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10/22/14 7:00am

Morning Roundup: Oct. 22, 2014

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By Shawn Dwyer

oxy epidemic

10/21/14 7:30pm

Kentucky Files $1 Billion Lawsuit Against OxyContin Maker

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The state of Kentucky has filed a hefty lawsuit against OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma and is holding the massive company responsible for the state’s overwhelming drug problem.

Purdue Pharma faces allegations of Medicaid fraud and false advertising along with nearly a dozen other claims, but prosecutors are focusing primarily on the company’s connection to the state’s drug epidemic. Prosecutors say the state of Kentucky, which has been riddled by overdoses, addiction-related deaths and drug-related crime, has suffered over $1 billion in damages and they want Purdue Pharma to pick up the tab.

Prosecutors say Purdue Pharma intentionally misled doctors to believe the OxyContin extended-released pills are difficult to abuse. But according to the company’s own research, simply crushing the pills transforms the drug into an abusable substance. But Purdue denies the charges and says that in fact, they’ve gone out of their way to keep OxyContin from being abused.

Purdue recently spent $643.5 million to conclude a lawsuit from the Justice Department, and the company’s defense lawyers say that battling another lawsuit so soon will set them at a disadvantage. “This is a billion-dollar case, a billion-dollar case,” said Purdue lawyer John Famularo. “And that disadvantage means Purdue would go to trial with its ‘arms tied behind its back.’”

But Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway is determined to make Purdue pay, quite literally, for the alleged contribution to the state’s drug problem. “I want to hold them accountable in eastern Kentucky for what they did,” Conway said. “We have lost an entire generation. Half the pharmacies in Pike County have bulletproof glass. We had FedEx trucks being knocked off. It was the Wild West.”

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By Brent McCluskey

corrupt cops

10/21/14 5:30pm

Yonkers Police Officers Charged With Lying About Drugs to Obtain Search Warrant

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Two former Yonkers narcotics officers were indicted on multiple charges earlier this month, including making a false statement on their application for a warrant to search a suspect’s apartment in March.

In March, Detective Christian Koch and Officer Neil Vera told a Yonkers City Court Judge that drug dealing was taking place at the suspect’s apartment building. Based on this information, the judge granted a search warrant. When police raided the third floor apartment, the suspect Dario Tena went out the window, falling more than 30 feet to his death.

Vera is accused of asking a witness to lie to investigators and submit a false written statement to police claiming he had purchased drugs at the location. Both men are charged with one felony count of perjury and official misconduct.

A subsequent investigation by the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office led prosecutors to dismiss unrelated drug charges against 15 defendants in 12 separate cases that Vera and/or Koch were involved in. However, it is unknown whether the investigation determined that the men lied in other cases.

If convicted of perjury, the officers face up to four years in prison. However, they were not charged in the death of Tena. Vera and Koch pleaded not guilty and have been released without bail on the condition that they surrender their weapons to Yonkers police.

The head of the police union Detective Keith Olsen and nearly three dozen other Yonkers police officers attended Vera and Koch’s arraignment earlier this month in solidarity. “With a combined 20 years of police experience, they are the most highly decorated officers we have,” Olsen said. “For their entire careers they have been doing everything they can to keep our city safe and they deserve the benefit of the doubt.”

Both men are due back in court on Tuesday.

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By Victoria Kim

breaking dumb

10/21/14 3:30pm

Toys "R" Us Sells ‘Breaking Bad’ Figurines That Come With Bags of Meth, Cash

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Breaking Bad, a series based around the production and sale of methamphetamine, was one of the most popular drama series of all time. But that fame spread into the hands of children after Toys "R" Us began selling figurines modeled after the infamous characters, complete with illicit accessories.

Figurines of the show’s Walter White and Jesse Pinkman come equipped with detachable bags of methamphetamine and cash. While the figurines are also sold at Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and other major retailers, parents are none too happy that Toys "R" Us is selling adult-themed toys in a store geared for families and children.

Susan Schrivjer, a mother from Fort Myers, Fla., said that while she liked Breaking Bad, she didn’t think it was appropriate for the store to sell “anything to do with drugs.” So Schrivjer took a stand and launched a Change.org petition in an effort to force the major toy store conglomerate to remove the Breaking Bad figurines from their shelves. “Its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters,” Schrivjer said.

But Toys R Us said the packaging on the Breaking Bad figurines “clearly notes that the items are intended for ages 15 and up,” and that they’re only sold “in the adult action figure area of our stores.” However, staff from The Daily Show checked it out for themselves and found the adult-themed figurines were stationed right next to the children’s action figures.

So far Schrivjer’s petition has gained serious traction and she already has generated more than 7,000 signatures.

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By Brent McCluskey

election 2014

10/21/14 1:00pm

California Docs Face Mandatory Drug Testing If Prop 46 Passes

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This wasn't a vasectomy? Shutterstock

This November election, California voters will be faced with a proposition that would require doctors to submit to random drug and alcohol tests.

If Proposition 46 passes, California would be the first state to require drug testing of doctors. This idea has polled well with voters, some of whom thought it was already law. The proposition would give the Medical Board of California one year to establish a system under which California doctors are tested both randomly and within 12 hours after an unexpected patient death or serious injury at the hospital.

Prop 46 would also make it mandatory for doctors to consult a statewide database, where doctors can see how many times a patient has been prescribed serious narcotics like Vicodin or Oxycontin, before prescribing painkillers. This proposal aims to decrease “doctor shopping,” where an individual who may be addicted to painkillers or who is looking to get drugs to sell sees multiple doctors in search of prescription drugs.

Another proposal in the proposition would raise the cap on pain and suffering awards in California from $250,000 to $1.1 million, providing an annual adjustment for inflation in the future. Economic damages for medical expenses or lost wages are not capped. Currently, a 1975 law called the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) limits non-economic damages to $250,000. MICRA was passed with the intention of keeping medical liability insurance costs low.

The battle over Proposition 46 has become heated as November approaches. Its opponents—which include insurance companies, doctors, and pharmacists—have amassed $57 million to fund their campaign, while the proposition’s supporters have raised just $6.5 million.

Those who are opposed to the proposition say the doctor drug-testing provision, a popular idea that has general voter support, is nothing more than a political gimmick to disguise the true intent behind the proposition—to raise the cap on non-economic damages.

“The only reason that was added to the proposition is because it polled well with voters,” Dr. Richard Thorp, president of the California Medical Association told NPR. “They’re just hiding the fact that they’re trying to increase the cap on non-economic damages so that the payouts to trial attorneys can increase."

Thorp said the drug testing provision is “too heavy handed” and “too inappropriate,” adding that hospitals already have systems in place to suspend doctors who are intoxicated at work.

Lifting the cap on non-economic damages would “encourage additional lawsuits in the system,” according to Thorp. He argued that more lawsuits will cause malpractice insurance premiums to rise, and those costs could drive doctors out of California and make it difficult to recruit doctors to the state.

But for the families of victims of medical negligence, such as Carmen and Bob Pack, who lost their two children a decade ago when a woman addicted to prescription drugs blacked out while driving, veered off the road and struck them head-on, Prop 46 symbolizes their aspiration to prevent other families from suffering similar tragedies.

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By Victoria Kim

overstep

10/21/14 10:30am

Facebook Slams DEA Over Creating Fake Profiles

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The Drug Enforcement Administration is apparently not following Facebook’s Terms of Use policy. The social media site slammed the DEA for creating a fake online profile under the name of a convicted drug dealer in the hopes of obtaining incriminating information from her friends.

Facebook's chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, sent a formal letter last week to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart and ordered the agency to follow the same rules as civilian users when it comes to being truthful about identity. The social media site cited that users “will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission."

The letter came in response to Sondra Arquiett’s $250,000 lawsuit against the DEA for reportedly creating a profile under her name, using photos stored on her cell phone and even posting bogus status updates on the page about missing her boyfriend. Arquiett was originally arrested in July 2010 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine base. She was sentenced to time served and given a period of home confinement, but the fake profile was reportedly created in between her arrest and guilty plea.

The monetary damages Arquiett is requesting are due to “fear and emotional distress” she suffered as a result since DEA agent Timothy Sinnigen interacted with “dangerous individuals he was investigating.” The Justice Department has never denied that the DEA created a fake Facebook profile, but initially said it was justified because Arquiett "implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cellphone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in...ongoing criminal investigations."

It’s a sentiment with which most privacy experts disagree. "If I'm cooperating with law enforcement, and law enforcement says, 'Can I search your phone?'…my expectation is that they will search the phone for evidence of a crime, not that they will take things off my phone and use it in another context,” said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties organization. “It’s [laughable].”

Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon confirmed in a statement two weeks ago that the incident is under review.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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