Brian Mann

The outcome of a landmark federal opioid trial in West Virginia that reached closing arguments this week rests on two legally thorny questions.

Was it "unreasonable" for three of America's biggest corporations — the drug wholesalers AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — to ship roughly 81 million highly addictive opioid pills to pharmacies in one small Rust Belt city on the Ohio River?

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Updated July 21, 2021 at 3:55 PM ET

A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general announced on Wednesday a $26 billion national settlement with drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and three companies that distributed opioid painkillers even as addiction and overdose deaths skyrocketed.

"The opioid epidemic has torn families apart and killed thousands of North Carolinians," said North Carolina state Attorney General Josh Stein, one of the lead negotiators.

Updated July 20, 2021 at 6:26 PM ET

A landmark national opioid settlement now being finalized would provide as much as $26 billion to states and communities struggling to respond to the opioid crisis.

That's according to a team of attorneys representing governments involved in the litigation who briefed reporters Tuesday.

Sources have told NPR a final deal could be reached as early as this week, but details are still being negotiated.

Updated July 19, 2021 at 10:56 PM ET

The U.S. Justice Department is condemning a proposed bankruptcy settlement for Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin. In court filings Monday, two divisions of the DOJ described the plan as fatally flawed.

The DOJ's U.S. Trustee program, which serves as a national watchdog over the federal bankruptcy system, said the deal is unconstitutional and illegal.

Nine months before a massive section of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla., came showering down, an engineering firm called Morabito Consultants found "severely deteriorated" concrete throughout the building, including in load-bearing structures known as corbels.

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Updated July 8, 2021 at 7:57 AM ET

Fifteen states that led the effort to block a controversial bankruptcy plan for OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma have abandoned the fight.

That's according to court documents filed by a mediator late Wednesday as part of a federal bankruptcy proceeding in White Plains, N.Y.

Among the states that have agreed to sign on to the bankruptcy deal are Massachusetts and New York, whose attorneys general had mounted fierce legal opposition to the agreement.

Updated July 4, 2021 at 10:53 PM ET

SURFSIDE, Fla. — Crews used explosives late Sunday night to demolish the remaining structure at Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fla.

The heavily damaged condo building was knocked down at about 10:30 p.m. Eastern time.

The targeted blast caused the tower to fold and crumble, sending a large plume of dust and debris over a section of the beachside community. A crowd watching from a distance prayed as the building came down.

Just weeks before Champlain Towers South collapsed, town officials in Surfside, Fla., were demanding immediate changes on the property — but all of their requirements focused on relatively minor concerns.

A poolside gate needed repair. A hedge had to be trimmed to accommodate emergency vehicles. Paving stones had to be replaced.

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Just one month after an engineering report warned of "major structural damage" that required immediate repair, a Surfside, Fla., official assured residents of Champlain Towers South that their building was sound.

Updated June 26, 2021 at 5:56 PM ET

A structural engineering report provided to the Champlain Towers condominium association in 2018 found widespread problems that required extensive repairs "in the near future."

The consulting group that wrote the report noted Saturday that the document "detailed significant cracks and breaks in the concrete, which required repairs to ensure the safety of the residents and the public."

Standing on the steps of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Surfside, Fla., you can smell the massive rubble pile, steaming and smoking two blocks away.

Inside the rectory, the Rev. Juan Sosa has been working the phones, reaching out to families trying to grasp the impact on his parish.

"The magnitude has surfaced with the identification of people," said the priest. "The impact is growing in me. I do believe in hope. I pray and hope that some of the missing will be found."

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Every time Shani Damron, 34, buys methamphetamines or heroin on the streets of Huntington, W.Va., she knows the risk is extreme.

"That fentanyl is no joke," Damron said, referring to the deadly synthetic opioid that now contaminates much of the illegal drug supply in the United States. "Every time we stick a needle in our arm, we're taking a 50-50 chance. We could die."

There's also a high risk of disease from contaminated needles shared by drug users. Damron's community has seen a major HIV/AIDS outbreak.

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When Aaron Hinton walked through the housing project in Brownsville on a recent summer afternoon, he voiced love and pride for this tightknit, but troubled working-class neighborhood in New York City where he grew up.

He pointed to a community garden, the lush plots of vegetables and flowers tended by volunteers, and to the library where he has led after-school programs for kids.

But he also expressed deep rage and sorrow over the scars left by the nation's 50-year-long War on Drugs. "What good is it doing for us?" Hinton asked.

After more than a year of high-stakes negotiations with billions of dollars on the line, a bankruptcy plan for Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, cleared a major hurdle late Wednesday.

Federal Judge Robert Drain in White Plains, N.Y., moved the controversial deal forward despite objections from dozens of state attorneys general, setting the stage for a final vote by the company's creditors expected this summer.

The drugmaker filed for Chapter 11 protection in 2019 facing an avalanche of lawsuits tied to its aggressive opioid sales practices.

During years when the prescription opioid epidemic was spiraling out of control, corporate executives at the drug wholesaler McKesson sent at least two memos ordering employees to "refrain from using the word 'suspicious'" to describe escalating opioid orders from pharmacy chains.

The documents were disclosed this week as part of a landmark federal opioid trial now underway in West Virginia, one of the states hit hardest by opioid deaths.

Updated May 3, 2021 at 9:51 PM ET

A senior Drug Enforcement Administration official told NPR efforts to target drug cartels operating inside Mexico have unraveled because of a breakdown in cooperation between law enforcement agencies and militaries in the two countries.

For months, members of the Sackler family that owns Purdue Pharma, the maker of Oxycontin, have portrayed their bid for immunity from future opioid lawsuits as a kind of fait accompli, a take-it-or-leave-it fix to a legal morass.

The Biden administration says new federal guidelines released Tuesday will allow far more medical practitioners to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug proven to reduce opioid relapses and overdose deaths.

The change lowers regulatory hurdles that critics believe sharply limit use of the life-saving medication at a time when drug deaths are surging.

"We have made this much easier for physicians but also for other medical practitioners," said Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary of health, speaking with NPR.

Researchers gathered for a conference on addiction this week received a grim update on the growing spread of street drugs laced with deadly synthetic opioids including fentanyl.

The trend contributed to a stark rise in overdoses that left more than 90,000 Americans dead during the 12-month period ending in September 2020, according to the latest data.

Drug deaths spiked dramatically during a period that includes the first six months of the pandemic, up roughly 27% compared with the previous year, the acting head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said Thursday.

"We lost 88,000 people in the 12-month period ending in August 2020," Regina LaBelle told reporters during a morning briefing. "Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and synthetic opioids are the primary drivers of this increase."

Updated March 31, 2021 at 11:45 AM ET

Democrats who dominate New York state politics pushed through a marijuana legalization measure Tuesday that backers say will expunge the felony drug records of tens of thousands of people.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law on Wednesday. He had said earlier that it will bring "justice for long-marginalized communities."

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Imagine you're part of a project that goes horribly wrong at work, causing a scandal, costing your company a ton of money, maybe even putting people at risk. Now imagine after that kind of performance your company rewards you with a raise and a bonus.

Critics say that's happening right now with CEOs at big drug and health care companies tangled up in the opioid crisis.

"When leadership fails ... the board of directors have to be willing to hold their executives accountable," said Shawn Wooden, Connecticut's state treasurer.

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