Nation and World briefs for July 18

Data shows flood of opioids throughout US, many of them generics

WASHINGTON — The maker of OxyContin has been cast as the chief villain in the nation’s opioid crisis. But newly released government figures suggest Purdue Pharma had plenty of help in flooding the U.S. with billions of pills even as overdose deaths were accelerating.

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Records kept by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration show that 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills — the vast majority of them generics, not brand names — were shipped to U.S. pharmacies from 2006 to 2012.

The annual number swelled by more than 50 percent over that period of time even as the body count climbed. The powerful painkillers flowed faster even after Purdue Pharma was fined $635 million for falsely marketing OxyContin as less addictive than other opioids.

“I think the scale of this is stunning,” Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University professor who researches opioids, said in an interview. He also noted that the data shows that the places that received the most drugs per capita are the ones with the most overdoses per capita: “It really looks like wherever you spread the most gas, you get the most fires.”

At the same time, the data illustrates how complicated it could be for the courts to figure out who should be held accountable for the public health disaster. More than 2,000 state, local and tribal governments have sued members of the drug industry in the biggest and possibly most complicated litigation of its kind ever in the U.S.

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman sentenced to life in prison

NEW YORK — Mexican drug kingpin and escape artist Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was sentenced Wednesday to life behind bars in a U.S. prison, expressing no remorse over his conviction for a massive drug conspiracy that spread murder and mayhem for more than two decades.

Instead, a defiant Guzman took a parting shot at a judge in federal court in Brooklyn by accusing him of making a mockery of the U.S. justice system in refusing to order a new trial based on unsubstantiated allegations of juror misconduct.

“My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching,” Guzman said through an interpreter.

Experts say he will likely wind up at the federal government’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where inmates are held alone for 23 hours a day and have little human interaction.

“Since the government will send me to a jail where my name will not ever be heard again, I take this opportunity to say there was no justice here,” he said.

UK leader May slams populist politics, Brexit ‘absolutism’

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday criticized the increasing intolerance and absolutism of world politics, a message that many will see as aimed at her successor as Britain’s leader — and at President Donald Trump.

May, who is due to leave office in a week after a three-year premiership dominated by Brexit, condemned the “politics of division” and said “some are losing the ability to disagree without demeaning the views of others.”

May announced her resignation last month after Parliament rejected her divorce deal with the European Union, which was intended to secure Britain’s orderly departure from the bloc. It was defeated in part by pro-Brexit members of May’s Conservative Party who condemned its compromises with the EU.

“Today, an inability to combine principles with pragmatism and make a compromise when required seems to have driven our whole political discourse down the wrong path,” she told an audience at the Chatham House international affairs think-tank in London.

“It has led to what is, in effect, an form of absolutism — one which believes that if you simply assert your view loud enough and long enough you will get your way in the end. Or that mobilizing your own faction is more important than bringing others with you,” May said.

Prosecutors drop groping case against Spacey

BOSTON — Prosecutors dropped a case Wednesday accusing Kevin Spacey of groping a young man at a resort island bar in 2016, more than a week after the accuser refused to testify about a missing cellphone the defense says contains information that supports the actor’s claims of innocence.

Spacey was charged with indecent assault and battery last year in the only criminal case that has been brought against the actor since his career collapsed amid a slew of sexual misconduct allegations. The two-time Oscar winner was among the earliest and biggest names to be ensnared in the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment that swept across the entertainment and other industries.

Spacey denies groping the man, whose mother first went public with the allegations in 2017.

A phone message seeking comment was left with Spacey’s lawyer.

The actor’s accuser was ordered to take the stand earlier this month after he said he lost the cellphone he used the night of the alleged groping. The defense said it needed the phone to recover deleted text messages it says would help Spacey’s case.

Nuclear industry push for reduced oversight gaining traction

WASHINGTON — Fewer mock commando raids to test nuclear power plants’ defenses against terrorist attacks. Fewer, smaller government inspections for plant safety issues. Less notice to the public and to state governors when problems arise.

They’re part of the money-saving rollbacks sought by the country’s nuclear industry under President Donald Trump and already approved or pending approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, largely with little input from the general public.

The nuclear power industry says the safety culture at the U.S. nuclear industry — 40 years after partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island — is “exceptional” and merits the easing of government inspections.

Maria Korsnick, president of the industry’s Nuclear Energy Institute trade group, said she welcomed changes in NRC plant oversight procedure “to ensure that it reflects a more robust understanding of the current performance of the U.S. nuclear fleet.”

Opponents say the changes are bringing the administration’s business-friendly, rule-cutting mission to an industry — nuclear reactors — where the stakes are too high to cut corners.

Confusion, fear spread on Mexico border with new US policy

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico — Asylum-seekers gathered in Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Texas, grappled to understand what a new U.S. policy that all but eliminates refugee claims by Central Americans and many others meant for their bids to find a better life in America amid a chaos of rumors, confusion and fear.

The policy went into effect Tuesday and represents the most forceful attempt to date by President Donald Trump to slash the number of people seeking asylum in the United States. It denies asylum to anyone who shows up on the U.S. border after traveling through another country, something Central American migrants have to do.

In some parts of Nuevo Laredo, migrants continued to trickle into shelters, including seven members of a family from the Mexican state of Michoacan, who fled the shootings and extortions in their violent region and were happy to find shelter even though some had to sleep in the hallway. They hoped they could get asylum because they did not pass through another country to reach the border.

But about 70 mostly Central American migrants, who had crossed Mexico to reach the border, were returned to Mexico with an appointment with a judge tucked in a transparent plastic bag — part of another recently imposed policy of requiring many asylum seekers to wait in Mexico rather than the U.S.

Some bitter, they assembled in the National Institute of Migration facility next to the international bridge with a cluster of women cradling children, men asking questions and small children running around under the watchful eye of parents.

GOP Sen. Rand Paul blocks bill to boost 9/11 victims fund

WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Rand Paul on Wednesday blocked a bipartisan bill that would ensure a victims’ compensation fund related to the Sept. 11 attacks never runs out of money.

Paul objected to a request by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to approve the bill by unanimous consent, which would fast-track approval.

Paul, R-Ky., questioned the bill’s 70-year time frame and said any new spending should be offset by corresponding cuts. The government already faces a $22 trillion debt, a figure that grows every year, Paul said.

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The Congressional Budget Office estimates the 9/11 bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed.

Gillibrand said 9/11 first responders and their families have had “enough of political games.” The legislation has 74 Senate co-sponsors, including Gillibrand, and easily passed the House last week.

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