Dipnetting poles line the south shore of the Kenai River's mouth on a busy morning. Several hundred Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
KENAI — Hundreds of Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. Early-risers crowded the north shore of the river, standing nearly shoulder to shoulder by 8 a.m to fish the hours surrounding the morning high tide. Many had luck and left with full coolers by the time the tide had ebbed at midday.
The dipnet fishery is a personal-use fishery, which means it’s open to Alaska residents only. Many camped in tents and RVs while others came and went in hours. Participants must have valid sport fishing license and a personal use permit, and Alaska State Trooper Cassandra Hajicek said they need to keep the papers in easy reach. She walked along the beach Thursday requesting to see the documents from participants.
Each head of household is allowed 25 sockeye, plus 10 more fish for each additional household member. Limits are combined throughout all Alaska personal use fisheries.
The Kenai River dipnet fishery continues through July 31.
A dipnetter removes a salmon from a net. Several hundred Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Several hundred Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Gulls scatter near fishermen. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Fish blood drips from a cooler as a fisherman rests. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Ronnie and Rebekah Villalon line up their catch on the Kenai River's north shore. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
The busy dipnetting scene on the north shore of the Kenai River is visible from a bluff in the city of Kenai. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Charlie See, of Kenai, walks with his dipnet. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Sylvia Reimers, 13, reads a book as she dipnets. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
A dipnetter works in deep water. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Paul Becker and Tim Platt pull their dipnetting gear on a cart as they leave the Kenai River. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Josh Sasita enters the river with his dipnet. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Warren Mitchell, left, and Jeremiah Wallace fillet salmon. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Hal Gage tosses scraps to gulls as he cuts his fish. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Alaska State Trooper Cassandra Jajicek asks dipnettng participants to see their fishing licenses and personal use permits. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Mount Redoubt is visible on a hazy morning during the dipnet fishery. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Families rest at their tents while the tide is low Thursday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Dipnetters on the Kenai River's south shore are visible from a bluff in the city of Kenai. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Rada Silao cuts a recently-caught fish. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
A fish is clubbed after it was removed from a dipnet. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Gulls squawk at each other as they feed on salmon scraps. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Several hundred Alaskans gathered at the mouth of the Kenai River to dipnet for sockeye salmon on July 18, 2019. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Sockeye salmon heads and bones are piled after catches by Warren Mitchell and Jeremiah Wallace filleted the fish. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
A couple walks from the parking area to the shore of the Kenai River early Thursday. (Marc Lester / ADN) (Marc Lester/)
Lars Arneson, shown here on North Suicide ridge during a July 2017 climb, slashed three hours off the 12-peaks Challenge speed record on Thursday. (Photo by Peter Mamrol)
Lars Arneson was 15 minutes late to work Friday. He had a pretty good excuse.
Arneson, 29, spent Thursday annihilating the speed record for the 12-peaks Challenge, a pursuit that includes summiting the dozen peaks higher than 5,000 feet in the front range of the Chugach Mountains.
He hiked a little less than 40 miles and climbed about 18,000 vertical feet in 14 hours, 41 minutes. His time slashed a little more than three hours off the record set last July by Adam Jensen and Matt Shryock, who made the climb in 17:43.
Arneson finished at 6:42 p.m. Thursday and logged 7.5 hours of sleep before reporting to his job as a GIS specialist at Kinney Engineering the next morning at 8:15.
“I’m happy to be walking today,” Arneson said Friday afternoon. “I’m all-around exhausted. Just getting out of the chair was a chore.”
Arneson said he set out early Thursday morning with the 12-peaks Challenge record in mind. Two years ago, he and Peter Mamrol established a speed record of 18:10, which stood until Jensen and Shyrock lowered it by 27 minutes last summer.
“I only stopped to empty my shoes out and fill my water bottle with snow,” Arneson said.
Arneson said he climbed the peaks in the same order he and Mamrol did two years ago but made some changes in the route that took him from one peak to the next. Those changes saved him a couple of miles and about 2,000 feet of climbing, and he moved at a faster pace.
“I knew there was a lot of time that could be shaved off,” Arneson said of his 2017 trip with Mamrol. “And having two years to focus on training has made it easier.”
Arneson was a cross-country skier and runner in high school and college — he went to high school at Soldotna’s Cook Inlet Academy and went to college at UAF — but said he was burned out on racing after he finished college.
When he got back into running a couple of years ago, he took his talents to the mountains. He has been one of Alaska’s top mountain runners the last three years, posting wins at races like the Mat Peak Challenge, the Turnagain Arm Trail Run and Kal’s Knoya Ridge Run. After a nine-year absence from Mount Marathon, he placed seventh last year and third this year.
Arneson said until Thursday he hadn’t been on most of the Chugach’s front-range peaks, known collectively as the Chugach Front Linkup, the last two years. He began his climb at 4:01 a.m. from the Rabbit Lake parking lot with a water bottle and a bunch of energy bars — spartan sustenance compared to the array of gourmet treats that fueled a linkup climb earlier this month by Julianne Dickerson, Abby Jahn and April McAnly.
“The one exciting thing I brought was Honey Stingers (waffles),” he said.
Arneson had company at the start and the finish of his trip. Chad Trammell, another top mountain runner, ran to Rabbit Lake with him at the start of the day, and at the end of the day Trammell, Jensen and Kenny Brewer ran the final 2.7 miles with him to the Stuckagain Heights parking lot.
Now that he’s done it a second time, Arneson said he doesn’t think he’ll take on the 12-peaks Challenge again.
“I don’t know. I’d need a pretty good reason to do it,” he said.
Like if someone breaks his record?
“That would be a pretty good reason,” Arneson said. “… I just hope it doesn’t get beat by three hours.”
Alaska’s senior senator on Friday recommended that state legislators meeting in a special session in Juneau keep in mind the big picture as they consider the governor’s $444 million in vetoes and consider completing a capital budget tied to nearly $1 billion in federal funds.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski said lawmakers should look for ways to “soften the impacts” of any reductions and take measured steps that maximize federal matching funds for transportation, Medicaid, the University of Alaska and other programs.
“I think it is fair to say that not all cuts of state dollars are equal because of what they may be able to leverage for other federal resources (and) grants,” said Murkowski, speaking with reporters following a civic group’s luncheon in Anchorage.
She said she’s “very fearful” about what may happen to the University of Alaska system, facing an unprecedented $130 million veto, atop a $5 million cut by the Legislature.
Alaskans and lawmakers have feuded sharply over the size of the budget and the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes last month threatened to reduce or eliminate a wide swath of services.
A bill in the House seeks to restore the funding cut by the vetoes, and would pay an annual dividend to Alaskans smaller than the $3,000 payment the governor supports. The governor has called lawmakers back into special session in Juneau, where they must complete the unfinished capital budget by the end of the month or risk losing more than $900 million in federal matching funds for road and airport construction.
Murkowski said she’s been struck by the intensity of the debate playing out in Alaska.
“It has been a challenge as an Alaskan to see how divided we have become over the amount of a dividend,” she said. “It’s probably been a conversation that has been a long, long time in coming, but it’s been very painful to see the anxiety that we feel and the concerns in families.”
Murkowski said it’s not her role to tell state lawmakers how to do their job. But it is important to explain what may be lost at the federal level. She said she stays in touch with state lawmakers on that and other topics.
She’s been focused in D.C. on looking at “those state-match issues” to help make sure everyone understands how much is at stake if federal matching funds are lost, she said.
The timing of how cuts are made is important to understand, she said.
“It may be that you are able to roll some of these state budget reductions out over longer period of time that won’t impact your ability to leverage those federal funds," she said.
“You really have to map it out,” she said.
“Budget reductions, yes, but making sure there is an implementation that is smart is important,” she said.
High-profile areas that could lose significant federal support, such as Medicaid or in transportation, are just some areas of concern, she said. The governor has vetoed $50 million in Medicaid services, which is expected to result in at least another $50 million loss in federal funds. That comes atop a $70 million cut by the Legislature.
Lawmakers should also understand overall impacts to smaller programs, too, she said.
“With early childhood education (programs), Head Start, there are also federal dollars at play there," Murkowski said.
How the cuts might impact federal support for the university is something she’s wary of, she said.
“The research that is going on at the University of Alaska, when it comes to the Arctic, when it comes to climate, when it comes to better understanding some of the implications of the environment, we are doing some pretty great stuff up there,” she said.
“I want to make sure that our university system is good and sound and strong,” she said. “I want to make sure those federal dollars that are able to come to the university because of the research, because of the name we have built in the space, I don’t want to see them eroded. I don’t want to see that research go away."
“It is again, important to understand how these budget reductions will (have an) impact and is there a way to arrive at the same place, which is having tighter reins on your government spending, but allowing us as Alaskans an opportunity to have healthy people, educated people and a strong economy,” she said.
From left to right: House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage; House Minority Whip DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer; and Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, work at their desks Friday, July 19, 2019 in the House chambers. (James Brooks / ADN)
JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature has 60 members, but when it comes to solving the state’s budget issues, the deciding votes appear to rest with the 15-member Republican minority in the Alaska House of Representatives. Unfortunately for hopes of a quick solution, members of that group say they don’t have a firm position on a necessary compromise.
“I think there’s alignment on (the dividend) and on the capital budget, but as you get beyond that, I think it’s just more of a desire to move Alaska toward a compromise,” said House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage.
“I think we’re still talking about it and trying to figure it out,” said Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, when asked for the caucus position on the capital budget.
Ordinarily, 21 votes are needed in the House and 11 votes are needed in the Senate to advance legislation to the desk of the governor. But this time, lawmakers need a three-quarters supermajority: 30 votes in the House and 15 in the Senate.
“As just an observer, I’d say they have a heck of a lot of leverage right now,” said Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage.
LeDoux, a Republican, started the session as a member of the coalition House majority before a disagreement over the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend led to her departure.
There are four issues at stake in the ongoing special session: the state’s operating budget, the “reverse sweep,” the capital budget and the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend.
In late June, Dunleavy vetoed $444 million from the state operating budget. Members of the House and Senate failed to muster the support they needed to override the governor’s decision, so they are now proposing a funding bill to fill the gaps created by the governor. That bill itself could be vetoed by the governor, so lawmakers need either the support of the governor or the support of the House minority in order to have enough votes to override a veto.
Earlier this year, the House minority refused to offer its votes on an aspect of the capital budget called the reverse sweep. With that vote’s failure, as much as $2 billion in various state savings accounts will be automatically drained into the Alaska Constitutional Budget Reserve. Draining those funds tears holes in the state budget, de-funding scholarships for college students, rural power cost subsidies and lower-cost vaccinations among other programs.
The reverse sweep requires a three-quarters supermajority, but the House minority wanted the Legislature to agree to pay a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend. That hasn’t happened.
At the same time, the House minority also refused to fund the state’s capital budget with money from the budget reserve, again making its vote conditional on a dividend decision. Now, with portions of the capital budget unfunded, the state risks losing more than $900 million in federal money for roads and airports. Unlocking that federal aid requires that the state pay about $100 million, money that was in the capital budget.
Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, said the minority caucus remains steadfast in its support of a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend. (The coalition House majority has proposed lesser figures throughout the year.)
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, is an independent Republican like LeDoux. She said resolving all four issues requires “a full package” of compromises.
Pruitt said he believes that’s the correct approach.
“I think the idea is one big package, whether it’s in one piece of legislation or not,” he said.
Some lawmakers have talked about deferring discussion of the Permanent Fund dividend until a later special session, but Wilson doesn’t believe that’s a successful strategy.
“I think the trust in this building is at an all-time low,” she said. “To say you’re going to come back in October or November and not know what that new bill will look like just doesn’t work.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised for another special session at some point,” she said.
Despite the continued divide, LeDoux said there is still room for optimism.
“As dysfunctional as it all seems, and it all is, we are eventually going to hammer things out and that I think just about everybody in this building wants what they think is best for our constituents and Alaska," she said. “It’s just that different people have different views as to what’s best, and different people have different constituencies with different views of what is in their best interest.”
A grand jury has indicted an Anchorage man on multiple charges, including attempted murder, after he shot a teenager who stabbed him in a fight that broke out on the grounds of a local school, according to prosecutors.
On July 2, John-Rexie Lagman, 22, was among a group of teenagers and young adults who “gathered at Williwaw Elementary School to engage in a fight,” according to the Anchorage District Attorney’s Office. The victim stabbed Lagman and others while the fight was happening, the charging document states, and ran away. Lagman then shot twice at the victim, who received life-threatening injuries, according to the charges.
Lagman, currently in custody, is charged with first-degree attempted murder, three counts of first-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault, prosecutors said. If convicted, he faces up to 99 years in prison for the attempted murder charge, up to 20 years for each of the first-degree assault charges and up to five years for the third-degree assault charge.
His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.
In this Sept. 15, 2018, file photo, firefighters battle a brush fire near Shaggy Mountain Road in Herriman, Utah. The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles of terrain in the West. (Jeffrey D. Allred/The Deseret News via AP, File) (Jeffrey D. Allred/)
SALT LAKE CITY — The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles of terrain in the West.
The plan that was announced this summer and presented at public open houses, including one in Salt Lake City this week, would create strips of land known “fuel breaks” on about 1,000 square miles of land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in an area known as the Great Basin in parts of Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah.
The estimated cost would be about $55 million to $192 million, a wide range that illustrates the variance in costs for the different types of fuel breaks. Some would completely clear lands, others would mow down vegetation and a third method would replant the area with more fire-resistance vegetation.
It would cost another $18 million to $107 million each year to maintain the strips and ensure vegetation doesn't regrow on the strips of land.
Wildfire experts say the program could help slow fires, but it won't help in the most extreme fires that can jump these strips of land. The breaks could also fragment wildlife habitat.
An environmental group calls it an ill-conceived and expensive plan that has no scientific backing to show it will work.
A U.S. Geological Survey report issued last year found that fuel breaks could be an important tool to reduce damage caused by wildfires, but the agency cautioned that no scientific studies have been done to prove their effectiveness and that they could alter habitat for sagebrush plants and animal communities.
The Bureau of Land Management says it has done about 1,200 assessments of fuel breaks since 2002 and found they help control fires about 80% of the time.
In this July 30, 2018, file photo, firefighters control the Tollgate Canyon fire as it burns near Wanship, Utah. (Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File) (Rick Egan/)
The strips of land that would be 500 feet or less would be created along highways, rural roads and other areas already disturbed such as right of ways for pipelines, said Marlo Draper, the Bureau of Land Management's supervisory project manager for the Idaho Great Basin team.
They won't prevent fires, but they should reduce the costs of having to battle major blazes because fuel breaks reduce the intensity, flame length and spread of fires and keep firefighters safe, Draper said.
It cost about $373 million over the last decade to fight 21 fires that were larger than 156 square miles on lands managed by the bureau in Utah, Nevada and Idaho, according to a report explaining the proposal.
"It gives us a chance to get in front of it and put fires out more quickly," Draper said.
Western wildfires have grown more lethal because of extreme drought and heat associated with climate change and by housing developments encroaching on the most fire-prone grasslands and brushy canyons. Many of the ranchers and farmers who once managed those landscapes are gone, leaving terrain thick with vegetation that can explode into flames.
The proposal is out for public comment and pending environmental review. If approved, some of the land could be cleared as soon as next year while other projects could take several years, she said.
The plan comes after President Trump last December issued an executive order last December calling on the Interior Department to prioritize reducing wildfire risks on public lands.
This proposal doesn't include U.S. National Forest Service lands. Most states have their own separate plans for fire prevention, which sometimes include thinning of forests.
These fuel breaks are a useful tool if used along with other wildfire prevention methods that can keep firefighters safer and potentially help out in broad scopes of land because they are long and thin, said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, the area fire adviser for University of California Cooperative Extension. They can especially helpful by providing perimeters for prescribed burns. But they must be in the right places and don't stop fires, she said.
David Peterson, an ecology professor at the University of Washington and former federal research scientist, said the plan will likely produce mixed success slowing down fires. But Peterson said the plan will not help with extreme fires that produce embers and flames that jump over these fire breaks. He said the risk of fragmenting important habitat and harming animals like sage grouse is real.
The U.S. government must also be committed to the chore of maintaining the areas or the plan won't help and could open the door for more cheat grass to grow in, which fuels fires.
"We are buying into a long-term commitment of funding," Peterson said.
Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity's Nevada state director, said the plan could break up habitat for sage grouse, deer and the Pygmy rabbit. He said the money would be better spent planting native seed and sagebrush to get rid of non-native plants that make fires worst.
“This seems like the Interior is trying to demonstrate they are doing something, and they want something that is impressive to people, like: ‘Look at us, we’ve bulldozed 11,000 miles of desert,’” Donnelly said. “Ultimately, this is a misguided effort.”
<b>Alaska</b> Communications Awarded Multi-Million Dollar, Pre-Funded Contract for Carrier Broadband ...
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., holds a Medicare for All town hall with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (not pictured) and other state lawmakers, Thursday, July 18, 2019, in Minneapolis. (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Star Tribune via AP) (Richard Tsong-Taatarii/)
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday reversed his previous criticisms of a North Carolina campaign crowd that chanted “send her back” about a Somali-born congresswoman.
Trump defended the rally-goers as "patriots" while again questioning the loyalty of four Democratic lawmakers of color. His comments marked a return to a pattern that has become familiar during controversies of his own making: Ignite a firestorm, backtrack from it, but then double down on his original, inflammatory position.
When reporters at the White House asked if he was unhappy with the Wednesday night crowd, Trump responded: "Those are incredible people. They are incredible patriots. But I'm unhappy when a congresswoman goes and says, 'I'm going to be the president's nightmare.'"
It was another dizzying twist in a saga sparked by the president's racist tweets about Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who moved from Somalia as a child, and her colleagues Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
The moment took an ugly turn at the rally when the crowd's "send her back" shouts resounded for 13 seconds as Trump made no attempt to interrupt them. He paused in his speech and surveyed the scene, taking in the uproar, though the next day he claimed he did not approve of the chant and tried to stop it.
But on Friday, he made clear he was not disavowing the chant and again laced into Omar, the target of the chant.
"You can't talk that way about our country. Not when I'm president," Trump said. "These women have said horrible things about our country and the people of our country."
He also tweeted that it was "amazing how the Fake News Media became 'crazed' over the chant 'send her back' by a packed Arena (a record) crowd in the Great State of North Carolina, but is totally calm & accepting of the most vile and disgusting statements made by the three Radical Left Congresswomen."
Omar was defiant Thursday, telling reporters at the Capitol that she believes the president is a "fascist" and casting the confrontation as a fight over "what this country truly should be."
"We are going to continue to be a nightmare to this president because his policies are a nightmare to us. We are not deterred. We are not frightened," she told a cheering crowd that greeted her like a local hero at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as she returned from Washington.
President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd as he arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C., Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) (Carolyn Kaster/)
The back-and-forth captured the potential impacts of Trump's willingness to inject racist rhetoric into his reelection fight. Trump's allies distanced themselves from the chant, fretting over the voters it might turn off in next year's election and beyond. Democrats, meanwhile, pointed to the episode as a rallying cry to energize and mobilize their supporters to vote Trump out of office.
Trump's double flip-flop was reminiscent of his response to the violent clash between white supremacists and anti-racist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
Then, he initially blamed violence on "both sides" of the altercation. After a wave of bipartisan condemnation and scathing cable news coverage, he issued a clean-up statement at the White House days later. Yet, after watching the response to his reversal, he doubled back to his original position during a wild Trump Tower news conference.
This week, Trump started the tumult by tweeting Sunday that Omar and three other freshmen congresswomen could "go back" to their native countries if they were unhappy here.
The chants at the Trump rally brought criticism from GOP lawmakers as well as from Democrats, though the Republicans did not fault Trump himself.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California declared that the chant has "no place in our party and no place in this country."
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois tweeted that it was "ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union."
Citing Trump's rhetoric, House Democrats said they were discussing arranging security for Omar and the three other congresswomen.
Even by Trump's standards, the campaign rally offered an extraordinary tableau for American politics: a president drinking in a crowd's cries to expel a congresswoman from the country who's his critic and a woman of color.
It was also the latest demonstration of how Trump's verbal cannonades are capable of dominating the news. Democrats had hoped the spotlight Thursday would be on House passage of legislation to boost the minimum wage for the first time in a decade.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Padmananda Rama, Kathleen Hennessey, Zeke Miller, Deb Riechmann and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
In May 2008, as the opioid epidemic was raging in America, a representative of the nation's largest manufacturer of opioid pain pills sent an email to a client at a wholesale drug distributor in Ohio.
Victor Borelli, a national account manager for Mallinckrodt, told Steve Cochrane, the vice president of sales for KeySource Medical, to check his inventories and "[i]f you are low, order more. If you are okay, order a little more, Capesce?"
At Mallinckrodt, Borelli used the phrase "ship, ship, ship" to describe his job and then he joked, "destroy this email. . .Is that really possible? Oh Well. . ."
Those email excerpts are quoted in a 144-page plaintiffs' filing along with thousands of pages of documents unsealed by a judge's order on Friday in a landmark case in Cleveland against many of the largest companies in the drug industry. A Drug Enforcement Administration database released earlier in the week revealed that the companies had inundated the nation with 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills from 2006 through 2012. Nearly 2,000 cities, counties and towns are alleging that the companies knowingly flooded their communities with opioids, fueling an epidemic that has killed more than 200,000 since 1996.
The documents filed by plaintiffs depict some drug company employees as driven by profits and undeterred by the knowledge that their products were wreaking havoc across the country. The defendants' response to the motion is due July 31.
In January 2009, Borelli told Cochrane in another email that 1,200 bottles of oxycodone 30 mg tablets had been shipped.
"Keep 'em comin'!" Cochrane responded. "Flyin' out of there. It's like people are addicted to these things or something. Oh, wait, people are. . ."
Borelli responded: "Just like Doritos, keep eating. We'll make more."
Borelli and Cochrane could not immediately be reached for comment Friday night.
The Controlled Substances Act requires drug companies to control against diversion, and to design and operate systems to identify "suspicious orders," defined as "orders of unusual size, orders deviating substantially from a normal pattern, and orders of unusual frequency." The companies are supposed to report such orders to the DEA and refrain from shipping them unless they can determine the drugs are unlikely to be diverted to the black market. The plaintiffs, in the filing, allege that the companies ignored red flags and failed at every level.
At Cardinal Health, one of the nation's largest drug distributors, then-CEO Kerry Clark in January 2008 wrote in an email to Cardinal senior officials that the company's "results-oriented culture" was perhaps "leading to ill-advised or shortsighted decisions," the filing contends.
In the previous 18 months, Cardinal had been hit with nearly $1 billion in "fines, settlements, and lost business as a result of multiple regulatory actions," the filing alleges, including the suspension of licenses at its distribution centers for failing to maintain effective controls against opioid diversion.
On Aug. 31, 2011, McKesson Corp.'s then-director of regulatory affairs, David Gustin, told his colleagues he was concerned about the "number of accounts we have that have large gaps between the amount of Oxy or Hydro they are allowed to buy (their threshold) and the amount they really need," according to the filing, which cites Gustin's statements. "This increases the 'opportunity' for diversion by exposing more product for introduction into the pipeline than may be being used for legitimate purposes."
According to the filing, he had earlier noted to his colleagues that they "need to get out visiting more customers and away from our laptops or the company is going to end up paying the price . . . big time."
Another McKesson regulatory affairs director responded: "I am overwhelmed. I feel that I am going down a river without a paddle and fighting the rapids. Sooner or later, hopefully later I feel we will be burned by a customer that did not get enough due diligence," according to the filing.
McKesson is the largest drug distributor in the United States. It distributed 14.1 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills from 2006 to 2012, about 18% of the market, according to the DEA database.
Until Friday, the documents had been sealed under an unusual protective order issued by U.S. District Judge Dan Polster. The order was lifted a year after The Washington Post and HD Media, which publishes the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia, filed a lawsuit for access to the documents and a DEA database tracking opioid sales, known as the Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS.
The drug companies and the DEA strenuously opposed the release of the data and the documents, and Polster agreed with them. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in Ohio ordered that some of the information should be released with reasonable redactions and the database should be made public.
By consolidating cases from around the nation, the Cleveland case, for the first time, provides specific information about how and in what quantity the drugs flowed around the country, from manufacturers and distributors to pharmacies. The case also brings to light internal documents and deliberations by the companies as they sought to promote their products and contend with enforcement efforts by the DEA.
The local and state government plaintiffs in the case argue that the actions of some of America's biggest and best-known companies - including Mallinckrodt, Cardinal Health, McKesson, Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Purdue Pharma - amounted to a civil racketeering enterprise that had a devastating effect on the plaintiffs' communities.
The case is a civil action under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, making use of a law originally developed to attack organized crime.
In statements to The Post on Tuesday in response to the release of the DEA database, the drug companies issued broad defenses of their actions during the opioid epidemic. They have said previously that they were trying to sell legal painkillers to legitimate pain patients who had prescriptions. They have blamed the epidemic on overprescribing by physicians and also on corrupt doctors and pharmacists who worked in "pill mills" that handed out drugs with few questions asked. The companies also blamed the epidemic on people who abused the drugs.
The companies said that they were diligent about reporting their sales to the DEA and that the agency should have worked with them to do more to fight the epidemic, a point former DEA agents dispute. The companies also note that the DEA set the quotas for opioid production.
"We report those suspicious orders to state boards of pharmacy and to the DEA but we do not know what those government entities do with those reports, if anything," Cardinal Health said in a statement.
The companies issued statements rejecting the plaintiffs' allegations.
McKesson said in its statement:
"The allegations made by the plaintiffs are just that - allegations. They are unproven, untrue and greatly oversimplify the evolution of this health crisis as well as the roles and responsibilities of the many players in the pharmaceutical supply chain."
Mallinckrodt said the company "has for years been at the forefront of preventing prescription drug diversion and abuse, and has invested millions of dollars in a multipronged program to address opioid abuse."
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One of the biggest points of contention in the lawsuit is whether the nation's largest drug companies did enough to identify suspicious orders of opioids. What exactly constitutes a suspicious order is at the heart of the case.
The DEA has long said there should be no confusion because the agency has given frequent guidance and briefings to the industry, and repeatedly defined what constitutes a suspicious order.
The plaintiffs argue that the companies failed to "design serious suspicious order monitoring systems that would identify suspicious orders to the DEA" and shipped the drugs anyway.
"Their failure to identify suspicious orders was their business model: they turned a blind eye and called themselves mere 'deliverymen' with no responsibility for what they delivered or to whom," according to the plaintiffs' filing.
Between 1996 and 2018, the plaintiffs alleged in the filing, drug companies shipped hundreds of millions of opioid pills into Summit and Cuyahoga counties in Ohio, filling orders that were suspicious and "should never have been shipped."
"They made no effort actually to identify suspicious orders, failed to flag orders that, under any reasonable algorithm, represented between one-quarter and 90 percent of their business, and kept the flow of drugs coming into Summit and Cuyahoga Counties," the plaintiffs' lawyers wrote.
In 2007, the DEA told Mallinckrodt that the numeric formula it used to monitor suspicious orders was insufficient, the filing contended. It alleges the company's suspicious order monitoring program from 2008 through 2009 consisted of solely verifying that the customer had a valid DEA registration and that the order was accurately logged into the DEA's tracking database.
From 2003 to 2011, Mallinckrodt shipped a total of 53 million orders, flagged 37,817 as suspicious but stopped only 33 orders, the plaintiffs' filing states.
A Mallinckrodt employee said in a deposition that the DEA had described the company as the "kingpin within the drug cartel" in a meeting with the agency in July 2010, according to a footnote in the filing.
In 2011, the filing cites a Justice Department document in which the DEA alleged that Mallinckrodt "sold excessive amounts of the most highly abused forms of oxycodone, 30 mg and 15 mg tablets, placing them into a stream of commerce that would result in diversion."
According to the DEA, the filing states, "even though Mallinckrodt knew of the pattern of excessive sales of its oxycodone feeding massive diversion, it continued to incentivize and supply these suspicious sales," and never notified the DEA of the suspicious orders.
In a settlement with the DEA, Mallinckrodt agreed that from Jan. 1, 2008, through Jan. 1, 2012, "certain aspects of Mallinckrodt's system to monitor and detect suspicious orders did not meet the standards" outlined in letters from the DEA deputy administrator for diversion control.
Mallinckrodt was the nation's leading manufacturer of oxycodone and hydrocodone, with 28.8 billion pills from 2006 to 2012, 37.7% of the market, according to the DEA database. It has since created a subsidiary for its generic opioids called SpecGx.
The Post reported in 2017 that federal prosecutors said 500 million of the company's 30 mg oxycodone pills wound up in Florida between 2008 and 2012 - 66% of all oxycodone sold in the state. Pills at that dosage are among the most widely abused.
Prosecutors said the company failed to report suspicious orders, and Mallinckrodt that year settled the case by paying a $35 million fine.
"Mallinckrodt's actions and omissions formed a link in the chain of supply that resulted in millions of oxycodone pills being sold on the street," then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at the time.
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The same year that Mallinckrodt paid its fine, McKesson, the nation's largest opioid distributor, was fined a record $150 million by the Justice Department.
According to allegations in the new court filings, McKesson frequently increased the amount of opioid pills it sent to its pharmacy customers.
"McKesson has a long history of absolute deference to retail national account customers when it comes to [opioid] threshold increases," the plaintiffs argue in their filing, citing a deposition of McKesson's senior director of distribution operations.
McKesson had set limits on the amount of opioids its customers could order, the filing contends, but those limits were often lifted.
"In August 2014, DOJ noted that McKesson appeared to be willing to approve threshold increases for opioids for the flimsiest of reasons," the filing contends.
For shipments to pharmacies in Summit and Cuyahoga counties, McKesson did not report a single suspicious order between May 2008 and July 2013, the filing says. During that time, McKesson filled 366,000 opioid orders in those two counties.
McKesson reached its settlement with the government in January 2017 for allegations of failing to report suspicious orders. It was the second time the company was fined over suspicious orders. Nine years earlier, it paid $13 million.
The government said in 2017 that McKesson "failed to design and implement an effective system to detect and report 'suspicious orders.' " The company shipped more than 1.6 million orders of opioid pills between 2008 and 2013 but reported just 16 as suspicious, according to the Justice Department.
However, "before the ink of the settlement agreement was even dry," the new filing argues, McKesson was already reassuring customers who were concerned that the flow of opioids would be curtailed that it would remain "business as usual" at the company. McKesson sent more than 68 million doses of oxycodone and hydrocodone to those counties between 2006 and 2012, according to DEA tracking data analyzed by The Post.
Gustin, McKesson's former director of regulatory affairs, was recently indicted in federal court in Kentucky on a charge of illegally distributing opioids. His attorney wrote in a court filing that the allegations against his client stem from his job at McKesson and "seem to focus on the manner by which he performed his former position as Director of Regulatory Affairs."
Gustin's lawyer and the prosecutor in the case did not return calls for comment.
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The plaintiffs in the Cleveland case alleged that CVS, the nation's largest pharmacy chain, did not implement required controls to identify suspicious orders from 2006 until early to mid-2009.
The CVS compliance coordinator said that her title "was only for reference and not her real job position and that the only thing she ever did related to suspicious order monitoring was to update the [Standard Operating Procedures Manual]," the filing said.
A system that CVS used to monitor suspicious orders was known as "Pickers and Packers," according to the filing.
The CVS pharmacy in downtown Norton, Virginia., received 1.3 million opioids from 2006 through 2012. (Photo for The Washington Post by Charles Mostoller) (Charles Mostoller/)
The pickers and packers were workers in the distribution centers who would pick and pack opioid orders. A CVS official testified that the company did not have any written policies, guidance or training programs to teach the pickers and packers how to detect suspicious orders, according to the filing.
"Instead, the Pickers and Packers would identify orders based on a gut feeling or a crude rule of thumb that essentially can be summarized that they believed the order was simply too large," the filing states. "One of the Pickers and Packers . . . testified that she was trained by another Picker and Packer in 1996 and that as a rule a Picker and Packer should not send out more than 12 of the small bottles, six of the larger bottles and two or three of the largest bottles. She used this rule of thumb for her entire career."
CVS's system flagged few orders, the filing contends: A CVS distribution center in Indianapolis flagged two orders per year from 2006 through 2014.
CVS rejected the plaintiffs' arguments.
"The plaintiffs' allegations about CVS in this matter have no merit and we are aggressively defending against them," the company said in a statement.
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Walgreens used a formula to identify thousands of pharmacy orders as suspicious but shipped them anyway, the filing alleges. The orders were reported to the DEA after they had been shipped, according to agency documents quoted in the filing.
"Suspicious orders are to be reported as discovered, not in a collection of monthly completed transactions," the DEA wrote in an immediate suspension order issued against Walgreens in 2012. "Notwithstanding the ample guidance available, Walgreens has failed to maintain an adequate suspicious order reporting system and as a result, has ignored readily identifiable orders and ordering patterns that, based on the information available throughout the Walgreens Corporation, should have been obvious signs of diversion."
In one case, Walgreens's suspicious order report to the DEA was 1,712 pages long and contained six months' worth of orders, including reports on 836 pharmacies in more than a dozen states and Puerto Rico, the filing alleges.
The filing also alleges that Walgreens stores could "place ad hoc 'PDQ' ("pretty darn quick") orders to controlled substances outside of their normal order days and outside of the [suspicious order monitoring] analysis and limits."
The Post has previously reported that Kristine Atwell, who managed distribution of controlled substances for the company's warehouse in Jupiter, Florida, sent an email on Jan. 10, 2011, to corporate headquarters urging that some of the stores be required to justify their large quantity of orders.
"I ran a query to see how many bottles we have sent to store #3836 and we have shipped them 3271 bottles between 12/1/10 and 1/10/11," Atwell wrote. "I don't know how they can even house this many bottle[s] to be honest. How do we go about checking the validity of these orders?"
A bottle sent by a wholesaler generally contains 100 pills.
Walgreens never checked, the DEA said. Between April 2010 and February 2012, the Jupiter distribution center sent 13.7 million oxycodone doses to six Florida stores, records show, many times the norm, the DEA said.
Walgreens ranked second among distributors in the nation, with 13 billion pills and 16.5% of the market for oxycodone and hydrocodone from 2006 through 2012, the DEA database shows. It stopped distributing opioids to its stores in 2014, but continues to dispense controlled substances.
As part of a settlement with the DEA in June 2013, Walgreens said that its "suspicious order reporting for distribution to certain pharmacies did not meet the standards identified by DEA." The company paid an $80 million fine to the government.
In a statement to The Post earlier in the week, Walgreens defended its operations, saying, "Walgreens has been an industry leader in combating this crisis in the communities where our pharmacists live and work."
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The Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis, Jenn Abelson, Amy Brittain, Robert O’Harrow Jr., Shawn Boburg, Jennifer Jenkins, Andrew Ba Tran, Aaron Williams and Katie Zezima contributed to this report.