Science & Health

US City Alleges Drugmaker Let OxyContin Flood Black Market

As deaths from painkillers and heroin abuse spiked and street crimes increased, the mayor of Everett took major steps to tackle the opioid epidemic devastating this working-class city north of Seattle.


Mayor Ray Stephanson stepped up patrols, hired social workers to ride with officers and pushed for more permanent housing for chronically homeless people. The city says it has spent millions combating OxyContin and heroin abuse – and expects the tab to rise.


So Everett is suing Purdue Pharma, maker of the opioid pain medication OxyContin, in an unusual case that alleges the drugmaker knowingly allowed pills to be funneled into the black market and the city of about 108,000. Everett alleges the drugmaker did nothing to stop it and must pay for damages caused to the community.


Everett’s lawsuit, now in federal court in Seattle, accuses Purdue Pharma of gross negligence and nuisance. The city seeks to hold the company accountable, the lawsuit alleges, for “supplying OxyContin to obviously suspicious pharmacies and physicians and enabling the illegal diversion of OxyContin into the black market” and into Everett, despite a company program to track suspicious flows.


“Our community has been significantly damaged, and we need to be made whole,” said Stephanson, who grew up in Everett and is its longest-serving mayor, holding the job since 2003.


He said the opioid crisis caused by “Purdue’s drive for profit” has overwhelmed the city’s resources, stretching everyone from first responders to park crews who clean up discarded syringes. The lawsuit doesn’t say how much money the city is seeking, but the mayor says Everett will attempt to quantify its costs in coming months.


Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma says the lawsuit paints a flawed and inaccurate picture of the events that led to the crisis in Everett.


“We look forward to presenting the facts in court,” the company said in a statement.


Purdue said it is “deeply troubled by the abuse and misuse of our medication,” and noted it leads the industry in developing medicines with properties that deter abuse, even though its products account for less than 2 percent of all U.S. opioid prescriptions.


In 2007, Purdue Pharma and its executives paid more than $630 million in legal penalties to the federal government for willfully misrepresenting the drug’s addiction risks. The same year, it also settled with Washington and other states that claimed the company aggressively marketed OxyContin to doctors while downplaying the addiction risk. As part of that settlement, it agreed to continue internal controls to identify potential diversion or abuse.


While numerous individuals and states have sued Purdue, this case is different because Everett is getting at the results of addiction, said Elizabeth Porter, associate law professor at the University of Washington.


She thinks Everett may have a shot at winning, though it will have to overcome some legal burdens, including showing that diverted OxyContin from rogue doctors and pharmacies was a substantial factor in the city’s epidemic.


Stephanson said he was “absolutely outraged” after the Los Angeles Times reported last summer it found Purdue had evidence that pointed to illegal trafficking of its pills but in many cases did nothing to notify authorities or stop the flow. That newspaper investigation prompted the city’s lawsuit.


In response to the newspaper’s reporting, Purdue said in a statement that in 2007, it provided LA-area law enforcement information that helped lead to the convictions of the criminal prescribers and pharmacists referenced by the Los Angeles Times. The company also pointed to court documents that showed a wholesaler alerted the Drug Enforcement Administration about suspicious activity at a sham clinic noted in the newspaper’s story.


Still, Everett contends Purdue created a market for addicts that didn’t exist until the company let its pills flood the streets.


The region saw two spikes in overdose deaths: first from OxyContin and other opioid painkillers in 2008 and then, after the drug was reformulated in 2010, a spike from heroin as people switched to a potent but cheaper alternative, officials said.


The city contends Purdue’s wrongful conduct fueled a heroin crisis in Everett. Between 2011 and 2013, nearly one in five heroin-related deaths in Washington state occurred in the Everett region.


In response to the drug epidemic, Everett last year began sending social workers on routine patrols with police officers. Sgt. Mike Braley says the community outreach and enforcement team strikes a balance between enforcement and connecting people to addiction treatment, mental health and other services.


“We understand that we can’t arrest our way out of problems that addiction is causing our city,” Braley said.


Sometimes it takes many follow-ups and hours of handholding to get people help. On their first stop one morning, Braley and his team check under a street overpass, a popular hangout for addicts. They find plenty of needles, drug packaging and mounds of garbage but none of the people they had encountered there recently.

They swing by a woody vacant piece of city property to follow up with a homeless man who told social workers he was on a housing list. He previously was reluctant to talk but opens up this time.


Social worker Kaitlyn Dowd offers to check on the man’s housing status with a local nonprofit provider and then punches her number into a cellphone he recently got.


“You can call me, and I have your number,” she tells him.


Social worker Staci McCole said they come across many cases where highly functioning residents were introduced to opiates or heroin.

“So many of these people – somehow it’s taken a hold of them, and their lives now have forever changed,” she said.

Science & Health

US EPA Awards $100 Million to Upgrade Flint Water System

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday it had awarded $100 million to upgrade Flint, Michigan’s drinking water infrastructure to address a crisis that exposed thousands of children to lead poisoning.

The grant to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality will enable the city to “accelerate and expand” its work to replace lead pipes and make other improvements, according to the EPA. Estimates of the upgrade’s cost range from $200 million to $400 million.

Friday’s announcement made the disbursement official. Last year, Congress passed and former president Barack Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act to allocate $100 million to aid Flint.

$31.5 million to be paid immediately

The EPA’s state revolving funds, which Congress can allocate to help with cleanup efforts, were one of the few programs that the Trump administration did not slash in its proposed budget for the agency.

“Flint’s water infrastructure as part of our larger goal of improving America’s water infrastructure,” said a statement from agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

The EPA will make $31.5 million immediately available for lead pipe replacements and upgrades, and Michigan will provide a $20 million required match.

The remaining $68.5 million will come after the city and Michigan complete additional public comment and technical reviews.

“Today we have good news for families in Flint who have already waited far too long for their water system to be fixed,” said a statement from U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, and Congressman Dan Kildee, all Michigan Democrats.

Flint mayor meets Trump

Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, also a Democrat, said the funds would help the city reach its goal of replacing 6,000 pipes this year. She met briefly with President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

In January, 1,700 Flint residents filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Michigan, saying the EPA failed to warn them of the dangers of the toxic water or take steps to ensure that state and local authorities were addressing the crisis. The plaintiffs seek $722 million in damages.

Midwestern politicians are worried about the elimination in the proposed U.S. budget of funding for an effort to clean up the Great Lakes, from which some states draw their drinking water.

Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager when it switched its water source to the Flint River from Lake Huron in April 2014. The more corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes and into the drinking water.

The city returned to its original water source in October 2015.

Silicon Valley & Technology

Tech Workers Find Communal Living a Solution for High Rents

Zander Dejah, 25, pays $1,900 a month rent to live in a downtown San Francisco house with at least 40 other people, many of whom sleep in bunk beds.

Dejah is a resident of The Negev, a communal living space that styles itself as a home for millennial tech workers to brainstorm ideas, write code and create apps, even if they have to share toilets and bathrooms with dozens of others.

Houses like The Negev, located in a neighborhood known as “SoMa” or South of Market, have cropped up around San Francisco as an influx of young professionals, many of whom are tech workers, have faced the city’s notoriously high rents and apartment shortages. It has three floors and roughly 50 rooms, filled with bunk beds, beer bottles and laptops, according to residents.

Dejah, born and raised in New York, graduated last year with a degree in computer science and math from McGill University.

Unemployed, he moved to California six months ago and found his  room at The Negev on Craigslist.

“I thought New York was expensive,” said Dejah, who quickly landed a job as a virtual reality engineer at consulting firm moBack. “It’s basically an extension of college. We sort of live in a frat house.”

The home is certainly filled with parties on weekends, but the residents make sure to sit down every Sunday for a communal dinner, akin to a traditional family gathering.

While some say communal housing provides a solution for many first-time workers fresh out of college, such housing also has created its share of controversy. Housing advocates have complained that this new dorm-like style of living has pushed up rents and forced longtime residents to move out.

Alon Gutman, who co-founded a company called The Negev and began leasing the building on Sixth Street in 2014, said, “We have never made somebody move out of that building,” adding that his tenants pay 30 percent to 50 percent less than others in the neighborhood.

“We are trying to solve the housing crisis and increase density in a positive way.”

The Negev company runs nine communal properties, three of which are in San Francisco. The others are in Austin, Texas, and Oakland, California.

The Negev properties, generally in run-down, low-income neighborhoods, are restructured to accommodate a large number of tenants, Gutman explained.

Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, said housing problems have arisen because occupants leave buildings being converted to communal homes and cannot afford to move back in or the space is no longer suitable for them.

“The Negev house takes affordable housing and makes it unaffordable,” said Sherburn-Zimmer. “All they’ve done is take away housing from people who had it and loved it and pushed them out to make a quick buck.”

Kumar Srikantappa, 31, who also pays $1,900 a month for a single room at The Negev, said he chose the house because of the social experience. After eight months there, the software engineer for Oracle Corp said he would soon be ready to live elsewhere.

“I met a bunch of friends, and I just want to move on to another location and into a bigger place,” he said. “It’s time.”

Arts & Entertainment

Vast Beatles Collection Goes on Auction in Paris

A vast collection of rare Beatles vinyl records, photos and other  paraphernalia will go on auction in Paris on Saturday.

Beatles aficionado Jacques Volcouve began his collection in 1967 with the album “A Hard Day’s Night.” Decades later, it has grown to include nearly 15,000 records and more besides.

“Starting from 1967, I gave myself an absolutely impossible mission: own everything concerning the Beatles,” Volcouve told Reuters TV, as he was sorting through his collection in December.

The 60-year-old has decided to auction off his collection to fund his retirement.

Among the 332 lots up for auction on Saturday is the disc “Tony Sheridan and the Beatles 7: My Bonnie,” signed by Paul McCartney and George Harrison, with an estimated price of 6,000-10,000 euro ($6,450-10,740).

A lot of 11 alternate cover photos for the Grammy-winning Sergeant Pepper Lonely Hearts Club album is expected to go for 10,000 to 15,000 euros.

Volcouve has written books and given radio commentaries about the Liverpool foursome. Letters he received from Harrison and Ringo Starr in 1976, thanking him for articles he had written, could fetch up to 3,000 euros each.

A set of dolls of the Fab Four with their instruments is expected to sell for 200-400 euros.

Among other items up for sale are an “authentic Beatle wig,” a Yoko Ono/John Lennon wedding album box and posters.

Arts & Entertainment

Dark Clouds Hang Over South African Music, yet Silver Linings Shine

About two years ago, blues-folk artist Alice Phoebe Lou gave a performance in a park in Berlin, looking for donations as a street entertainer.

A listener invited her to perform at a function. Her career has since taken off. Last year, she released her debut record, and on Wednesday she played one of the world’s premier music festivals: the South by Southwest event in Texas. 

Lou is just one of a growing list of South African musicians who’ve felt compelled to leave their homeland to be rewarded for their art. Another is Josie Field.

“I feel my sound and where I want to go musically, I’ve hit a ceiling in South Africa,” Field said. “The market is extremely niche for what I do.”

As they do for most musicians in South Africa, live gigs provide Field’s staple income. But, in a depressed economy, they’re limited.

Despite the struggles, Field said she’d never regret the past decade of making music in the country of her birth.

‘Take another step’

“I’ve had a wonderful time,” she said. “There’s no doubt that there are proper music fans here. But I’m now ready to take another step and hopefully explore how other parts of the world see my music, and also grow as an artist.”

Andre le Roux, director of the Southern African Music Rights Organization, said it’s “natural” for extremely talented artists to leave South Africa.

The Dave Matthews Band “is doing far better in the U.S. than they would have done, ever, in South Africa,” he said. “So when people grow a little bigger [than the South African music scene], it’s time to leave.”

But he added that “what isn’t natural” is that exceptional, and scrupulous, musicians like Field often can’t get airplay in South Africa.

“There is the reality of payola, which is corruption —  taking money where you’re not supposed to take money to give people airplay when you’re not supposed to give them airplay,” he said.

Le Roux also said that South Africa’s national broadcaster, the SABC, was failing to fulfill its pledge to play 90 percent local music.

“Was it a policy that was put in place, or was it a statement that was made? In our view, it was very much a statement that was made, because we haven’t seen the policy position,” he said. “Which radio station do you know that has played 70, 80, 95 [percent local music]; who’s done the assessment?”

The SABC insists its stations are playing “mostly locally produced” music.

Lack of support seen

Le Roux is adamant that the state isn’t doing enough for music. Most public schools, for example, don’t teach it.

“Are those institutional tools in place to support an environment in which the arts and the artists can thrive?” he asked. “The honest answer to that is no.”  

The government says it’s doing its best with “limited funding” to support arts.

Field said another reason for her leaving is her disenchantment with politics in South Africa — something reflected in her track “Born Under the Stars.”

“It’s a song that has a political edge to it, coming just out of frustration for the future of South Africa and the leaders that aren’t leading,” she said.

Pride in artists’ progress

Le Roux expects more of the cream of local music to leave the country — not necessarily because of politics or corruption, but because they’re simply “too big” for the nation’s small, underfunded music sector.

“We don’t have the ability to absorb them within our cultural space,” he said. “That’s the problem of the state. But do we like to see them grow? Yes. Those that go abroad, good for them. Those that stay here, let’s build an industry together.”

Ultimately, he said, South Africa should be proud that its artists, like DJ and rapper Spoek Mathambo, are successful worldwide, in bigger, ultracompetitive markets.

Arts & Entertainment

Jennifer Garner Calls for Congress to Boost Education Funds

Jennifer Garner has called on Congress to do more to support early childhood education.


The actress testified Thursday on Capitol Hill in support of education programs for preschoolers in poverty. Garner recalled growing up in West Virginia around children in poverty. She told lawmakers that she “couldn’t stand up for them back then, but I can stand up for their families now.”


She says by investing in early childhood education programs, like Head Start, “we can intervene in these children’s lives in time to make a difference.”


Garner is a mother of three and was testifying before a House subcommittee on behalf of child advocacy group Save the Children. Garner is a member of the organization’s board of trustees.

Arts & Entertainment

Top 5 Songs for Week Ending March 18

This is the Top Five Countdown! We’re spotlighting the five most popular songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart, for the week ending March 18, 2017.

The past several weeks have seen us on a winning streak, with a dynamic newcomer each time. This week it happens in fifth place, where The Chainsmokers and Coldplay rise an incredible 51 slots with “Something Just Like This.” How did this partnership come about?

Number 5: The Chainsmokers & Coldplay “Something Just Like This”

It’s the second single from The Chainsmokers’ upcoming album “Memories: Do Not Open,” and the lead single from Coldplay’s EP “Kaleidoscope.” Last September, The Chainsmokers shared two short clips from an upcoming song featuring Coldplay singer Chris Martin. Last month they debuted it at the BRIT Awards in London.

Number 4: Bruno Mars “That’s What I Like”

Bruno Mars was also at the BRITS singing “That’s What I Like,” which holds in fourth place on the Hot 100.

Let’s test your knowledge about this 31-year-old singer. His real name is Peter Hernandez. He was born and raised in Hawaii. Before becoming a solo star, Mars was a producer and songwriter in a team called The Smeezingtons.

You know who else started out as a songwriter? She’s here in third place along with Zayne.


Number 3:  Zayn & Taylor Swift “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever”

Zayn and Taylor Swift tread water in third place with “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever.” You probably know that Swift was a Country music star before breaking into pop, but did you know she also hooked her own publishing deal at the age of 14? Swift signed with Nashville’s Sony/ATV Music house while still a freshman in high school, right after leaving a development deal with RCA. That same year, she wrote her very first hit single, “Tim McGraw.”

Number 2: Migos “Bad And Boujee”

Migos have been around since 2009, and last week they landed on the cover of a major U.S. publication.  

The Georgia rap trio appears on the cover of the current issue of Billboard Magazine, and they’re not neglecting their international audience: this North American summer, Migos will hit festivals in Canada, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.

Number 1: Ed Sheeran “Shape Of You”

Speaking of the United Kingdom, Ed Sheeran spends a sixth total week at the top with “Shape Of You.”

Rolling Stone Magazine put Sheeran on the cover of its current U.S. edition. In the accompanying story we learn that he had a stutter as a boy; he hurt his foot hiking on an Icelandic volcano; and he spent three weeks in the African nation of Ghana last year.

No matter where you live, we have the songs you want to hear and we’ll be back next week with a new hit list!

Arts & Entertainment

Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, Caribbean Poet, Dies at 87

Derek Walcott, a Nobel-prize winning poet known for capturing the essence of his native Caribbean and became the region’s most internationally famous writer, has died on the island of St. Lucia. He was 87.

Walcott died early Friday at his home in the eastern Caribbean nation of St. Lucia, according to his son, Peter.

“Derek Alton Walcott, poet, playwright, and painter died peacefully today, Friday 17, March, 2017, at his home in Cap Estate, Saint Lucia,” read a statement the family released later in the morning. It said the funeral would be held in St. Lucia and details would be announced shortly.

The prolific and versatile poet received the Nobel Prize in literature in 1992 after being shortlisted for the honor for many years. In selecting Walcott, the academy cited the great luminosity” of his writings including the 1990 “Omeros,” a 64-chapter Caribbean epic it praised as “majestic.”

“In him, West Indian culture has found its great poet,” said the Swedish academy in awarding the $1.2 million prize to Walcott.

Walcott, who was of African, Dutch and English ancestry, said his writing reflected the “very rich and complicated experience” of life in the Caribbean. His dazzling, painterly work earned him a reputation as one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 20th century.

With passions ranging from watercolor painting to teaching to theater, Walcott’s work was widely praised for its depth and bold use of metaphor, and its mix of sensuousness and technical prowess. He compared his feeling for poetry to a religious avocation.


Soviet exile poet Joseph Brodsky, who won the Nobel literature prize in 1987, once complained that some critics relegated Walcott to regional status because of “an unwillingness … to admit that the great poet of the English language is a black man.”

Walcott himself proudly celebrated his role as a Caribbean writer.

“I am primarily, absolutely a Caribbean writer,” he once said during a 1985 interview published in The Paris Review. “The English language is nobody’s special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself. I have never felt inhibited in trying to write as well as the greatest English poets.”

Walcott was born in St. Lucia’s capital of Castries on January 23, 1930 to a Methodist schoolteacher mother and a civil servant father, an aspiring artist who died when Walcott and his twin brother, Roderick, were babies. His mother, Alix, instilled the love of language in her children, often reciting Shakespeare and reading aloud other classics of English literature.

In his autobiographical essay, “What the Twilight Says,” he wrote: “Both the patois of the street and the language of the classroom hid the elation of discovery. If there was nothing, there was everything to be made. With this prodigious ambition one began.”

Walcott once described straddling “two worlds” during his childhood in St. Lucia, then a sleepy outpost of the British empire.

“Colonials, we began with this malarial enervation: that nothing could ever be built among these rotting shacks, barefooted backyards and moulting shingles; that being poor, we already had the theater of our lives. In that simple schizophrenic boyhood one could lead two lives: the interior life of poetry, and the outward life of action and dialect,” he wrote.

Early on, he struggled with questions of race and his passion for British poetry, describing it as a “wrestling contradiction of being white in mind and black in body, as if the flesh were coal from which the spirit like tormented smoke writhed to escape.” But he overcame that inner struggle, writing: “Once we have lost our wish to be white, we develop a longing to become black.”

At the age of 14, he published his first work, a 44-line poem called “1944,” in a local newspaper. About four years later, while still in his teens, he self-published a collection of 25 poems. At 20, his play “Henri Christophe” was produced by an arts guild he co-founded.

He left St. Lucia to immerse himself in literature at Jamaica’s University College of the West Indies. In the 1950s, he studied in New York and founded a theater in Trinidad’s Port-of-Spain, a Caribbean capital he mentioned with great warmth during his Nobel lecture in 1992.

Walcott’s treatment of the Caribbean was always passionate but unsentimental. In his 1979 work about Jamaica, “The Star-Apple Kingdom,” he wrote of the “groom, the cattleboy, the housemaid … the good Negroes down in the village, their mouths in the locked jaw of a silent scream.”

For much of his life, Walcott, who taught at Boston University for many years, divided his time between the United States and the Caribbean, and the exile of millions of Caribbean citizens who have left the region in search of a better life is another frequent theme in his works.

Although he was best known for his poetry, Walcott was also a prolific playwright, penning some 40 plays, including “Dream on Monkey Mountain” and “The Last Carnival,” and founding theaters such as the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.

British writer Robert Graves said in 1984 that Walcott handled “English with a closer understanding of its inner magic than most — if not any — of his English-born contemporaries.”

Not all his work was met with accolades. He collaborated with American pop star Paul Simon to write “The Capeman” story, which became a Broadway musical in 1997 and quickly became a major flop, closing less than two months into its run and getting panned by critics.

His reputation was weakened by sexual harassment allegations made against him at Harvard and Boston universities in the 1980s and 1990s.

He retired from teaching at Boston University in 2007 and spent more of his time in St. Lucia.

With reporting by McFadden from Kingston, Jamaica. Associated Press writer Ben Fox contributed from Miami.