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Judge in Massive Johnson & Johnson Opioid Case Miscalculates Payment by $107M

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  • An Oklahoma judge admitted he made a $107 million miscalculation on the $572 million Johnson & Johnson fine that the company was ordered to pay the state in August.
  • The ruling, citing deceptive practices in Johnson & Johnson’s opioid marketing, was the first time a judge held a pharmaceutical company responsible for the opioid crisis.
  • Johnson & Johnson is now instead expected to pay $465 million because the judge accidentally added three zeros to a provision that required it to help the state develop a program for treating babies born with conditions related to drug dependencies.
  • Johnson & Johnson has been working to lower or eradicate the fine and appealed the decision in September with the Oklahoma Supreme Court, calling the ruling an unprecedented interpretation of state law.

Judge Miscalculated Payment

An Oklahoma judge admitted to making a $107 million mistake on Tuesday, after having previously fined Johnson & Johnson $572 million for its role in worsening the opioid crisis.

On Aug. 26, Judge Thad Balkman concluded that Johnson & Johnson’s deceptive practices led to higher rates of addiction and overdose. The lawsuit was the first instance where a judge held a pharmaceutical company responsible for the opioid crisis.

Balkman met with both the state and Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday to discuss the company’s payment. Prior to the meeting, Johnson & Johnson attorneys submitted a filing that alleged a figure of $107,683,000 had been miscalculated.

“No evidence supports this higher amount, which appears simply to reflect a mistaken addition of three zeros to the calculation of the annual average,” the filing states, “yet the state’s proposed judgment fails to account for this discrepancy.”

The payment concerned a provision to help the state develop a program for treating babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition that could arise if babies are born with drug dependencies because their mothers were taking opioid while pregnant.

Balkman then agreed with Johnson & Johnson, realizing the payment should have been $107,683. This new correction would essentially lower the fine to $465 million, but Balkman hasn’t issued his final order, so that number could still change. 

“I acknowledge the computing error contained in my August 26th judgment, Balkman said. That will be the last time I use that calculator.”

The Lawsuit

Balkman handed down his decision after a seven-week trial stemming from a lawsuit by the state of Oklahoma.

While Johnson & Johnson is widely known for manufacturing products like shampoo and lotion, it also deals in pharmaceuticals. In fact, the company has a huge stake in manufacturing opioids, with many of the raw ingredients used in other companies’ opioid products coming from Johnson & Johnson.

During the trial, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter argued more than 4,500 people in the state died from opioid overdoses between 2007 and 2017.

The lawsuit was argued on the basis that Johnson & Johnson violated public nuisance laws, which generally pertain to property disputes but are broad and can be applied to health issues. Following Balkman’s ruling, many hailed the case as a landmark decision and predicted that it would set a precedent for future cases against other major pharmaceutical companies.

While Balkman originally ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $572 million, Oklahoma had asked for $17.5 billion as part of a 30-year plan to cover a number of services—including treatment for victims, emergency care, law enforcement, social services, and other addiction-related needs

Balkman, however, said the state hadn’t provided “sufficient evidence”  for costs past the first year.

What’s Next for Johnson & Johnson?

Johnson & Johnson is continuing to fight to lower and even eradicate their fine. In September, the company filed an appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, arguing that the ruling was an unprecedented interpretation of state law.

Until Johnson & Johnson knows if that appeal will be heard, however, it has focused its efforts on reducing its court-ordered payout to $355 million. That payment would reflect two settlements reached by both Teva Pharmaceuticals and Purdue Pharma who were also originally named in the same Oklahoma lawsuit. 

The push for a smaller fine also comes as Balkman decides whether the court will continue to monitor the opioid crisis in Oklahoma and whether he could potentially require Johnson & Johnson to shell out more money over the next 20 years.

“The evidence isn’t that one year is enough,” an attorney for the state argued. “We’ll take one year, but it’s going to take more than that.”

And all of this comes as another major opioid lawsuit began selecting its jury in Cleveland, Ohio on Wednesday.

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

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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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