The Flint water crisis and other public health woes from 2016

Vaping, opioids and lead continued to cause problems this year

Flint, Mich., water tower

WATER WOES  Many residents in Flint, Mich., are still relying on bottled water after lead-tainted water raised alarm late last year.

Linda Parton/Shutterstock

Drug use continued to threaten the health and safety of the American public in 2016, while a hidden menace in drinking water remained a major worry for the people of Flint, Mich.

Teen vaping

Vaping has surpassed cigarette smoking among U.S. high school students, according to a report released in 2016 from the National Youth Tobacco Survey. Estimates suggest that some 2.39 million U.S. high school kids vaped in 2015, compared with an estimated 1.37 million who smoked cigarettes (SN: 5/28/16, p. 4). The popularity of e-cigarettes has increased recently despite a lack of evidence showing that they are safer than conventional tobacco products, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which in May extended its regulatory authority to e-cigarettes. Studies reported in 2016 show a host of potential health risks, including effects on the brain, immune system and fertility (SN: 3/5/16, p. 16).

Opioid epidemic

Against a backdrop of rising prescription opioid addiction, deaths related to opioid use have become an issue of national importance. A surge in fentanyl-spiked drugs emerged as a primary concern in 2016 (SN: 9/3/16, p. 14). U.S. deaths from synthetic opioids rose from 3,105 in 2013 to 5,544 in 2014, a change that could not be explained by fentanyl prescription rates, according to a report released in August by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drug enforcement seizures involving fentanyl more than doubled from 2014 to 2015.

Fallout in Flint

After lead in the drinking water in Flint, Mich., launched a public health crisis (SN: 3/19/16, p. 8), a federal state of emergency remained in effect into August. The most recent tests conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that levels of lead, which is toxic to the brain, are below those considered dangerous and that filtered tap water is safe to drink. Many residents are still relying on bottled water, however. There’s also growing concern that lead contamination and testing is not being taken seriously elsewhere in the United States.

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