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Committee pitches concept to settle all opioid lawsuits

A committee guiding OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy has suggested other drugmakers, distributors and pharmacy chains use Purdue’s bankruptcy proceedings to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits seeking to hold the drug industry accountable for the national opioid crisis.

The committee of unsecured creditors said in a letter sent Sunday to the parties and obtained by The Associated Press that the country “is in the grips of a crisis that must be addressed, and that doing so may require creative approaches.”

It’s calling for all the companies to put money into a fund in exchange for having all their lawsuits resolved.

The committee includes victims of the opioid crisis plus a medical center, a health insurer, a prescription benefit management company, the manufacturer of an addiction treatment drug and a pension insurer. It says that the concept may not be feasible but invited further discussion. It does not give a size of contributions from the company.

The same committee has been aggressive in Purdue’s bankruptcy, saying it would support pausing litigation against members of the Sackler family who own Purdue in exchange for a $200 million fund from the company to help fight the opioid crisis.

Paul Hanly, a lead lawyer for local governments in the lawsuits, said in a text message Sunday evening that he’d heard about the mass settlement idea, calling it “most unlikely.”

The proposal comes as narrower talks have not resulted in a settlement. Opening statements are to be held Monday in the first federal trial over the crisis. The lawsuit deals with claims from the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit against a half-dozen companies. More than 2,000 other state and local governments plus Native American tribes, hospitals and other groups have made similar claims.

There have been talks aimed at settling all claims against the drugmakers Johnson & Johnson and Teva and the distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson ahead of the trial. One proposal called for resolving claims against them nationally in exchange for cash and addiction treatment drugs valued at a total of $48 billion over time.

The committee’s proposal went to those five companies plus nine others that face lawsuits.

Opioids, including both prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin and illicitly made fentanyl, have been linked to more than 400,000 deaths in the U.S. since 2000.

Little things like laughter make big difference for cancer survivors

HUNTINGTON — Whether you are battling something as small as a cold or as major as breast cancer, laughter is an important part of a treatment plan.

That’s why the St. Mary’s Breast Center brought Keith Matheny, a motivational entertainer, to the annual breast cancer survivor reunion luncheon, which took place Sunday at the St. Mary’s Center for Continuing Education.

Matheny, a Huntington resident and national speaker, donated his time, telling jokes and performing illusions that kept the crowd laughing, sometimes so hard they had tears in their eyes. In between his jokes, Matheny reminded the group to relish in every day they have.

“Laughing is very important,” said Anne Hammack, clinical manager at the Breast Center. “Cancer is something frightening, and it’s nice to just sometimes laugh. Just laugh and remember there are a lot of positive things in your day — just unwind and laugh.”

Hammack said the reunion luncheon is a time for survivors to take a step away from cancer and focus on themselves, their family and other loved ones. It’s a time to unwind and be together.

Guests also heard from a breast cancer survivor and St. Mary’s nurse Jinnie Knight, who reminded listeners they need to hold on to the little things that bring them joy, which can be found even in the darkest of times.

Knight’s story began on a trip to Florida to visit her best friend. They were asking each other hypothetical questions, and both decided if they ever had breast cancer, they would easily get double mastectomies. Then Knight’s friend asked when she had her last mammogram, and she got mad when Knight admitted she hadn’t taken the time to get one that year.

“She was always the friend with the sixth sense,” Knight said.

Knight entered the scary world of a breast cancer patient, making her way through with the support of her friends and her two children. Her Florida friend even video chatted during her diagnosis appointment, taking over asking questions when Knight herself was too overwhelmed.

Knight said she held on to the little moments that meant the world to her — the touch of her daughter’s hand in a trying time, a kind email, a handwritten treatment plan from her doctor.

She also learned to lean on others, going to St. Mary’s support group where the women in the group showed her their breasts and their scars.

“If showing my scars helps someone else, I will do it,” Knight said.

Dr. Benjamin Moosavi said finding support and sharing your story with others is crucial, whether it’s in support groups, with family and friends, or even online communities. He also added husbands find support in support group as well, which is also important.

The breast cancer support group meets at 6 p.m. the second Thursday of every month at the St. Mary’s Center for Continuing Education. Call 304-526-8221 for more information.

To schedule a screening mammogram at St. Mary’s, call 304-526-1492 or 304-526-8221.You may also go to www.womenneedmammograms.com to schedule your appointment or for more information about mammograms and breast cancer.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Memorial Student Center renovations continue

HUNTINGTON — With students now enjoying the upgrades to the food court, the renovation of the Memorial Student Center lobby is still moving full steam ahead.

The $1.8 million project was originally planned to be finished by October, but Senior Vice President of Operations Brandi Jacobs Jones told the Marshall Board of Governors at the September meeting that the construction crew plans to be done by the Nov. 14 memorial ceremony.

The renovations include the installation of a new staircase that opens the lobby up to the basement. The hope is more students will utilize the basement.

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.

Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch  

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Caught up in Trump impeachment, US diplomats fight back

WASHINGTON — Three years of simmering frustration inside the State Department is boiling over on Capitol Hill as a parade of current and former diplomats testify to their concerns about the Trump administration’s unorthodox policy toward Ukraine.

Over White House objections, the diplomats are appearing before impeachment investigators looking into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and they’re recounting stories of possible impropriety, misconduct and mistreatment by their superiors.

To Trump and his allies, the diplomats are evidence of a “deep state” within the government that has been out to get him from the start. But to the employees of a department demoralized by the administration’s repeated attempts to slash its budget and staff, cooperating with the inquiry is seen as a moment of catharsis, an opportunity to reassert the foreign policy norms they believe Trump has blown past.

“It’s taken a while to understand just how weird the policy process has become but it was inevitable,” said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy. The group wrote a letter last month calling for the administration to support career diplomats and protect them from politicization.

The State Department officials parading through Capitol Hill include high-ranking diplomats with decades of experience serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Among them: Kurt Volker, who resigned as the administration’s special envoy to Ukraine after being named in the whistleblower complaint that jumpstarted the impeachment inquiry.

Others who have testified behind closed doors include Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who was pushed out of the post after a concerted campaign by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani; Michael McKinley, who resigned after 37 years in the foreign service in part over treatment of Yovanovitch; and Fiona Hill, a National Security Council staffer who worked closely with the former Ukrainian ambassador.

Volker told investigators he did not believe there was anything improper in his dealings in Ukraine. But the others have all spoken of their unease and concern about Trump’s approach to Ukraine and their testimony has largely corroborated the whistleblower’s complaint, which centered on a July phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s leader, as well as Giuliani’s dealings in the former Soviet republic.

Yovanovitch, who remains a State Department employee, said she was “incredulous” at being recalled early from her post despite having been told she did nothing wrong. She lamented that her experience is evidence that American diplomats can no longer count on support from their government if they are attacked by foreign interests.

“That basic understanding no longer holds true,” she said according to the text of her opening statement to lawmakers. “Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within.”

McKinley said he was “disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents.”

Trump has long cast career government officials as part of the “deep state” out to undermine him, associating the officials’ service under Democratic administrations as signs of their political leanings. That’s despite the fact that most longtime career officials have served under both Republicans and Democrats.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, argued last week that the diplomats were disparaging Trump because they were upset that he was imposing his political priorities on their work. He singled out in particular McKinley, who entered the foreign service while Republican Ronald Reagan was in the White House and had served under presidents from both parties.

“Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration,” Mulvaney said. “And what you’re seeing now, I believe, is a group of mostly career bureaucrats who are saying, ‘You know what? I don’t like President Trump’s politics, so I’m going to participate in this witch hunt that they’re undertaking on the Hill’.”

Former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns called Mulvaney’s assertion “offensive.”

“For them to be dismissed unfairly and accused of acting out of some political motive I think is just wrong,” said Burns, who is now president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“They are demonstrating that they are responsible, decent public servants and that they have an obligation to tell the truth even when it isn’t convenient for the administration,” he said. “It gives a lie to the deep state caricature. These aren’t people plotting behind anyone’s back. They are stepping up to do their jobs.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in an interview Sunday with ABC’s “This Week,” joked, “I think Bill Burns must be auditioning to be Elizabeth Warren’s secretary of state.” Warren, a Massachusetts senator, is a Democratic presidential candidate.

The White House has insisted the administration, including career officials, would not participate in the impeachment investigation. Democrats have compelled the testimony of most of the officials through subpoenas and the State Department has so far not retaliated against those who have appeared.

Neumann, the American Academy of Diplomacy president, urged Pompeo to back up his staff if there are calls for them to be punished.

“So far, Pompeo has failed to show loyalty to the people who work for him,” he said. “But, he has another test. Does anything happen to those who testify? If nothing happens, I would give Pompeo credit for having blocked it.”

Pompeo has not spoken frequently about the inquiry except to say it is unfair to the people who work for him because they are not allowed to bring State Department lawyers with them to testify.

“My view is that each of us has a solemn responsibility to defend the Constitution and to speak the truth. ... I hope those officers who go to Capitol Hill will speak truthfully, that they’ll speak completely,” he said Sunday.

Two more diplomats get their turn to talk this week: William Taylor, currently the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for Europe.