News briefs: Generic drugmakers sold most opioids during crisis

Associated Press

Associated Press

Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals doled out lavish perks for top U.S. employees who hit or beat sales goals for prescription opioids and other drugs: six-figure bonuses and a chance to snag a coveted "President's Club" award, which could mean vacations to Hawaii, the Caribbean or Mexico.

The company placed that same staff in charge of reporting any sales of its painkillers that appeared to be suspicious, including to distributors or pharmacies requesting extreme volumes of its most potent formulas. Asked during a federal court deposition last year whether she believed it was appropriate to put incentive-motivated sales staff in charge of calling out questionable sales, Karen Harper, who oversaw Mallinckrodt's suspicious order monitoring system, said yes.

In fact, as the nation's opioid overdose crisis began to explode, not a single order with the company between August 2008 and October 2010 rose from the level of "peculiar" to "suspicious," the category that would have triggered a report to authorities, according to Harper's deposition.

The court documents reveal a company culture that allowed Mallinckrodt to become one of the giants of the prescription opioid market at a time when overdoses were claiming tens of thousands of American lives. The company, based in Great Britain, announced a tentative $1.6 billion settlement Tuesday with state and local governments in the U.S. If finalized, the deal would end lawsuits nationwide over the company's role in the epidemic.

Purdue Pharma has been the poster child for the U.S. opioid crisis, mostly because of aggressive marketing of its signature painkiller, OxyContin. Lesser known is the role of generic opioid manufacturers like Mallinckrodt that produced the vast majority of painkillers during the height of the overdose epidemic. While they may not have been sending sales representatives to encourage prescribing like Purdue, they were filling more and more orders for the drugs — so many that Mallinckrodt couldn't always produce enough to fill them all.

Virus cases jumps again; US soldier infected

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean virus cases jumped again Wednesday and the U.S. military confirmed its first case among American soldiers based in the Asian country, with his case and many others connected to a southeastern city with a growing illness cluster.

South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 216 of the 284 new cases were in Daegu, where the government has been mobilizing public health tools to contain the spread of the outbreak, and in neighboring towns. 

The U.S. military said the 23-year-old soldier was in self-quarantine at his off-base residence. He had been based in Camp Carroll in a town near Daegu, and visited both Carroll and nearby Camp Walker in recent days, according to the statement. 

South Korean authorities and U.S. military health professionals were tracing his contacts to determine if other people may have been exposed.

About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea. United States Forces Korea previously said a widowed dependent had the virus, the first case involving a USFK-related individual. South Korea's 600,000-member military has reported 18 cases and quarantined thousands of soldiers as a precaution. 

Death toll rises from Delhi riots during Trump trip

NEW DELHI (AP) — At least 20 people were killed and 189 injured in three days of clashes in New Delhi that coincided with U.S. President Donald Trump's first state visit to India, with the death toll expected to rise as hospitals continue to take in the wounded, authorities said Wednesday.

Violence between Hindu mobs and Muslims protesting a new citizenship law that fast-tracks naturalization for foreign-born religious minorities of all major faiths in South Asia except Islam left shops smoldering. The government has banned public assembly in the affected areas.

While riots wracked northeastern New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a lavish reception for Trump, including a rally in his home state of Gujarat attended by more than 100,000 people and the signing of an agreement to purchase more than $3 billion of American helicopters and other military hardware.

On Wednesday, Modi broke his silence on the clashes, tweeting that "peace and harmony are central to (India's) ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.."

New Delhi's top elected official, Chief Minister Arjind Kerjiwal, called for Modi's home minister, Amit Shah, to send the army to areas in a northeastern corner of the sprawling capital affected by the riots. 

How deadly is new coronavirus? It's still too early to tell

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scientists can't tell yet how deadly the new virus that's spreading around the globe really is — and deepening the mystery, the fatality rate differs even within China.

As infections of the virus that causes COVID-19 surge in other countries, even a low fatality rate can add up to lots of victims, and understanding why one place fares better than another becomes critical to unravel.

"You could have bad outcomes with this initially until you really get the hang of how to manage" it, Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization envoy who led a team of scientists just back from China, warned Tuesday.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE DEATH RATE?

In the central China city of Wuhan, where the new coronavirus first exploded, 2 percent to 4 percent of patients have died, according to WHO. But in the rest of hard-hit China, the death rate was strikingly lower, 0.7 percent.

California wildfire victims fear they'll be last in payout

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A $13.5 billion settlement between victims of California's catastrophic wildfires and the utility blamed for causing them was supposed to bring some peace and hope to people still reeling from the devastation.

Instead, the deal has sparked confusion, resentment, suspicion and despair as the victims, government agencies, and lawyers grapple for their piece of the pie.

More than 81,000 have filed claims to the settlement fund, setting the stage for a potential scrum as Pacific Gas & Electric scrambles to emerge from one of the most complex bankruptcy cases in U.S. history by June 30.

"How is it in any way fair that the actual victims of this fire, or any of the fires, are put at the very, very bottom of the priority list," wrote Michelle Barker, 54, in a recent letter to U.S Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali, who is overseeing the settlement. Barker lost her home to the 2018 fire that wiped out Paradise, California.

The tensions may boil over during a hearing Wednesday focusing on whether federal and state agencies are entitled to tap the fund to recoup any of the $4 billion they doled out after the wildfires. Health chain Adventist Health is also seeking at least $1 billion for losses from its heavily damaged hospital in Paradise, and lawyers could try to take up to a third.

Placido Domingo apology prompts new accuser to step forward

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The words "I am truly sorry" have not been uttered often in the #MeToo era. So when soprano Luz del Alba Rubio woke up Tuesday to see an apology from opera superstar Placido Domingo, she was in shock.

"I felt like we have conquered Goliath. Now we don't have to be scared to speak out," said Rubio, who stepped forward Tuesday to add her voice to the women accusing the legendary tenor of sexual harassment and abuse of power. 

Domingo's statement came after the U.S. union that represents much of the opera world said its investigators found the opera star and former general director at Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera had behaved inappropriately over the course of two decades.

"I have taken time over the last several months to reflect on the allegations that various colleagues of mine have made against me," Domingo said in a statement issued in connection with the findings. "I respect that these women finally felt comfortable enough to speak out, and I want them to know that I am truly sorry for the hurt that I caused them. I accept full responsibility for my actions, and I have grown from this experience."

The words marked a stunning reversal from the opera superstar's initial statements, tinged with disbelief at the accusations reported last year by The Associated Press that he sexually harassed multiple women. 

Tokyo organizers, IOC going ahead as planned with Olympics

TOKYO (AP) — A spokesman for the Japanese government on Wednesday said the International Olympic Committee and local organizers are going ahead as planned with the Tokyo Olympics despite the threat of the spreading coronavirus.

The comments from spokesman Yoshihide Suga follow the assertion by former IOC vice-president Dick Pound that organizers face a three-month window to decide the fate of the games. 

The Olympics are set to open on July 24 with 11,000 athletes. The Paralympics open Aug. 25 with 4,400.

Pound told the Associated Press that the fast-spreading virus could cancel the Olympics. Suga says Pound's opinion does not reflect the official view of the IOC, which has repeatedly said there are no plans to cancel or postpone the Tokyo Games.

The viral outbreak that began in China has infected more than 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700 globally. China has reported 2,715 deaths among 78,064 cases on the mainland. Five deaths in Japan have been attributed to the virus and the COVID-19 illness it causes. 

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