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Money, Sex and Fentanyl

Drug pushing run wild: It’s hard to know where to begin with this story about how Insys executives — several under federal indictment — allegedly lured doctors willing to risk their patients’ lives for a trip to a strip club. The allegations are in whistleblower complaints filed by former sales reps and two people who worked for a company that processed insurance claims. Does the blame sit most heavily with the manager who coached a sales rep to “behave more sexually” with doctors to persuade them to prescribe more Subsys, a painkiller whose key ingredient is the powerful and sometimes deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl? Or with the sales reps who allegedly traded sex for prescriptions? Or with the doctors who, in one case, prescribed 60 units of Subsys in two days, after an Insys rep promised to hire the doctor’s girlfriend if the doctor could “turn the subsys switch on”? Or with the executives who pushed the tactic of providing the drug for free if insurance companies didn’t immediately approve coverage? “Authorization was much more likely after Insys could tell insurers that the patient was already taking the drug,” Julia Lurie writes in Mother Jones. “And by that time, the patient was likely already addicted.”

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National parks ‘loved to death’: Visitors at many national parks will dole out a little more in entrance fees this year – if they can find a park employee to take their money. Carl Segerstorm of High Country News explains the financial trouble that the parks are in: Attendance has risen dramatically, to 330 million visitors last fiscal year. That’s 50 million more visitors than in 2012. The backlog of overdue maintenance and repairs is approaching a whopping $12 billion. The parks are understaffed, with more cuts threatened in the president’s 2019 budget proposal. And a rollout of a new seasonal hiring system slowed down the process, Segerstorm writes. He talked to a journalist who visited Joshua Tree National Park over Memorial Day weekend and couldn’t find a park employee to take his fee.

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A settlement for self-driving Cruise: General Motors Co. will settle a lawsuit with the driver of a motorcycle involved in an accident with a self-driving GM Cruise last year. Oscar Nilsson sued GM, saying the vehicle “suddenly veered back” into his lane and hit him, David Shepardson of Reuters reports. The company’s report on the accident to state regulators portrays it a little differently, saying the Cruise had begun switching lanes when another vehicle decelerated, causing the Cruise to return to its original lane just as the motorcycle entered the space after lane-splitting, or driving between vehicles. Nilsson’s suit said he suffered neck and shoulder injuries. Perhaps more interesting is the point Shepardson makes here: “Of roughly 40 crashes involving self-driving vehicles reported to California regulators since January 2017, 33 involved GM Cruise vehicles, but none have been declared to be the fault of GM Cruise, California records show.”

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Less money, more sick miners: The federal fund that helps miners suffering from black lung disease pay for living and medical expenses could accrue a $15 billion deficit in the next three decades, according an analysis by the Government Accountability Office. The expected deficit is linked to a 55 percent cut to a tax on coal companies planned for the end of this year. The industry says it needs the relief in a competitive energy market, but many coal miners suffering from the debilitating disease rely on the financial support of the fund, Howard Berkes of NPR reports. The projections by the GAO likely are conservative: They don’t factor in recent studies that found a spike in the most severe form of the disease and an increase in the number of lung transplants among miners.

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Lowe’s to pull deadly paint strippers from shelves: The Environmental Protection Agency has been slow to enact a ban on two chemicals in some paint strippers even as more people have been killed by their toxic fumes. The retail giant Lowe’s has promised to stop carrying the products, which have been blamed for dozens of deaths, by the end of the year, Eric Lipton of The New York Times reports. The Obama administration began the process of banning the chemicals, but the EPA under President Trump has not imposed the ban. The agency announced last month that it is moving forward on restricting one of the chemicals, methylene chloride, which will still be permitted in commercial furniture refinishing. No action has been taken on the solvent N-Methylpyrrolidone.

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A small sip in the big-gulp problem of plastic: Bars and restaurants, large food service companies and whole cities are banning plastic straws and other single-use plastic items. It’s intended to slow the flood of plastic into the waste stream and, often, into the oceans. Hawaii and California are considering statewide measures. Some disability advocates say the bans are problematic for people who rely on plastic straws to drink. Straws and stirrers make up about 7 percent of plastic found in the environment, according to an analysis by Better Alternatives Now that evaluated the top-polluting products and packaging. (Food wrappers, beverage bottles and caps, and plastic bags led that list.)

  • Also: Scientists have found microplastics in 114 aquatic species. What does that mean for their health and ours? Elizabeth Royte explores that question in National Geographic. — Reuters photographers made portraits of families around the world trying to cut down on plastic waste.
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Studying guns: Congress put in place a measure 22 years ago limiting federal research that could be seen as advocating for gun control. That’s left a major gap in understanding one of the leading causes of death and injury in the U.S., writes The Trace’s Alex Yablon. Some of that could be filled by the $50 million investment in gun research just announced by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. “Federal research has been basically missing,” Jeremy Travis, the foundation’s vice president of criminal justice, told Yablon. “The evidence base for good policy is basically missing.”

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Driving electrification: The California Public Utilities Commission has approved $738 million in utility company projects over five years to expand the state’s electric transportation system. The money will go to building charging infrastructure for medium- and heavy-duty electric vehicles while also providing residents rebates for installing charging stations in their homes. The program advances a key piece of the state’s 2015 clean energy law. A spokesman for oil companies called the program a “money grab” by utilities, Reuters reported. But the program was lauded by environmental groups. “This marks the nation’s single largest investment by the electric industry to eat away at Big Oil’s longtime monopoly over transportation fuels,” wrote Max Baumhefner, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.