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Novel Approach to Resolving Tsunami of Opioid Lawsuits

New twist in opioid lawsuits: Lawyers representing hundreds of local governments presented a federal judge in Ohio with a proposal that would allow every town, city or county in the country to receive a payment from the companies that have made and sold prescription opioids. The settlement proposal is a unique approach to resolving an avalanche of lawsuits, writes Jan Hoffman of The New York Times: The plaintiffs would have the chance to vote on whether to accept a settlement offer. If they do, they would receive money to help address a massive public health crisis, and the companies would resolve the bulk of their liability at once, without fear of future lawsuits from local governments. State claims and those made by certain groups, including tribes, unions, and babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome have not been included, however. Nearly 1,970 local governments have filed suit so far. Thousands more would automatically be included in the settlement unless they specifically opt out, Hoffman writes. The proposal includes an interactive map that would be used to determine each local government’s share, based on grim math of drug distribution, overdoses and deaths.

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Silent and deadly: When Sherry H. Penney and James D. Livingston – she an accomplished academic leader and historian and he a physicist and writer – died in their Florida home last month, they became the 16th and 17th people to die by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning after they unwittingly left their Toyota vehicle running in their attached garage. “They died of indifference,” according to a blog post by Safety Research & Strategies. That research and advocacy group has been urging federal regulators since 2010 to push the makers of keyless ignition cars to take a simple step to reduce the risk of such deaths. Toyota’s vehicles account for nearly half of those documented. Some carmakers, including Ford and GM, introduced a relatively simple and inexpensive software fix years ago that automatically shuts the car off. Last week, Toyota said it would do the same. Sean Kane, president of the safety research group, told Consumer Reports that the company should be praised for making the software change, but it comes 13 years after the first carbon monoxide death linked to keyless ignitions. Congress is considering a bill that would require all such vehicles to come with an automatic shut-off feature.

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Water, sun, wind: Renewable energy capacity is growing, and for the first time its share in the total U.S. electricity market surpassed coal just slightly, according to a recent Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report. Rachel England writes for Engadget that, if current trends continue, the gap is likely to grow.

  • Also: Pressured by the Pope, the world’s biggest oil producers promised to support “economically meaningful carbon pricing regimes,” a tax or other mechanisms, the Associated Press reports. –– A U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that domestic military bases are unprepared for the damage and costs expected from the climate crisis.
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Retirement security foreclosed: Nick Penzenstadler and Jeff Kelly Lowenstein of USA Today took a deep dive into national foreclosure data to highlight a problem that consumer advocates said they’ve seen coming for years: Companies selling reverse mortgages aggressively targeted urban, predominantly African-American neighborhoods and underplayed the risks. Now, those mortgages are failing at an alarming rate, leaving elderly homeowners with little recourse or, in the case of their death, leaving their families without the family home or inherited assets. “USA TODAY found that reverse mortgages end in foreclosure six times more often in predominantly black neighborhoods than in neighborhoods that are 80 percent white,” they write. That was true even when looking only at lower income neighborhoods.

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Police activity: Reporters with the Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed the activity of private hate groups on Facebook, awash in racist, homophobic and misogynistic commentary, and found that nearly 400 current or retired law enforcement officials across the U.S. were members. More than 50 departments said they launched investigations when presented with the findings, and at least one person has been fired, Will Carless and Michael Corey report. Meanwhile, the Plain View Project, a research group, has extensively analyzed the public Facebook activity of thousands of officers from eight jurisdictions for evidence of endorsements of violence, bigotry, racism or ideas that could “could undermine public trust and confidence in police.” Leaders from several cities told The Washington Post they are investigating.

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An EPA in decline: Seven former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency, whose leadership spanned five decades during Republican and Democratic administrations, wrote to House lawmakers in April offering their assistance in oversight of the agency. Last week, several of them told the House Energy and Commerce Committee they were concerned the shrinking agency was no longer able to do its job, The Washington Post reports. “There is no doubt in my mind that under the current administration, the EPA is retreating from its historic mission to protect our environment and the health of the public from environmental hazards,” said Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who was administrator during George W. Bush’s presidency.

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Nature is good for you: That may seem like common sense. But scientists are beginning to measure its effects so physicians and policymakers can put their findings to use in public health solutions. Aaron Reuben writes in Outside magazine about two recent studies with fairly dramatic results. A large study using national data from Denmark found that children raised in the least green neighborhoods were 55 percent more likely to develop a mental illness than children raised in the most green neighborhoods, even when the data was adjusted for factors such as socioeconomic status or family history of mental illness. And in a first-of-its-kind study, researchers transformed some vacant lots in Philadelphia into green pocket parks and left others as they were or simply cleaned them up. People living near the parks reported significant improvement in self-reported mental health, Reuben writes. His story was part of a series looking at how doctors and health care institutions are beginning to see nature as a treatment tool. A separate study published last week  in Scientific Reports found that two hours is what it takes. People who reported spending 120 minutes or more outdoors each week reported better overall health and well-being, writes Knvul Sheikh for The New York Times.

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A fall death, a big fine: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration hit the owner of a Maine roofing company with a proposed fine of $1.8 million for failing to make sure that employees at work sites in Portland and Old Orchard Beach wore fall protection gear. The agency has cited Shawn Purvis for fall hazard violations repeatedly since 2006, according to a press release. In December, 30-year-old Alan Loignon was killed when he fell from a third-story roof. Matt Byrne of The Portland Press Herald reports that the fine is the largest issued in New England in recent years. An attorney for Purvis said he plans to appeal. Purvis previously told Byrne that he had refused to pay about $44,000 in OSHA fines, arguing that he could provide safety gear to the people who worked on his jobs, but he couldn’t make them wear it. Purvis also faces manslaughter charges and a civil suit filed by Loignon’s family. FairWarning has reported on how fall deaths are preventable yet the numbers continue to grow.

  • Also: MW Logistics Services has been cited for serious violations after a fire at its natural gas processing plant in Houston, Pennsylvania, killed one worker and injured three others. The company contracted to clean the lines and vessels at the plant, Energy Transportation, also was cited. The two companies faced combined penalties of $98,508. –– Southern Tire Mart of Mississippi faces proposed penalties of $341,195 after an employee suffered fatal injuries while trying to replace a monster truck tire rim at the company’s retreading facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

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