New drug compounds opioid crisis and Trump surges in Iowa poll: Morning Rundown

Gaza’s aid system is on the brink of collapse. Donald Trump decides not to testify in his own defense in New York civil fraud trial. And how to watch the U.S. military space plane launch.

Here’s what to know today.

Chaos grips southern Gaza as fighting forces aid to brink of collapse 

Image: Displaced Palestinians civilians face hunger and lack of water amid Israeli attacks
Ashraf Amra / Anadolu via Getty Images

Twelve-year-old Do’a Atef spends her days knocking on doors begging for food or gathering firewood near her refugee camp to cook the few tomatoes and peppers given to her by strangers.

Do’a told NBC News that she was displaced from her home in Beit Lahia in northern Gaza, along with her parents and seven siblings, and they are now sleeping in tents. They are so thirsty “we drink dirty water,” she said. “My siblings are crying all day.”

Do’a’s situation underscores a bleak reality for many in Gaza, as the Israeli military’s ground invasion and aerial bombardment continues, displacing an estimated 1.9 million Palestinians into shrinking “humanitarian zones,” mostly in southern Gaza. 

A dire food and water shortage is putting many at risk of infection and death, according to aid groups that stressed difficulties in delivering supplies due to the intensity of hostilities.

As the humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorates, Qatar’s foreign minister said the country was still trying to move hostage negotiations forward despite a break down in talks. The U.S. is coming under increased international criticism after approving $106 million in emergency arms sales to Israel. Follow live updates here. 

A woman spent months looking for her son before NBC News discovered he was buried in a pauper’s field

Jonathan David Hankins with his mother, Gretchen Hankins, and daughter, Brooke.
Jonathan David Hankins with his mother, Gretchen Hankins, and daughter, Brooke.Courtesy Gretchen Hankins

Jonathan David Hankins’ family was used to him leaving for a few days at a time; he suffered from meth addiction, and they knew to avoid the house when he was using. But after failing to turn up for a family dinner he promised he’d make, his mother filed a missing persons report. For more than a year, she contacted the sheriff’s office every few weeks for updates and each time they told her they had nothing. “It was pain, mental pain, because I couldn’t imagine where he was at,” Gretchen Hankins recalled. “I just couldn’t.”

NBC News discovered what happened as part of a broader investigation in Hinds County, Mississippi: Jonathan, 39, had been found dead three days after he disappeared and was buried in a pauper’s field, but officials never told his loved ones.

“They can’t even do the job of notifying a dead person’s next of kin,” his mother said. “They probably just thought, ‘Another drug addict, gone.’” 

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Iowa poll: Trump surpasses 50% support ahead of first GOP contest

Former President Donald Trump expanded his lead over his GOP rivals with five weeks until the first Republican presidential nominating contest, now earning 51% first-choice support from likely Iowa caucusgoers, according to the latest NBC News/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll.

Trump’s lead — the largest recorded so close to a competitive Republican caucus in this Iowa poll’s history — is fueled by evangelical and first-time caucusgoers. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans believe Trump can defeat President Joe Biden next year, despite his legal challenges, according to the poll.

First came fentanyl. Now there are more casualties from another deadly drug. 

West Virginia, which remains ground zero of the U.S. opioid crisis, is taking another hit as doctors come across patients addicted to both fentanyl and the livestock tranquilizer xylazine. The state has nearly twice as many overdose deaths per capita as its nearest competitor.

Xylazine has been present in one out of every nine overdose deaths nationwide involving fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drug is known for leaving deep flesh wounds that can sometimes lead to amputations after ulcers appear at the point of injection or elsewhere on the body. The tranquilizer showed up in at least half of used needles in Wheeling, West Virginia and between 15% and 20% of the needles used statewide, according to data from West Virginia University. 

Person of interest in killing of Detroit synagogue leader is in police custody

Samantha Woll poses for a photo in Detroit on Oct. 13, 2022.
David Guralnick / Detroit News via AP

A person of interest in the killing of Detroit synagogue leader Samantha Woll is in custody, according to police. 

 The person was not publicly identified, and police declined to explain why they were a target of the investigation. They also declined to say whether the person of interest was the same person whom they initially arrested, but then released without charges. Woll’s body was found on the morning of Oct. 21 outside her home, with a trail of blood leading inside. Police have emphasized that they have no specific information suggesting her killing was an antisemitic hate crime.

Today’s Talker: The U.S. military’s mysterious X-37B space plane …

… is heading back into orbit for its seventh mission, hitching a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy booster. Since its debut more than a decade ago, the X-37B has been a source of intrigue within the space community, mostly owing to the secretive nature of its activities in low Earth orbit. Despite not knowing its true purpose or location, skywatchers have occasionally spotted and photographed the space plane in the night sky using telescopes. The launch, originally scheduled for Sunday, is now expected to take place tonight at 8:14 p.m. ET. 

Politics in Brief

College campuses: House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, who went viral for engaging in a contentious exchange with university presidents at a hearing on antisemitism, praised the resignation of University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill – and took aim at the presidents of Harvard University and MIT.

Presidential campaigns: The conservative group, Americans for Prosperity, which endorsed Nikki Haley two weeks ago, has now deployed more than 100 people across Iowa to knock on doors for her. The group has already committed $4 million to Haley in digital ads and early state canvassing. 

White House: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be stopping at the White House for a meeting with President Joe Biden on Tuesday as negotiations to secure further aid to Ukraine continue. 

Election 2024: Mitt Romney said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he wouldn’t be supporting former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election and that he would not rule out voting for President Joe Biden. 

Trump trial: In an eleventh-hour reversal, former President Donald Trump announced yesterday he will not go back on the witness stand in the $250 million civil fraud trial against him and his company.

Local elections: Texas state Democrat John Whitmire won the race to be the next mayor of Houston, the fourth-largest city in the United States. 

Staff Pick: From Congress to Cameo

Photo illustration of George Santos
Leila Register / NBC News; Getty Images

George Santos is capitalizing on his fame as a disgraced politician by launching a Cameo account. Cameo, a marketplace for pop culture personalities to sell videos of themselves to fans, has encapsulated ironic stan culture where people solicit the videos to get reactions on social media. Reporters Kat Tenbarge and Angela Yang dive into Cameo’s financial woes and why Santos’ popularity on the platform exemplifies the group of problematic personalities that flourish there. – Elizabeth Both, associate platforms editor

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