with the baby, she was almost tutting, rolling her eyes and saying it was normal.

“Two hours after I started saying something was wrong, I grabbed my husband and said, ‘If you don’t listen to me, the baby is going to die.’

“They checked after that and the baby’s heart had nearly stopped. Then it was a case of a mad rush, someone pressing the panic button and them all running in.

“As a result, I was told there was no time to give me any anaesthetic, but I had already given up and thought I was going to be walking out with no baby.

“In my head, she had already gone and it was too late to do anything and even just saying it again is heartbreaking.

“I had to have an episiotomy with no anaesthetic and then they used forceps to pull the baby out. She was fine but I was left with a lot of damage and blood loss and was sent home the very next day, even though I had been stitched up wrong and some of the placenta had been left in. It was a mess the whole way through.”

Image copyright Getty Images

The effects of this traumatic episode on Alex and her husband were dramatic.

She had to return to hospital to have the stitches corrected and also suffered from severe post-natal depression, while her husband initially could not bond with his daughter, and would not pick her up for six weeks.

“I wasn’t really coping and after 18 months, one of my best friends found me sitting on the kitchen floor saying I wanted to die and I was convinced my daughter was going to die or be taken away from me.

“I then started seeing a counsellor and he helped me understand that what happened wasn’t my fault and I felt like that because I had a lack of control during the labour and had never had closure from that.”

Alex says the first step on her road to recovery came when she started taking an antidepressant, which she says she is going to have to take for the rest of her life.

“I was originally heartbroken but then thought if it means I can feel normal and look after my baby, then it’s worth it.”

The upset also led Alex and her husband to decide not to have any more children -but she became pregnant again and initially “panicked”.

“My consultant agreed I could have a Caesarean and I felt so much better as I was in control of what was happening.”

Alex advises women who find themselves in a similar position not to stay silent.

“You must speak out straight away and not get to the point where it turns into post-natal depression,” she says.

“Your concerns are valid and what matters is having somebody there with you who is not afraid to speak out on your behalf.

“If a woman in labour is saying how she feels, she mustn’t be ignored. We’re not fine and and the damage that can be done – both physical and mental – can last for ever.”

Cardiff teen goes to Germany for scoliosis surgery on spine

Erin Morgan-Ring with Dr Per Trobisch

A teenage runner and gymnast will travel to Germany on Saturday for ground breaking spinal surgery which is not yet available on the NHS.

Erin Morgan-Ring, 14, from Heath, in Cardiff, has been diagnosed with scoliosis, which means her spine twists and curves to the side.

She is the third Welsh child to travel abroad for the operation in a year.

The Welsh Government said NICE would assess any new evidence that supports introducing it on the NHS.

The most common surgery available in the UK, known as full fusion surgery, sees metal screws attached to the vertebrae which are then connected to rods to try to correct the curve.

Erin’s mother, Ceri Morgan, said her daughter would be forced to give up competitive sport if she opted for the NHS procedure, as experts concede it can leave patients with a more limited range of movement.

The family found out a new operation called Vertebral Body Tethering (VBT) was being offered by surgeons in the US and Germany – which uses screws and cord to correct the spinal curvature.

Experts say the keyhole surgery is less invasive and patients retain greater mobility.

The procedure has only been around for 10 years and is limited to teenagers and young people.

About 1,000 patients have been operated on during that time, but it is not approved by the NHS.

Ms Morgan said she noticed something was not quite right with Erin’s spine during a holiday in 2016.

“She was in a bikini and I just noticed that she wasn’t standing straight, when we came back we went straight to the doctor and were referred,” she said.

Doctors diagnosed scoliosis after seeing X-rays of Erin’s spine.

Full fusion surgery was offered by the NHS, but Ms Morgan heard about VBT which it is hoped will allow Erin to return to gymnastics, running and riding.

The family made contact with VBT expert Dr Per Trobisch at the St Brigida Hospital in Simmerath, Germany, and he agreed to carry out the procedure.

Ms Morgan said: “Erin literally did a back flip in his office.”

Erin’s family have been fundraising to secure the £42,000 needed to pay for the operation and Wales rugby player Sam Warburton and footballer Gareth Bale, are among those to donate items for auction to help raise money.

Dr Trobisch said he was convinced VBT surgery would become part of NHS treatment for selected patients but said it could take a few years to collect data to support its capabilities.

But he added: “It is important to know that VBT is not suitable for every scoliosis patient. Ideal patients are those who have residual spinal growth and a flexible scoliosis.

“Therefore, time is an important factor. Once a scoliosis with more than 40 degrees has been diagnosed, consulting a scoliosis expert should be arranged as soon as possible.”

In August last year, 14-year-old Emiah Ellis, from Brynna, Rhondda Cynon Taff, travelled to the same hospital in Germany for VBT surgery and was back at school within six weeks.

Her mother Menna Garland-Ellis, said: “It’s amazing, she can do everything she did before, she doesn’t have any pain, we’re very happy.”

Ten-year-old Megan Sadler, from Pembroke, travelled to the US for the operation last May. Her mother Laura said: “She’s doing great, you would never know she’s had the surgery.”

Only a small number of studies about the results of VBT have been published so far.

Experts say the failure rate of the procedure is less than 10% and patients whose treatment fails can be offered traditional spinal fusion.

A Welsh Government spokesman said VBT was not routinely commissioned by the NHS, but the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance would assess new evidence that may come to light in support of the procedure.

Nikul Bakshi, from the British Scoliosis Research Foundation, added: “There are currently no long-term results for VBT although early results in the US and UK look promising.

“As with many new treatments, there is currently a lot of patient, family and social media interest. However there are still a number of checks and balances which will be considered by bodies such as NICE.”

Man has ‘world’s worst’ super-gonorrhoea

Man

A man in the UK has caught the world’s “worst-ever” case of super-gonorrhoea.

He had a regular partner in the UK, but picked up the superbug after a sexual encounter with a woman in South East Asia.

Public Health England says it is the first time the infection cannot be cured with first choice antibiotics.

Health officials are now tracing any other sexual partners of the man, who has not been identified, in an attempt to contain the infection’s spread.

He picked up the infection earlier in the year.

The main antibiotic treatment – a combination of azithromycin and ceftriaxone – has failed to treat the disease.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, from Public Health England, said: “This is the first time a case has displayed such high-level resistance to both of these drugs and to most other commonly used antibiotics.”

Discussions with the World Health Organization and the European Centres for Disease Control agree this is a world first.

What is gonorrhoea?

The disease is caused by the bacterium called Neisseria gonorrhoeae.

The infection is spread by unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex.

Of those infected, about one in 10 heterosexual men and more than three-quarters of women, and gay men, have no easily recognisable symptoms.

But symptoms can include a thick green or yellow discharge from sexual organs, pain when urinating and bleeding between periods.

Untreated infection can lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and can be passed on to a child during pregnancy

Analysis of the man’s infection suggests one last antibiotic could work. He is currently being treated and doctors will see if it has been successful next month.

So far no other cases – including in the British partner – have been discovered, but the investigation is still under way.

Dr Hughes added: “We are following up this case to ensure that the infection was effectively treated with other options and the risk of any onward transmission is minimised.”

Doctors have long been warning this could happen.

In 2015, there was an outbreak of azithromycin-resistant gonorrhoea centred on Leeds.

The fear is the bug could eventually become untreatable by any antibiotic.

Dr Olwen Williams, the president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV said: “The emergence of this new strain of highly resistant gonorrhoea is of huge concern and is a significant development.

“We are concerned that the problem will worsen due to the dramatic cuts that have been delivered to the public health budget.

“Worryingly this has left sexual health services at ‘tipping point’, with clinic closures coming at the worst possible time.”

Family sues doctor who ‘used his sperm’ to impregnate patient

DNA testing

A US woman is suing her parents’ former fertility doctor after claiming her DNA test results showed he secretly used his own sperm to help conceive her.

Kelli Rowlette sent a DNA sample to genealogy website Ancestry.com, and was surprised to receive results that did not match her to her father.

The 36-year-old thought the test was flawed before discovering the match was the doctor who delivered her.

Her parents consulted the Idaho fertility doctor before her birth.

Ms Rowlette’s lawsuit accuses now-retired obstetrician gynaecologist Gerald Mortimer of fraud, medical negligence, battery, emotional distress and breach of contract.

According to the lawsuit, Ms Rowlette was never told that her now-divorced parents ever had trouble conceiving her until she confronted them with the results of her DNA exam.

In the early 1980s Ms Rowlette’s parents – Sally Ashby and Howard Fowler – had been married and living in Idaho Falls near the Wyoming border.

Due to her father’s low sperm count and her mother’s uterine condition, Ms Rowlette’s parents elected to undergo a medical procedure in which her mother would be artificially inseminated with both sperm from her husband and a donor.

The couple had specified to Dr Mortimer that the donor be a current university student who was taller than 6ft (1.8m) with brown hair and blue eyes.

But for about three months, the reproductive specialist allegedly inseminated her mother with his own semen, according to court documents.

The parents say had they known the doctor was going to use his own semen, they would not have consented to the procedure.

When the parents informed the doctor – who delivered the child and cared for her after she was born – that they were moving to Washington state, he “cried”, according to the lawsuit.

“Dr Mortimer knew Kelli Rowlette was his biological daughter but did not disclose this to Ms Ashby or Mr Fowler,” the complaint said.

“Dr Mortimer fraudulently and knowingly concealed his use of his own genetic material in the procedure.”

Last year, Ms Rowlette says she contacted her mother to say she believed the results of her Ancestry.com test were inaccurate.

Her mother was “devastated” when Ms Rowlette told her the name listed as her parent.

Ms Ashby then contacted her ex-husband about the news and the two decided not to reveal their suspicions.

Ms Ashby and Mr Fowler “struggled to cope with their own anguish and had difficulty contemplating the torment the discovery would cause their daughter when she found out”, according to the lawsuit

But when Ms Rowlette later discovered a copy of her birth certificate, which bore Dr Mortimer’s name and signature, she contacted her parents in “panic” to discuss his connection.

Ms Rowlette’s attorney told local media in a statement the family decided to publicise their story “for the purpose of holding the responsible parties accountable for a grievous and damaging violation of trust. While the family understands the public’s interest in their story, they ask that their privacy be respected as they focus on the difficult process of healing from this trauma”.

A spokeswoman for Ancestry.com told the Washington Post that DNA testing “helps people make new and powerful discoveries about their family history and identity.

“We are committed to delivering the most accurate results, however with this, people may learn of unexpected connections.”

An Indiana fertility doctor pleaded guilty last year to a similar case, in which he was accused of artificially inseminating several of his patients with his own sperm.

Paternity tests showed he was likely the biological father of at least two of his patients’ children, court records show.

The unspoken alcohol problem among UK Punjabis

Illustration showing silhouette of man in doorway while a woman and a small girl lie on the floor

For many British Punjabis, alcohol abuse is an open secret. Alcohol consumption is glamorised across different aspects of Punjabi culture and shame stops many seeking the help that they need.

Harjinder read her daughter Jaspreet one last bedtime story, then kissed her goodnight. She was exhausted after a long day, and drifted off next to her daughter. Her toddler son was already asleep in the next room.

The next thing she remembers is her husband yelling. He was drunk and furious that when he returned from the pub she wasn’t in their marital bed. In a rage, he flipped the child’s bed throwing his wife and daughter to the floor. Harjinder hit the radiator hard with Jaspreet landing on top of her.

Incidents like this were a regular feature of Jaspreet and her brother Hardeep’s childhood. “It was heartbreaking,” Jaspreet says.

So when Harjinder found Hardeep, now aged 16, drinking whisky in his room after an argument with his alcoholic dad, she was terrified that he was following in his father’s footsteps.

There are around 430,000 Sikhs in the UK, making up a significant proportion of the British Punjabi population. Harjinder herself is Sikh and amongst her community her experience isn’t unique.

A new survey, commissioned by the BBC to investigate attitudes to alcohol among British Sikhs, found that – although drinking alcohol is forbidden in Sikhism – 27% of British Sikhs report having someone in their family with an alcohol problem. It’s a problem which is rarely talked about openly in the community

 

Harjinder moved in with her husband’s family after their arranged marriage – both common practices within Punjabi and wider South Asian communities. She was shocked to find out how much her newly acquired family’s social life centred around the men’s excessive drinking.

The family, along with young children, would go to a friend’s house and would stay there until two or three o’clock in the morning waiting for the men, and she started to feel increasingly isolated.

Rav Sekhon, a British Punjabi psychotherapist who works with ethnic minority communities, says: “There is really strong pride and honour for the family name. They don’t want anyone to perceive them as having something wrong with them or any form of weakness.”

Soft drink sugar tax starts, but will it work?

A young boy drinks cola

The “ground-breaking” sugar tax on soft drinks has come into force in the UK.

From Friday manufacturers have to pay a levy on the high-sugar drinks they sell.

Ministers and campaigners believe it has already proved to be a success with many firms reducing sugar content ahead of the change. But others say it is still too early to judge the impact.

Leading brands such as Fanta, Ribena and Lucozade have cut the sugar content of drinks, but Coca-Cola has not.

The introduction of the levy means the UK joins a small handful of nations, including Mexico, France and Norway, which have introduced similar taxes.

How will it work?

The levy is being applied to manufacturers – whether they pass it on to consumers or not is up to them.

Drinks with more than 8g per 100ml will face a tax rate equivalent to 24p per litre.

Those containing 5-8g of sugar per 100ml will face a slightly lower rate of tax, of 18p per litre.

Pure fruit juices will be exempt as they do not carry added sugar, while drinks with a high milk content will also be exempt due to their calcium content.

Originally, the Treasury forecast it would raise more than £500m a year, but that has now been reduced to £240m because some manufacturers have reduced the sugar content in their products.

In England that income is being invested in schools sports and breakfast clubs.

Products such as cakes, biscuits and other foods are not covered by the tax, although a separate initiative is encouraging manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of those items voluntarily.

‘Too much stick, not enough carrot’

But will it work? The jury is still out.

University of Bedfordshire nutrition expert Dr Daniel Bailey said that while the levy is a “positive step” in tackling obesity and had led to a “notable” reaction by the industry, the response by consumers is uncertain.

“The increase in tax placed on soft drinks will make products more expensive, but will this actually discourage people from buying them?

“We could just end up with consumers buying the same amount but paying more.”

Polling suggests this may be the case for many people.

Research by Mintel found just under half of Britons say taxing unhealthy products would encourage them to cut back.

By comparison easier-to-understand nutritional information would alter the purchasing habits of three-quarters of people, the survey of 2,000 people showed.

Mintel’s associate director of food and drink Emma Clifford said it suggested “carrot” rather than “stick” may be a better approach.

Study finds obesity robs the tongue of taste buds in mice

Cornell University researchers found that packing on pounds seems to dull people's sense of taste.

Packing on pounds seems to dull people’s sense of taste, and puzzled researchers turned to mice to figure out why: Obesity, they found, can rob the tongue of taste buds.

If Tuesday’s findings pan out, “this could be a whole new kind of target in treating obesity,” said Cornell University food scientist Robin Dando, whose lab led the research. “People don’t really look at the taste bud, but it’s so fundamental.”

Diet, exercise and genetics are among many factors that play a role in obesity. But taste preferences influence dietary choices, and some earlier studies have suggested that obese people often taste flavors with less intensity than lean people. The theory, still unproven, is that people might make up for weakened taste by turning to higher-calorie foods or generally eating more.

Dando’s team took a closer look at taste buds, those clusters of cells on the tongue that help perceive the five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. They turned to lab mice, feeding them a high-fat diet that caused rapid weight gain — and then counting the taste buds in a spot on the tongue that’s normally packed with them.

The obese mice wound up with 25 percent fewer taste buds than lean mice that were fed a normal diet, the researchers reported in the journal PLOS Biology.

Taste buds constantly regenerate as the 50 to 100 cells inside them mature, die off and are replaced by new ones. Taste bud cells have an average lifespan of about 10 days, and turnover of the entire taste bud takes about four weeks, explained Dando, who directs the Cornell Sensory Evaluation Facility. Both sides of that cycle were affected in the obese mice, as regular cell death sped up and resupply dropped.

Could fatty food be responsible? No, the researchers found mice genetically resistant to obesity chowed down yet didn’t lose taste buds.

The remaining suspect: the chronic inflammation that obesity triggers throughout the body. Dando’s team examined a common inflammatory molecule called TNF-alpha. Mice bred to be genetically incapable of making that molecule got fat but also didn’t lose taste buds. But injecting that molecule directly into the tongues of lean mice resulted in faster die-off of taste bud cells, the researchers reported.

The study “does underscore the relationship between taste sensitivity and weight,” said Dr. John Morton, a Stanford University bariatric surgeon who wasn’t involved in the new work. “It’s another reason why it’s hard to lose weight.”

Several years ago, Morton gave his own patients taste tests before and after stomach-shrinking surgery, and found taste perception improved as the pounds dropped.

Whatever the role of taste buds, Morton advises patients to eat mindfully — appreciating the sight and smell, and slowing down to chew 30 times before they swallow.

“You get satisfaction from food in ways other than volume,” he said.

Harry Connick Jr. and wife have ‘colonoscopy double date’

Multitalented musician, actor and TV host Harry Connick Jr. had a big cancer scare in 2012, when his wife Jill was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today she is cancer free, and she credits routine screening with saving her life. Now that the Broadway crooner has turned 50, he's raising awareness on another cancer where timely screening is crucial, colon cancer.

Multitalented musician, actor and TV host Harry Connick Jr. boasts a phenomenal career, but the Grammy and Emmy Award-winner has faced adversity too. Connick lost his mother to ovarian cancer when he was only 13 years old, and in 2012, his wife Jill was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today, Jill is cancer free and credits routine screening with saving her life.

“She would go in to get her routine mammogram every year because she believed very strongly in early screening and detection and then when she got the positive result back, it really threw us for a loop and we were terrified,” Connick told Fox News.

That’s why Connick is teaming up with Cologuard and the New 50 campaign to raise awareness on another cancer whose timely screening is crucial, colon cancer.

“This is a very serious issue, 50,000 people die every year from it [colon cancer] and it’s the most detectable cancer and the least detected,” Connick said. “So I feel it’s my duty to tell people you have to get screened.”

According to findings presented at the French Surgeons Association Congress, if detected early, 90 percent of colon cancers are highly treatable.

Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older. More than 90 percent of cases occur in people who are 50 or older.

In addition to age, risk factors include having inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, or having a family history of colorectal cancer, according to the CDC. Lifestyle factors can also contribute to an increase risk, like obesity, alcohol and tobacco use, and a diet low in fiber and high in fat.

Connick turned 50 last year.

“I was dreading it because I didn’t want to take time out of my day, I didn’t want to deal with the prep or the discomfort and I was terrified,” Connick said. “And Jill would make a joke [saying], ‘Well, maybe we can make a double date and have like a colonoscopy double date.’”

Connick decided to get screened by doing Cologuard, a stool DNA test, but according to the American Cancer Society other screening options can include a colonoscopy, a double-contrast barium enema, a type of X-ray test, or a Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which is similar to a colonoscopy but looks at only part of the colon and rectum.

“It’s all about early detection and taking the time to do it,” Connick said.

Screening tests aren’t just used to find colorectal cancer early, they can also find precancerous polyps, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

It is important to take these preventive steps, as colon cancer may not cause symptoms right away. But some signs and symptoms involve fatigue, blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, and cramping or abdominal discomfort.

Bee sting acupuncture kills woman from allergic reaction to venom

According to the American Apitherapy Society Inc., bee products "promote healing by improving circulation, decreasing inflammation, and stimulating a healthy immune response." The organization claims the treatment is effective for pain, wounds, gout, burns, tendonitis, infections and multiple sclerosis.

A woman hoping to get the healing effects of “bee acupuncture” ended up dying from the treatment, SF Gate reported.

The 55-year-old Spaniard was getting “apitherapy,” which the National Institute of Health describes as an alternative therapy used for pain relief.

The woman had been undergoing treatment for stress and muscle tightness once a month for two years, when she had a violent reaction during a session.

According to a report published in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology, the woman’s breathing became labored and she lost consciousness right after receiving a live bee sting.

The report pointed out the ambulance took a while to arrive, so “the patient waited 30 minutes before receiving intramuscular adrenaline.”

The woman died of multiple organ failure weeks later.

According to the journal report, the patient suffered a “massive watershed stroke and permanent coma” due to persistent hypotension stemming from her severe anaphylactic episode.”

The study noted that this is the first reported death from the bee venom therapy “due to complications of severe anaphylaxis in a confirmed sensitized patient who was previously tolerant.”

The doctors conclude that live bee sting treatments are “both unsafe and unadvisable.”

According to the American Apitherapy Society Inc., the therapy is helpful in treating pain, wounds, gout, burns, tendonitis, infections and multiple sclerosis.

The ancient therapy is practiced all over the world. Even celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow have reportedly touted the benefits of the allergen.

In a 2016 New York Times interview, Paltrow said, “It’s a 1,000-year old treatment called apitherapy,” she said. “People use it to get rid of inflammation and scarring. It’s actually pretty incredible if you research it. But, man, it’s painful.”

The SF Gate report said that very few cases of allergic reactions to acupuncture have been reported, most stemming from regions where traditional medicine is widely practiced, such as China and Korea.

 

How the White House is tackling the opioid epidemic

After declaring the nation’s opioid epidemic a public health emergency in October, President Trump revealed his plans to crack down on the health crisis.

His plan, which he discussed in March, includes harsher penalties for drug traffickers and lowering the amount of drugs needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for dealers.

“These are terrible people and we have to get tough with those people,” Trump said of traffickers and dealers. “This isn’t about committees … this is about winning a very tough problem.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 115 Americans die daily from opioid-involved deaths. Opioids, including prescriptions and heroin, killed 42,000 people in the U.S. in 2016 – the highest on record.

It’s important that the full weight of the federal government – with each Cabinet department determining their role in the crisis – is involved in tackling the epidemic, said Tom Coderre, a former official with the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“The opioid crisis is multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. It’s not like there is a secret weapon out there,” Coderre, recently hired as a senior adviser to Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to help combat the opioid crisis, told Fox News.

Here’s a look at what the Trump administration has proposed to deal with the crisis.

Death penalty

Trump has often mused that certain countries – such as Singapore – have fewer issues with drugs because of the harsh penalties dealers can face if caught. He has argued that a person in the U.S. can receive the death penalty or life in prison for shooting one person, but a drug dealer who potentially kills thousands spend little to no time in jail.

When the president unveiled his plan to combat the epidemic, he brandished the death penalty as a fitting punishment for traffickers.

“Drug traffickers kill so many thousands of our citizens every year,” Trump said. “That’s why my Department of Justice will be seeking so many tougher penalties than we’ve ever had and we’ll be focusing on the penalties that I talked about previously for big pushers, the ones that are killing so many people, and that penalty is going to be the death penalty.”

He added, “Other countries don’t play games … But the ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty.”

“The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty.”

– President Trump

The Justice Department said the federal death penalty is already available for several limited drug-related offenses, including violations of the “drug kingpin” provisions of federal law.

Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions issued guidance to all U.S. attorneys, urging them to “hold opioid manufacturers and distributors accountable for unlawful practices.”

“[T]his should also include the pursuit of capital punishment in appropriate cases,” he said. “Congress has passed several statutes that provide the Department with the ability to seek capital punishment for certain drug-related crimes.”

Sessions added, “I strongly encourage federal prosecutors to use these statutes, when appropriate, to aid in our continuing fight against drug trafficking and the destruction it causes in our nation.”

Mandatory minimum sentencing

U.S. President Donald Trump Delivers remarks on "combatting the opioid crisis" in a speech at Manchester Community College in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - HP1EE3J1GEA7M

President Trump, along with first lady Melania Trump, traveled to New Hampshire in March 2018 to meet with people working to combat the opioid epidemic. The president also unveiled his plan to combat the nationwide crisis.  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

Trump has called on Congress to pass legislation which would lower the amount of drugs needed to trigger a mandatory minimum sentence for dealers who knowing distribute illicit opioids.

Congress already has plans to weigh a range of bills targeted at curbing the epidemic.

Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have put forth a bill that includes lowering the amount of fentanyl needed to invoke mandatory minimum sentences in certain distribution cases.

Fentanyl is a high-risk type of opioid used by doctors to treat pain.

“It’s past time the punishment matched the crime when it comes to opioid distribution and trafficking,” Cotton said in a statement.

Graham added, “Increasing these mandatory minimums is well-justified.”

More research, less prescriptions 

Part of Trump’s plan to attack the nationwide crisis is to increase research and development through public-private partnerships between the federal National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies.

With the public health emergency declaration, officials are able to more easily deploy state and federal workers, secure grants for the unemployed and shift funding from certain programs – such as HIV or AIDs programs – to provide substance abuse treatment for certain individuals.

Trump wants to see the number of opioid prescriptions cut by one-third within three years. He also called for expanding access to proven treatment and recovery efforts.

Awareness campaign

Trump’s plan includes broadening education and awareness as well – something he called for last fall when he declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.

This awareness campaign includes broadcasting “great commercials” to scare kids from dabbling in drugs. Trump also announced the creation of a new website, CrisisNextDoor.gov, where people can share their stories about addiction.

Gary Mendell, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Shatterproof, said the crisis needs more “attention and awareness,” which the president can provide. An emergency declaration, he told Fox News, “creates recognition … and awareness around the country that this epidemic needs right now.”

Past declarations

In October, Trump declared the crisis a national public health emergency, short of the national state of emergency sought by a presidential commission he put together to study the issue. It was renewed in January.

HHS has issued public health emergency declarations in the wake of natural disasters as well as the spread of diseases.

The agency issued its first declaration for the Zika virus in Puerto Rico in August 2016. It was last renewed in April 2017.

Public health emergencies were also declared in New York following Hurricane Sandy in November 2012 and in Missouri following a series of storms and tornadoes in May 2011.