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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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Nearly 700,000 People to Lose Food Stamp Aid Under New Policy

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  • A new rule was finalized on Wednesday that tightens work restrictions for the federal food stamp program.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 688,000 people will be cut from the program when the rule takes effect next year.
  • Those in favor of the change argue that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs, while critics say it will hurt them more than it will help them.

New Rule

Trump administration finalized a new rule that could remove almost 700,000 people from the federal food stamp program. The rule, announced in a press release on Wednesday, creates stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rule promotes work for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents,” the press release said.  

Under current regulations, this demographic can receive three months of SNAP benefits throughout a three year period, unless they work or undergo professional training for at least 20 hours a week. 

States have had the ability to waive this time limit to account for economic turbulence, and counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5% were eligible for these remissions. The new rule will make 6% the minimum unemployment rate to qualify for these waivers, according to the Washington Post.

It will take effect on April 1, 2020.

Impact on Americans

While the USDA originally estimated that up to 750,000 people would be cut from SNAP with this change, now they have adjusted that number to 688,000. 

The finalized regulation is the first of three proposed measures to limit access to the federal food stamp program. A new study by the Urban Institute found that if the other two rules are approved, nearly 4 million people would lose access to food benefits.

After the new rule was proposed in February, there was an abundance of public comments imploring the administration not to go through with it. 

But the USDA was not swayed and held strong in their argument that SNAP should be a form of temporary assistance instead of a long-term lifestyle. 

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

Those who support the rule are optimistic that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs. 

“The changes reflect the belief that more Americans can enter and reenter the workforce,” Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary, told the Washington Post. “So they can know the dignity of work.”

Critics of the change were extremely disappointed upon the news of the rule’s finalization, deeming it a step in the wrong direction.

“The Trump administration is driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season approaches,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Wednesday. “It is heartless. It is cruel. It exposes a deep and shameful cruelness and hypocrisy in this administration.”

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on nutrition, released a press statement on Wednesday after hearing the news.

“The Administration refuses to take an honest look at the people they are targeting with this rule and what challenges they face that contribute to their hunger…” she said. “…Instead of considering hungry individuals and their unique struggles and needs, the Department has chosen to paint them with the broadest brush, demonizing them as lazy and undeserving.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (NBC)

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Melania Trump Blasts Law Professor for Dropping Son’s Name in Impeachment Testimony Joke

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  • Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan made a joke referencing President Donald Trump’s son in her impeachment hearing testimony on Wednesday. 
  • Melania Trump criticized Karlan on Twitter for bringing her child into a political matter.
  • Some condemned Karlan while others thought her wordplay was harmless. 
  • Many Twitter users called the FLOTUS hypocritical for defending her child but staying silent on her husband’s treatment of other minors, including teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and migrant children experiencing inhumane treatment at the border.

Karlan’s Joke

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford law professor, dropped a controversial joke while testifying in the ongoing impeachment hearing against President Donald Trump on Wednesday. 

While explaining the difference between the POTUS and a king, she used a play on words with the name of his teenage son, Barron.

“The constitution says there can be no titles of nobility,” Karlan said. “So while the president can name his son Barron, he can’t make him a baron.”

Karlan’s joke received a scattering of laughter around the room, including a chuckle from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who posed the question of how the president compares to royalty.  

Melania Trump took to Twitter to defend her son, condemning Karlan’s name-dropping comment. 

“A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics,” the first lady wrote. “Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.”

Further Backlash

Karlan was put on blast by other prominent figures for her mention of the president’s son. Vice President Mike Pence called her joke a “new low.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida who strongly supports the president, chastised her directly on the floor Wednesday. 

“Let me also suggest that when you invoke the President’s son’s name here, when you try to make a little joke out of referencing Barron Trump, that does not lend credibility to your argument,” he said. “It makes you look mean.”

The Trump campaign released an official statement on the topic.

“Only in the mind of crazed liberals is it funny to drag a 13-year-old into the impeachment nonsense,” National Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.

Karlan’s Apology

Later in the day, Prof. Karlan apologized for her remarks, but not without mentioning that she wishes Donald Trump would also admit to his faults. 

“I want to apologize for what I said earlier about the president’s son. It was wrong of me to do that,” she said during her testimony. “I wish the president would apologize obviously for the things that he’s done that’s wrong, but I do regret having said that.”

Defense of the Professor

While some were outraged by Karlan’s play on words, others spoke up to defend her, deeming the joke harmless.

Some Twitter users criticized the FLOTUS for being quick to defend her own son but staying silent on her husband’s treatment of other minors, including teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and migrant children experience inhumane treatment at the border.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NBC) (Newsweek)

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George Zimmerman Sues Trayvon Martin’s Family for $100M, Citing Defamation

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  • George Zimmerman is suing Trayvon Martin’s parents, their lawyer, and a publishing company for $100 million, citing defamation relating to the 2013 case involving Martin’s shooting.
  • The lawsuit cites a documentary titled The Trayvon Hoax, which accuses Martin’s parents of falsifying testimony.
  • Ben Crump, a lawyer for Martin’s parents, called the lawsuit unfounded and reckless.

Zimmerman’s Lawsuit

The man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin is now suing Martin’s family, their lawyer, and a publishing company for allegedly engaging in false testimony during the 2013 trials related to Martin’s death.

According to reports, George Zimmerman and his lawyers are alleging defamation, saying that Martin family and their prosecutors “have worked in concert to deprive Zimmerman of his constitutional and other legal rights.” Because of this, Zimmerman is asking for $100 million in civil damages.

Zimmerman’s suit cites information from a documentary titled The Trayvon Hoax. It also claims that the Martin family lied in court. 

Zimmerman’s suit cites information from a documentary titled The Trayvon Hoax. It also claims that the Martin family lied in court. 

On top of suing Martin’s family, Zimmerman is also suing the publisher Harper Collins after it released a book titled Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People, which was written by Ben Crump, the lawyer who represented Martin’s family in the case against Zimmerman.

While The Trayvon Hoax was scheduled to be screened at the Coral Gable Art Cinema Thursday following a noon press conference giving more details about the lawsuit, the theater later canceled the screening as news of Zimmerman’s lawsuit surfaced.

In a statement responding to the allegations, Crump said he hoped the lawsuit would soon be thrown out.

“I have every confidence that this unfounded and reckless lawsuit will be revealed for what it is – another failed attempt to defend the indefensible and a shameless attempt to profit off the lives and grief of others,” he said.

Trayvon Martin’s Death

Zimmerman shot and killed Martin in Florida on Feb. 26, 2012. At the time, Martin had been visiting his father.

The night he died, Martin had reportedly been walking home after buying candy and a drink at a gas station. Zimmerman, who was part of the community’s volunteer neighborhood watch, then called the police to report a suspicious-looking person in a dark hoodie.

“These assholes, they always get away,” Zimmerman told the dispatcher.

About two minutes into the call, Zimmerman said he saw Martin then began to run. He then chased after Martin despite the dispatcher telling him not to.

Soon after the phone call ended, Zimmerman and Martin reportedly engaged in a violent altercation that ultimately led to Martin’s death.

Zimmerman was then arrested and charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.

In the months that followed, the trial gained national scrutiny as many waited to see what would happen to Zimmerman after shooting an unarmed black teenager.

Ultimately, Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges in 2013 after claiming self-defense in court.

See what others are saying: (Miami Herald) (Washington Post) (NBC News)

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