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First Ex Drug Execs Indicted in Opioid Crisis

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  • Rochester Drug Co-Operative and two of its executives were charged for supplying drugs that they knew were likely being misused for the purpose of increasing their profits.
  • These are the first charges filed against a company or executives in the opioid epidemic.
  • RDC will pay a fine of 20 million dollars as a result.

What Are the Charges?

A major drug distribution company and two of its executives were indicted on Tuesday, marking the first criminal charges related to the opioid crisis for a company of this kind.

Rochester Drug Co-Operative (RDC), along with former C.E.O., Laurence Doud III, and former chief of compliance, William Pietruszewski, are being accused of supplying drugs they knew were likely being misused.

RDC is one of the top ten drug distributors in the United States. The company has an estimated annual revenue of one billion dollars.

According to the indictment against them, RDC allegedly “supplied large quantities of oxycodone, fentanyl, and other dangerous opioids to pharmacy customers that its own compliance personnel determined were dispensing those drugs to individuals who had no legitimate medical need for them.”

Both Doud and Pietruszewski are being charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. The latter of the charges carries a mandatory 10-year sentence and has a maximum life sentence.

Pietruszewski is also being charged with willfully failing to file suspicious order reports to the Drug Enforcement Administration. He has already pled guilty. Doud has surrendered to authorities, but entered a not guilty plea.

RDC is being charged with conspiracy to violate narcotics laws, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and willfully failing to file suspicious order reports. They are also being sued in a civil complaint related to underreporting suspicious orders.

Between 2012 and 2016, the company filled 1.5 million orders, and only reported four suspicious orders to the DEA. However, the complaint alleges that RDC failed to report 2,000 orders to the DEA.

According to the indictment, the company and its executives had the goal of maximizing RDC’s revenues, as well as their own salaries. Between 2012 and 2016, their sales of oxycodone tablets increased by 800 percent. Doud’s salary also more than doubled, landing him with an annual income of $1.5 million by 2016.

What Does this Mean for the Opioid Crisis?

A U.S. Attorney involved in the case, Geoffrey S. Berman, released a statement saying that this prosecution is the “first of its kind.”  

“Executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking, trafficking the same drugs that are fueling the opioid epidemic that is ravaging this country,” he added. “ Our Office will do everything in its power to combat this epidemic.”

A DEA Special Agent, Ray Donovan, also said that these charges “should send shock waves throughout the pharmaceutical industry.”

“The distribution of life-saving medication is paramount to public health,” he said. “Similarly, so is identifying rogue members of the pharmaceutical and medical fields whose diversion contributes to the record-breaking drug overdoses in America.”

The epidemic and overdoses that Berman and Donovan reference are part of a serious problem in America. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 130 people in the U.S. die every single day from an opioid overdose.

A spokesperson for RDC, Jeff Eller, released a statement acknowledging that the company “made mistakes.”

“RDC understands that these mistakes, directed by former management, have serious consequences,” said Elder. “One element of the opioid epidemic is a dramatic increase in the volume of prescriptions for opioids and all narcotics. From 2012 to 2017, we did not have adequate systems in place nor were our compliance team and practices rigorous enough to provide adequate controls and oversight.”

RDC has agreed to pay a fine of $20 million dollars. They will also be under independent compliance monitoring for three years.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (NPR) (Axios)

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Luxury Homes, Cars and Yachts?! How Medicare Fraud Is Paying For Them

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In April, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General uncovered a massive $1.2 billion Medicare scam that peddled unneeded orthopedic braces to hundreds of thousands of seniors through international call centers. The Justice Department announced charges against 24 people. The indictment says that the money benefited through the scam was laundered through international shell corporations, then used to purchase things like luxury homes, cars and yachts.

As it stands, Medicare fraud and inaccurate billing cost the federal government health care program as much as $60 billion annually. Fraud schemes that involve Medicare only impact the federal budget, but also affect beneficiaries and the program. In most cases, these schemes include things like enrolling beneficiaries who are not eligible for care, billing for services never provided, identifying care providers who aren’t actually caregivers, and offering kickbacks to patient recruiters in return for the referral of Medicare beneficiaries, many of whom didn’t need or qualify for home health services. 

Medicare fraud is particularly egregious because it preys on families who are looking for the best way to care for aging loved ones. And finding a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or a home health agency that not only meets the needs of your loved ones but also meets national standards can be rather difficult. Check out today’s Rogue Rocket video for the full story and to know what to watch out for. 

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Thousands of Facebook Users Pledge to Storm Area 51

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  • Over 470,000 people have pledged to attend a Facebook event called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us,” as part of a quest to “see them aliens.”
  • The event lays out a plan of attack for how the attendees will take over the infamous Air Force base that is home to numerous extra-terrestrial conspiracy theories.
  • However, the user who wrote the plan has clarified that this is only a joke, and says he does not expect responders to actually go to Area 51.

Users Respond to Facebook Event

Over 470,000 people have responded to an event on Facebook pledging to storm Area 51 in Nevada to “see them aliens.” 

The event, called “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All of Us” is now a gathering of both the extra-terrestrial and meme-obsessed users of the Internet. In addition to those who have said they will be going, another 480,000 have claimed they are “interested.” Calendars worldwide have marked September 20 as the date to head to the conspiracy-embroiled Air Force base.

For those less familiar with the world of martian mysteries, Area 51 is the subject of several conspiracy theories, largely due to its secretive nature and the lack of information the U.S. government releases about it. Some claim it is the site of U.F.O.’s and home to alien ship crashes. Others even believe time travel is being developed at the site. 

The details on the event page suggest that everyone will gather for a mass meet-up before storming the base. 

“We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry,” the event says. “If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens.”

The Naruto run is likely in reference to the popular Manga character known for his high-speed run with his hands behind his back. 

Plan of Attack Established

Photo via Facebook: Jackson Barnes

A pinned post on the page, written by Jackson Barnes, outlines a thorough but ambitious plan of attack. The first stage involves the “Kyles,” represented by black rectangles, storming the front line. The “Kyles” appears to refer to an online meme that, according to Know Your Meme, characterizes someone named Kyle as “an angry white male teenager.” One that might toss back a few cans of Monster, punch through drywall and spray his room with copious amounts of Axe bodyspray. Their job is to “go beserk and become an impenetrable wall.”

The next step involves “Rock Throwers,” which are represented in the graphic as blue rectangles. Their job is pretty self-explanatory, but they claim to have safe intentions. 

“We dont want to hurt them, we just want to annoy them enough to not shoot the kyles as often,” Barnes writes. 

And the last element of the plan involves the aforementioned Naruto runners, marked in green. 

“The two naruto runner battallions will run full speed around the north and south flank, and shadow clone jutsu, effectively trippling our numbers, and overwhelm the base,” Barnes explains. 

It Was All in the Name of Memes

Even though he mapped out a detailed scheme, Barnes does not actually have any intentions of seeing his plan come to fruition. His goal behind the post was just to get a few good old fashioned “likes” online. 

“P.S. Hello US government, this is a joke and I do not actually intend to go ahead with this plan,” Barnes wrote at the bottom of the post. “I just thought it would be funny and get me some thumbsy uppies on the internet. I’m not responsible if people decide to actually storm area 51.”

It seems most people involved are in on the joke, too. The page is filled with users making jokes about fighting off guards all in the name of finding aliens. The story also made its way to Twitter, where people had their own hilarious meme fest.

However, we will have to wait until September 20 to see if anyone actually takes the risk of storming the curious landmark.

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (TIME) (USA Today)

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Louisiana Declares State of Emergency as Residents Brace for Tropical Storm Barry

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  • A state of emergency has been declared in Louisana and thousands have been evacuated as the state gets ready for Tropical Storm Barry.
  • Forecasters have said the storm could be upgraded to a hurricane when it makes landfall late Friday or early Saturday, but most officials and residents are more worried about the flooding the storm could cause than wind damage.
  • One of the biggest threats is the Mississippi River, which is typically at 6 to 8 feet in New Orleans this time of the year, but is now at 16 feet due to record flooding.
  • New Orleans already experienced massive flash floods earlier this week, and many view Barry as the first real test to the levees which broke during Hurrican Katrina in 2005, destroying the city.

Flooding in New Orleans

Louisiana has declared a state of emergency as residents prepare for Tropical Storm Barry which has already caused flash floods and inclement weather throughout the state.

The storm is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday, and forecasters anticipate that it could be upgraded to a hurricane before then.

The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning Thursday for the areas between Intracoastal City and Grand Isle, about 50 miles south of New Orleans.

Thousands of people are already under mandatory evacuations, while others have been told to prepare for an intense rainfall, strong winds, and enormous storm surges. Around 3,000 National Gaurd members have been deployed for search and rescue efforts.

If Barry does become a hurricane, it would likely be a fairly weak one in terms of wind speeds. 

As of Friday afternoon, wind speeds had reached 65 miles per hour, with forecasters predicting it will make landfall just above 74 miles per hour, the speed required to be categorized as a hurricane.

Flood Conditions

As Louisiana prepares for the incoming storm, many are far more concerned about the flood risks and storm surges from Barry’s heavy rains than the damage its winds could create.

“This is going to be a major weather event for a huge portion of the state of Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday. “The more information we get, the more concerned we are it’s going to be an extreme rain event for large portions of the state.”

“There are three ways that Louisiana can flood; storm surge, high rivers, and rain. We’re going to have all three,” Edwards continued.

Forecasters have predicted that the storm could bring a three-to-six-foot storm surge to coastal areas. The Mississippi River represents one of the biggest risks to the state at large.

Between 10 to 20 inches of rain are expected across Louisiana, posing a dangerous threat of flooding from the Mississippi River, which is already inundated with unusual amounts rainwater.

The Mississippi River, which is usually at 6 to 8 feet in midsummer in New Orleans, is now at 16 feet because of record flooding along the waterway.

“This is the first time we’ve had a tropical system with water levels on the river this high,” Jeffrey Graschel, a hydrologist with the weather service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center told CNN.

Low-lying parts of New Orleans have already flooded earlier this week in the wake of heavy storms ahead of Barry. It was reported that 10 inches of rain had fallen in parts of the city by noon on Wednesday. 

Many streets were covered with dangerous amounts of water, and power outages were also reported.

On Friday, the National Weather Service of New Orleans issued an alert on Twitter warning that the city was “looking at potential for life-threatening flooding in some areas.”

A Test for New Orleans

Regardless of Barry’s strength, many view the storm as the first real test of the storm system improvements put in place after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Specifically, many New Orleans officials and residents are concerned about the levees that protect the city, and that infamously broke during Katrina, causing massive flooding and damages that New Orleans has still not fully recovered from.

Experts expect rainwaters to push the Mississippi River to swell to 19 feet, just a foot below the tops of the shortest levees. 

The Army Corps of Engineers has said that the Mississippi River will likely be contained by levees that protect New Orleans, and many of the floodgates near the river have already been closed.

However, officials still warned that the system of levees and drainage pumps have limited capacity. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Thursday that the city’s pumps were operating at “optimal capacity,” but also added that Barry’s downpour could outpace the pumps ability to move the water.

Still, Cantrell stopped short of mandatory evacuations in the city. On Friday, Cantrell announced a voluntary evacuation for the areas outside of the protection of the levees, noting on Twitter that certain areas could expect “a surge between three to six feet.”

Cantrell has also asked New Orleans residents to shelter in place starting at 8 p.m. local time.

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (CNN) (NPR)

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