Thursday

Two California Counties Accuse Narcotics Manufacturers of ‘Campaign of Deception’

Hit hard by overdose deaths, counties sue makers of painkillers such as OxyContin. In a suit they filed against five of the world’s top narcotics manufacturers, officials of California’s Orange and Santa Clara counties accused the companies of causing the nation’s prescription drug epidemic with a “campaign of deception” to boost sales of potent painkillers. The counties, burdened by escalating medical costs associated with prescription narcotics, contend the drug makers violated California laws against false advertising, unfair business practices and creating a public nuisance. The suit alleges the drug companies have reaped blockbuster profits by manipulating doctors into believing the benefits of narcotic painkillers outweigh the risks, despite “a wealth of scientific evidence to the contrary.” Los Angeles Times

Burn surgeon who was backed by a chemical industry front group surrenders his medical license. Once considered one of the nation’s top burn surgeons, Dr. David Heimbach gave dramatic testimony about babies burned to death in furniture fires. That helped convince lawmakers on various occasions they shouldn’t scale back use of flame retardants, despite the chemical hazards. It turned out, however, that the fire stories weren’t true, and the organization backing him was a chemical industry front group. This week, facing state disciplinary charges in Washington, Heimbach surrendered his medical license. Officials had alleged that Heimbach, whose activities were exposed in a 2012 investigation, fabricated testimony and falsely presented himself as an unbiased burn expert when, in fact, he had been paid $240,000 for his help. Chicago Tribune

Details of worker’s death highlight the limits of federal penalties. The 2011 accident that crushed and killed Daniel Collazo, 28, at the Tribe hummus plant in Taunton, Mass., could have been prevented had the plant followed a standard safety practice known as “lock out/tag out.” It requires employees to be trained to cut power to industrial machinery before cleaning begins. Two years before Collazo was killed, the owner of the Tribe plant paid $9,500 in fines for offenses including violating lock out/tag out rules. Yet managers at the Taunton plant told OSHA investigators that they lacked the time and money to update Tribe’s lock out/tag out procedures even after the fatal accident. U.S. fines often are much less expensive than required safety improvements, giving employers little financial incentive to make fixes. ProPublica

Workers exposed to solvents on the job may experience memory and thinking problems decades later. That was the conclusion of a study that analyzed data on 2,143 male retirees of a French utility company and their exposure to fumes from a range of solvents. Scientists already had linked exposure to substances such as paints, degreasers, adhesives and glues to problems such as memory loss, reduced cognitive processing speed and difficulty staying focused, but little was known about long-term cognitive impacts. The Harvard School of Public Health researcher who led the new study said when her team evaluated cases “where the exposure happened a long time ago, 30 to 50 years before, we found that the effects of solvents on cognitive function didn’t necessarily fade away.” Reuters

Tobacco drains the U.S. military, physically and financially, but anti-smoking efforts get shot down. Over the years the military has launched all sorts of efforts to get soldiers and sailors to avoid smoking, with some success. But every time military officials move to stop offering cheap cigarettes to their personnel, they are thwarted by the tobacco industry’s allies in Congress. In the latest skirmish, earlier this month, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee launched a preemptive strike to prevent the Navy from ending tobacco sales on Navy and Marine bases and ships. Meanwhile, the toll taken by smoking mounts. “Tobacco use costs the DOD an estimated $1.6 billion annually in medical costs and lost work time,” a Pentagon spokeswoman said. “We estimate 175,000 current active duty service members will die from smoking unless we can help them quit.” Mother Jones

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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