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Multiple companies added 76 billion opioid pills, new data shows extent of the epidemic

WQAD News -

WASHINGTON (AP) — The maker of OxyContin has been cast as the chief villain in the nation’s opioid crisis. But newly released government figures suggest Purdue Pharma had plenty of help in flooding the U.S. with billions of pills even as overdose deaths were accelerating.

Records kept by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration show that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills — the vast majority of them generics, not brand names — were shipped to U.S. pharmacies from 2006 to 2012.

The annual number swelled by more than 50 percent during that period of time even as the body count climbed. The powerful painkillers flowed faster even after Purdue Pharma was fined $635 million for falsely marketing OxyContin as less addictive than other opioids.

“I think the scale of this is stunning,” Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University professor who researches opioids, said in an interview.

He also noted that the data shows that the places that received the most drugs per capita are the ones with the most overdoses per capita: “It really looks like wherever you spread the most gas, you get the most fires.”

At the same time, the data illustrates how complicated it could be for the courts to figure out who should be held accountable for the public health disaster. More than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have sued members of the drug industry in the biggest and possibly most complicated litigation of its kind ever in the U.S.

A federal judge who is overseeing most of the cases and pushing for a settlement ruled this week that detailed drug-shipment data compiled by the DEA should be made public over the industry’s objections.

The judge has not allowed the release of information from 2013 and 2014. But the material unsealed constitutes the most comprehensive picture yet of how the crisis unfolded.

The Washington Post, which along with HD Media, the owner of newspapers in West Virginia, went to court to seek the information, was first to publish the data.

Prescription and illegal opioids such as heroin and fentanyl have been factors in more than 430,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000, according to the CDC. From 2006 to 2012, annual opioid deaths rose from under 18,000 a year to more than 23,000. During that time, prescription drugs were cited as factors in just under half the deaths.

Since then, overall opioid deaths in the U.S. have doubled, though on Wednesday the CDC reported that drug overdose deaths of all kinds probably fell last year for the first time in nearly three decades.

The newly released information shows in detail the flow of drugs from manufacturers to communities.

West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Nevada all received more than 50 pills for every man, woman and child each year. Several areas in the Appalachian region were shipped an average of well over 100 pills per person per year.

“It’s like being on the front lines of a war every day,” said Joe Engle, sheriff of Perry County, Kentucky, which received 175 pills per person per year. “Our people here in eastern Kentucky have been taken advantage of by these pharmaceutical companies. It’s one of the worst things you can do to a society, to a people. And we’re suffering.”

Nearly every state has filed a lawsuit, and most of them have focused on Purdue and members of the Sackler family, who own the Stamford, Connecticut-based company and are major philanthropists whose donations to museums and universities have now come under scrutiny. Many local governments have also sued other drugmakers, distribution companies and pharmacies.

The lawsuits say that with the introduction of OxyContin, a time-released opioid, in 1995, Purdue created a new playbook to push the use of opioids for more patients and in higher doses.

But Purdue points out, accurately, that the company produced only a small fraction of the nation’s opioids — about 3% between 2006 and 2012, according to the data. Three companies — SpecGX, Par Pharmaceutical and Activis Pharma — that sold lower-priced generic drugs, including versions of OxyContin, combined to make 90% of the pills.

The three companies say that they didn’t market the drugs and were just meeting the demand of prescriptions filled out by doctors — and that they didn’t produce more than the DEA allowed.

Perry Rowthron, a former Connecticut deputy attorney general, said those factors could make it hard to blame those generic manufacturers.

“It’s always been the view that branded manufacturers created the demand that is now being met by generics,” he said.

As for the distributors, they contend they functioned as a delivery service and keep federal authorities apprised of the quantities of drugs being shipped.

Four companies — McKesson Corp., Walgreens, Cardinal Health and AmerisourceBergen — each distributed more than 10% of the opioids sent to pharmacies. McKesson distributed more than 18% of the nation’s opioids from 2006 to 2012 — the most of any company — but said it didn’t push sales.

“Any suggestion that McKesson influenced the volume of opioids prescribed or consumed in this country would reflect a misunderstanding of our role as a distributor,” a spokeswoman said via email.

The figures are from the DEA’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS. The DEA agreed to provide the ARCOS data to lawyers in the opioid litigation but pushed judges to keep it from being made public.

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein of Johns Hopkins University said the lack of transparency around the prescribing data probably slowed the federal response to the opioid epidemic.

“To a certain extent, no agency really felt responsible and had access to the data in real-time to see what was happening,” he said.

DEA officials declined to comment on the litigation but said the agency is working to ensure patients have access to the medications they need, while also policing excessive drug shipments.

Elizabeth Burch, a law professor at the University of Georgia, called the release a “game-changer” in the legal cases.

“Making it public shows the vast disparity between say, Mingo County, West Virginia (with 203.5 pills per person per year) and Hooker County, Nebraska (with 0 pills per person per year),” she said in an email.

She said the information could help the hardest-hit places get a bigger piece of any settlement reached.

Yale law professor Abbe Gluck said the drug distribution details are already being used by the parties negotiating settlements, so their impact could be minimal there.

“On the other hand,” she said in an email, “releasing the data feeds the public’s hunger for knowledge and accountability and so may put additional pressure on the defendant companies.”

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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

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Associated Press writers Mike Balsamo in Washington, D.C., and Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

Drenching storms before dangerous heat

WQAD News -

Heavy showers and storms will affect the US-20 corridor from Waterloo to Rockford this morning. Some flash flooding will be possible through 9:00am in Jo Daviess, Jackson, and Carroll County.

A few storms could spark up north of I-80 through mid-morning before the dry, hot weather takes over. Storms will exit our region entirely by 11am. Mostly sunny skies this afternoon will allow temps to accelerate up to 97 degrees with heat index values 105-108 between 3-7pm.

What will be impressive (and dangerous) is the fact that our heat index values may stay in the 90s all night tonight! For those without air conditioning, bodies will be stressed as the heat wave cranks up further on Friday. Look for mostly sunny skies with highs around 100 with heat index values to 110.

Heat will remain intense on Saturday with highs of 97 degrees.

An isolated, strong storm is possible Saturday with scattered storms expected Saturday night into Sunday. Highs will be in the 80s on Sunday with 70s and 80s for next week.

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen

 

Rock Island County Fair showcases farmers’ hard work after difficult spring

WQAD News -

EAST MOLINE, Illinois-- In a cattle barn at the Rock Island County Fairgrounds, Maddy Stevens make sure her calf Baby Girl is ready for show. The 19-year-old has been showing cattle since she was just eight years old.

"And I've been doing it ever since," she says. "It's been pretty much what I want to do every summer, all year round."

She says it's great to showcase the family farm in Cambridge at the Rock Island County Fair.

"It shows the public how much hard work we go into," she adds.

But this year has come with some harder times than in years past.

"We had a tremendous amount of flooding," Stevens says. "We actually could not get some of our crops in, which is kind hurting us later on because we don't have crops to take into market."

It's a struggle shared by plenty of farmers out here at the fairgrounds. A rainy spring flooded hundreds of acres throughout the Midwest, keeping farmers from planting. Those hardships are starting to affect the livestock.

"The hay shortage is the biggest thing," farmer Andy Dekyrel says. "We usually carry over 50, maybe 100 bales of hay, and we had four when we got done this year."

But farmers say they'll persevere.

"It's been rough, but we'll get through it," Deykeyrel says. "We do every year. We'll complain about it and gripe, but we love it. It's what we do."

The Rock Island County Fair continues through Saturday.

Crash slows traffic near Exit 15 by Milan

WQAD News -

MILAN- Officials say two semis and an SUV were in a wreck that is blocking much of the roadway on I-280 WB just west of the Milan Exit (Exit 15).

UPDATE: 8:15 p.m 1 lane of traffic is now open.   The cleanup of the scene will continue into the night.

Police say only minor injuries are reported and to please avoid the area for the time being.

“Traffic will be slow-moving through the area and back-ups are expected while the scene is cleaned up.”-Lieutenant Dyan Talbot

9-year-old California girl electrocuted while swimming in pool, police believe

WQAD News -

CITRUS HEIGHTS, Calif. – Police say a 9-year-old Northern California girl died Sunday afternoon after she was apparently electrocuted when a swimming pool light malfunctioned.

The girl died at a local hospital after efforts to revive her by adults and a Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District crew failed. Fire officials identified her as McKenzie Kinley, according to The Sacramento Bee.

“I just fell to my knees,” family friend Janie Perduta, whose daughter had a sleepover with McKenzie days earlier, told KCRA. “It was just as bad if would (she) have been my own granddaughter.”

Friends of the family described the 9-year-old as a "spitfire" who loved to put on a show and was beloved by those who knew her. McKenzie, who was set to start fifth grade next school year, was on the cheer team, played soccer and emcee'd the school talent show, KCRA reports.

Police say a light fixture in the pool was in the process of being repaired.

“The light actually sits inside the water and it is not sealed on the outside of the pool,” said Deon Nesson.

Nesson has operated All Clear Pool and Spa Supply in Elk Grove for 30 years. He said there’s a reason that ground wires for lighting fixtures are heavy gauge.

“That’s all interconnected to all the electrical of the pool and the actual rebar of the pool,” he explained.

But there is a weak spot where the light is connected to the fixture in the pool.

“It’s critical that these lights are always attached properly,” Nesson said. “The bottom pin should be inserted and have contact to the middle and the top screw should be inserted all the way.”

Nesson said when there is a short you can feel something as you approach the water.

“The first sign of any problem is a little tingle,” he told KTXL. “That would mean that you have a problem in that pool. Never touch that fixture, turn off all the power right away.”

Pools that are built or renovated to code have a circuit breaker but are also attached to a ground fault circuit interrupter, like the ones commonly found in bathroom sockets. They are also wired into pool lighting panels as added protection.

They should be checked every month or so.

The houses in the neighborhood of the accident were built in the late ‘50s. Neighbors told KTXL a lot of backyard pools were added on.

“If you’ve got a pool pre-1981 and you don’t know the condition of the electrical, you should have someone look at all the electrical, not just the pool light but also the pool pumps,” Nesson said.

Citrus Heights police are classifying the death as a tragic accident. They are still looking into how it happened but Nesson suspects that a series of circumstances had to occur at the same time for a death to occur.

‘ICE will come’: Illinois gas station clerk suspended after video shared on Facebook

WQAD News -

NAPERVILLE, Ill. — A suburban Illinois gas station clerk has been suspended after a video posted to Facebook shows him in a confrontation with customers as he tells them, “ICE will come," and makes other anti-immigrant comments.

The clerk, who worked at the Bucky's Mobil gas station at 1576 Washington in Naperville, was recorded on video arguing with customers.

The woman who posted the video on Facebook on Tuesday wrote, “Look at this guy who didn’t want to sell us anything because we are Mexican. What a way to treat your tourists.”

In the video, the clerk can be heard asking a customer, "Are you a citizen?" The customer replies, "Yes. What is your problem?" He goes on to say, "Don't you know the rules?" The customer again asks what his problem is, to which the clerk responds, "They need to go back to their country."

Carolina Buitron, whose two cousins were visiting from Mexico and were in the video, said this has never happened to her before. She said she was upset and hurt by what happened, but said she is now getting lots of support. Buitron lives in a neighboring town and was born in the United States.

A protest was held Wednesday at the gas station in response to the clerk's comments.

On the man’s public Facebook page, he called Nancy Pelosi a Satanist and said the words he used in the video were not racist.

A spokesperson for Bucky’s said the comments the clerk made are not reflective of their core values. An investigation is ongoing about the clerk’s behavior.

The video comes just days after President Donald Trump tweeted about four congresswomen of color and told them to "go back to their country."

Bob Ahlgren, was across the street from the gas station during the protest with an American flag and a "Build the wall" sign. He stopped because he saw a protest about racism, but didn't know what happened until he saw the video. He said while he doesn't "necessarily agree with that," he said he showed up to show support for Trump.

The clerk in the video did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Geneseo has a new city administrator

WQAD News -

GENESEO- The City of Geneseo announced that JoAnn Hollenkamp was approved as the next Geneseo City Administrator by the City Council at a Special City Council meeting on July 17, 2019.

Hollenkamp has served as the City Administrator for the City of Carlyle, Illinois for the past 6 years, where she manages over 50 employees that work in a number of capacities including: a municipal electric utility, water, sewer, streets, park, police, administration, and library. Before becoming a City Administrator, Hollenkamp worked in the new-home construction industry for several large builders. She holds a Master’s of Public Administration from Southern Illinois University

Hollenkamp was hired at a salary of $100,000, with a $5,000 sign-on bonus and is scheduled to assume her new role with Geneseo on August 26, 2019. The City’s Interim City Administrator, Dawn Tubbs, will step down from her current role after a two-week transition period between her and Hollenkamp in early September.

YOUR HEALTH: A nasal spray that could help boost men’s fertility

WQAD News -

MIAMI, Florida – Robert knew something wasn't right after feeling sluggish for almost two years.

"Not really having the energy or the desire to work out or just work through the entire day."

A blood test revealed he had low testosterone, a common condition on the rise in younger men.

"At least one in three men between the ages of 32 to 50 appear to have low testosterone," said reproductive urologist Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy of the University of Miami Health System.

Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy says factors such as stress, obesity and poor sleep habits may be to blame.

Symptoms include low energy, fatigue, improper sleep, weight gain, erectile dysfunction or lack of libido.

He says testosterone therapies like injections and gels have one major side effect.

"All of these treatments will actually block hormones from the pituitary gland."

Now a treatment called Natesto, applied through the nose, is offering younger patients another option.

"Because this is used two to three times a day and it's short acting," explained Dr.  Ramasamy.

"It still preserves your hormones from the pituitary gland and therefore maintains your sperm production."

"Just like many other medications that we've put through the nose, like medications that are used for allergies, they go through the nose and are absorbed systemically. It's the same concept. It's absorbed through the blood supply from the nose and men who have been on the drugs so far have very good testosterone levels."  -Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy

He says so far, patients enrolled in the University of Miami study have preserved their fertility and feel great.

"They are able to lose weight, get back to the gym, obviously their sex life has improved."

Robert says taking Natesto has made a big difference.

"I have the energy, I have the desire to be active and to do things."

Natesto was FDA approved in 2012 but is being studied as a treatment option for men who want to preserve their fertility.

Side effects of testosterone therapy include the risk of blood clots and breast enlargement.

Natesto is covered by most insurance companies, otherwise it costs about $200 a month.

If this has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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