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Carlisle’s Devon Chenot set two records at the Big Spring Bulldog Bash on Thursday.

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Midstate residents take icy dip to raise cold hard cash at Penguin Plunge

Some people ring in the New Year by setting off fireworks, some eat pork and sauerkraut and others take an icy dip into the Susquehanna River.

On Monday, more than 100 people braved frigid temperatures, which remained below 20 degrees, to take part in the Penguin Plunge on Harrisburg’s City Island.

The event is one of three fundraisers for the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area.

“I think it’s just that it’s crazy, it’s different and something that not many other organizations do, so it attracts people for the sole basis that it’s something crazy and unusual,” said Megan Strausbaugh, director of marketing for the Humane Society of the Harrisburg Area. “People are drawn towards that because it’s not typical.”

Crews from local river rescue organizations had to clear away snow and break ice to allow plungers room to dive into the water. This is only the second time in the history of the Penguin Plunge that ice had to be cleared away, Strausbaugh said.

More than 100 people registered for the event and many more signed up the Monday, she said.

James Shallenberger, of Camp Hill, said he frequently swims in the river but has never done an official event like this.

“I have been in the water when it’s this cold in the past,” he said. “So, I’m just kind of remembering that I survived it.”

Shallenberger said his technique is to “get in and get out quickly.”

Like Shallenberger, Eric Dale, of Carlisle, said the event was a good way to give back.

“It’s for a good cause,” Dale said. “We donate the money, but that’s the easy part.”

Dale has been doing the Penguin Plunge for nearly 10 years with his friends and said this year was coldest the water has ever been.

“It’s cold,” he said as ice formed on his beard. “It’s really, really cold.”

According to Strausbaugh, the event was expected to bring in $30,000 to $40,000.

In May, the Humane Society holds a 5k run/walk at Wildwood Park and in November, the organization hosts a black tie “fur ball gala.”

Through adoptions, rescues, veterinary and other service, Strausbaugh said the Humane Society assists more than 10,000 animals a year in Cumberland, Perry, Dauphin and York counties.

Feds employ data-driven early warning system in opioid fight

PITTSBURGH — The pain clinic tucked into the corner of a low-slung suburban strip mall was an open secret.

Patients would travel hundreds of miles to see Dr. Andrzej Zielke, eager for what authorities described as a steady flow of prescriptions for the kinds of powerful painkillers that ushered the nation into its worst drug crisis in history.

At least one of Zielke’s patients died of an overdose, and prosecutors say others became so dependent on oxycodone and other opioids they would crowd his office, sometimes sleeping in the waiting room.

Some peddled their pills near dilapidated storefronts and on blighted street corners in addiction-plagued parts of Allegheny County, where deaths by drug overdose reached record levels last year.

But Robert Cessar, a longtime federal prosecutor, was unaware of Zielke until Justice Department officials handed him a binder of data that, he said, confirmed what pill-seekers from as far away as Ohio and Virginia already knew.

The doctor who offered ozone therapy and herbal pain remedies was also prescribing highly addictive narcotics to patients who didn’t need them, according to an indictment charging him with conspiracy and unlawfully distributing controlled substances.

Zielke denied he was overprescribing, telling AP he practiced alternative medicine and many of his patients stopped seeing him when he cut down on pain pills.

His indictment in October was the first by a nationwide group of federal law enforcement officials that, armed with new access to a broader array of prescription drug databases, Medicaid and Medicare figures, coroners’ records and other numbers compiled by the Justice Department, aims to stop fraudulent doctors faster than before.

The department is providing a trove of data to the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. Data drawn from authorities in 12 regions across the country shows which doctors are prescribing the most, how far patients will travel to see them and whether any have died within 60 days of receiving one of their prescriptions, among other information.

Authorities have been going after so-called “pill mills” for years, but the new approach brings additional federal resources to bear against the escalating epidemic. Where prosecutors would spend months or longer building a case by relying on erratic informants and limited data, the number-crunching by analysts in Washington provides information they say lets them quickly zero in on a region’s top opioid prescribers.

“This data shines a light we’ve never had before,” Cessar said. “We don’t need to have confidential informants on the street to start a case. Now, we have someone behind a computer screen who is helping us. That has to put (doctors) on notice that we have new tools.”

And Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, said the Justice Department will consider going after any law-breaker, even a pharmaceutical company, as it seeks to bring more cases and reduce the number of unwarranted prescriptions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been in lock-step with President Donald Trump about the need to combat the drug abuse problem that claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016, a priority that resonates with Trump’s working-class supporters who have seen the ravages of drug abuse first-hand. The president called it a public health emergency, a declaration that allows the government to redirect resources to fight opioid abuse.

But he directed no new federal money to deal with a scourge that kills nearly 100 people a day, and critics say his efforts fall short of what is needed. The Republican-controlled Congress doesn’t seem eager to put extra money toward the problem.

While the effectiveness of the Trump administration’s broader strategy remains to be seen, the Justice Department’s data-driven effort is one small area where federal prosecutors say they can have an impact.

The data analysis provides clues about who may be breaking the law that are then corroborated with old-fashioned detective work — tips from informants or undercover office visits, said Shawn A. Brokos, a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Pittsburgh division. Investigators can also get a sense for where displaced patients will turn next.

Authorities acknowledge there are legitimate reasons for some doctors to prescribe large quantities of opioids, and prescriptions alone don’t necessarily trigger extra scrutiny. What raises red flags for investigators are the dentists, psychiatrists and gynecologists who are prescribing at surprisingly high rates.

The effort operates on the long-held perception that drug addiction often starts with prescriptions from doctors and leads to abuse of more dangerous black market drugs like fentanyl, which, for the first time last year, contributed to more overdose deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing pain pills and heroin.

But that focus can cause law-abiding physicians to abandon disabled patients who rely on prescriptions, for fear of being shut down, said University of Alabama addiction researcher Stefan Kertesz. Those patients will turn to harder street drugs or even kill themselves, he said.

“The professional risk for physicians is so high that the natural tendency is to get out of the business of prescription opioids at all,” he said.

Investigators said Zielke charged $250 a visit and made patients pay in cash. But Zielke said prosecutors unfairly targeted him. Instead of more prosecutions the government “should promote more alternative therapies,” he said. “And they should find out why so many people have pain.”

A second indictment by the anti-fraud unit involved a cardiologist in Elko, Nevada, accused of routinely providing patients fentanyl and other painkillers they did not need. Justice officials hope to expand the data-driven work nationwide.

Will it work? As Soo Song, who watched addiction warp communities while serving as acting U.S. attorney in western Pennyslvania, put it: “The best measure of success will be if fewer people die.”

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Prepare for a healthy day at the Farm Show

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Farm Show sounds like such a healthy experience — fresh air while heading to the complex, 24 acres of good walking, and milk, apples and vegetable soup at the Food Court.

Yet out-of-shape visitors may find the walking challenging. People who tend to ignore calories and fat content of food may find the fried and rich treats irresistible. People with allergies may find spending time with animals causes difficulty breathing.

Julie LaRue, a nurse practitioner, says people need to use common sense when attending the Farm Show. LaRue works for Alexander Spring Family Care, a part of UPMC Pinnacle Carlisle.

LaRue recommends eating a good, healthy breakfast before going to a day at the Farm Show.

“You need energy to walk around the complex,” she said. “A person should have three or four good exercise periods a week, at least 40 minutes each time. People get that and more at the Farm Show. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes that fit your feet well and maybe thick socks too.”

She suggested that people stay hydrated with water, not drinks with caffeine and sugar. She also suggested that Farm Show visitors either wash their hands before eating or use the hand sanitizers throughout the Farm Show Complex.

The Food Court, where 10 commodity groups sell everything from apples to fried zucchini, can be a dieter’s best friend or worst enemy.

For instance, the Pennsylvania Vegetable Growers Association sells batter-dipped and fried vegetables and blooming onions, the latter having more than 1,500 calories and more than 80 grams of fat. The association also sells carrot and celery sticks, tossed salad, vegetable soup and bean salad.

PennAg Industries offers buckets of chicken, cinnamon sticky buns, shoofly pie and chocolate-covered bacon. It also offers hard boiled eggs, trout chowder, seasoned slow roasted chicken and turkey barbecue sandwiches.

The State Horticultural Association sells apple dumplings, cider doughnuts and cherry pie with ice cream, along with apples, pasteurized cider and apple butter.

LaRue said fruits, vegetables and grains generally are better choices than fried food or red meat.

“It’s better to go with chicken, turkey or fish,” she said. “Just remember to eat in moderation. If you want a treat higher in calories, share it with someone else.”

Farm Show visitors who have asthma, a respiratory condition involving spasms in the bronchi of the lungs, can have breathing difficulties after being around dust, animal dander, bacteria and even evergreen trees. LaRue said those visitors should know their “asthma triggers” and be cautious around them.

“Asthma patients who have trouble around animals should space out their time with the animals,” she said. “Cold also affects asthma so keep bundled up and be careful breathing in too much cold air. Be compliant with your asthma medicine. Bring your inhaler along to the Farm Show.”

She reminded visitors that the Farm Show has a lot of nonanimal attractions.

LaRue said the Pennsylvania Department of Health participates in the Farm Show, offering “one stop shopping” for some health issues.

Gabrielle Alberigi, a state Department of Health spokeswoman, said the department will give free flu shots from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6, through Friday, Jan. 12, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 13.

The department also will have emergency medical services programs at various times each day plus sessions on car seat safety, bike safety, sun safety, smoking cessation and organ donations.

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5 Questions
5 Questions: Carlisle teen's future is up in the air

A Carlisle High School senior took his love of aviation to new heights.

On Dec. 9, Jeff Estes, 17, took his first solo flight at Carlisle Airport after taking flying lessons since the fall of 2016 with Barbara George, an instructor with Cumberland Valley Aviation.

Estes is the son of Larry and Julie Estes.

Q. What sparked your interest in flying?

A. I have always had an interest in cars, trucks, planes and trains. However, as a kid I watched a lot of documentaries about World War II and aviation was a large focus. From there, I started learning more and more through books and sites like Wikipedia, just reading about various aircraft and airports and the like in my spare time.

Q. How did you earn the money for the flying lessons?

A. I have been mowing lawns for neighbors since I was about 9 or 10 years old, slowly saving up money. Since I was 16, I have also had a handful of jobs that I have always allotted a certain amount of my income towards savings. From there, it has been a matter of budgeting.

Q. What was the most difficult part of learning to fly?

A. The technicalities and lengthy rule book of regulations and procedures are very daunting at first, however once it is applied regularly it becomes routine and standard memorization applies. After that, learning the motor skills of actually flying comes more naturally.

Q. Tell us what it was like to take your first solo flight, and where did you go?

A. Flying alone for the first time was an odd combination of routine and nerves. I simply flew around the traffic pattern of the airport, which is within a few miles of the field. There was an odd realization that I was up there by myself for the first time, but that didn’t last long as I had to keep my mind on flying the airplane.

Q. What are your future plans, both in general and in relation to flying?

A. I am looking to study logistics and sustainability next year, fields that I see becoming ever more important in the coming years. I certainly plan on continuing to fly, as I hope to earn my commercial pilot’s license and take advantage of any opportunities down that alley on top of a career in business.