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Once-resistant rural court officials begin to embrace medications to treat addiction




DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Rachel Solomon and judges hadn’t been on the best of terms. Then Judge O. Duane Slone “dumbfounded” her.

Solomon was given her first Percocet at age 12 by a family member with a medicine cabinet full. It made her feel numb, she said. “Nothing hurt.” By 17, she was taking 80-milligram OxyContins. A decade later, she was introduced to heroin.

During those years, Solomon was in and out of trouble with the law.

Then, five years ago, at 32, she arrived in Slone’s courtroom, pregnant, fearing the worst. But the state circuit court judge saw promise. He ruled that Solomon would serve jail time for an outstanding warrant for aggravated burglary and then would be placed in a program for pregnant or parenting women recovering from addiction. She would retain custody of her son, Brantley, now 4.

Slone also offered an option that many judges, particularly in rural jurisdictions, at that time were averse to extending: medication for opioid use disorder, or MOUD.

A study conducted a decade ago found that barely half of drug treatment courts offered medication treatment. Those that didn’t cited uncertainty about its efficacy and noted political, judicial, and administrative opposition. But research in the years since has persuaded many of the most insistent abstinence-only advocates.

According to Monica Christofferson, director of treatment court programs at the Center for Justice Innovation, amid an accelerating opioid crisis there has been a “huge shift” among judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement agencies away from the stigma associated with medication treatment. Simply put, “MOUD works,” Christofferson asserted.

By 2022, more than 90% of drug courts located in communities with high opioid mortality rates that responded to a survey said they allow buprenorphine and/or methadone, the medications most commonly used to treat addiction. The study also found that 65% of drug court program staffers have received training in medication for treatment, and a similar share have arranged for clients to continue receiving medications while serving jail time for program violations. Still, almost 1 in 4 programs told researchers they overrule medication decisions.

Federal legislation has lowered the barriers to it. And Bureau of Justice Assistance funding for treatment-court programs now mandates that medication for substance use disorder be provided.

Prescription Drug Buprenorphine
Bottles of the generic prescription pain medication buprenorphine, which is used as an alternative to methadone to help people recovering from heroin addiction. 

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Solomon experienced that shift in real time in Slone’s courtroom as the judge allowed her access to medication to treat her addiction to opioids.

As a young prosecutor in the 1990s in mostly rural eastern Tennessee, Slone was embedded with a drug task force and was well versed in efforts to counteract the supply side of the opioid crisis. Then, as a circuit court judge, he’d put his share of people behind bars on drug-related convictions.

As the crisis deepened, he started to wonder if addressing the demand side would be more effective.

Like so many other prosecutors and judges, Slone believed abstinence was the only path to recovery. But in 2013, after consulting with substance use disorder experts, he relented, introducing medication as an alternative to incarceration for pregnant women. By 2016, he had fully embraced it throughout his recovery courts — even as most judges, he said, “still believed that it was substituting one drug for another.”

Building from evidence-based research, Slone has launched programs that show how a judge, and a region, can trade an abstinence-only, lock-’em-up approach for one that offers a full range of paths to recovery.

Before witnessing medication treatment’s efficacy, Slone said, he would tell a defendant charged with a drug offense, “‘This is your second chance. If you violate the conditions of your probation, I’m going to put you in jail.'”

Often, six months later they’d be back in his courtroom, charged with a low-level crime and having tested positive for drugs. “They’re 19, maybe 20 years old, and I’m executing a five-year sentence. It makes me sick to my stomach now.”

Slone was sure there must be a better way.

A drug recovery court, which he co-founded in his 4th Judicial District in 2009, was a first step. It allows defendants with nonviolent drug-related charges to avoid jail time by entering treatment and counseling. They’re closely monitored by a team that includes a judge, case manager, public defender, prosecutor, and probation officer. If the participant violates the terms of the agreement, the first step is a reassessment of treatment needs. Multiple violations may result in incarceration.

Because this form of drug court is resource-intensive, relatively few people can be enrolled. So in 2013, Slone introduced the Tennessee Recovery Oriented Compliance Strategy, or TN-ROCS, an alternative to jail for those who aren’t considered at high risk of recidivism but are deemed in urgent need of treatment. Many are pregnant women or mothers of young children.

Given the reduced need for supervision, the program can accommodate more participants. So far, more than 1,000 people have been on the district’s TN-ROCS docket.

Both the recovery court and TN-ROCS offer three medication options: buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone.

Since TN-ROCS’ launch, Slone said, his community has seen a decrease in property crimes and its jail population. Over its first five years, all 34 pregnant women in the program gave birth to healthy babies and 30 kept custody of their children. TN-ROCS is now being replicated across the state.

One barrier to broader acceptance of medication treatment in both rural and urban communities, Christofferson said, is a lack of education.

Corey Williams agrees. He advocates for educating criminal justice system officials. Williams is an officer with the Lubbock, Texas, Police Department and is a consultant with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which promotes drug policy and criminal justice reform. He believes that if more criminal justice officials had personal experience with medication to treat substance use disorder, they’d view it differently.

Williams’ wife, Brianne Williams, became addicted to opioids in medical school. She participated in a series of abstinence-only programs and was free of the drugs for seven years, then relapsed. She was arrested for writing herself a prescription for opioids and placed on probation.

She had entered a Suboxone treatment program, but her probation officer incorrectly informed her she couldn’t remain on Suboxone on probation. Williams relapsed, failed a drug test, and served 30 months in federal prison. After her release, she went back on Suboxone — a brand-name combination of buprenorphine and naloxone — and has maintained her sobriety. “It improved my life drastically,” she said. She now hopes to regain her medical license and specialize in addiction treatment.

The relative unavailability in rural areas of medication treatment is certainly a problem. A shortage, Christofferson noted, is not only an issue in itself, but also a barrier to overcoming stigma. More openings available, more success stories. More success stories, less stigma. Fewer provider options also means one bad actor — a provider who overprescribes or is otherwise negligent — perpetuates the stigma. Strict oversight is essential.

Physician Stephen Loyd influenced Slone’s decision to embrace medication treatment and is now a member of Slone’s recovery court team. Loyd was practicing internal medicine in eastern Tennessee when he developed a 100-pill-a-day addiction to prescription opioids. He was the inspiration for the character Michael Keaton portrayed in the Hulu series “Dopesick.” Loyd overcame his addiction and served as the state’s “opioid czar” under Gov. Bill Haslam from 2016 to 2018.

While in state government, Loyd helped plant the seed for TN-ROCS. He told Slone the first judge to take such an initiative would “be on the cover of Time magazine, because your success rates are gonna go up dramatically; you’re gonna save a bunch of lives.”

“He didn’t get on the cover of Time,” Loyd allowed, “but he did win the William H. Rehnquist Award.” The William H. Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence is among the country’s highest judicial honors.

Rachel Solomon contends one of those lives saved was hers.

Today she and her son are together; she’s employed. She remains on Suboxone. She feels good. And she feels fortunate she arrived in Slone’s courtroom when she did.

“He’s the reason I am where I am today,” she said. “He really is.”

KFF Health News, formerly known as Kaiser Health News (KHN), is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues and is one of the core operating programs at KFF — the independent source for health policy research, polling, and journalism.

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Climate protest mires flights at Germany’s Frankfurt airport as police thwart linked action in London




Frankfurt, Germany — Germany’s busiest airport canceled more than 100 flights Thursday as environmental activists launched a coordinated effort to disrupt air travel across Europe at the height of the summer holiday season to highlight the threat posed by climate change. Frankfurt Airport said flights were halted for safety reasons after climate activists breached security fences, triggering a response from police, firefighters and airport security officers.

All runways were back in operation by 7:50 a.m. local time, the airport said in a statement on its website. About 140 flights have been cancelled so far, but further disruptions are expected throughout the day, the airport said.

“We sharply condemn these unauthorized demonstrations, and we reserve the right to take legal action against the participants,” the airport said. “Their activities pose severe danger to flight operations — possibly putting human life at risk.”

Air traffic in Frankfurt suspended due to climate activists
Emergency vehicles airport security are seen on a taxiway at Frankfurt Airport, where two activists (M) have glued themselves to the pavement, July 25, 2024.

Arne Dedert/picture alliance/Getty

Environmental groups said they planned to target airports around Europe this summer to remind people about the link between fossil fuels, such as those used by airliners, and climate change. The groups are calling for governments around the world to end the extraction and burning of fossil fuels by 2030.

The Last Generation group, which organized the Frankfurt demonstration, said six protesters cut holes in the perimeter fence and headed toward the runways on foot, bicycles and skateboards.

It was the second time in as many days that a protest by Last Generation caused disruption at a German airport.

On Wednesday, five protesters glued themselves to a taxiway at Cologne-Bonn Airport, forcing a roughly three-hour halt to flights. That protest resulted in 31 flights being canceled. There were other protests or attempted protests in other European countries.

Letzte Generation activists protest at German airport
Police, security and medical staff are seen near the runways at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, July 25, 2024, after activists of the “Letzte Generation” (Last Generation) group staged a demonstration.

Maximilian Schwarz/REUTERS

Climate activists staged similar actions in Finland, Norway, Switzerland and Spain on Wednesday.

At Helsinki Airport, a handful of protesters blocked the main check-in area for about 30 minutes, but police said the demonstration caused no delays to flights or other disruption.

At Oslo’s main Gardermoen airport, three activists managed to enter the runway area early Wednesday, waving banners and disrupting air traffic for about half an hour. Police said there were no major flight delays.

Police in London said Wednesday that they prevented a planned protest at Heathrow Airport that could have had a significant impact on Europe’s largest airport. Seven members of the group known as Just Stop Oil were arrested at Heathrow and three others were taken into custody at other locations as part of an “intelligence-led” operation, the Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement.

One of those arrested in London was Sean Callaghan, 29, who described himself as an environmental educator.

“I’m taking action at airports this summer because it is impossible for me to see a way in which we can inspire and enthuse students about the future of our planet,″ Callaghan said in a video posted on social media.

Letzte Generation activists protest at German airport
Police secure the area after activists of the “Letzte Generation” (Last Generation) cut a hole in a fence and staged a demonstration near the runways at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, July 25, 2024.

Maximilian Schwarz/REUTERS

Just Stop Oil activists have been behind a series of attention grabbing protests in the U.K. in recent years, including the recent spraying of the ancient Stonehenge monument in England with orange paint, the disruption of a staging of “Les Miserable” in London’s West End, and a sit-in that snarled traffic for hours on the massive M25 highway that encircles London.

Last week, the German Cabinet approved legislation that would impose tougher penalties on people who break through airport perimeters.

The bill, which still requires approval by lawmakers, foresees punishment ranging up to a two-year prison sentence for people who intentionally intrude on airside areas of airports such as taxiways or runways, endanger civil aviation, or enable someone else to. Currently such intrusions only draw a fine.

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DEA agents joked about rape in WhatsApp chat before one was accused of the crime, secret files show




DEA lab chemists seeing new trend: Drugs, fake prescription pills more potent than ever

DEA lab chemists seeing new trend: Drugs, fake prescription pills more potent than ever


In a WhatsApp chat that quickly devolved into depravity, a group of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents boasted about their “world debauchery tour” of “boozing and whoring” on the government’s dime. They swapped lurid images of their latest sexual conquests. And at one point they even joked about “forcible anal rape.”

Within months of that jaw-dropping exchange, an agent in the group chat was accused of that very crime.

The 2018 arrest of George Zoumberos for allegedly forcing anal sex on a 23-year-old woman in a Madrid hotel room set off alarms at the highest levels of the DEA, beginning with a middle-of-the-night phone call from a supervisor to the agency’s headquarters outside Washington. But U.S. officials never even spoke with the woman and made only cursory efforts to investigate.

The DEA has refused for years to discuss its handling of the arrest, instead telling The Associated Press in response to its questions that “the alleged misconduct in this case is egregious and unacceptable and does not reflect the high standards expected of all DEA personnel.”

This October 2014 photo obtained by The Associated Press shows then-U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Agents Jose Irizarry and George Zoumberos in a rooftop pool at a luxury hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, during a DEA assignment for “Operation White Wash.” Irizarry long considered Zoumberos a brother but in his interviews with investigators accused his former partner of a list of crimes. 

AP Photo

The details of the case and the graphic group chat are outlined in a trove of thousands of secret law enforcement documents obtained by the AP that offer a never-before-seen window into a culture of corruption among federal narcotics agents who parlayed the DEA’s shadowy money laundering operations into a worldwide pursuit of binge drinking and illicit sex.

Zoumberos, married and 38 at the time, maintained the interaction was consensual and, after a jailhouse visit from U.S. Embassy officials, was released and flew home within hours of his arrest. A Spanish judge later dismissed the case, ruling only that the allegations were not “duly justified.” The agent eventually returned to duty with a DEA letter of reprimand chiding him for “poor judgment.”

“I told him very clearly that I didn’t want to have sex,” the woman recently told AP, which does not typically identify those who say they are victims of sexual assault.

The woman, speaking about her allegations for the first time, says her anguish led to severe panic attacks that forced her to drop out of college, and to this day she’s haunted by fears her attacker will return.

“I’m very afraid,” she said, her voice trembling over the phone. “He could try to find me or take revenge.”

“A very fun game”

Many of the documents AP obtained focus on ongoing investigations following the scandalous 2020 arrest of José Irizarry, an agent in the group chat considered the ringleader of the debauchery and perhaps the most corrupt agent in the DEA’s 50-year history.

But despite his conviction and repeated claims that dozens of others were involved in his scheme to skim millions from money laundering seizures to bankroll a junket of partying and sex, no criminal charges have been filed against any other DEA agents, supervisors or prosecutors allegedly tied to the corruption. The U.S. Justice Department did not respond to questions asking why. More than a dozen, however, have been quietly disciplined or ousted from their jobs.

Irizarry, serving a 12-year federal prison term for laundering money for the very Colombian drug cartels he was sworn to police, has maintained to AP in recent interviews that he was not a rogue agent and accountability is long overdue for the many others who joined him in a wild ride that mocked the DEA’s mission.

DEA Files-Rape Accusation
Jose Irizarry, a once-standout DEA agent sentenced to more than 12 years in federal prison for conspiring to launder money with a Colombian cartel, pauses during an interview the night before going to a federal detention center, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022. 

Carlos Giusti / AP

“You can’t win an unwinnable war,” Irizarry said before reporting to prison. “The drug war is a game. … It was a very fun game that we were playing.”

That game revolved around the DEA’s undercover money laundering operations, including one codenamed White Wash that was led by the agents in the group chat. It was shut down in 2017 before a blistering internal audit found agents’ globetrotting through the bars, strip clubs and hotels of Paris, Madrid, and the Caribbean was “unacceptable” and rife with corruption.

“The agents would set up one meeting in the city of their choice but in reality were just going on vacation,” reads an FBI investigative report in the files obtained by AP. Other records detailed how agents frequented the red-light district of Amsterdam for prostitutes and recorded “no enforcement operations” whatsoever during a weeklong trip to Norway, a country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

In the end, the DEA audit found the five-year operation could claim credit for just five convictions while agents shelled out $900,000 on travel, and $26,000 on meals as they partied around the world tapping a $1.9 million government fund of lawful money laundering proceeds they referred to as their “debauchery piggy bank.”

“It was all bulls—” Irizarry told the FBI, adding that White Wash was compromised from its first day by reports falsified to justify the next party spree. “It was all a novel.”

An unending, degenerate party

The WhatsApp chat, recovered during the FBI’s criminal investigation of DEA misconduct, included five DEA agents identified by AP, one of whom remains with the agency today, and hundreds of exchanges from 2017. Irizarry was the only agent willing to discuss the chat with AP.

The chat backed up many of his allegations that portrayed life in the DEA as an unending, degenerate party. Agents planned DEA travel around binge-drinking and sex with no fear their encrypted messages would ever be read by anyone else. And rather than reporting Irizarry’s misconduct, agents pressed him for X-rated images of his exploits.

“José you’re just smashing ass,” one agent wrote of Irizarry in February 2017, a month into a new U.S. presidential administration. “Nothing wrong with that under Trump. … Your good.”

Before one jaunt, an agent wrote colleagues he was “hoping you’ve organized some welcome p—y for me tomorrow when I land.”

“Tough life this war on drugs,” an agent quipped in one message.

Added another: “Think of how different our experience on the job is than most.”

Federal authorities’ extraction of the deleted chat does not identify the author of every message, but AP identified the senders through context, federal law enforcement records and interviews. AP is only identifying two of the agents who have been accused of crimes: Irizarry and Zoumberos.

Irizarry told federal authorities in 2020 that he had direct knowledge of 15 DEA agents soliciting prostitutes. He attributed the most damning exchanges in the group chat to Zoumberos, the agent briefly jailed on suspicion of sexual assault in Spain.

“Irizarry stated Zoumberos talked about forcing anal sex on hookers,” a Homeland Security Investigations report states.

References to anal sex were so common in the group chat that agents coined a term for it – pancaking – and often accompanied such mentions with an emoji of a stack of pancakes.

“I’m coming old school to pancake a few Colombia chicks,” Zoumberos texted before one 2017 trip.

There were frequent mentions of prostitutes and at least two references to assaulting them and leaving it to an informant to “clean up” the mess.

They also joked about creating a “hooker app” in which agents would sneak prostitutes past everything from a hotel front desk to DEA internal affairs while trying to avoid federal prison.

“These are some expensive bitches,” one agent wrote in an exchange that included the sharing of a prostitute’s phone number. “She’s telling me $1,000 for the night.”

Ben Greenberg, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who reviewed the messages at AP’s request, called them “beyond inappropriate.”

“In the context of such serious criminal allegations, the chats look like evidence of a crime and not just grotesque banter,” he said. “U.S. law enforcement has an obligation to fully investigate this case and to hold anyone involved in criminal activity accountable regardless of their position.”

The lewd texts came even as the DEA was making public promises to clean up its act following a highly publicized scandal in which agents participated in “sex parties” with prostitutes hired by Colombian cartels. That prompted the suspension of several agents and the 2015 retirement of then-DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart.

Misconduct in the 4,100-agent DEA has hardly been isolated. AP has tallied at least 16 agents over the past decade brought up on federal charges ranging from child pornography and drug trafficking to leaking intelligence to defense attorneys and selling firearms to cartel associates, revealing gaping holes in the agency’s supervision.

After Administrator Anne Milgram took the reins of the DEA in 2021, the agency placed new controls on how funds can be used in money laundering stings, and warned agents they can now be fired for a first offense of misconduct if serious enough, a departure from prior administrations.

“The DEA has made significant advancements in oversight measures, disciplinary processes and accountability of personnel,” the agency said in a statement to AP, adding it will “remain vigilant in our pursuit for excellence and integrity and will take decisive action should serious misconduct occur.”

Quiet casualties

The FBI and a federal grand jury in Tampa have been investigating DEA misconduct in money laundering probes for years, following a roadmap sketched out by Irizarry.

Recently, an informant who traveled the world partying with the agents – and was with Zoumberos when he met his accuser at the Madrid bar – was arrested in Colombia on a U.S. warrant for failing to pay taxes on more than $3.8 million in snitch money.

But so far, Irizarry is the only government employee to be charged. The internal records obtained by AP show the DEA disciplined or ousted at least a dozen other agents for either participating in the bacchanalia or failing to sound the alarms about it.

Among the quiet casualties was the head of the St. Louis division who retired amid allegations that he rented a New York apartment for his paramour with DEA funds. Another who quit was a veteran supervisor of the jet-setting agents who lied to the FBI about soliciting prostitutes, according to a law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to discuss the investigation.

The DEA records also contain new details about one agent, Danielle Dreyer, who was fired last year for what the Justice Department called “outlandish behavior” during a rooftop party in 2017 in Cartagena, Colombia, attended by a half-dozen DEA agents and then-federal prosecutor Marisa Darden. An internal DEA investigation found Dreyer used ecstasy and that her antics in a hot tub included squirting breast milk on colleagues, fondling Darden’s breasts and grinding on her supervisor’s lap.

After leaving the Justice Department, Darden was confirmed by the Senate in 2022 to be the first Black woman U.S. attorney in northern Ohio. She abruptly withdrew before taking the position, however, telling AP through an attorney that she did so for personal reasons.

Law enforcement records obtained by AP show Darden had been interviewed by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General just days before she pulled out. Neither Darden nor her attorney responded to requests for comment.

“I didn’t want him to do this to others”

The overseas rape accusation turned out to be the beginning of the end for Zoumberos, who more than a year after his rape arrest resigned from the DEA after invoking his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in refusing to testify to the federal grand jury in Tampa.

Irizarry long considered Zoumberos a brother but in his interviews with investigators accused his former partner of a list of crimes, including that he used DEA snitch money to buy a personal boat.

“Zoumberos could do whatever he wanted and would not get caught because he was in charge of the AGEO,” Irizarry told the FBI, using the acronym for the money laundering probes, Attorney General Exempt Operations.

DEA Files-Rape Accusation
This combination of 2012-2017 photos obtained from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration shows U.S. dollars, Colombian pesos, euros and Canadian dollars involved in the DEA’s shadowy international money laundering investigations. 

/ AP

Zoumberos’ attorney, Raymond Mansolillo, has called Irizarry a serial liar and previously told AP that federal authorities were “looking to find a crime to fit this case as opposed to a crime that actually took place.”

On the night of the alleged sexual assault in Spain in April 2018, Zoumberos and a partner ate dinner with an informant at an Irish pub in Madrid, according to DEA records, and Zoumberos told authorities the woman later approached him at the bar.

The woman told AP that, over drinks, Zoumberos showed her smartphone photos of him fishing and playing with his dogs.

“He seemed like a good person,” she recalled.

The conversation was pleasant, she said, and she lost track of time. With the subway closed, Zoumberos made what seemed like a gentlemanly offer.

“He told me, ‘Don’t worry, you can sleep in my hotel room. We’ll watch a movie and in the morning you can catch the metro,'” she told AP. “Honestly, I was a student and I didn’t have 60 euros to pay for a taxi home.”

Around 1:30 a.m., the two walked a few blocks to Zoumberos’ government-paid hotel. The woman said she told Zoumberos she could not have sex because she was having her period. Zoumberos told the DEA that she agreed to consensual sex and was “never upset.”

About 3 a.m., the woman said, police and an ambulance arrived and found her bruised around the wrists and Zoumberos very drunk. She told AP she locked herself in the bathroom before fleeing the hotel through the fire exit in a state of utter shock.

A few hours later, the DEA chief in Spain placed an urgent telephone call to the agency’s command center outside Washington. Records show nearly three dozen DEA officials were eventually notified of Zoumberos’ arrest, including then-acting administrator Robert W. Patterson.

Within hours, the U.S. Embassy in Madrid dispatched a small delegation to visit Zoumberos in jail. What happened next is unclear. The U.S. State Department didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment and would not release any records related to its response. The DEA also denied Freedom of Information Act requests for records of Zoumberos’ arrest, citing the former agent’s privacy.

A day after his arrest, Zoumberos was released without bail with only an order to stay away from his accuser and he quickly caught an American Airlines flight home to Tampa. There’s no record of why the judge didn’t seize his passport.

Six weeks later, the case was dismissed at prosecutors’ request. Judge Enrique De la Hoz Garcia determined the allegations were not “duly justified” but didn’t elaborate, according to Spanish court records. He and prosecutors did not respond to emails seeking further comment.

Back in Tampa, the DEA opened an internal investigation and suspended Zoumberos from normal duties. But within a few months, his firearm and top-secret clearance were returned and Zoumberos resumed his job with a letter reprimanding him for showing “poor judgment.”

“As a DEA Special Agent, you are held to a higher standard of personal conduct and must take responsibility for your actions,” read the letter, which under DEA policy was to be removed automatically from the file after two years.

Zoumberos, who now lives in North Carolina, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Internal records and interviews show the DEA never spoke with the woman or attempted to reconstruct what happened the night of the alleged rape. The records indicate the ranking DEA official in Spain did not even have the accuser’s contact information and make no mention of any inquiries with Spanish authorities to obtain it.

The records also don’t mention any efforts to secure surveillance footage from the hotel or the results of medical examinations that the woman says would have corroborated her account.

“We dropped the ball,” a law enforcement official familiar with the matter told AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss internal investigations.

About a year ago, the woman said she was approached by Spanish police asking if she would be willing to speak to the FBI as part of its broader probe of misconduct in the DEA.

At first, she said yes.

“I didn’t want him to do this to others,” she said.

But her willingness to speak out eventually gave way to fear of the powerful man she was confronting.

“I don’t want to reopen this,” she said. “I want to forget it.”

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Best hearing aids for profound hearing loss




Young Adult Woman with Hearing Aid watching television
Woman with hearing aid struggles to hear sufficiently while watching TV at home.

Kemal Yildirim via Getty Images

Hearing loss of any severity can be devastating. Thankfully, hearing aids often help the more than 30 million people in the U.S. who currently live with some degree of hearing loss. 

But what if deafness is at its most severe? Profound hearing loss only affects around 0.2% of people in the U.S., but its severity can be difficult to deal with on a daily basis.

For those with profound hearing loss, we recommend the best of the best when it comes to high-quality hearing aids

One of the most important things you can do to combat profound hearing loss is to work with your audiologist or doctor to figure out the extent of your condition, as well as to pick out the right hearing aids for your needs. To make things easier, we’ve put together a list of the best hearing aids for profound hearing loss below.

What is the best hearing aid for profound hearing loss?

The best hearing aids for profound hearing loss offer an above-average selection of sound features. Factors like crisp sound amplification and clean background noise cancellation are a must. Thankfully, there are plenty of high-quality hearing aid devices out there to choose from. Here are the top brands and models for profound hearing loss in 2024: 

Shop the best hearing aids for profound hearing loss below.

Top pick: Phonak Naída Paradise



Phonak is at the top of our list; the brand’s hearing aid devices are some of the best out there. One of the brand’s most powerful hearing aids, the Naída Paradise, is perfectly suited for people with profound hearing loss, thanks to robust sound features and a comfortable behind-the-ear style that can comfortably stay put for hours at a time.

This hearing aid offers multi-channel and directional microphone systems that easily boost speech and other important sounds from all around you. The Naída Paradise also offers advanced noise reduction features and Bluetooth connectivity so that you can connect to other devices with ease.


  • Android-compatible mobile app adds additional options for programming and customizing your device.
  • Hands-free calling, Bluetooth connectivity and other features make this a great all-around investment for people with moderate to profound hearing loss.


  • Some customers highlight a “glitch” with the tap controls that might require you to hit buttons or make selections multiple times for it to work correctly.
  • Custom-made sound programs are lost and overridden any time you visit an audiologist and they perform a software update for your hearing aid. 

Runner up: Phonak Audéo Lumity



We couldn’t choose just one hearing aid from Phonak, so the brand made our list twice. Previously highlighted as our pick for the best BTE hearing aid, the Audéo Lumity comes in a close second following the Naída Paradise as one of the best devices you can invest in for help with profound hearing loss. 

Improved speech-focused technology such as StereoZoom for front-facing conversations and SpeechSensor for improved hearing from the sides and back make this a powerful and effective hearing aid. This device also offers Bluetooth connectivity for both iOS and Android devices. 

As a prescription hearing aid, the Phonak Lumity is available in four technology tiers, with more functionalities (and a higher price) tied to higher ones. These include L30 (essential), L50 (standard), L70 (advanced), and L90 (premium). 

Prices start at around $1,800 for the lowest tier, the Lumity L30 hearing aid.


  • High-quality sound amplification from a trusted hearing aid brand.
  • Multiple tech tiers can make it easy to find the right device for your needs (and your budget).
  • Mobile app compatibility with iOS and Android devices.


  • MyPhonak app has conflicting reviews about user friendliness.
  • Choosing the right tech tier can be overwhelming — consult with your audiologist to find the right fit for you.

Best features: Starkey Genesis AI



The Genesis AI is the latest and greatest hearing aid from Starkey.

It aims to minimize how often you need adjust your hearing aid by adapting automatically. Sound technology tracks adjustments and gauges incoming sounds in real time. These AI-powered hearing aids then use this information to pick certain listening modes (like restaurant or TV mode).

Along with features like crisp Bluetooth connectivity, health tracking, and the best battery life we’ve seen yet in our reviews (up 51 hours on a single charge), this hearing aid already earned its spot on our list. But it’s also the only hearing aid available right now that offers fall detection and language translation services.

This new and innovative hearing aid is available starting at around $2,400 per pair, but prices can vary considerably from one retailer to the next. 


  • Robust sound amplification features make this hearing aid worth the high price tag. 
  • AI-powered “deep neural network” feature learns what sound programs and adjustments you need to offer an easy and automated listening experience.
  • Unmatched battery life that lasts longer than 50 hours on a single charge.


  • Starkey mobile app may be confusing to new users.

Most comfortable fit: Oticon Real (BTE)



Oticon hearing aids are known for putting quality above all else, which is why its BTE model, Oticon Real, made our list. Oticon hearing aids come with some serious tech power, including tech that combines targeted hearing with adaptable background noise cancellation to make it easier than ever to hear.

Features like Oticon’s BrainHearing and RealSound technology, which provides next-level sound clarity and environmental noise filtration, make this a great pick for anyone that doesn’t want to spend time fine-tuning and adjusting their hearing aid throughout the day.

There are several variations of the Real BTE model to choose from, including the miniBTE T, which relies on disposable batteries, and the rechargeable miniBTE R device.


  • Robust and adaptable hearing technology means less time spent adjusting your device manually throughout the week.
  • Simple design makes for a comfortable fit.


  • As with all prescription hearing aids, you’ll likely need to talk with your audiologist to find a provider that can get you set up with a professional fitting.

Most budget-friendly: Lexie Lumen


Lexie via Amazon

The Lexie Lumen hearing aid has standout features and a price tag that’s still half what you’d pay for quality prescription hearing aids, making this a worthy consideration for hearing aids that help with profound hearing loss. 

Perfect for serious to profound levels of hearing loss, the Lexie Lumen hearing aid comes with multiple pre-programmable listening settings that can be matched with different environments and noise levels.

This hearing aid is also equipped with a telecoil setting that lets wearers bypass background noise and tap into nearby speakers — useful whether you’re at the movies, a museum, or a busy train station. 

The Lexie Lumen hearing aid is currently marked down $100 from its original price from Lexie, as well as other retailers like Amazon.


  • Good background noise cancellation.
  • Custom features make this hearing aid useful for a variety of scenarios.


  • No Bluetooth connectivity.
  • As an OTC hearing aid, this device has a higher volume of customer reviews highlighting issues with sound quality than other, more expensive prescription hearing aids.

What is profound hearing loss?

Hearing loss is typically categorized into four levels. Your audiologist can help you determine which level best applies to you, which is important for selecting the right hearing aid for your needs. Profound hearing loss is — as the name implies — the most serious level of deafness. People in this category may not be able to hear anything at all, which is why choosing a powerful hearing aid that offers robust sound features can be so important.

The four levels of deafness are:

  • Mild hearing loss or deafness. People in this category can only pick up sounds between 25 and 29 decibels (dB). Speech from those around you may sound garbled or hard to understand, especially if there is also background noise. Hearing aids may be recommended but not required at this stage.
  • Moderate hearing loss or deafness. People in this category can only pick up sounds between 40 and 69 dB. Conversations are likely very hard to follow based on sound alone. A hearing aid is likely to be recommended at this stage and beyond.
  • Severe hearing loss or deafness. People in this category can only pick up sounds between 70 and 89 dB. At this point, lip-reading or sign language is likely necessary for you to easily communicate with others. A hearing aid is likely needed to help counter the severe hearing loss.
  • Profound hearing loss or deafness. People in this category can only pick up sounds above 90 dB. Alternative means of communications such as sign language are all but necessary at this point. A prescription hearing aid with reliable sound features is also very likely to be recommended by an audiologist.

What hearing aid is best for profound hearing loss?

There are smaller devices that fit entirely in the ear canal for a less noticeable look, while bulkier hearing aids have parts that sit comfortably behind and around the ear. The best design for profound hearing loss tends to be behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids, which have more room for high-tech equipment in the shell casing that sits comfortably behind your ear. These provide optimal sound amplification over other models.

Some of the other common styles you’ll come across include: 

  • Receiver-in-the-canal (RIC). RIC hearing aids (as well as the smaller receiver-in-the-ear, or RITE, devices) are similar to a BTE in design, but with a connecting wire in place of the BTE’s earmold. This gives the ear canal more room and results in a more comfortable fit.
  • In-the-ear (ITE). ITE hearing aids are custom-made to sit entirely in the outer ear. These devices have a longer battery life and usually come with more features, such as volume control, than smaller models.
  • Completely-in-the-canal (CIC). CIC hearing aids have the smallest design, with a custom-built shell that fits in the ear canal. These are the least noticeable, but don’t offer many features or the most powerful sound amplification.
  • Open fit. A variation of a BTE, an open-fit hearing aid has an over-the-ear design with an open dome in the canal instead of a tube or mold. This keeps the ear canal open for natural sound to enter the ear as well – ideal for mild to moderate hearing loss.

How we chose the best hearing aids for profound hearing loss

For a closer look at how we rate certain products and services, here is what we prioritized while looking at the best hearing aids for profound hearing loss: 

  • Sound quality: We looked for important features like deep background noise cancellation and crisp speech amplification.
  • Tech features: We paid attention to features like reliable Bluetooth connectivity, consistent sound quality and crisp noise amplification to make sure we highlight the best of the best. 
  • Customer reviews: All of our hearing devices hold a four-star review or higher from happy customers just like you.
  • Comfort: We paid attention to the design, shape, and fit of each hearing aid to ensure only the most comfortable hearing aids made the list.

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