Health News

Nutritionist shares foods and recipes for Breast Cancer Awareness Month


(NEW YORK) -- Foods can help women thrive on their breast health wellness journey and one expert has just the right ingredients to be proactive with breast health.

Nutritionist Rachel Beller joined Good Morning America on Thursday to help kick off National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The Power Spicing author and American Cancer Society spokesperson shared foods to eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Basil Seeds in Yogurt Crunch Parfait

Beller said basil seeds are her favorite seed because like chia seeds they form a gel in a quicker time (1-2 minutes) but they’re even higher in fiber, which she said is good for gut and breast health.

While people might assume the seeds would taste like basil, Beller said they do not.

Basil seeds have 8 grams of fiber per tablespoon compared to 5 grams in chia seeds. They also contain a soluble fiber called pectin, a prebiotic that feeds the good bacteria in your gut.

They are also high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and fiber is linked to reduced breast cancer risk.

Beller's recipe combines cashew yogurt with probiotics, a spice blend to give the breakfast a sweet flavor and ceylon cinnamon to add sweetness without the sugar spike. She tops it with ginger, which has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compounds, which some studies have suggested has cancer protective properties, and orange peel that contains hesperidin and D-limonene which have been shown to potentially support breast health.



Beller said mushrooms are one of her top breast health foods because higher mushroom intake may be associated with lower breast cancer risk.

Mushrooms also contain aromatase inhibitors, which are compounds that may reduce the activity of an enzyme that produces estrogen.

They’re also rich in a special fiber called beta-glucans which have been shown to have potential immune-enhancing and prebiotic properties.

Dried mushrooms and powder options have recently become a popular wellness trend.

Beller explained that people don’t need to get the fancy, fresh varieties of mushrooms to reap the same nutritional benefits. Dried and organic mushrooms are super versatile and amazing to keep in your pantry.

Beller cooks dried mushrooms using a “spaghetti prep” method.

After boiling the dried mushrooms in water for 15 minutes, drain them and sauté in avocado oil, add spices, herbs and more.

The rehydrated, sauteed mushrooms can be a side dish or prepared as a main dish by stirring in cooked lentils.

Mushroom powder, while very trendy, is also a concentrated source of nutrients because it’s dehydrated and ground into a powder.

The powder can be added to coffee, tea and smoothies, but with it's savory profile can also be a great addition to salad dressing or lunches.


3 Ingredient Spiced Energy Bites

Each ingredient has breast health benefits, with fiber and antioxidants from dates and omega-3 filled walnuts and spices.

Combine finely chopped dates, which have a low glycemic index and work as an excellent natural sweetener, walnuts, which are anti-inflammatory and may support breast health, and spices like cinnamon, cacao and turmeric.

The combination of cacao and turmeric has been shown to have more cancer protective potential than either spice alone. Cacao contains a nutrient called quercetin which increases the absorption of curcumin, the active compound in turmeric.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Jane Fonda shares aging tips on Reba McEntire's podcast

Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty ImagesBy CARENA LIPTAK, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- On the latest episode of Reba McEntire's podcast, "Living & Learning with Reba McEntire," the country legend enlists none other than actor and activist Jane Fonda to share tips on how to thrive while growing older.

During their conversation, the Grace and Frankie actress, 82, shared some personal stories about aging, including her discovery of how important it is to keep a positive mental outlook.

"When people tell me that I look good for my age, I know that a large part of that is because I am at peace. I feel good, you know?" Fonda told the 65-year-old "Fancy" singer. "I feel proud of myself for having worked so hard to become what I am today. To become a better person, and to be able to forgive so many things."

Of course, not all of her tips for aging well are quite so abstract.

"I use this lotion, it's Uncle Buds hemp lotion with CBD, and it is cannabis, doesn't make you high though, but it's great for aches and pains," Fonda continued, also citing posture and exercise as two more important reasons why she's feeling good in her '80s.

"I didn't realize this until I was old. I thought it was more important when you were younger to exercise a lot 'cause it was more important to look good," she explained. "Now it has nothing to do with how you look. It has to do with being able to pick up your grandchildren ... being able to drive a car and look back over your shoulder while you're backing up."

McEntire's "Living & Learning with Reba McEntire" podcast is available on Spotify. The country superstar co-hosts the show with Melissa Peterman.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

CDC slowing pace on releasing new coronavirus health guidance


(WASHINGTON) -- For the last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stopped issuing new health information related to the novel coronavirus after altering the procedure by which that information was being shared with the American people, sources with direct knowledge of the change told ABC News.

The type of information that has been withheld has previously been vital to hospitals, health officials and local leaders on the front lines providing updated guidance on how to treat, test and slow the spread of the illness, which has claimed over 200,000 American lives. A source told ABC News that includes additional "guidance on who should be tested and when," adding, "That stuff won't get updated."

From at least Sept. 24 to Sept. 30, the CDC has stopped updating new health guidance and recommendation information, according to the sources. An ABC News review of the CDC website shows a timeline that supports the lack of information being updated.

­­A CDC source familiar with the COVID response called the halt in information flow to the American public a "moratorium," adding, "Scientists are prevented from updating the CDC website with new information, recommendations and policies surrounding COVID." A separate source confirmed CDC guidance updates are not currently being published, but disagreed with the categorization of a "moratorium" and instead insisted "agency leadership is just ensuring the review process is being followed."

"If any updates are made to existing guidance or new guidance is made, the CDC is requiring every piece to have approved talking points and maybe a summary statement," CDC employees and scientists learned on a CDC conference call Wednesday morning, according to a source that was on the briefing call.

The source told ABC News, "We know we have new science, but updates based on new and emerging science are not updated or able to be shared," including CDC "recommendations on best practices and guidance on how to protect yourself and others from getting and spreading COVID."

This new requirement will create a backlog of information from over a week ago, according to the sources.

One source told ABC News within the last several days more precise testing guidance for nursing homes was cleared and has yet to be posted. This delay is in sharp contrast to previous action, when guidance was being posted quickly, the source added.

"If this information is true, it is truly chilling. Political interference with CDC is one of the major reasons why our response to this pandemic has been such a disaster," said Dr. Richard Besser, the former acting director of the CDC and current president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "CDC is one of the world's leading public health agencies with some of the best scientists and infectious disease experts -- yet CDC has been blocked from playing the lead role that is essential during a public health crisis."

"Their leadership has been prevented from communicating directly with the American people," he continued. "Without this direct communication, it is impossible to develop and maintain trust. As a result, thousands of American lives have been lost -- particularly in communities of color, which have been hit the hardest -- and trust in our nation's scientific and public health institutions has eroded."

Reached by ABC News, a senior CDC spokesperson insisted, "CDC has rigorous systems in place to ensure that all scientific information it shares is both accurate and has been fully reviewed by subject matter experts across all relevant disciplines within CDC prior to public dissemination." The senior spokesperson went on to add, "Last week, concerns regarding COVID-19 transmission language led to the revision of the 'How COVID-19 Spreads' web page without appropriate in-house technical review. This instance, as well as a few others, led to a review of our process and reinforced criteria for review of all guidance and updates before they are posted to the CDC website."

The CDC came under fire for transparency earlier this month after publishing guidance about the "possible" airborne spread of the virus only to remove it from the CDC website days later.

In response to the airborne post, the CDC's deputy director for infectious disease, Jay Butler, told The Washington Post the publication was done in error.

"Unfortunately, an early draft of a revision went up without any technical review," he said.

Regarding this latest slowdown on information being released to the public, the CDC source said, "We don't need politicians to tell scientists they shouldn't let people know things that can help them or save lives," and went on to insist there are safeguards within the agency already in place that stop bad information from being released.

This is not the first time the Trump administration has been accused of slowing down or altering information released by the CDC related to the pandemic.

Earlier this month, Politico reported the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports, a public report compiled by scientists that's served as the key communication avenue between the CDC and health care providers, researchers, journalists and the public since the 1980s, had been tinkered with when CDC findings didn't align with President Donald Trump's public statements about coronavirus.

ABC News has not independently confirmed the Politico report.

"[The assistant secretary for public affairs] clears virtually all public-facing documents for all of its divisions, including CDC," Michael Caputo, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services who is currently on leave, confirmed to ABC News at the time.

"Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic -- not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC," Caputo said.

Caputo took a leave of absence from his position at HHS earlier this month after making public comments attacking the CDC and accusing it of having a "resistance unit" against the president.

Asked about the administration's response to the pandemic during the first presidential debate Tuesday night, Trump repeated that his administration has done a "great job" handling the crisis.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Changing how you inhale and exhale could help reduce coronavirus anxiety

max-kegfire/iStockBy Dr. ALEXANDRA LAMBERT, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Fear, worry and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic debilitates your mental and physical health. Amid this growing mental health crisis, some medical doctors are now prescribing a deep breathing technique for patients and physicians alike, nicknamed "box breathing."

Intentional deep breathing exercises are known to reduce feelings of stress. Experts interviewed by ABC News identify box breathing as a type of breath hold specifically used to overcome the type of anxiety people are experiencing during these distressing times.

Initially honed by elite fighters as a wartime stress-fighting tactic, this breathing technique is now taking hold among health care workers battling the coronavirus pandemic.

Box breathing describes the pattern of inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose to the count of four. You inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds and then repeat in four seconds -- making a square pattern. Practiced regularly, it has been shown to calm the body by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system -- our "rest and digest" responses -- which produces feelings of relaxation.

"If you go around that box for a few minutes, you can really get yourself into a much more focused and centered state," said Dr. John Sharp, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. "We know that when people are stressed, this can work -- and like anything, the more you practice it, the more it can work."

Well-known to the military, box breathing is used in training by Navy SEAL teams to develop emotional discipline. Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL commander and the New York Times best-selling author of Unbeatable Mind, says he has been teaching this method of breathing to Navy SEAL trainees since 2007.

"The best, most effective warriors practice some form of controlled breathing, especially during combat," said Divine, who explained that box breathing clarifies the mind, which is critical to making good decisions under pressure.

"Not only do you feel calm, but really the quantity of thoughts you have will be lessened," he said.

And there's science to back up this technique. One study found participants who performed regular deliberate deep breathing exercises had lower levels of cortisol -- a hormone in your body released in response to stress.

"We do it before every meeting in my company," Divine said. "We do five minutes together as a team. I do it before and after every workout, I do it in my car, I do it anytime that I feel any kind of extra stress or tension. I believe it's just the single most important thing that everyone can do to take control of their lives internally."

And now the medical field has adapted box breathing for similar benefits. Dr. Stephen Miller, an emergency medicine physician and associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, works with a team of physicians investigating stress measurement and management among health care providers in the emergency department.

"We are starting to use box breathing in emergency medicine, where we have very stressful, unpredictable moments dealing with life-or-death situations," Miller said. "We have implemented this training into our residency program to help learners recognize the signs of stress including sweaty hands, racing heart, maybe even a little tunnel vision, and then use box breathing to calm themselves down in order to help focus and perform high-quality patient care."

Regarding the coronavirus pandemic, Miller said, "I think all of us are feeling very overwhelmed with everything going on dealing with COVID-19. Anytime first and foremost we recognize in ourselves that we are starting to feel that tension and anxiety, the very first thing to do is to take a nice, calm, deep breath."

"It's something we can kind of control in a time when we feel that we don't have a lot of control," he said.

With the self-isolation and financial hardships created by the coronavirus pandemic -- in addition to the fear and uncertainties around the virus itself -- experts say now is an optimal time to incorporate box-breathing into your everyday routine.

"If you have a prior reoccurring problem with anxiety, you can start the breath-holding techniques and make a difference in the course of your suffering and recovery," Sharp said. "If you have not had huge problems with anxiety but now you are sitting around with all the COVID-induced worry and uncertainty so situationally now you do, it can also work."

These exercises can be started at home during self-isolation, and are free without requiring a prescription. Sharp recommends practicing a couple of times a day so that when you find you are dealing with more noticeable anxiety, it will deliver.

"It just takes a little practice," emphasized Sharp, who recommends incorporating box breathing into your daily routine. "If you want to make it work, you have to believe it's actually a thing that can work -- and then you do it, and you do it, and you do it, and you start noticing that yeah, it actually does work."

"It's really never too late to make a difference in your life," he said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Why recognizing the signs of breast cancer should still be a priority amid COVID-19

pixelfit/iStockBy DR. ALEXIS E. CARRINGTON, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Jamilyn, a 26-year-old woman in California, noticed a hard lump on her right breast in June. She didn't notice any color change to her breasts and did not have any other symptoms, but was concerned and booked an appointment with her physician. Eventually, the lump was biopsied and revealed to be metastatic breast cancer, or stage 4 breast cancer.

"No one really knew if it was breast cancer or not. Next thing I know my breast was getting bigger and starting to hurt, and then I found out I had breast cancer," Jamilyn said.

The week after the biopsy, the lump "tripled in size," with the cancer growing from five centimeters to almost a foot in a matter of three weeks.

More tests performed on Jamilyn showed the cancer had spread to both of her lungs, requiring chemotherapy. Since starting chemotherapy, Jamilyn had to do the indescribable task of shaving her head. She also lost at least 25 pounds in one month, lost her sense of taste and appetite to her favorite foods, and had to take medications to help her cope with the pain in order to sleep through the night. Her unbearable pain even limited her ability to speak during this interview. Jamilyn could not have imagined how drastically her life would change, especially at such a young age.

Reducing risk amid a pandemic

Thankfully, some people are following their scheduled check-ups, but many others are foregoing visits entirely. According to recent research, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people being diagnosed with breast cancer has declined by half, suggesting fewer people are visiting their health care providers.

"We're seeing a significant drop of screening and diagnosis of breast cancer in the whole U.S.," said Dr. Larry Norton, the medical director of Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Center and Norna S. Sarofim Chair in Clinical Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering. "And that means we'll probably see a tsunami of breast cancer when people come to medical facilities."

"This actually concerns us greatly," he added.

These concerns are in addition to the disparities present in breast cancer, seen especially among different races. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1999 to 2013, Black women and white women get breast cancer at about the same rate, however the death rate in Black women is higher than white women. When compared to white women, there are higher rates of breast cancer in Black women younger than 60 years old. Although there are multiple facts involved in this, the CDC also reported breast cancer was found at an earlier stage among white women than Black women. These statistics are evidence of multiple health disparity factors at play, such as differences in health care access, poverty and social injustice.

Thankfully, multiple things can be done to help reduce the risks of breast cancer:

Know your family history: One of the most critical things to do today is to learn and know your family history. It's essential to know whether your mother or father's side of the family has a history of breast cancer, as family history can influence your risk.

"We're finding a significant minority of cases of breast cancer are associated with genetic abnormalities that you can inherit from your mother or your father," said Norton.

Monitor diet and exercise: Another key risk factor includes having a body mass index (BMI) greater than 25, making the case for exercise and eating a balanced diet. BMI is a measure of body fat based on a person's height and weight -- more than 25 is considered overweight, and more than 30 is obese.

"It's much better to eat a good diet, lots of fruits and vegetables, and limit your amount of animal proteins," according to Norton.

Even just getting out and walking can get your heart rate up and help your overall health.

Discuss your use of hormones: Estrogen and progesterone hormone therapy used together have also been shown to influence the risk of breast cancer, especially in women older than 50, so those using them may want to discuss reducing their use with their health care provider.

Get tested regardless of your sex: "Yes, men do get breast cancer," said Norton. "Most men present with a lump and a lot of men don't realize they get breast cancer and ignore the lump. Therefore, most men come with advanced cancers because they've ignored it for a long period of time."

Experts in breast cancer recommend men and women should use the important screening tool of being aware of any changes in appearance or feeling of their breasts.

Look for changes during self-exams: "Not all lumps are cancer, but every lump needs to be evaluated with imaging," said Norton.

Other changes to be aware of and should be evaluated by a health care expert include any abnormal nipple discharge, a change in the configuration of the breast, nipple dimpling (when your nipple is drawn in) or any kind of breast dimpling.

However, modern advances in screening tests and images have almost become a gold standard for evaluating breast cancer. These include mammograms, which are recommended for all women 40 years and older every year. People younger than the established age of 40 and who carry genetic susceptibility could be screened earlier, although mammograms aren't commonly done in people younger than 25. It is important to realize that although there are many advances in screening, it doesn't guarantee the prevention or cure of breast cancer.

"The reason to get screened is not just to save your life, the reason to get screened is because it's much easier to take care of," Norton said. "Don't wait until you have symptoms"

Through the pause the pandemic placed on hospital visits, telemedicine has provided a bridge for communicating and can help with being evaluated for breast cancers. A tele-visit with a health professional can serve as a first step at getting evaluated if needed. However, having a lump means you will need to be evaluated in person.

For those of you in a rural setting, "You might want to start with a tele-visit with a health professional, but if they tell you really need to go to get a test done, by all means you should do it," said Norton.

Through this sudden roller coaster of being diagnosed and treated for metastatic breast cancer, Jamilyn hopes others will get tested to hopefully prevent the experience of breast cancer.

"Even though it's serious it's going to be easier," she said. "The pokes get easier, the vomiting gets easier. Hope is not all lost."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Pantone launches new shade of red in hopes of ending menstruation stigma


(NEW YORK) -- Pantone has launched a new color inspired by the steady flow of menstruation.

Its new red shade, aptly named "Period," is aimed at breaking the stigma surrounding people who menstruate.

"It may be the 21st century but attitudes towards menstruation are stuck in the past, with periods seen in some quarters as mysterious, shameful and taboo - something that should be hidden away and not discussed, or even made the butt of jokes," according to a statement from the Pantone Color Institute.

The new shade was created in collaboration with Swedish feminine health brand INTIMINA as part of its "Seen Heard" campaign, which is designed to "empower everyone, regardless of gender, to feel comfortable to talk freely and proudly about periods, to start conversations and encourage a more sympathetic and accurate depiction of menstruation in culture."

"Pantone’s ‘Period’ red shade represents exactly what our Seen Heard campaign is about: making periods visible, encouraging positive conversations and normalising menstruation in our culture, our society and in our everyday lives,” Intimina Global Brand Manager Danela Žagar said in a statement.

This is not the first time Pantone has created a shade that sends a message.

Pantone Color Institute is known for identifying color trends that are popular in the cultural zeitgeist, as seen by its ever-popular "Color of the Year" announcements.

When announcing its 2016 Color(s) of the Year -- a combination of Rose Quartz, a light pink, and Serenity, a light blue -- the company credited "societal movements toward gender equality and fluidity" and "a generation that has less concern about being typecast or judged" behind the color choice.

Although "Period" is not Pantone's Color of the Year -- that spot went to "Classic Blue" -- the company made sure the reason, and timing, behind the red shade's launch was well known.

"Defining and creating a unique red shade symbolic of a steady menstrual flow sends a positive message, encouraging and emboldening all those who menstruate to stand up and be proud of this natural bodily function," Laurie Pressman, vice president, Pantone Color Institute, said, adding that they chose to launch the color now because "we feel the timing couldn’t be more present or impactful."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Mom issues warning on tub toys after toddler's infection


(NEW YORK) -- "Just throw them out."

That's the message one mom has about bath tub toys that squirt water after her 2-year-old son suffered from severe cellulitis after getting water from a rubber bath toy in his eye.

Cellulitis, according to Stanford Children's Health, is a serious type of infection and inflammation that can occur in different parts of the body. The most common cause of cellulitis of the eye, the organization said, is an infection with bacteria.

"This is not the hill you want to die on," Eden Strong, a mom of three from suburban Chicago, told ABC News' Good Morning America.

There are plenty of toys kids can play with in the bath that don't trap water, she said.

"It's not like these [rubber water squirting bath toys] are a necessity," she said.

In a Facebook post that's now been widely shared, Strong said she was warned her son could lose vision in one eye by the doctors who initially examined him.

She wrote in part, "When he woke up at 6am and I laid eyes on him in his crib, I screamed to my husband to get in the car. His eye was so swollen that the white part was bulging out from between his eyelid and his iris was being obscured. He felt hot to the touch and a temperature check showed that he had a raging fever. Despite having another child with epilepsy and therefore being pretty good at keeping my cool, I cried the entire drive to a larger hospital, praying that he wouldn’t lose his eye."

Strong said she regularly cleaned the toys, well aware they can trap water and fill with mold. But, she wrote, "You cannot clean them, you just can’t. I don’t have any moldy tub toy pictures to show here, because there was never any visible mold to take a picture of. You can't see bacteria and I've known that since 6th grade science class but I thought I was better than dirty tub toys. I was wrong."

Strong said she's received "hundreds" of messages and photos from parents who have had near-identical experiences.

"The response [to the post] has been mind-blowing," she said, referring to the thousands of comments and messages. "I'm disgusted and horrified by how many parents and kids have gone through the same experience."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Nurses save mom and newborn after she gives birth while intubated for COVID-19


(BOSTON) -- Jacklyn Rodriguez was 28 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with COVID-19 and intubated. While sedated, nurses helped her give birth to her son 10 weeks early in an effort to save both of their lives.

“When they woke me up, and they told me the baby was born, I remember touching my stomach to feel like, ‘Wait, am I understanding what they’re saying?’” Rodriguez told ABC News.

Rodriguez said that when her COVID-19 symptoms worsened, she was admitted to Tufts Medical Center in Boston, where she was immediately transferred to the surgical intensive care unit and intubated.

“Even with forcing as much oxygen as we can into her, her oxygen levels are not staying high enough,” Angela Derochers, the nurse manager at Tufts Medical Center for OB-GYN, robotics and urology told ABC News. “And so we called the OB attending [physician] up, and he looked at me and he said, ‘We need to deliver this baby because they could both die.’”

“When they tell you that she’s really bad -- ‘We got to do this now, if you don’t do this, she’s getting worse and both are going to be in danger' -- I couldn’t believe it, man. I was like, ‘Oh my god.' I was nervous. I was really nervous,” said father and husband Raul Luzardo.

Derochers said: “I was just in shock. She was still intubated. ... She literally had machines breathing for her and circulating her blood."

Rodriguez was put on an ECMO machine to help pump blood through her body, so her heart and lungs could rest after the birth, according to Tufts hospital staff. Less than a day later, she woke up.

“I had no knowledge that he was being born. I was sedated,” she said. “It broke my heart a little bit, but it’s OK because I’m alive and he’s alive.”

Rodriguez, who was unable to meet her baby, named Julian, because she still tested positive for COVID-19, spent the next few weeks recovering.

“I was grateful to God to be alive. I was so grateful that he was OK. But not being able to hold him and be the first person to see your kid, your baby, it was really hard,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez tested negative and left the hospital without Julian, who needed to remain under hospital supervision for 83 days.

“She’s been a warrior, man, first of all. She’s been a hell of a woman," Luzardo said. "She did it. She’s alive, and that’s all that matters."

Finally, Julian was able to go home and his parents told “World News Tonight” that they're just so grateful for the hospital staff.

“They did an amazing job. They did everything that they could. I appreciate it to the bottom of my heart,” said Rodriguez.

“It just reminds me, and all of us in health care, of why we do what we do,” Derochers said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Parents of special needs kids in ‘panic mode’ as virtual learning falls short

Opal Foster and her son Jeremiah. (ABC News)By DEVIN DWYER and JANET WEINSTEIN, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- When Opal Foster lost her job during the pandemic, she unexpectedly found herself consumed by another full-time gig that didn't pay: at-home virtual learning supervisor for her son with special needs.

"We're all kind of living in panic mode right now," said Foster, a single mother in Silver Spring, Maryland, who is still unemployed.

Foster spends all day at the family dining room table working with her son, Jeremiah, who has Down syndrome, as he navigates a labyrinth of Zoom classes, counseling sessions and art projects for eighth grade.

"There isn't anybody really available to give you breaks," Foster said. "Financially, I'm not really sure how the end of the year is going to look."

Parenting during a pandemic has meant financial, educational and emotional challenges for millions of Americans, but for those with special needs children it's become a Herculean responsibility.

More than seven million U.S. public school students receive special education services, according to the Department of Education. With the coronavirus keeping many of those students home, their parents say they have been left to fill the gap.

Stretched thin, many worry their children are at risk of falling behind in their development.

"It has been scary, hectic, making an already challenging existence for someone living with a disability and a family living with a disability even more challenging and limiting," said LeAnn Quinn of Warwick, Rhode Island.

Mother Haley Keisler of Lexington, South Carolina, said the burdens of caring for her two boys could cost her income.

"Because of a nursing shortage, because both boys are virtual school, right now we have to take off work a few days a week occasionally when there's not someone available," she said.

School districts are required by law to develop an individualized education plan, or IEP, for any child with a disability, but many have been falling short of meeting that standard in the pandemic, advocates say.

Virtual learning is simply not an effective option for many children with special needs.

"A lot of parents rely on the additional support they receive in school during the day to help in the development and growth of their children, especially children with special needs," said Misty Heggeness, a U.S. Census Bureau economist who studies families. "There's a likelihood that they will fall behind much more than the average child."

Melissa and Jason Winchell of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, have spent hundreds of dollars of their savings to transform their home into an interactive school for daughter, Moriah, who has Down syndrome.

"It's too overwhelming for her," Melissa Winchell said of Zoom classes. "This is a kid who gets special ed services every minute of her day when she's in school. This remote learning thing is just not working."

The Winchells, who are both teachers, take turns working with Moriah on fifth-grade lessons during the day, then tend to their other students, giving online lectures, virtual counseling sessions and grading papers late into the night.

The couple said they spend one day a week in the kitchen with Moriah, teaching her how to follow instructions and do basic math by baking bread, bagels, pretzels, cookies or cake-pops.

"We're really tired," Winchell said.

Because many kids with disabilities are in high risk groups for COVID-19 infection, social distance and limits on visitors inside the home are essential for many families. Six months into the pandemic, several parents said the social isolation weighed heavily.

"I have been isolated from other adults for a really long time and, you know, my mental health has paid a price for that," said Rob Gorski, a single father of three autistic sons in Akron, Ohio.

Opal Foster said the isolation has led to a "regression" in Jeremiah.

"Definitely the social piece has fallen back," she said. "Jeremi used to be much more talkative."

Megan Scully and Chris DeBatt, whose 4-year-old son Danny has a rare brain disorder and is learning to speak using his eyes, said they are trying to celebrate each bit of developmental progress -- even if it's not what it should be.

"I think (Danny's speech) has progressed in a different way than if he were using it sort of organically in a classroom," said Scully, "but his amazing speech therapist Corrine has continued through the pandemic."

Gorski says counterbalancing constant change in routines for his boys is critical to keeping their learning on track.

"It's hard to replicate the structure and the routine and the support that you have in the classroom or in the school building at home," Gorski said. "To find some kind of balance is the hardest part of this."

Masked family hikes in the woods are the new "gym class" for the Gorskis. Science, math and English classes are all online.

"It's been a little weird to be honest," said 11-year-old Emmett Gorski. "There are some glitches that need to be worked out."

As for their grade-level progress, Rob Gorski thinks it's inevitable that his kids -- like millions of others -- will fall behind this year.

"We can play catch up on the other side of this," he said, "because the priority is health and wellness."

"Everybody is in the same boat, whether or not you're in the classroom right now wearing a mask and spread apart not being able to interact like normal," Gorski said. "There's nothing we can do at this point but ride it out."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Alcohol consumption rising sharply during pandemic, especially among women

GoodLifeStudio/iStockBy SASHA PEZENIK, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Joe Dinan felt an anxious pulse in his ears as he walked out of CVS and spotted the liquor store across the street. Having lost his job during the pandemic, he'd had plenty of time to run errands. But he couldn't shake how hopeless he felt, marooned from his own sense of purpose. And the liquor store was right where he'd left it. A small bottle of vodka won out over his recovery.

In the age of pandemic, uncertainty lingers in the air. Now, new data shows that during the COVID-19 crisis, American adults have sharply increased their consumption of alcohol, drinking on more days per month, and to greater excess. Heavy drinking among women especially has soared.

The study, released Tuesday by the RAND corporation and supported by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), compared adults' drinking habits from 2019 to now. Surveying 1,540 adults across a nationally representative panel, participants were asked about their shift in consumption between spring 2019 and spring 2020, during the virus' first peak.

Based on the results, experts say they're concerned about how people may be choosing to ease the pain and isolation wrought by the pandemic.

"The magnitude of these increases is striking," Michael Pollard, lead author of the study and a sociologist at RAND, told ABC. "People's depression increases, anxiety increases, [and] alcohol use is often a way to cope with these feelings. But depression and anxiety are also the outcome of drinking; it's this feedback loop where it just exacerbates the problem that it's trying to address."

Between 2019 and now during the pandemic, men and women both reported increasing the frequency of their binge drinking episodes, defined as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within a couple of hours. For women, that count rose by half.

"To move the average up by that much means that some people are really increasing their binge drinking," Pollard said. "For women in particular it can often be an overlooked issue, but it is a real concern."

The study shows that not only has consumption spiked, but respondents also say they've experienced more adverse impacts as a result of their drinking.

Respondents were presented with 15 possible negative outcomes and asked to identify which were true for them. Among the yes-or-no options were, "I have been unhappy because of my drinking," "I have felt guilty or ashamed because of my drinking," "I have taken foolish risks when I have been drinking," and "My family has been hurt by my drinking."

From 2019 to 2020, the average number of the 15 questions women responded "yes" to nearly doubled, from two last year to more than three during the pandemic. In 2019, men on average responded "yes" to four of the questions, compared to roughly five in 2020.

"There is a history with events like 911, Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes and other catastrophes, that people then drink more, post-trauma," NIAAA Director Dr. George Koob told ABC. "Alcohol is a very effective pain killer. But when it wears off, that pain comes back with a vengeance."

Dinan, 42, has been working to get his drinking under control for the past seven years. He's gotten back on track now, but the stress of the pandemic has made it harder than ever before.

"It got to a point when everything just compounded, and I didn't know what to do," Dinan said. "When you're in recovery, you're told you shouldn't isolate, and now that's exactly what we've been told to do. We drink to hide from feelings, hide from life. We tend to isolate. Especially when addiction really gets advanced. Now people are isolated at home. And it presents a real challenge."

"Even when we're doing well, for someone in recovery who's been doing really well, our demons return with stress, and can trigger relapse," Koob said.

Sarah Hepolah, a writer and recovered alcoholic whose bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget," addressed her substance abuse, has been candid about the struggle and how hard it is for people to stay sane and sober amid the shutdown.

"The world took the rest of the coping mechanisms away -- and so you have this one thing and it has a kind of wicked allure," Hepolah told ABC. "I was very called by that voice of romantic doom -- heading to the liquor store for 'supplies' -- like it was a camping trip. And it sort of was. I was going on a camping trip from life."

It's an appealing escape hatch from reality, experts say, especially when that reality has begun to feel dystopian. That appeal, RAND's data shows, appears especially strong for women.

"It's a perfect drug for women in particular, in a lot of ways," Hepolah said. "Makes you feel braver, empowered, strong, it's a pain management system -- and it's a forgetting drug, and a lot of us are in a place where we just don't want to think a lot right now. And as far as women go right now, a lot of them are bearing the biggest burden of dealing with both work and added domestic stresses, home schooling, childcare, keeping the household from falling apart. A glass of wine or two, 'mother's little helper,' that's socially acceptable."

Drinking in and of itself is not a negative thing -- it's built into our social infrastructure as a way of bringing loved ones together over shared experiences. That's remained true during the pandemic, where Zoom cocktail parties have taken the place of traditional gatherings.

During the shutdown, innovative ways of bringing booze home took off, with online app sales connecting consumers with liquor stores for home delivery. One such company, Drizly, told ABC that during the early lockdown days, they saw growth surge of 700-800%. It's leveled off some since then, but they're still sitting at 350% growth since last year.

But with that unprecedented demand, Drizly's Liz Paquette said, comes a responsibility to wield their product mindfully.

"At a time when we're frightfully socially distancing, retaining connection with our loved ones is important for a lot of people," Paquette said. "But it can be a slippery slope. And so we practice a lot of care with our messaging and communication. We're careful to make sure we're not insinuating alcohol should be used as a coping mechanism. We don't glorify getting drunk. We don't push shots."

When they began seeing their sales snowball, Paquette said, they put a pause on their paid media spending -- making sure they had both supplies and safe messaging in place to meet the influx of demand.

"It's important to us both as humans at this company, and as an organization, that we understand our role within this space and make sure we're acting in a way that's as responsible as possible," Paquette said.

When alcohol becomes a crutch to sublimate unwanted pain, however, it becomes a problem.

Frankie Arguinzni, an employee at Supreme Liquor, gets down bottles of vodka from the top shelf for a customer in the Cambridge, Mass., April 28, 2020.
"It's one way to deal with this stress," Koob said, "but when you start drinking to fix something or to not feel something, the alcohol makes it worse. It gets very insidious."

As the coronavirus began to spread this spring, and alcohol sales began to spike, the World Health Organization warned that alcohol use could potentially exacerbate health issues and risk-taking behaviors.

Alcohol abuse poses unique risks in the current COVID-19 crisis, potentially making people more vulnerable to disease, experts say.

"Chronic alcohol consumption has historically been shown to increase the risk for acute respiratory distress syndrome," Koob said. Fluid builds up in the lungs, keeping them from filling with enough air. Less oxygen reaches the bloodstream, depriving organs of what they need to function.

"At a moment when we're supposed to be extra careful, this seems a particularly bad time for impaired judgment when we're supposed to be paying close attention to our behaviors," Pollard said. "There are real risks with lasting consequences."

As a result, say experts, this unprecedented crisis may offer new opportunities to rethink pain management.

"People may not want to quit drinking because they don't want to change their world," Hepolah said. "But now, the world has changed. And we're here whether we like it or not. So the question becomes, who do you want to be?"

If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit, SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

ABC News' Sony Salzman and Eric Strauss contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Research shows substantial increase in COVID-19 rates in children, especially adolescents

naumoid/iStockBy DR. LEAH CROLL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Evidence is mounting that children may play a larger role in the community spread of COVID-19, according to two studies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association published a study on Tuesday that showed that the number of children infected with COVID-19 rose sharply from April to September.

In April, children accounted for about 2.2% of all reported U.S. cases, but by September that figure had risen to 10%. By Sept. 24, according to the study, which used data from U.S. public health department websites, 624,890 cases in children had been reported.

And there's emerging evidence that older children may be "approximately twice" as likely to test positive than younger children, according to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published on Monday.

The study, published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, analyzed trends among 277,285 school-aged children with confirmed COVID-19 cases from March 1 to Sept. 19. During that span, adolescents aged 12 to 17 were found to have an average weekly rate of 37.4 new cases per 100,000 people, compared with 19 cases per 100,000 for ages 5 to 11.

The weekly rate of new cases among all children included in the CDC's study peaked during the week of July 19 and subsequently leveled off during the summer, rising in the week of Sept. 6, when many returned to school. Both studies noted that case numbers among children varied over time and by region.

As of Sept. 10, children represented 1.7% of COVID-related hospitalizations and 0.07% of deaths. It's still rare for children, especially young children, to die of COVID-19, with 0.01% of all child cases resulting in death, according to the Pediatrics study.

The CDC researchers found that underlying conditions were more common among children with severe outcomes from COVID-19. Among school-aged children who were hospitalized, admitted to intensive care or who died, 16%, 27% and 28%, respectively, had at least one underlying medical condition. Black and Latino children still are more likely to experience severe illness.

Both studies explained that they may be underestimating the true burden of COVID-19 on children because testing data reported by states often is not uniform or complete. Also, testing frequently was prioritized for people showing symptoms, and asymptomatic infection in children is common. More delayed reporting of children's tests means the data could be lagging behind reality.

"It is important for schools and communities," the CDC researchers wrote, "to monitor multiple indicators of COVID-19 among school-aged children and layer prevention strategies to reduce COVID-19 disease risk for students, teachers, school staff and families."

Leah Croll, M.D., a neurology resident at NYU Langone Health, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Chrissy Teigen hospitalized for excessive bleeding complication during third pregnancy

Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty ImagesBy ANDREA TUCCILLO and CARSON BLACKWELDER, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Chrissy Teigen revealed via her Instagram Stories that she was hospitalized for excessive bleeding on Sunday.

Teigen, who's about halfway through her third pregnancy, has been on weeks of mandatory bed rest and said her bleeding issues involving her placenta have been going on for a "like a month."

"Basically he's the strongest, coolest dude in the s-------t house. His house is just falling apart," she said of her baby boy. "It didn't have a good foundation to begin with, though. He didn't have the strongest chance at the very, very beginning."

"It's just hard because there's not much you can do," she added. "I'm in that weird in-between time of it being really dangerous to try anything."

"Basically if I can make it through the next few weeks, if little boy can make it through the next few weeks, then, you know, we can go from there and be able to kind of get through the danger zone or whatever," Teigen said. "But we have to get through this first. So yeah, it is scary. But it's scary in the way that there's just really nothing to do."

Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an OB/GYN, said Tuesday on "Good Morning America" that the "Cravings" author's bleeding problems may be caused by various issues with the placenta. They could range from "whether that placenta is lying a little bit low, closer to the cervix" to "the way that it's inserted into the muscle of the uterus."

Teigen said she is feeling "really good" despite the setback.

"The baby is so healthy," she said, noting that he is "stronger" than her two previous children were at this stage. "I'm just so excited for him."

Teigen's husband, John Legend, has stayed in the hospital room with her as she has undergone two blood transfusions.

The couple shares 4-year-old daughter Luna and 2-year-old son Miles.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Mother of a teacher who died from COVID-19 also dies from virus, family says


(NEW YORK) -- Just weeks after losing her daughter to complications of COVID-19, Shirley Bannister has also died from the virus, her family said.

“[It has been] very traumatic. This is our family [and] definitely will not be the same without them. It definitely leaves a void,” said Shayla Jones, Shirley Bannister’s niece.

Shirley Bannister, 57, who was the Department Chair for Nursing at Midlands Tech, learned she had COVID-19 the day she lost her daughter, Demetria “Demi” Bannister, to complications of the virus.

“[Shirely Bannister] took it very hard,” said Jones, who added that Bannister was still grieving and under immense stress when she was diagnosed. “It was a multitude of things, you know, mainly about Demetria’s passing and I know that was definitely a big impact [on] her.”

When Shirley Bannister began feeling symptomatic, she went to the hospital for a test, but was turned away, Jones told ABC News.

“[My aunt] and my uncle went to the hospital, and they wouldn't test them,” said Jones. “She tried more than one time to go to the hospital and they wouldn't admit her because they felt that her symptoms weren't severe enough.”

Shirley Bannister was able to get tested at an urgent care center, where she tested positive for COVID-19. She was subsequently admitted to a hospital, where she died a little over a week later on Sunday.

“I'm thankful that we are a strong family and a praying family. So I think sometimes we just get unexpected strength from God to deal with the matter,” said Jones.

Jones said her uncle tested negative for the virus this past week. He’s now grieving the loss of his family.

“We just try to be there for my uncle, you know, because [Demetria] is his only child,” said Jones.

She added that it’s been difficult for the family to grieve together as they’re unable to gather in person.

Demetria Bannister was a teacher at Windsor Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina. The 28-year-old was known for her “lovely spirit” and her love for music, Jones told ABC News. She was known for the songs, dances and music videos that she would make with her students.

After losing two family members, the family is now urging others to take the virus “seriously.”

“Well, we're really taking it day by day,” said Jones. “I think sometimes we think that they went somewhere and they'll be back, but then reality will sink in and we realize that their destination has no return.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

After her child died in a tip-over accident, mom makes desperate plea to parents


(NEW YORK) -- On the evening of Dec. 18, 2004, 3-year-old Meghan Beck was enjoying the film, Frosty the Snowman before heading to bed. The toddler was looking forward to Christmas and was set to decorate cookies the following day with her twin brother, Ryan and older brother, Kyle.

"She was bossy and loud," mom Kimberly Amato of Sterling, Massachusetts, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "She loved all animals from a caterpillar to a bird and her beloved cats -- all named Duncan."

"She had everybody wrapped around her little finger ... her twin was very laid back and Meghan was like, 'I want it and I want it now.' It was almost as if she knew she wasn't going to have a lot of time," she said.

On that night in 2004, Amato attended a neighborhood party with her son, Kyle. She returned home and tucked in Meghan and Ryan, who slept in separate rooms.

At 10:00 p.m. Amato went to sleep, though was woken by Meghan around 3:30 a.m.

"She had a stinky diaper [and would say], 'Mommy I'm a stinky girl,'" Amato recalled. "I changed her diaper and said, 'It's not time to get up yet.' That was the last time I saw her alive."

That morning, Amato says she slept later than usual -- a rare occasion. When she woke up at 8 a.m., her husband was yelling her name. His tone of voice made Amato realize something was wrong.

"I literally flew [to the bedroom]," she said. "I think my feet hit the ground three times."

Meghan was found unresponsive and trapped under her dresser. Amato said her family did not hear the furniture fall, and it appeared Meghan had removed her clothing from the drawers.

Amato rushed to her daughter's side and administered CPR. She remembers it had been more than six minutes, which is the window when irreversible brain damage can occur. Amato is CPR-certified.

"I said, 'Meggie, Come back to Mommy only if you can be Meggie,'" Amato says she told Meghan while waiting for paramedics.

An ambulance arrived as well as several neighbors with medical backgrounds, including an emergency room physician.

Amato followed the ambulance to the local hospital where she was informed that Meghan was being airlifted to the trauma ward at UMass Memorial.

"I knew in my heart she was gone," Amato said. "I wasn't ready to accept it, I'm still not ... but you always hold onto that hope."

An EMT drove Amato and her husband to UMass. It was there where they learned Meghan had died from suffocation.

"I remember hanging my head and taking a deep breath. I remember saying, can I see her?" Amato said, adding that nurses allowed her to hold Meghan in a blanket.

The night she lost Meghan, Amato sat down and wrote an email to her loved ones, informing them of her child's sudden death and urging them to bolt their dressers to the wall.

With Amato's blessing, people began sharing Meghan's photo on a flyer to alert parents of the dangers behind furniture tip-overs. The cause was soon named "Meghan's Hope." Amato launched a guest book that within days, had over 1,000 comments from family, friends and nurses who cared for Meghan in the hospital.

Amato also wrote a letter to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) about her devastating experience-turned-mission to alert other families.

"It's not in any parenting magazine, it wasn't taught to me when I took a childcare class. Something was wrong," she said.

In its 2019 report on furniture, television and appliance tip-over injuries and fatalities, the CPSC revealed that between 2000 and 2018, there were 556 fatalities that were caused by tip-overs. Of those reported deaths, 83% (459) involved kids with the victims ages being 1 month to 14 years. Fourteen percent involved seniors, victims ages 60 years or older.

Ages 1-4 years were the age majority of tip-over injuries and fatalities involving children. Furniture like dressers, bookshelves, drawers, TV stands and desks, were found to be the main cause of both injuries and deaths, with 60% of deaths involving furniture (some had both furniture and a TV tip-over). As for injuries, 76% involved furniture.

The main causes of tip-over accidents, according to the CPSC, are either unknown or the child was climbing onto the furniture. When drawers are open, furniture becomes front and top heavy, easily tipping over with some pressure or weight.

Emily Samuel, program director at the nonprofit child safety organization Safe Kids Wordwide, told GMA that furniture tip-overs are especially relevant now amid the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.

"Homes are no longer just place to live. It's [now] our home offices and where our kids play," Samuel said. "It's a combination of a young child at home and parents and caregivers balancing several priorities of homework, virtual learning and that could lead to gaps in supervision. There's a potential there for an increased number of injuries in the home."

Parents should be one step ahead, Samuel suggested, and put safety devices in place as soon as your baby rolls over. Don't wait until they crawl or walk, she said.

"Anytime we hear about a child or a family who has been affected by a preventable injury, it's so heartbreaking for us," she said. "And that's why we align our mission focused on educating and raising awareness to prevent these tragedies from happening."

At 3 years old, Meghan was 28 pounds. Her dresser stood 30 inches tall at 150 pounds, and Amato described it as an expensive piece of nursery furniture that she never imagined would've fallen over.

Amato, who now works with the CPSC on the government-funded campaign, Anchor It!, said Meghan's dresser would technically be compliant with today's voluntary safety standard based on height, yet it still tipped over and killed her.

"Anchoring right now is the only way to prevent a tip-over, and I would say properly anchoring is the only way," Amato explained, adding that not all furniture include anchors or warnings that it can tip, and injure or kill children.

On Sept. 17, 2019, the STURDY Act (Stop Tip-Overs of Unstable Risky Dressers on Youth), passed through the U.S. House and was referred to the Senate committee on science, commerce, and transportation.

The bill, which Amato is fighting to be passed, proposes the CPSC issue a mandatory furniture safety standard within one year of it's enactment.

It would warrant:

• Testing on all clothing storage units, regardless of height
• Require testing to simulate the weight of a child 72 months of age
• Require testing that accounts for the way children interact with furniture in the real world
• Testing that would include loaded drawers and multiple open drawers -- accounting for the impact of carpeting on stability, and simulating the dynamic forces a climbing child would cause
• Mandate strong warning requirements and labels
• Anchoring is the first line of defense, and the consumer should have to take final steps to make the product safe

Since Meghan's death, Amato became a founding member of the group, Parents Against Tip-Overs, in which the members are also parents of young children who have lost their lives from a furniture tip-over incident.

Their goal is to educate the public on how a child can be severely injured or killed by falling furniture, televisions and appliances.

The group first met in Washington, D.C., in November 2018, to talk with CPSC commissioners.

"The moms and dads, when we got together for the first time ... it was incredibly emotional," Amato said. "We said, 'Close your eyes and think of what our kids would say.' Our kids are all up there together looking down on us [saying], 'I'm so proud of you mommy and daddy for trying to save all these kids."

"I do hope that's what it is ... they're proud of mom and dad for trying to make sure this doesn't happen to anybody else," she added.

On the Anchor It! website, the CPSC says anchoring kits are sold online and in-stores for as low as $5 and people can install them themselves. The organization gives step-by-step instructions showing how to anchor furniture to drywall, or a brick wall to prevent tip-overs.

CPSC tips to remember:

• Use sturdy furniture designed to hold TVs, such as television stands or media centers
• Mount flat-screen TVs to the wall or furniture to prevent them from falling over
• Secure TVs even if they are not wall-mounted with an anti-tip device
• Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to secure TVs properly
• Secure top-heavy furniture with anti-tip devices, whether it’s old or new
• Remove items that might tempt kids to climb, such as toys and remote controls, from the top of TV and furniture

Samuel of Safe Kids said to also read instructions on the anchor straps or anti-tip devices like mounts of brackets on how install securely. Make sure the device is appropriate for the item you are anchoring.

You can find a complete list of furniture anchors and where to get them at

If you've experienced a tip-over, a near-miss, or any other product hazard, report it at It's the best way to ensure the CPSC has tip-over data as well as information about potentially dangerous or deadly products (like unstable dressers), and is where many recalls are born, Amato said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Public health crises collide: Substance abuse linked to COVID-19 susceptibility

Narvikk/iStockBy DR. YALDA SAFAI, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- People with substance use disorders may be more likely to become infected and die of COVID-19, according to a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in Molecular Psychiatry.

Specifically, the study found that people with opioid use disorder and tobacco addiction were more likely to die of COVID-19.

"Drugs inhibit the ability to fight viral and bacterial infections, disrupting immune function," Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and co-author of the study, told ABC News.

"Opioids inhibit the respiratory centers in the brain. The combination of the two leads to the increased risk of COVID and its complications," she added.

Opioid epidemic meets the coronavirus

The opioid epidemic that began in the 1990s is now a global health crisis, and with the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, the two public health crises are now colliding in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 70,000 people died in the U.S. from an opioid overdose in 2019. These numbers are projected to be higher in 2020.

Overdose with opioids is caused by the respiratory depressant effects of these drugs. Opioids -- including but not limited to heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl -- work by slowing down the breathing rate.

COVID-19 also affects breathing, decreasing the ability to properly take in oxygen, which makes the combination of opioids and COVID-19 infection particularly lethal.

Tobacco and cocaine increase risks too

In addition, the chronic use of drugs such as tobacco, cocaine and opioids is associated with heart problems, including risk for heart attacks and heart failure.

"Cocaine doesn't work in the same way opioids do. Stimulants, such as cocaine, work by causing constriction of blood vessels," said Volkow. Chronic cocaine use can lead to high blood pressure, which is also a risk factor for COVID-19 complications.

"All substance use is highly comorbid with tobacco use," which can leave you more vulnerable to respiratory illnesses, added Volkow.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that smoking cigarettes can cause heart and lung disease and people with underlying heart and lung problems may have increased risk for serious complications from COVID-19.

"Smoking can also cause inflammation and cell damage in the body, and can weaken your immune system, making it less able to fight off disease," they add.

The pandemic has led to an increase in many risk factors for substance addiction, including isolation, financial hardship and mental health problems. The need for treatment services has gone up significantly while mental health and addiction treatment centers have struggled to stay open. Financial burdens caused by safety regulations, quarantine rules, limited capacity and fewer physician referrals are only some of the reasons these centers have been having a hard time staying afloat.

Disruptions in treatment caused by the pandemic

The CDC noted on its website that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions in treatment.

In-person treatment options might not be available, which may bring on a relapse for those in remission. Narcotics Anonymous meetings, for instance, were suspended early in the pandemic, just when support was perhaps needed most, and the transition to online meetings was slow. Now they're beginning to open up, offering social support and mentorship that are often fundamental to recovery.

Syringe service programs may be closed or have reduced hours, limiting access to clean syringes, constituting a public health hazard. Illicit drug supplies might be limited, or access disrupted due to social distancing, which can potentially lead to the risk of using contaminated drug products that might increase overdoses or other adverse reactions.

In addition, social distancing rules and stay-at-home mandates may lead to higher numbers of people using substances alone, without others around to administer life saving remedies such as naloxone or to call for help in the case of overdose.

"It is very important for substance users to recognize that they are at a higher risk," said Volkow.

The study emphasizes the need to screen for, and treat, substance use as part of the plan for controlling the pandemic.

It is important for health care providers to closely monitor patients with substance use and develop a plan to help protect them from infection and severe outcomes, the study concludes.

Find a health care provider or treatment for substance use disorder and mental health: SAMHSA's National Helplineexternal icon: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889

Yalda Safai, M.D., M.P.H., is a psychiatry resident in New York City and contributor to ABC News' Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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