Pharm-Accountability In The Opioid Crisis | Crooked Media
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May 03, 2021
What A Day
Pharm-Accountability In The Opioid Crisis

In This Episode

  • The COVID crisis in India is getting worse by most metrics, with Saturday marking another daily record of new cases. In the U.S., Oregon is emerging as a hotspot. On the brighter side of things, the U.S. vaccination campaign remains extremely successful with over 103 million adults now fully vaccinated.
  • A landmark lawsuit in the decades-long opioid crisis begins today between two communities in West Virginia and the nation’s three largest drug distributors. The trial centers around an explosion in opioid prescriptions between 2006 and 2014, and the communities seek $500 million for recovery efforts and resources for those affected.
  • And in headlines: Israel observed a day of mourning following a deadly stampede, Apple and Epic Games face off in court, and a damning confession letter from a political ally of Matt Gaetz.




Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, May 3rd. I’m Akilah Hughes


Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is, What A Day where we are still not ready to shake anyone’s hand.


Akilah Hughes: That’s right. We will maybe do a high five or a salute, but that’s as close as we’re getting.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, maybe a little like hip bump, booty bump type thing on the street. Maybe I could get comfortable with that.


Akilah Hughes: On today’s show, the nation’s first federal trial begins against drug manufacturers and their role in the opioid crisis. Plus, we’ll have headlines. But first, the latest:


[clip of Vice President Harris] We have a responsibility as the United States in particular, as it relates to the people that we have partnered with over the years to step up when people are in a time of need. And as it relates to the people of India, we have a long-standing decades old relationship with India, with the Indian people, in particular around public health issues.


Akilah Hughes: That was Vice President Kamala Harris speaking from an airfield last Friday about COVID. We’ll talk more about India’s response in a moment, but let’s begin with the state of things here, because the U.S. has mostly positive news, while across the globe things are on fire.


Gideon Resnick: That is exactly right. So in the US, the vaccination campaign, even though it has slowed down from its earlier daily highs, is still very, very successful. As of this past weekend, the CDC says over 103 million people are fully vaccinated.103 million people! Which is just so many, I am not capable of conceiving of that. That’s just about 40% of the population that is 18 and older. But there are still plenty of reminders that COVID isn’t done with the US. One example is an emerging hotspot in Oregon, where a third of the state’s counties have had to go back to the most severe level of restrictions at the end of last week. Another is that younger people who haven’t been vaccinated are still at risk. Adults under 50 make up a reported 35% of COVID hospitalizations.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Wow. Well, that’s the state of things here in the U.S. But as we mentioned, the rest of the planet is struggling, particularly in India, as we talked about on Friday’s show. So where do things stand there now?


Gideon Resnick: Unfortunately, by most metrics, it’s still getting worse, before it gets better in the future. Over the weekend, India hit another daily record of cases with more than 400,000 on Saturday. India and South America are part of what is driving a new peak in overall cases around the world. And some epidemiologists are saying that cases in India could hit 500,000 in the coming weeks before vaccines can get to many places throughout the country. And just yesterday, the country’s health ministry reported another record, more than 3,600 deaths in just a 24 hour span.


Akilah Hughes: Wow. It’s just unfathomable.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is really, really scary. And this is all influenced the policy decision of Vice President Harris was talking about. Starting tomorrow, the United States is restricting most travel from India indefinitely. There are some exemptions: like U.S. citizens, permanent residents and family members will all still be allowed to enter. But it does hearken back a little bit towards early last year when the previous administration imposed a similar ban on travel from China and then parts of Europe, with both not having the full intended effect. Now, granted, there were no vaccines then, very different in tons of different ways. And at the same time, more aid began arriving in India this weekend from France, the UK and the US. But there is still increasing pressure on the administration to call for the lifting of the patent restrictions on vaccines. Here is White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain getting asked about it on Face the Nation on Sunday:


[clip of Ron Klain] Our U.S. trade representative, Catherine Tai, is going to the WTO next week to start talks on how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared. We’re going to have more to say about that in the days to come.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so we’ll see. And we’ll track that over the coming days.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Also, we were talking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party holding election rallies with thousands of maskless supporters during the last few weeks. So what sort of pressure is he facing now?


Gideon Resnick: Well, for one thing, it seems like those rallies didn’t exactly work in his favor. In West Bengal, Modi’s party was defeated in the crucial state elections. Some saw that as a sign of the increased criticism he has been facing in his response to the crisis. And the Associated Press reports that the Delhi High Court will start contempt proceedings for government officials who fail to provide oxygen and other essentials to hospitals. We’re going to continue to track all of that as it develops. But turning to the US again, Akilah, there is a pretty major lawsuit beginning today over a decades-long health crisis we have here. Take us through what we know.


Akilah Hughes: All right. So today is the first federal civil trial in a landmark opioids case. The city of Huntington and Cabell County, both in West Virginia, versus the nation’s three largest drug distributors: McKesson Corp., AmerisourceBergen Corp., and Cardinal Health Inc. The trial’s expected to last dozens of weeks and centers around an explosion in opioid prescriptions between 2006 and 2014. In that time frame, more than 1.1 billion pills ended up in West Virginia. And in just Cabell County, there were more than 81 million prescription hydrocodone and oxycodone pills distributed, which shakes out to about 94 pills per person, per year.


Gideon Resnick: That is unbelievable. So what exactly are the plaintiffs hoping to get from this case?


Akilah Hughes: So they’re seeking $500 million for recovery efforts and resources for those affected, which in my opinion is the least those companies can give considering the amount of death and destruction they’ve brought throughout the nation’s opioid crisis. On one of the worst days in Huntington in 2016, 26 people overdosed over the course of four hours. And that’s according to the Huntington Herald Dispatch.


Gideon Resnick: It’s awful on the broad scale, and on the granular level. Just awful.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, it’s just, it’s senseless. But it’s also seen as a test case for other cities and counties to sue drug manufacturers, too. If they win, it would set a major precedent in drug abuse liability for major corporations. There’s only ever been one other trial over the opioid crisis, and our “day one’s” remember us covering it. Back in 2019, Oklahoma, won $465 dollars against Johnson & Johnson in state court. So for Huntington and Cabell County, to win in federal court could set off a reckoning of accountability for reckless drug manufacturers. And it’s worth noting that there was another federal case brought by Summit and Cuyahoga Counties in Ohio against these same companies. But on the eve of their trial in 2019, they settled for $250 million. Attorneys for the West Virginia government said in the past that they would settle the Cabell County and Huntington cases for $500 million themselves, or 1.25 billion plus attorney’s fees for all West Virginia-based cases.


Gideon Resnick: And then so what are the defendants expected to argue here?


Akilah Hughes: So they don’t deny that they supplied the drugs, but they believe they were just keeping up with demand and that they’re not responsible for the demand. Cardinal Health is expected to argue that they’re simply scapegoats because the DEA is broke. They’re also expected to argue that most of those deaths came as a result of heroin use, not prescription drugs. But they may have a difficult time proving that the heroin use was despite their efforts. Reports from a national survey on drug use and health said that those facing substance use disorder with prescription opioid painkillers are 40x more likely to become addicted to heroin.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, so this sounds like a gateway.


Akilah Hughes: Absolutely.


Gideon Resnick: And we know that rural areas where some of the hardest hit for the opioid crisis. So what would it mean for there to be accountability there?


Akilah Hughes: Well, I think it would mean several things. I come from a place where the high school reunion Facebook page has more funeral announcements for parents in their 30s than really anything else. And I personally lost two friends to overdoses, and I didn’t even know that they were on those drugs at the time. And it’s due to this same opioid crisis. It’s all the same problem. So I think one part of it would be a lifting of the shame stigma associated with the crisis. The reality is that these are addictive drugs that were flooded in the communities, and taking the blame off of individuals who succumbed or didn’t “just say no” is incredibly important. And it’s also important for people who’ve had to grieve the loss of family members and friends who were victims in this case. It means that these communities can rebuild and get back on track with resources to actually help people who’ve become addicted, rather than just criminalizing them. And it means better outcomes for families and less violence and crime and so much bad that comes from these drugs being so accessible. So I’m obviously rooting for them in this case. We’ll let you know what we learn as the case moves forward. But that’s the latest for now.


Akilah Hughes: It’s Monday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’re sending support to people across the East Coast and Midwest who might be meeting a bunch of huge bugs: trillions of cicadas are emerging over the next few weeks after going underground 17 years ago—much like low rise jeans, which are also making a huge comeback. Cicadas typically come out when the soil temperature is about 64 degrees. These ones are from Brood Ten, which is considered one of the largest generations of cicadas. They make a screeching, high-pitched mating call, but don’t sting, bite or carry diseases. And once they come up, they have about three or four weeks to mate and lay eggs before they die. So the end is already in sight. Giddy, you grew up with these guys. [laughs] You’re old buds. What are your thoughts on the cicadas?


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I’m going to take issue with the phrasing there that I lived in the soil with giants bugs.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So you came out of the gross ground with those nasty bugs?


Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm. We know that was the origin story. Yeah. I mean, so my thing with them always was the alive version is terrible—


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. [laughs]


Gideon Resnick: And that the dead shell version that was on the trees was like kind of like finding a fossil in a way if you were young and stupid, and hadn’t seen them.


Akilah Hughes: But just like thousands of them. Like you, you don’t have to even search for the fossils. Like where do you live where the fossils are that abundant?


Gideon Resnick: Right. Right. Yeah, it’s the opposite in terms of rarity. But, my thoughts are don’t get near them if they are flying. If you ever wanted to know what like the weight of having a bat on your body was, but it was a bug, you are going to find out if you get near that.


Akilah Hughes: It is pretty gross. They’re so thick. They’re thick boys, I don’t like them.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. I’ve never—it’s like this and Starship Troopers where bugs are that heavy. There’s no other thing that exists where you could lift a bug and it would feel like a rock in your hand.


Akilah Hughes: It’s so gross.


Gideon Resnick: But you’re familiar with these bad boys as well. So what are you thinking here?


Akilah Hughes: All right. So as everybody knows, Gideon and I grew up very close to each other, but somehow had no crossover episode in our youth.


Gideon Resnick: No.


Akilah Hughes: And I’m just thinking about, for one, they’re so loud. In a world where we’re all on Zoom calls, people who are taking Zoom calls and it’s just like loud-ass bug0: no thank you. Like, I don’t want to hear them on my side or your side. It just sounds gross. Yeah, I dislike them. I specifically remember, like, skinning my knee jumping off of my bike because one had landed on me and I was like: oh please get off of me. Like, people don’t realize they’re sticky. They’re not just big bugs that are black with giant wings and red eyes, they’re also stuck to you. You can’t just like, wipe—if you like, hit at it like it’s a fly, it’s not going to react.


Gideon Resnick: No.


Akilah Hughes: You have to like [laughs] knock it off you. And it will do that screeching sound while it’s on you! Like it is an alien monster. And the first time I experienced it—the only time I experienced it really—was, would have been like seventeen years ago, I guess. And yeah, I did not like it. I did not realize that that was a thing that was going to happen in my life. I was very upset to learn last minute that that was going to be my summer. And, you know, Godspeed to everyone who has to try to maneuver around them. You really can’t. They’re everywhere. You know. You either just have to succumb or not leave your house.


Gideon Resnick: I am grateful that one has never touched me. I’ve only ever seen it like in human—er, in a live form, like on its back or in the air. It’s never landed on me, and I hope it never does.


Akilah Hughes: Oh, gosh. Well, I hope it never does either, Gideon. It’s like black snow. You look up and it’s just a bunch of like snowflakes, but they’re giant bugs. Anyway, just like that we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe, maybe just avoid outside if you’re, you know, somewhere on the eastern seaboard, and we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Israel observed a day of mourning yesterday following what is being called one of the country’s deadliest civilian disasters. On Friday, 45 people, including six U.S. citizens, were killed in a stampede on a religious site Mount Meron, in northern Israel. The night began as a pilgrimage and religious celebration for tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews onto the slopes of a religious site that many had warned was not equipped to handle the growing sizes of the crowds. This was also the first mass religious gathering to be held legally after the country lifted all of its COVID restrictions. The tragedy began when people slipped and fell in a narrow metal passageway due to the immense weight of the massive crowd. President Biden reached out to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and offered U.S. assistance.


Akilah Hughes: Apple and the company behind FortNite, are set to face off in court today, in a battle that could majorly shake up the App Store. The beef started last year when video game maker Epic Games allowed iOS FortNite players to bypass the App Store’s payment system to buy in-game currency. That let the company avoid what’s called the Apple tax, a 30% commission on all digital purchases made on the App Store. Apple was not happy about that, so it kicked Epic off its store, blocking the company from a market of over a billion iPhone and iPad users, only some of whom had already been grounded from FortNite for swearing or not doing chores. [laughs] Epic then sued the tech giant for antitrust violations, arguing that the way Apple runs its App Store constitutes an illegal monopoly. Apple is expected to argue that 30% fee is on par with other mobile distribution platforms, and that it exerts control over its App Store to keep users safe. If the court sides with Epic, Apple could be forced to let users download and install software freely, as if we were grown-ups who bought our little computers with our own money.


Gideon Resnick: What a concept. I’m scared.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. Wow. Thanks guys. Give us the shots.


Gideon Resnick: Scared, scared of choice, frankly. We’re kicking off the Elon Musk news cycle early this week—thank the Lord. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon landed in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico early yesterday morning, making it the first ever commercially-produced vehicle to carry humans to and from the International Space Station. This is also the first nighttime splashdown by NASA since the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. So this option was chosen in part to take advantage of calm nighttime weather. As a devoted fan and advocate for daytime splashdowns, to me it feels like a betrayal, but, you know, I’m glad it worked out for everyone else. Have fun. Crew Dragon was carrying three NASA astronauts, as well as an astronaut from JAXA, Japan’s space agency. The NASA partnership with Space X will continue, with SpaceX set to build the lander that NASA will use to take astronauts to the surface of the moon. Or, as Grimes calls it: home sweet home. Grimes dates Elon Musk and she’s a bit weird—that’s the idea here.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. I got you.


Gideon Resnick: Thank you.


Akilah Hughes: Towards the end of last week, things got even worse for Congressmen and man-shape-tube-of-rancid-hair-gel  Matt Gaetz. On Thursday night, The Daily Beast published excerpts from a confession letter by his friend and fellow scumbag Joel Greenberg, that claims both Greenberg and Gaetz paid for sex with multiple women, including a girl who was only 17. Greenberg used to work as a Florida tax official, and he’s now facing 33 charges, including sex trafficking. He’s also cooperating with investigators at the Justice Department—which is very bad news for Matt Gaetz. Greenberg’s confession is detailed in its description of the many sexual encounters he and Gaetz had with young girls, and the financial transactions behind them. The confession was written last year as a part of a sort of ‘I’m a sex offender AMA’ documentary put together to get a pardon from outgoing President Donald Trump, with the help of none other than Roger Stone. Screenshotted text messages show that Stone felt confident about a pardon, and wanted $250,000 for it. Anyway, this story is truly heinous, and that makes sense considering the expanding network of disgusting men it involves.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, every time you get to the point where Roger Stone enters the story, it’s just like: OK, maxed out on gross.


Akilah Hughes: Yeah, pretty bad. I hope this is the thing that takes him down. And those are the headlines.


Akilah Hughes: One more thing before we go: pet owners rejoice! Brand new What A Dog bandannas have dropped in the Crooked store. So head to now to pick yours up today.


Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, support daytime splashdowns, and tell your friends to listen.


Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just FortNite strategy guides like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Akilah Hughes.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And welcome home, astronauts!


Akilah Hughes: Uh, a lot’s changed. [laughs] A lot has changed.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Sorry, but, you know, we tried. What can we say?


Akilah Hughes: Yeah. You know, it’s all just happening to all of us.


Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.


Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed Charlotte Landes.


Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are  our associate producers,


Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran, Akilah Hughes and me.


Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.