Feds charge pharma execs, pharmacists with conspiring to distribute controlled substances

Darwin Brandis/iStock(NEW YORK) — Two former pharmaceutical executives and two pharmacists were charged on Thursday by federal prosecutors in Ohio with conspiring to distribute controlled substances.

Anthony Rattini, the former president of pharmaceutical distributor Miami-Luken and James Barclay, the former compliance officer of Miami-Luken were charged alongside pharmacists Devonna Miller-West and Samuel “Randy” Ballengee, according to court documents.

In one instance, prosecutors claim that Miami-Luken distributed 3.7 million hydrocodone pills to a single pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia — a town with a population of about 400 people from 2008 to 2011.

That averages out to 9,250 hydrocodone pills for every resident of the town.

Neither attorneys for the four defendants or the defendants themselves immediately responded to ABC News requests for comment. Three of the four defendants were arrested on Thursday morning, officials said. An arrest warrant for Barclay remained outstanding as of Thursday evening.

It is alleged in court documents that the pharmaceutical executives filled suspicious orders from the two pharmacists in an effort to enrich themselves while the opioid crisis in the Appalachian region was peaking.

Distributor Miami-Luken made over $173 million in profit from 2008 to 2015, according to federal prosecutors, and was a drug wholesaler for 200 companies in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

Miami-Luken, continued to fill large, suspicious orders even after being warned, prosecutors charge.

“Today’s arrests should be a wake-up call to distributors and pharmacists who are allowing opioid prescription pills to be illegally sold and dispensed from their facilities,” Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Assistant Administrator John Martin said in a release. “These actions will not be tolerated by the DEA, and they will be brought to justice.”

The company closed up shop earlier this year according to local news reports.

In addition to the hydrocodone pills that the former executives allegedly distributed 2.2 million pills over the span of two years to a pharmacy that prosecutors say had been cut off by other wholesalers.

The former executives also allegedly distributed 1.8 million Oxycontin’s to a doctor and pharmacy that was believed to be under DEA investigation for over prescribing, those entities are not named.

In one instance, Ballengee, who ran Tug Valley Pharmacy in Williamson, WV, purchased 120,700 hydrocodone pills from Miami-Luken and from 2008-2014 bought 6 million dosage units of hydrocodone.

“It was further part of the conspiracy that Devonna Miller-West and Samuel “Randy” Ballengee purchased excessive amounts of controlled substances from Miami-Luken through their respective pharmacies,” prosecutors charged in court filings. “As pharmacists, Devonna Miller-West and Samuel “Randy” Ballengee failed to ensure that controlled substances were distributed properly, for a legitimate medical purpose, ignoring obvious signs of abuse and diversion.”

The records go on to contend that Miller-West and Ballengee “distributed controlled substances, namely oxycodone and hydrocodone, Schedule II and III controlled substances, to customers outside the scope of professional practice and not for a legitimate medical purpose.”

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200th New York firefighter dies from 9/11 illness as funding debate rages on

FDNY(NEW YORK) — As 9/11 first responders push Congress to extend funding for their care, a grim new marker was reached with the death of the 200th member of the New York City fire department from World Trade Center related illnesses.

Firefighters Kevin Nolan died on Tuesday and Richard Driscoll died on Wednesday, according to the Fire Department of New York (FDNY).

“It is almost incomprehensible that after losing 343 members on September 11, we have now had 200 more FDNY members die due to World Trade Center illness,” fire commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement Thursday. “These heroes gave their lives bravely fighting to rescue and recover others. We will never forget them.”

Congress is currently considering a 9/11 victims compensation bill that would ensure funding through 2090.

The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House overwhelmingly last week, but proponents are waiting for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring the bill to the Republican-led Senate floor for a vote. The Senate bill has been held up since Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., raised concerns about how it would be paid for.

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted about the deaths and called for the fund to be fully funded.

“They didn’t hesitate to run into danger. They stayed until the work was done. The Senate MUST fully fund the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund,” de Blasio wrote in his tweet.

 Nolan retired from the FDNY in 2007 and is survived by his wife and three adult children, the New York Daily News reported. The specific nature of his illness was not immediately publicly disclosed.

The Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York said his funeral is scheduled for Saturday. On their website, they asked all off-duty members to attend in their class A uniforms.

Driscoll, retired from the department in 2002 after serving for 32 years, was the 200th FDNY member to die of a World Trade Center-related illness, and died of cancer.

He was a Vietnam veteran and the FDNY confirmed that he had been cited five times for bravery in the course of his career.

According to a list compiled by the union, there have been eight FDNY deaths so far in 2019 as a result of World Trade Center-related illnesses.

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Working women may have slower memory loss later in life than stay-at-home moms, research finds

pixdeluxe/iStock(LOS ANGELES) — New research found that working mothers had a slower rate of memory decline and loss later in life compared to non-working mothers.

The research from a team at the University of California, Los Angeles, was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference on Tuesday, and looked at over 6,000 American women born between the years 1935 through 1956.

The researchers asked the women to complete standardized memory tests every two years between the ages of around 55 to 80, and found that working mothers who are paid to work in young adulthood and midlife (whether single or married) had a slower rate of memory decline compared to non-working mothers.

Marriage played a comparatively smaller role in age-related memory decline compared to work, the researchers found.

The average memory performance for married women with children who never worked between the ages of 60 and 70 years old declined 61 percent faster compared to married mothers who participated in the paid labor force.

“We have to be crystal clear here. This is not about which one is harder. This is about possible different engagement in the brain, different parts of the brain that may exist when women leave the home and interact either with adults or work just in a different environment outside the home,” Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief medical correspondent said on Good Morning America explaining the study.

“A couple years ago, data in Australia showed that women who worked harder through their middle age actually had higher rates of cognitive decline,” she added. “So we have to caution: association does not prove cause and effect. We’re not saying which one is harder. We’re just saying that not only can you lead by example, show children that women can work, can financially contribute, but it might be good for the brain.”

Meanwhile, the average memory performance for women who experienced a prolonged period of single motherhood without working declined 83 percent faster between the ages of 60 and 70 years old, compared to married mothers who participated in the workforce, researchers found.

“Though preliminary, our research provides evidence that participation in the paid labor force may help prevent late-life memory decline among women in the United States. Possible pathways include mental stimulation, financial benefits, and social benefits,” Elizabeth Rose Mayeda, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, said in a statement.

“Future research should evaluate whether policies and programs that facilitate women’s full participation in the paid labor force are effective strategies to prevent memory decline,” she added.

The research comes at a time when two-thirds of people living with Alzheimer’s disease in the U.S. are women, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

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Social media, screen time linked to depression in teens, study says

Alex Potemkin/iStock(NEW YORK) — For today’s youth, taking a selfie is like second nature. But their connections with social media may be skewing their view of their world.

Being a teenager is tough already — is too much screen time making it tougher?

A new study shows frequent social media use and television viewing is linked to depression in teens.

Previous research has revealed increased rates of depression among teenagers, but researchers at the University of Montreal wanted to determine whether increased screen time could help explain the rise.

“If screen time changes and you see depression changing, you can begin to start considering whether it is a causal relationship,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Patricia Conrod, said in an interview with ABC News.

Researchers followed almost 4,000 Canadians aged 12 to 16 over four years. Every year, students completed a survey about the amount of time they’d spent in front of digital screens and the specific type of activity they had engaged in — social media, television, video-gaming or computer use. Surveys also asked them to self-score their depressive symptoms.

Over the course of four years, as little as a one-hour annual increase in social media or television viewing was associated with more severe depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem.

The study didn’t suggest all screens were a problem. Increasing video gaming and computer use was not associated with increases in depressive symptoms, most likely because these platforms are more interactive and are less likely to make teens directly compare themselves with others.

“Television and social media, more than any other types of media, expose young people to content and images that accentuates the unrealistically positive and idealized presentation of other young people,” Conrod said. “Kids form unrealistic expectations of what is normal, which makes them feel like they are not measuring up.”

For those in the study who were prone to higher levels of depression, as social media use went up, so did their symptoms. The relationship suggested a spiral, as teens who were more depressed were more likely to view content that validated their state of mind.

The algorithms of social media, in particular, send suggestions for similar content depending on what users have viewed before. Researchers said that could aggravate users’ depression and increase feelings of hopelessness, leading to more offerings that depress them further — possibly even to the point of suicidal ideation.

The solution? Rather than telling kids to avoid screens, researchers suggested teaching them how to be savvy digital users.

“Young people should be advised to be more critical of how they interpret the world and social norms on the basis of what they are exposed to,” Conrod said.

Doctors at the American Academy of Pediatrics agree, suggesting that parents “treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life.”

Here are their recommendations for parents:

Set limits. The same rules set in the real world should be set in the virtual world. Limit the time your kids spend online. Be knowledgeable about the apps and websites your children are using and what information they’re accessing online.

Screen time should not equal alone time. Engage with your children when they are using screens. Offer to watch their television shows or play their video games. This way their screen time becomes a more social event, where you have the chance to discuss the content.

Technology should not be a reward. Screens are an easy way to calm your child or keep them quiet, but pacifying them with media is forming a very bad habit. Children should learn how to handle their emotions and manage boredom without the aid of a screen.

Find a balance. Kids will inevitably interact with screens as more schools provide children with tablets and computers in the classroom. Set a good example and teach your kids about the importance of privacy and the dangers of predators and sexting.

Listen to your kids. Ask your children how the digital content they consume makes them feel. Remind them that what they see online is not an accurate measure of reality, that someone may have taken 30 photos to post that one “candid” shot.

The bottom line: Teach your kids to use screens in a smart way.

Reading articles online, watching interesting videos, sharing pictures and memories with friends and family on social media can feed their curiosity, enrich their understanding of the world, and allow them to connect with others.

So before you store away the very screen you’re using to read this article, talk to your kids about how their screen can be a tool for good.

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Wine down in this yoga class that combines vino and vinyasa

fizkes/iStock(LOS ANGELES) — Un-wine with a yoga class that’s all about adding a little flavor to the practice.

Vino Vinyasa Yoga, a unique studio in Los Angeles, New York City and Austin, Texas, offers the opportunity to mix yoga with wine tasting.

The first part of the experience is a 45-minute, all-levels yoga flow.

The yoga and wine educated instructors lead students through poses while also telling them facts about wine.

Then students move on to tasting different wines.

“Pretty much any grape you can imagine, we have a different class,” said founder Morgan Perry. “So if you come back time and time again, you’re always tasting a different wine and learning something new.”

Perry says the classes take place at different venues. The one ABC News’ Good Morning America visited took place at Hummingbird Nest Ranch near Los Angeles.

“Wine tasting is really, really mindful and yoga is obviously a mindful movement but they both require balance as well,” Perry said. “You want balance in your wine, you don’t want too much acidity or tannin or sugar and you need balance, obviously, for yoga.”

“I think that together they’re just really the perfect combination. They really complement each other very well,” Perry said.

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Teen with cancer to wed high school sweetheart

Mollie Landman(MT. PLEASANT, Pa.) — A Pennsylvania teen won’t let a rare form of bone cancer stop him from saying “I do” to his high school sweetheart.

Brady Hunker says he was “instantly drawn” to Mollie Landman the moment he saw her in seventh grade at their school in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania.

“My mom says I would come home and just say, ‘Mollie this’ and ‘Mollie that,'” Hunker told ABC News’ Good Morning America.

The couple officially started dating four years ago “and the rest is history,” she added.

“Even before Brady’s diagnosis, we were always seen as a very different couple because we were always seen as very big Christians and put God first,” said Landman, whose father is a pastor.

They credit their faith for helping them remain positive when Hunker was diagnosed in July 2016 with Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in his right leg.

“It was the size of a brick when they found it,” he said.

Hunker began treatments at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Landman stayed by his side through it all.

“I couldn’t think of anyone in the world at our age who would’ve been by my side and stuck with me through this,” he said.

Hunker’s cancer went into remission for about a year but came back in March 2018 during his junior year of high school, “and it was pretty much everywhere.”

The two began to have serious conversations about marriage when Hunker’s cancer relapsed.

“You don’t know what the future holds, so we just wanted to spend as much of that time together as we could,” Hunker said.

The two got engaged at a Christian camp this past April.

“I thought it was really special,” Landman said.

Due to Hunker’s diagnosis, the couple wants to get married as soon as possible, but have limited funds to pay for a wedding.

Hunker created a campaign on GoFundMe to help raise money for some of the wedding costs.

“I want the love of my life to have the wedding she always dreamed of,” the GoFundMe description reads.

The campaign went viral online and exceeded its goal of $15,000 in two months. Any extra money raised will help pay for their honeymoon and fulfill a “bucket list” of places the couple wants to visit.

“We never even dreamed that this page would’ve blown up the way it did and can’t even comprehend their generosity,” Landman told GMA.

The couple plans to wed later this month, surrounded by their friends and family.

“I can’t wait to take this next step together,” Hunker said.

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Year after John McCain’s death, July 17 designated Glioblastoma Awareness Day

Movus/iStock(NEW YORK) — Nearly a year after the death of longtime senator and former presidential candidate John McCain, authorities are calling attention to the disease that claimed his life.

Last month, the U.S. Senate designated July 17 as Glioblastoma Awareness Day, under a resolution introduced by McCain’s former Senate colleague and longtime friend Lindsey Graham.

The bipartisan resolution was supported by co-sponsors Mitch McConnell, Elizabeth Warren, Kyrsten Sinema, Martha McSally and Ed Markey, according to the National Brain Tumor Society, which championed the bipartisan effort.

The measure seeks to raise public awareness and leverage support for research and treatment of glioblastoma, which the NBTS calls the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer.

“The passage of the Glioblastoma Awareness Day resolution is an affirmation that national leaders understand the urgency for action to find a cure for this terrible disease, which impacts thousands of Americans from every walk of life each year,” NBTS CEO David F. Arons said on the passage of the resolution.

McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma in July 2017 and died after a year-long battle on Aug. 25, 2018.

His widow, Cindy McCain, joined daughter Meghan, co-host of ABC’s The View, to discuss the fight against the disease on Wednesday’s program.

“Thirteen thousand people are diagnosed with the cancer my dad died of a year,” Meghan McCain said. “It’s a really horrific cancer that we’re all committed to fighting.”

Dr. Will Garneau of Johns Hopkins Hospital offered the following information about glioblastoma at the time that Sen. McCain was diagnosed:

What is glioblastoma, and why is it dangerous?

Glioblastoma multiforme is a tumor that develops in the connective tissue of the brain, originating in brain cells called astrocytes. It is a relatively rare disease that doctors estimate strikes only 3 in 100,000 people. The cancer is most commonly found in patients older than 60. Unlike many other cancers, glioblastoma does not spread to other organs; instead, it remains in the brain, growing quickly and invading surrounding tissues. As the cancerous cells multiply, their growth affects the rest of the brain by compressing adjacent structures.

What are some of the common symptoms of glioblastoma?

People with this type of tumor can experience a range of symptoms, including headaches, nausea, difficulty with speech or vision, weakness and even seizures. Before diagnosis, if doctors suspect brain cancer, they order imaging of the brain using a CT scan or MRI to try to detect a mass. While the imaging may suggest the presence of a tumor, a conclusive diagnosis requires the removal of cells from the area of concern, which are then tested to see if they are cancerous.

What is the prognosis?

Currently, glioblastoma is considered an incurable form of cancer. While prognoses can vary among patients, depending on the features of each cancer and the patient’s functioning, the outlook is generally poor.

Studies show a median survival range of six to 14 months. (Median survival is the amount of time between diagnosis and the point when half of patients have died and half are alive.) A very small percentage of patients may live for several years after diagnosis. Patients’ baseline health and age are important predictors, as is their response to therapy.

Other factors that can influence the prognosis are the location of the cancer in the brain, the genetic profile of the tumor and the extent to which doctors are able to remove the tumor through surgery. There is no single prognosis for this cancer; individual cases differ dramatically, and approaches to treatment are highly personalized.

How is it treated?

After a diagnosis of glioblastoma has been confirmed, a team of doctors representing different specialties will formulate a plan for treatment, which usually involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. If it’s determined that surgery is appropriate, neurosurgeons will attempt to remove as much of the cancer as possible while preserving adjacent healthy brain tissue.

Because glioblastoma tends to infiltrate deeply into surrounding tissues, patients will have residual cancer cells after surgery, even with a “complete resection.”

For this reason, the next step in treatment often involves chemotherapy and radiation in order to eliminate the cancer cells not removed by surgery. This phase typically involves weeks of therapy to treat the remaining cancer, which may leave the patient very weak and at risk of complications. Patients may undergo repeat imaging of the brain to assess recurrence, as well as close monitoring with different specialists.

Decisions regarding the length — as well as the types — of treatment must balance the patient’s fitness to undergo such treatments against their effectiveness. Doctors often tailor therapy according to the patient’s tolerance.

There are new forms of therapy using the body’s immune cells, reprogrammed to attack cancer. The research behind these treatments is still in the initial stages, but so far, these immunotherapy treatments have shown some promise against other forms of cancer, such as melanoma.

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Ground bison meat responsible for E. coli outbreak in 7 states: CDC

USFDA(ATLANTA) — Ground bison meat has been linked to an E. coli outbreak in seven states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Twenty-one people in Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania have been infected with the E. coli O103 and O121 strains.

Eight of those people were hospitalized, but no deaths or cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure, have been reported.

Interviews with the infected people determined that the source was likely meat produced on Feb. 22 and April 30 by Northfork Bison Distributions, Inc., in Quebec, Canada, which was recalled on Tuesday, according to a CDC food safety alert. Those who became sick reported eating bison at both restaurants and their home.



The recalled meat was sold to distributors as ground bison and bison patties, referred to as Bison Burgers or Buffalo Burgers. Recalled ground bison was also sold to retailers in 4-ounce burger patties.

The CDC advised people who may have the recalled ground bison in their home to not consume it and throw it away or return it to the store for a refund.

“Even if some of the recalled patties have been eaten and no one got sick, do not eat them,” the press release read.

In addition, the CDC recommended that consumers wash and sanitize places where recalled ground bison products were stored, including counter tops and refrigerators drawers or shelves, and also suggested that diners should request that bison burgers be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees when ordering at a restaurant.

The CDC also also urged restaurants and retailers to check their freezers and storage for recalled products and to confirm with their suppliers that the ground bison they receive has not be recalled.

Symptoms of an E. coli infection include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and and vomiting that usually lasts five to seven days. The ailments typically begin three to four days after swallowing the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli germ.

Those who experience symptoms should talk to their healthcare provider, write down what they are in the week prior to becoming sick, report their illness to the health department and assist public health investigators by answering questions about their illness.

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Child gun deaths lower in states with stricter gun laws

Kameleon007/iStock(NEW YORK) — Children living in states with stricter gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths, according to a new study in Pediatrics. This was the first study to look at gun laws exclusively in relation to child deaths and it reveals an important association between the two.

“More than 10 children die from firearms every day, and another 50 are injured by firearms daily,” Dr. Monika Goyal, lead study author and an associate professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine, told ABC News. “This work is further contributing to the growing evidence that firearm legislation can be effective at reducing injury and death among children.”

When looking at the U.S. compared to other high-income countries, the study cites research that says the U.S. has both the highest rate of gun ownership and the weakest gun laws. Within the U.S., gun laws differ depending on the state.

The researchers looked at states that had universal background checks when buying guns or ammunition, or laws requiring gun identification. Universal background checks for gun purchasing were the most common laws seen across the country.

Overall, the study says 21,000 children died from guns between 2011 and 2015. Children were defined as anyone under the age of 21. There were 14,583 deaths for 18-21 year olds and 6,658 deaths in those younger than 18. States that had universal background checks in place for at least five years had a 35 percent lower rate of child gun deaths.

In response to previous medical research about guns in November 2018, the National Rifle Association of America tweeted that “self-important anti-gun doctors” should “stay in their lane.”

The NRA also sent a response to this study to ABC News. “Any social scientist worth their salt has to question a study that cherry picks a microscopic 5-year time window of data when there is more than 50 years of data available,” Lars Dalseide, an NRA spokesman, said in a statement. “They used an arbitrary (at best) metric to measure gun laws, and they included adults in a study about children suggests this study is more propaganda than scientific research.”

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is a nonprofit that rates states on the strictness of their gun laws. For every 10-point increase in a gun law score across states, there was a 4 percent drop in gun-related deaths, after factoring in things like race/ethnicity, education, gun ownership and household income. The Brady Campaign scorecard began in 2011, which is why the study authors chose that year as a starting point.

Goyal said she would like to collaborate with the NRA on a different scorecard.

“As a pediatrician this is a nonpartisan issue for us,” she said. “This is not a political debate for us. We’re trying to figure out how to keep kids safe.”

She continued, “I care for children through the age of 21 and sometimes up to the age of 25. From our perspective, 18, 19, 20 year olds are children. They are part of the pediatric continuum. This is the standard.”

The NRA maintains that it, too, is intent on the safety of our nation’s children.

“No organization in the world has done more to promote the safe and responsible use of firearms than the National Rifle Association,” said Dalseide. “Thanks to initiatives like NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program, the accidental firearm death rate among children has dropped almost 78% in the last 20 years.”

Perhaps this can be an area of nonpartisan collaboration.

“Just as we have invested in rigorous scientific research for motor vehicle passenger safety in this country, which has in turn dramatically reduced the number of pediatric deaths from motor vehicle collisions. We must embrace the same evidence based strategies if we wish to curtail the firearm epidemic in this country,” said Goyal.

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Pita Pal Foods hummus products recalled over possible Listeria contamination

TheCrimsonMonkey/iStock(HOUSTON) — A Houston-based hummus company has recalled nearly 100 products over concerns of a possible Listeria contamination, the company announced.

Pita Pal Foods LP issued the voluntary recall on products made between May 30, 2019, and June 25, 2019, after the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes was found at one of the company’s manufacturing facilities during a Food and Drug Administration inspection, according to a company statement issued Monday.

The Listeria monocytogenes was not found in any of the finished products, the company said.

The bacteria can cause listeriosis, a serious infection that can lead to death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The infection is most likely to affect pregnant women and their newborns, adults 65 or older and people with weakened immune systems.

Around 1,600 people are infected with listeriosis each year and about 260 die, according to the CDC.

No illnesses were reported regarding the hummus products, Pita Pal Foods said. The products were distributed around the country and to the United Arab Emirates.

Anyone who purchased one of the recalled products is urged to return it for a full refund.

For a full list of recalled products, click here.

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