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State’s lawsuit expands against opioid manufacturers, distributors

An amended complaint in the civil lawsuit in South Dakota State Circuit Court against prescription drug manufacturers has been filed by the South Dakota Attorney General Office.

The originally-listed manufacturers were Purdue, Endo and Janssen. The amended complaint adds generic drug manufacturers Par Pharmaceutical Companies, Inc., Allergan PLC, and Mallinckrodt LLC, and distributors McKesson Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., Amerisourcebergen Drug Corporation, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. and WalMart Inc.

An opioid is any controlled drug having an addiction-sustaining liability similar to morphine, or being capable of conversion. Opioids include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine and many others.

“You will find lists of both the name brands and the generic brands made and prescribed, listed by each defendant named in the complaint,” said Tim Bormann, chief of staff with the Office of the Attorney General. There are 14 pages of lists in the suit.

“We are seeking to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable for knowingly and deceptively harming South Dakotans,” said Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. “The opioid crisis has been exacerbated by deceptive and misleading marketing and the failure to report suspicious orders as required by law.”

The lawsuit alleges that the drug companies and manufacturers violated South Dakota’s Deceptive Trade laws and gave false and misleading statements (false marketing) about the risks and benefits of opioids. Among other allegations, the distributors named failed to comply with their obligations under the law to report suspicious orders.

The numbers are staggering:

“From page 187 of the complaint, the Center for Disease Control statistics show that 54.8 out of every 100 South Dakotans had a prescription for opioids in 2016. In 2018, based on numbers from the SD Department of Health, there were 195 opioid overdoses and 27 opioid related deaths, 23 of which were from prescription opioids,” said Bormann.

The costs are staggering:

“On page 188 of the complaint, the Child Welfare League of America reports that in 2015 healthcare costs related to opioid abuse in South Dakota were $27,820,116. In 2017 the South Dakota Department of Social Services spent $20.2 million (about 2.4 percent of its total budget) on payments to providers for substance abuse and other related treatment,” said Bormann.

This epidemic is costing a difficult-to-determine amount for taxpayers.

“I have not broken it down to individual taxpayers because the round numbers I have all come from various dates, as not everyone finishes their reports at the same time. Plus there are parts of the equation that would have to be considered, i.e., what percentage of the gross cost to the state is paid out of pocket, what is paid by insurance, what is paid by Medicaid, what is paid by Medicare, etc. Each factor would have a different impact on the taxpayers of the state,” said Bormann.

How long could this lawsuit take?

“There is no answer for that, unfortunately. The original complaint was filed in March of 2018 under then Attorney General Marty Jackley. This is the amended complaint to expand the number of defendants,” said Bormann.

Under this lawsuit the state of South Dakota is seeking the following:

That the state recovers the costs and expenses of the lawsuit, pre- and post-judgment interest and reasonable attorneys’ fees

That the alleged acts be declared unlawful in violation of state statute and common law

That defendants be ordered to cease unlawful promotion, to correct misrepresentations and comply with legal obligations

That plaintiff (state) receive civil penalties.

That the state recovers damages allowable under state statutes, and judgment be entered against defendants.

That the defendants be ordered to pay punitive and treble damages as provided by law.

That the defendants be ordered to disgorge monies wrongfully retained by them.

Jill Courtney is with the Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA), a national trade association representing distributors — including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, three pharmaceutical corporations added to the lawsuit by the state Attorney General’s Office.

HDA wanted to provide a distributors insight into the issue.

“The misuse and abuse of prescription opioids is a complex public health challenge that requires a collaborative and systemic response that engages all stakeholders,” Courtney said. “It’s also critical to understand the role of each stakeholder across the supply chain. Distributors do not conduct research, manufacture, market, or prescribe medications, nor do they influence prescribing patterns, the demand for specific products, or patient-benefit designs.”

“The idea that distributors are responsible for the number of opioid prescriptions written defies common sense and lacks understanding of how the pharmaceutical supply chain actually works and is regulated. Those bringing lawsuits would be better served addressing the root causes, rather than trying to redirect blame through litigation,” said John Parker, senior vice president of communications Healthcare Distribution Alliance.

According to HDA, distributors are logistics experts, tasked with the primary responsibility of delivering all medicines to licensed pharmacies and healthcare providers. In their role as wholesale distributors, HDA members are not healthcare providers or prescribing or dispensing practitioners.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is responsible for setting the annual production of controlled substances in the market, approving and regulating the entities allowed to prescribe and handle opioids, and sharing data with entities in the supply chain regarding potential cases of diversion.

Distributors report every opioid sale to the DEA – whether it is suspicious or not. Greater communication and coordination with the DEA will help support real-time response against abuse and diversion where it occurs.

For more information from the HDA, Courtney suggested visiting https://www.hda.org/news/facts-about-rx-distributors-and-the-opioid-crisis.

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Army Corps: wet August means near-record runoff for Upper MIssouri dam system

It was a wet August across South Dakota and other parts of the Upper Missouri River Basin. That means near-record runoffs will flow into the mainstem reservoirs, including Lake Oahe, and this will result in high levels of releases through the fall.

This was the key message Thursday from the managers of the Missouri River with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Omaha during a conference call across several states.

There could be above average precipitation this fall, they also said.

Rainfall in August was more than 150 percent of normal across much of South Dakota and Nebraska, parts of North Dakota and in eastern Montana.

Both the Fort Randall and Gavins Point reaches in southern South Dakota saw their wettest August on record. The Sioux City reach saw its second-wettest August. And the Lake Oahe reach experienced its third-wettest August on record, according to the Army Corps’ report on Thursday.

As evidence: the last day of August brought 0.19 inch of rain to Pierre, making the month’s total 3.73 inches on the city, measured at the airport. That’s more than double the 30-year norm for the month of 1.83 inches.

Pierre has seen 24.15 inches of precipitation in the first eight months of the year, 9 inches more than normal and more than a normal full year.

It’s been that way all over.

This prompted the Army Corps to hold more weekly phone conference calls with officials and news reporters from South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri. The huge damage from flooding in the lower Missouri Basin has been the big story and Army Corps officials gave updates on the levee repair and reconstruction which will go on for a long time.

The forecast for 2019 runoff in the Upper Basin of the Missouri is 54.6 million acre-feet (MAF), which would be, if the rain continues, the second-highest runoff in 121 years of record-keeping.

Only 2011, with 61 MAF, saw more water; and that resulted in devastating floods in Pierre and Fort Pierre and across much of the basin.

Third-highest runoff was 49 MAF in 1997, following the big winter of blizzards.

In the four lower reaches alone — Sioux City, Gavins Point, Fort Randall and Oahe — the projected runoff by New Year’s Eve is about 30 MAF, which exceeds the average annual runoff for the entire Upper Basin, the Army Corps managers reported on Thursday.

The reservoirs behind Oahe Dam — Garrison Dam and Fort Peck Dam — have fallen slightly but steadily the past month. Still these reservoirs remain high as the Army Corps looks to drain more water to prepare for the winter.

“As a result of the high reservoir levels and the forecasted above-average runoff for the remainder of the summer and fall, releases from all the system’s projects will be much above average for the next several months, and possibly as late as November, to ensure evacuation of all stored flood waters prior to the start of the 2020 runoff season,” John Remus, chief of Army Corps river management division based in Omaha, said Thursday in a news release from the conference call.

Releases from Gavins Point, described as the bottom of the Upper Basin’s drainage, will remain at 70,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) — twice the normal release rate during this time of year — perhaps into November, Remus said. It all depends on how much rain comes down this fall.

Releases from Oahe Dam will remain at the current level of about 57,000 cfs, as a daily average into November, Army Corps managers said. (Releases vary during the day partly due to power generation needs),

Meanwhile, the work on the power plants at Oahe Dam will continue, with one or two turbines down at one time until nearly Christmas on the east end of the dam. This means the releases will continue to use the regulator tunnels on the dam’s west end, where the water comes out into the stilling basin.

Lake Oahe was at 1,615.7 feet above sea level on Aug. 31, after falling 1.7 feet during the month. The goal is to see it fall to 1,613.4 feet by Oct. 1. Earlier this summer it was into the “exclusive flood control zone,” the “top” three feet in the reservoir which begins at 1617 feet.

As of Aug. 31, there were 21.41 MAF stored behind Oahe Dam — more than any of the other five mainstem dams. This is 121 percent of the average storage from 1967-2018, according to figures provided by the Army Corps.

Gavins Point and Fort Randall are actually storing less than the 50-year average as of Aug. 31. Garrison was at 21.2 MAF, which is 119 percent of the 50-year average; Fort Peck was at 17.05 MAF, which is 118 percent of average.

The total system had 65.56 MAF stored, 118 percent of the 50-year average.

A collateral result of the high runoff and high reservoirs and high releases is power: The six mainstem dams all have power plants with turbines turning and in August they generated a record total of 1540 million kWh (kilowatt hours) of electricity, which was 153 percent of the “typical energy generation” in August of 1003 kWh, the Army Corps reported on Thursday.

The six dams’ power plants are projected to generate 13.4 billion kWh of electricity in 2019, the Army Corps says.

That would be about enough to power 1.3 million homes for the year and about 43 percent more than the long-term average of 9.4 billion kWh produced per year by the dams. (That’s based on U.S. Energy Department figures that an average U.S. home uses about 10,399 kWh per year.)

From Oct. 22 — 25, the Army Corps will hold seven public meetings up and down the Missouri River Basin. Usually Pierre or Fort Pierre hosts one such meeting, but details weren’t worked out yet, Army Corps officials said Thursday.

The meetings are to “update the region on the current hydrological conditions and the planned operation of the mainstem reservoir system during the remaining fall months.”

They also will present the draft plans for operating the management of the “system” in 2020.

Beck Motor 50 anniversary celebration

Beck Motor Company, in Pierre, turns 50 this year and is inviting everyone to the company’s Sept. 12 celebration, from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The free afternoon and evening includes the T.F. Riggs High School Pierrecussion Drumline, the Side Hackers band, pony rides, bounce-house, and burgers/brat/beverages. Alongside the new, certified pre-owned and used vehicles on the Beck Motor lot, the Street Masters Car Club will show off their cars.

A raffle will give away a total of five — a set of two and a set of three — tickets to the Miranda Lambert ‘Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars’ concert in Sioux Falls, Oct. 12. Another drawing is for two tickets to the Monster Truck Jam in Sioux Falls, Nov. 8-9. Throughout the day, there will be other give-aways.

A video slideshow will spotlight the changing times, cars and people, “from lots of years, years leading up to what we are today,” said Jami Beck, marketing director. A little after 8 p.m., fireworks will be launched over the top of the Beck Motor building.

“We’ve been part of the community, selling new and used Chevrolet vehicles, for the past 50 years. We couldn’t be more proud of where we come from. We want to celebrate with you, our closest friends and loyal customers, so we’re giving you this party absolutely free,” said Jami Beck, speaking for the Beck Motor Company team.

Beck Motor Company can trace its heritage back to 1936 as the Pierre Automotive Company. In 1937, the firm became the McCallog Motor Chevrolet Company. In 1944, the firm was sold to C.W. Hinkley, who added the Cadillac car line in 1961. In 1963, it became Colonel Motors, and the Pontiac car line was added to the business.

Ken Beck purchased the firm in 1969. In 1973, it moved from its original 1930s location on East Dakota (present day Fischer-Rounds Insurance Company) to 500 S. Grant. In June 2012, the company moved to its current location of 1905 North Garfield Avenue.

Ken Beck retired and his sons, Trace and Steve, now run the business. Another generation — Bryan Beck (son of Trace and Lynn) and Joe Beck (son of Steve and Jami) — is keeping the business growing.

The firm still sells Chevrolet and Cadillac automobiles and trucks, and services all makes and models, including foreign ones. At any given time, there are about 300 vehicles on the lot. Beck Motor general has around 50 employees.

“I finished college in 1984, during the recessionary time. I sent my resume to Dad, who offered me a job … on the condition I learned to spell Cadillac,” said Trace Beck. “I’m still here because of the people — the customers and staff — and being able to help people out.”

“My wife and I moved to Kansas, and ran a Taco Johns. Decided that was not what we wanted to do,” said Steve Beck. “Came back in 1991, when my daughter was about to start preschool. Dad had an opening. I’m still here because no day is the same; lots of variety. The employees and customers make the job interesting.”

Beck Motor moved to its current location because, “We were just out of space,” said Trace. Steve added, “We were landlocked and just couldn’t expand; went from a 17,000 square foot building to a 56,000 square foot building.”

“There was no where to park cars and put employees. Now we serve almost all of central South Dakota; from Philip to Miller and from Winner to Mobridge. We sell and service all makes. Our technicians are trained to work on all cars, even foreign cars,” said Steve Beck.

Beck Motor service department open at 7:30 a.m. and closes at 5:30 p.m. The sales department opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 6 p.m. Call 605-301-4197.

Stirling Family Memorial Ranch Rodeo to give proceeds to families with cancer

Now in its 22nd year, the Stirling Family Memorial Ranch Rodeo will be held September 14 and 15, at the Stanley County Fairgrounds in Fort Pierre.

Every year, the rodeo coordinators give the proceeds of the events to individuals and their families fighting cancer.

“We have assisted more than 300 families fighting cancer since the rodeo’s inception,” said Julie Stirling Fieldsend. “In 2018, the event raised $17,000 and helped more than 40 cancer warriors.” The funds can be used for uninsured medical treatment costs, travel expenses to seek treatment, or whatever the family needs at the time they receive the gift.

This is the first year this event has grown to two days and the public is invited to the events free of charge.

Donations such as (but not limited to) hats, pillows, halters, baked goods, horse blankets are being accepted for the event and can be dropped off either day of the rodeo at the fairgrounds.

The festivities start at Saturday, Sept. 14 at 5 p.m. with a free-will BBQ, followed by the Ranch Rodeo & Kid’s Games at 6 p.m.

The event includes calf branding, wild cow milking and range doctor/trailer loading.

On Sunday, Sept. 15, the event continues at noon, with sanctioned bronc riding and kid’s mutton busting.

Entries and fees will be accepted until September 6.

A silent auction will be held on both days.

For more information visit www.stirlingfamilyranchrodeo.com

Report: US farm expenditures drop in 2018

American farmers and ranchers spent a little less on farm expenses in 2018 than they did in 2017, according to a new federal report.

Total U.S. farm production expenditures fell to $354 billion in 2018 from $357.8 billion in 2017, according to an August report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Midwest, where many farmers struggled with poor crop prices and weak farm profitability, accounted for most of the $3.8 billion national decline. Midwest producers spent $104.7 billion on farm expenses in 2018, $3.1 billion less than in the previous year.

Some spending categories registered increases from 2017 to 2018. Two examples:

Spending on fertilizer, lime and soil conditioners rose $1.2 billion.

And overall spending on fuel rose from $11.9 billion to $12.3 billion. An 8% increase in spending on diesel, the biggest component of the fuels category, more than offset a 3.2% decline in spending on gasoline.

Among other changes from 2017 to 2018:

Labor expenses fell $2.1 billion.

Spending on trucks and autos dropped $800 million.

Spending on farm improvements and construction fell $3.5 billion.

Big farms accounted for the majority of the sending. Farms with annual gross sales of $1 million to $4.999 million represented 32% of the national total, farms with annual gross sales of more than $5 billion accounted for 26.1%.

California farms led the nation with $36.8 billion in expenses.