Prosecutor: Drug maker pushed OxyContin despite danger signs
By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER and GEOFF MULVIHILL
Wednesday, January 16
BOSTON (AP) — A member of the family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma told people at the prescription opioid painkiller’s launch party in the 1990s that it would be “followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition,” according to court documents filed Tuesday.
The details were made public in a case brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey that accuses Purdue Pharma, its executives and members of the Sackler family of deceiving patients and doctors about the risks of opioids and pushing prescribers to keep patients on the drug longer. The documents provide information about former Purdue Pharma President Richard Sackler’s role in overseeing sales of OxyContin that hasn’t been public before.
The drug and the closely held Connecticut company that sells it are at the center of a lawsuit in Massachusetts and hundreds of others across the country in which government entities are trying to find the drug industry responsible for an opioid crisis that killed 72,000 Americans in 2017. The Massachusetts litigation is separate from some 1,500 federal lawsuits filed by governments being overseen by a judge in Cleveland.
But the company documents at the heart of the Massachusetts allegations are also part of the evidence exchanged in those cases. While the Massachusetts filing describes their contents, the documents themselves have not been made public, at the company’s request.
According to the filing, Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, told the audience at the launch party to imagine a series of natural disasters: an earthquake, volcanic eruption, hurricane and blizzard.
“The launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white,” he said, according to the documents.
“Over the next twenty years, the Sacklers made Richard’s boast come true,” lawyers in the attorney general’s office wrote. “They created a manmade disaster. Their blizzard of dangerous prescriptions buried children and parents and grandparents across Massachusetts, and the burials continue,” they wrote.
The complaint says the Sackler family, which includes major donors to museums including the Smithsonian Institution, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate Modern in London, was long aware its drug was dangerous and addictive but pushed more sales anyway.
A memo among family members in 2008 warned of a “dangerous concentration of risk” for the family, the complaint says. Years earlier, Richard Sackler wrote in an email that the company would have to “hammer on the abusers in every way possible,” describing them as “the culprits and the problem.”
Joanne Peterson, who runs a Massachusetts-based support network for the family members of people addicted to drugs, said Sackler’s comments show a “blatant disregard for human life.”
“He certainly hammered them six feet under,” Peterson said. “I’ve been to more funerals than I can count in the last 15 years.”
Purdue Pharma accused the attorney general’s office of cherry-picking from millions of emails and documents to create “biased and inaccurate characterizations” of the company and its executives. The company said in a statement said it will “aggressively defend against these misleading allegations.”
The company also stresses that its drug is approved by federal regulators and prescribed by doctors; that it accounts for a small portion of opioids sold in the U.S.; and that illicit drugs including heroin and street fentanyl are causing most overdose deaths.
“In a rush to vilify a single manufacturer whose medicines represent less than two percent of opioid pain prescriptions rather than doing the hard work of trying to solve a complex public health crisis, the complaint distorts critical facts and cynically conflates prescription opioid medications with illegal heroin and fentanyl,” Purdue Pharma said.
Messages seeking comment were left with a spokeswoman for the Sackler family.
Massachusetts is the first state to personally name the company’s executives in a complaint. It names 16 current and former executives and board members, including CEO Craig Landau, Richard Sackler and other members of the Sackler family.
A suit filed by the New York County of Suffolk also names members of the family. A lawyer who filed that suit, Paul Hanly, said he expects the family to be named in further suits.
Last year, Purdue halted efforts to market OxyContin to doctors.
Mulvihill reported from New Jersey. Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkinricher and Geoff Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill
Change your phone settings so Apple, Google can’t track your movements
January 14, 2019
Author: Jen King, Director of Consumer Privacy, Center for Internet and Society, Stanford University
Disclosure statement: The Center for Internet and Society receives funding from multiple organizations; information is available here: http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/about-us
Technology companies have been pummeled by revelations about how poorly they protect their customers’ personal information, including an in-depth New York Times report detailing the ability of smartphone apps to track users’ locations. Some companies, most notably Apple, have begun promoting the fact that they sell products and services that safeguard consumer privacy.
Smartphone users are never asked explicitly if they want to be tracked every moment of each day. But cellular companies, smartphone makers, app developers and social media companies all claim they have users’ permission to conduct near-constant personal surveillance.
The underlying problem is that most people don’t understand how tracking really works. The technology companies haven’t helped teach their customers about it, either. In fact, they’ve intentionally obscured important details to build a multi-billion-dollar data economy based on an ethically questionable notion of informed consent.
How consumers are made to agree
But people don’t always have a free choice. Instead, it’s a “take-it-or-leave-it” agreement, in which a customer can use the service only if they agree.
Anyone who actually wants to understand what the policies say finds the details are buried in long legal documents unreadable by nearly everyone, perhaps except the lawyers who helped create them.
Often, these policies will begin with a blanket statement like “your privacy is important to us.” However, the actual terms describe a different reality. It’s usually not too far-fetched to say that the company can basically do whatever it wants with your personal information, as long as it has informed you about it.
Theoretically, users might be able to vote with their feet and find similar services from a company with better data-privacy practices. But take-it-or-leave-it agreements for technologically advanced tools limit the power of competition across nearly the entire technology industry.
Data sold to third parties
There are a few situations where mobile platform companies like Apple and Google have let people exercise some control over data collection.
For example, both companies’ mobile operating systems let users turn off location services, such as GPS tracking. Ideally, this should prevent most apps from collecting your location – but it doesn’t always. Further, it does nothing if your mobile provider resells your phone’s location information to third parties.
App makers are also able to persuade users not to turn off location services, again with take-it-or-leave-it notifications. When managing privileges for iOS apps, users get to choose whether the app can access the phone’s location “always,” “while using the app” or “never.”
But changing the setting can trigger a discouraging message: “We need your location information to improve your experience,” says one app. Users are not asked other important questions, like whether they approve of the app selling their location history to other companies.
And many users don’t know that even when their name and contact information is removed from location data, even a modest location history can reveal their home addresses and the places they visit most, offering clues to their identities, medical conditions and personal relationships.
Why people don’t opt out
Websites and apps make it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for most people to say no to aggressive surveillance and data collection practices. In my role as a scholar of human-computer interaction, one issue I study is the power of defaults.
When companies set a default in a system, such as “location services set to on,” people are unlikely to change it, especially if they are unaware there are other options they could choose.
Further, when it is inconvenient to change the location services, as is the case on both iOS and Android systems today, it’s even less likely that people will opt out of location collection – even when they dislike it.
Companies’ take-it-or-leave-it privacy policies and default choices for users’ privacy settings have created an environment where people are unaware that their lives are being subjected to minute-by-minute surveillance.
They’re also mostly not aware that information that could identify them individually is resold to create ever-more-targeted advertising. Yet the companies can legally, if not ethically, claim that everyone agreed to it.
Overcoming the power of defaults
Privacy researchers know that people dislike these practices, and that many would stop using these services if they understood the extent of the data collection. If invasive surveillance is the price of using free services, many would rather pay or at least see companies held to stronger data collection regulations.
The companies know this too, which is why, I argue, they use a form of coercion to ensure participation.
Until the U.S. has regulations that, at a minimum, require companies to ask for explicit consent, individuals will need to know how to protect their privacy. Here are my three suggestions:
Start by learning how to turn off location services on your iPhone or Android device.
Turn location on only when using an app that clearly needs location to function, such as a map.
Avoid apps, such as Facebook Mobile, that dig deeply into your phone for as much personal information as possible; instead, use a browser with a private mode, like Firefox, instead.
Don’t let default settings reveal more about you than you want.
Many painful returns: Coping with crummy gifts
January 16, 2019
Author: Deborah Y. Cohn, Associate Professor of Marketing, New York Institute of Technology
Disclosure statement: Deborah Y. Cohn does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
What happens to the gifts you get? I’m not talking about the ones that you really adore. I mean the rest of them – the ones you can’t or don’t want to use, or even hate.
The problem doesn’t end when you’ve awkwardly thanked someone and thrown away the wrapping paper. In my case, I stowed an awful present from my dad in a closet for years. Whenever I looked at it, I got upset all over again.
That experience was one reason why I became a consumer researcher who studies gift giving. Based on my research, I have come to understand the price paid by the people who get unwelcome gifts.
Many costly returns
Painful gift giving falls into two categories. One is intentional and the other is accidental. Either way, it burdens friends and loved ones with unwanted stuff they may try to get rid of.
One common solution, at least for purchased gifts, is returning them. But even when the giver gets a refund or the recipient converts an eyesore into a pile of more useful cash, that still takes a toll.
Retail holiday sales amounted to an estimated US $720 billion in 2018, with about 10 percent of those purchases being returned.
To learn more about how people deal with gifts they don’t like, want or need, I teamed up with consumer behavior expert Leon G. Schiffman. We did 30 in-depth interviews individually with 15 couples to study what happens in those situations. I always began with the question, “Can you tell me about gift giving between you and your spouse?”
I also searched for the words “gift returns” on message boards at Babycenter.com and analyzed more than 500,000 relevant results.
With both approaches, I found that a lot of people, mostly women, want advice about returning gifts. I also saw that many people try to not let givers know about it.
Some people feel guilty about returning presents, but not everyone. It seems that people tend to follow one of what Schiffman and I call two gift-giving rulebooks.
One is economic. Some people just care about the monetary value of gifts. They don’t want to waste the giver’s money and effort so they try to swap out the gift for cash, credit or merchandise they want or need.
The other is symbolic. Some people see gifts as a means of communication. They fret about the message they may send by returning, exchanging, or otherwise getting rid of the gift. They worry about how the person who gave it to them might feel if they knew.
Some people feel compelled to make use of unwelcome gifts out of concern for their friends or loved ones. That can cause trouble.
For example, a woman who gets a purse she hates for Christmas from her husband might not want to hurt his feelings by letting him know. She would then use it at least occasionally to give him the impression that she likes it. What options would she have to subtly let him know not to buy her another one for her birthday?
It depends on her rulebook.
For people in the symbolic camp, they have two options: use it or store it. The ones who take the storage option might go out of their way to still use the gift once in a while, taking the utmost care not to hurt the giver’s feelings.
The economic types are more practical.
When they are sure that the person who gave them an ugly purse for Christmas are also pragmatic, then they have no qualms about returning, exchanging, donating, selling or re-gifting the thing.
However, if they aren’t sure about how the giver might feel, they might be like the people I found seeking advice on the internet. They often ask questions such as whether they can return gifts purchased through Amazon or registries without the sender knowing, and if it’s rude to return gifts.
These questions indicate that recipients are concerned about how returning makes gift givers feel – usually not so good – and the giver’s feelings. However, they are also concerned about getting a gift’s monetary value. Common responses to questions about what else can be done when you can’t return something to a store without receipts include donate it, sell it, find another use for it, store it for later use or give it to someone else.
There seems to be a buffer period of time after which a stored item can be donated, sold or re-gifted without many qualms. The apparently sacred power of the gift ebbs over time, making it acceptable to ditch once it no longer seems like a gift.
Whatever etiquette you find appropriate in this situation, apps such as LetGo, Nextdoor and Decluttr can help too. These platforms offer avenues for selling unwanted items, whether it’s new or old.
There’s also ReturnRunners, a different kind of app. It helps you to hire someone, for a fee, to return gifts you wish you hadn’t gotten.
2020 hopeful Castro tells NH voters that ‘everyone counts’
By HOLLY RAMER
Wednesday, January 16
MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Democrat Julian Castro, in the early primary state of New Hampshire for the first time as a presidential candidate, told voters on Wednesday that he believes “everyone counts” and accused the Trump administration of “picking and choosing” who has chances to succeed.
The 44-year-old former Obama administration housing chief spoke at the “Politics & Eggs” event at Saint Anselm College four days after he kicked off his campaign in his hometown of San Antonio. In between, he squeezed in a campaign trip to Puerto Rico.
Castro said he visited the U.S. territory “because I want every single American to know that everyone counts.”
He said that “if we’ve faced any crisis over these last two years, it’s that we have an administration that doesn’t believe that, that is picking and choosing who gets opportunity and who doesn’t based on what you look like, based on your faith, based on how long you’ve been in this country. We need to get back to an America where everyone counts.”
As San Antonio mayor, Castro pushed through a sales tax increase to pay for prekindergarten programs, an accomplishment he cited in New Hampshire, which has prided itself on having neither a sales nor income tax and only recently began providing significant state money for full-day kindergarten.
Castro drew applause when he promised to enact universal preschool as president and said he would work toward tuition-free college degrees, apprenticeships and certificates.
Castro expressed support for a higher minimum wage and a comprehensive immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for those living in the country illegally.
He also supports a Medicare-for-all health care system, but offered no specifics when asked by an audience member how he would pay for it. He said those details would come later, but probably would involve looking at how to reduce costs within the health care system.
Castro later told reporters that he will review tax provisions that benefit the wealthy and corporations.
Castro is part of what is becoming a crowded field for the Democratic nomination. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York launched her exploratory committee Tuesday, and the field could grow to more than a dozen candidates.
Castro, who could end up being the only Latino candidate, said he often gets asked whether he believes that largely-white Iowa and New Hampshire should remain first in the nominating calendar.
“Do I wish in the first two states we had more diversity in those states? Yeah, I do. However, the thing I do appreciate about Iowa and New Hampshire is that people take politics and policy very seriously, and these are relative small states as far as states go, so you can actually meet people one on one and get to know them,” he said.
Steve King’s Racism Must Be Formally Censured
By John Nichols
The House resolution addressing Iowa Republican Representative Steve King’s blatant racism was so obscure in its language and construction that even King himself voted for it. Referencing remarks the xenophobic congressman made last week to The New York Times, the resolution suggested that the House “once again rejects White nationalism and White supremacy as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.” But it did not even mention King by name.
That made it possible for King, a political careerist who is struggling to preserve his position, to join 423 colleagues in voting for the measure. Just one House member voted no—US Representative Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat who has been organizing against racism since his days as a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee activist more than 50 years ago, objected.
“It is not strong enough. We need to censure Steve King,” explained Rush.
“Steve King has made a career of making racist statements. That is the only thing he is known for and this pattern of rabid racism must be confronted head on by the House of Representatives.” — Congressman Bobby Rush
Noting that the tepid resolution that the House backed on Tuesday “just restates the obvious,” the Chicagoan complains that “It does not address Steve King’s violent, vitriolic, and rabid racism. This Democratic resolution is an insult to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as we recognize his birthday.”
Rush has authored a proper censure resolution, which details a long list of instances in which the Iowa congressman has expressed crudely racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, and anti-Muslim sentiments.
“Steve King has made a career of making racist statements. That is the only thing he is known for and this pattern of rabid racism must be confronted head on by the House of Representatives,” says Rush, whose own resolution names Steve King and calls for him to stand in the well of the House for a formal “pronouncement of censure.”
The House has a duty to call King to account, says the Illinoisan, who proposes to make the Iowan the 24th member in the history of the chamber to be censured.
Bobby Rush is right. The House needs to schedule a floor vote that will clearly and unequivocally “punish [Steve King] for his bigotry and racism.”
John Nichols is The Nation’s national-affairs correspondent. He is the author of Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America, from Nation Books, and co-author, with Robert W. McChesney, of People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy.
Trump’s reference to Wounded Knee evokes the dark history of suppression of indigenous religions
January 16, 2019
Author: Rosalyn R. LaPier, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, The University of Montana
Disclosure statement: Rosalyn R. LaPier does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
President Trump evoked the Wounded Knee massacre in a recent tweet. He was reacting to an Instagram video that Sen. Elizabeth Warren posted on New Year’s Eve.
There’s been considerable criticism of the president’s inaccurate portrayal of Native American history, including from members of his own party. Two Republican senators from South Dakota, Mike Rounds and John Thune, spoke out against the tweet.
Wounded Knee is among the worst massacres in Native American history. It was also one of the most violent examples of the repression of indigenous religion in American history.
Religion historian Tisa Wenger explains that before the 20th century, many Americans believed that “indigenous practices were by definition savage, superstitious and coercive.” They did not consider them to be religion.
In part because of this belief, the U.S. government decided not to recognize Native Americans as citizens of sovereign governments in the 19th century, but as colonial subjects. In 1883, the Department of Interior enacted the first “Indian Religious Crimes Code” making the practice of Native American religions illegal. These codes remained in place until 1934.
In response, Wenger writes, some Native American groups tried to convince government agents that their gatherings were places of “prayer and worship” similar to Christian churches. Others claimed that their gathering were “social,” not religious.
But this kind of masking of religious practices did not stop the U.S. government from using violence to suppress these Native American ceremonies.
In 1890, the U.S. military shot and killed hundreds of unarmed men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in an effort to suppress a Native American religious ceremony called the “ghost dance.”
Historian Louis Warren explains that the ghost dance developed as a religious practice in the late 19th century after Native Americans witnessed the devastating environmental change of their homelands from American settlement. The dance envisioned a return to their unspoiled natural world.
The U.S. military, however, viewed it differently. They believed the Native Americans at Wounded Knee were gathering for war.
The darkest moment
The U.S. government changed its policies of openly suppressing indigenous religions in 1934. But it would take another 44 years before the U.S. fully committed “to protect and preserve” religious rights of American Indians through the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978.
As a Native American scholar of religion and environment history, I agree with Republican Sen. Mike Rounds – the Wounded Knee massacre “should never be used as a punchline.”