January 18, 2019

Opioid marketing focused on targeting doctors can be linked to an increase in opioid overdoses in the U.S., a study published Friday found.

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, say that the pharmaceutical industry spent nearly $40 million on marketing opioids to U.S. doctors between 2013 and 2015. Increased opioid marketing by county was associated with a higher overdose mortality rate the following year, the report states.

This is the first study implicating opioid marketing in the opioid crisis, Axios reports, and could be damaging to opioid manufacturers.

The report states the current marketing efforts could counteract national attempts to curb the opioid crisis, and suggests policymakers may want to consider limiting direct-to-physician opioid marketing.

"Policymakers and state health regulators should prohibit licensed health professionals from accepting any such payments or incentives from the industry," Linda Richter, director of policy analysis and research for the Center on Addiction, told U.S. News and World Report. "Although physicians might believe that industry marketing efforts have no impact on their prescribing choices, a large body of evidence proves otherwise." Marianne Dodson

4:20 p.m.

The federal prosecutors who signed a plea agreement with Florida millionaire Jeffrey Epstein broke the law, a judge said Thursday, reports The Miami Herald.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the prosecutors involved in the sex-trafficking case, including then-Florida prosecutor and current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by not keeping Epstein's victims informed about the agreement, per Politico. After the deal, which resolved a case in which Epstein was accused of building a "cult-like network" of girls coerced into sexual acts, Epstein ultimately served 13 months in prison. The deal was reportedly kept secret from dozens of women who alleged abuse.

“Particularly problematic was the government's decision to conceal the existence of the [agreement] and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility," the judge said. "When the government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein's attorneys, scant information was shared with victims."

Marra also said he has reviewed evidence that Epstein violated sex trafficking laws and abused at least 30 girls between 1997 and 2007, per NBC News. "Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others," Marra said. The Labor Department did not comment on the ruling. Brendan Morrow

3:57 p.m.

President Trump's longtime confidante Roger Stone was arrested last month, quickly pleaded not guilty to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's charges, and was released on bail. But after sharing an inflammatory post about his case's judge, Amy Berman Jackson, on Monday, he landed back in court to explain just what happened — not that he explained anything at all. Here are 5 ways Stone skirted the issue on Thursday.

1. Used a hashtag. On his way to the courtroom, Stone, seemingly having learned nothing, shared an Instagram with a caption including #RogerStoneDidNothingWrong.

2. Blamed a volunteer. Stone says he has "five or six volunteers" who send him pictures and he decides what to post, per HuffPost. He couldn't name which volunteer sent it to him, or whether it was via text or email.

3. Called it a mistake. In fact, Stone said that a whole bunch of times.

4. Blamed "enormous pressure." "I'm having a hard time putting food on the table and making rent," Stone said, adding that "political commentators" are apparently saying he'll be "raped in prison," per NBC News.

5. Said he had no idea what crosshairs even are. The post featured Jackson's face next to a set of crosshairs, and Stone said Thursday he "researched" the symbol and found it was "Celtic." Jackson then asked if it was an "occult symbol," to which Stone said "I don't know, your honor, I'm not into the occult." That whole explanation, as you can see below, was easily debunked. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:24 p.m.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is reportedly wrapping up. But that could just be the beginning.

Both CNN and The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the Justice Department is preparing for Mueller to conclude the probe that began in 2017, although tons of questions remain unanswered, including how much of Mueller's report will actually be seen by the public.

But Wired's Garrett Graff points out the possibility that Mueller "closes up shop but refers numerous active cases to other prosecutors." He could do so, Graff writes, if he feels that he has "answered his main charge — Russia — even though he's uncovered much ancillary criminality." This would leave "big and worthy questions to be examined by prosecutors in D.C., New York, Virginia, New Jersey, and elsewhere," and could guarantee the "probe lives on for years to come."

Similarly, former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal observed on Twitter that Mueller issuing his report "doesn't mean the investigations are over." As he put it, "it means the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end." And The New York Times echoes this sentiment, writing, "new prosecutors from outside the special counsel's operation could pick up cases that remain in progress."

Experts have also noted that the Southern District of New York's investigation won't end just because Mueller's does. That probe, which led to the conviction of President Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, doesn't appear to be nearing an end. In fact, the Post writes that it "has always been a more serious concern for Trump's inner circle" and that it "could go on for years." Brendan Morrow

2:35 p.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Thursday she supports reparations for black Americans affected by slavery, The New York Times reports.

Warren said in an interview with the Times that "we must confront the dark history of slavery and government-sanctioned discrimination in this country that has had many consequences, including undermining the ability of black families to build wealth in America for generations." She also said that "we need systemic, structural changes to address that."

Warren did not provide any specifics about what her plan would be, but the Times notes that this is significant given that it's a policy previous Democratic presidential candidates chose not to support. For instance, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who recently announced his 2020 bid, was not in favor of reparations in 2016, saying at the time that it would not pass Congress and would be "very divisive." For that matter, neither was former President Barack Obama or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) also recently backed reparations, saying in a radio interview, "I'm serious about taking an approach that would change policies and structures and make real investments in black communities." Brendan Morrow

2:25 p.m.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rev. Al Sharpton sat down at Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem on Thursday. As this photo from Sharpton's publicist Rachel Noerdlinger shows, the media clearly wanted a seat at the table, too.

The 2020 presidential hopeful and the MSNBC host followed up on a tradition set by the late Rep. Shirley Chisolm and former President Barack Obama, who both stopped at the soul food spot on their historic campaigns, Noerdlinger pointed out.

While this window-peeping huddle might look like they're scoping out the menu, they were probably just responding to a press release Noerdlinger sent out before the event. Yes, when you're running for president, even lunch needs a press gaggle.

Kathryn Krawczyk

12:14 p.m.

How could this backfire?

On Jan. 29, Empire actor Jussie Smollett was hospitalized after claiming two men yelling racist and homophobic slurs assaulted him, and Chicago police quickly started investigating his report as a hate crime. Now Chicago police say Smollett staged the whole thing — and they have the literal checks to prove it.

Police arrested Smollett on Wednesday night on a felony charge of filing a false police report, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson elaborated in a Thursday press conference that Smollett gave two men a $3,500 check to attack him — a form of payment that's literally designed to produce a physical receipt. Police have the check, Johnson said, before lambasting Smollett's "shameful" alleged stunt and asking "why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?"

Fox said Wednesday that Smollet was "not being written out of" Empire, but it's now considering suspending him, Variety reports. Read more details from the police press conference here. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:27 a.m.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is really, really close to running for president. There's just one thing holding him back: his family.

Biden rejected a 2016 run because his campaign would've had to start just after the May 2015 death of his son Beau Biden. And this time around, Biden is worried opponents will turn his family into a weapon, Biden aides tell NBC News.

Even though Biden hasn't announced an official run or even an exploratory committee, primary polls have consistently put him on top of the extra large Democratic field. He's reportedly joined potential opponents in discussing a run with former President Barack Obama, and in recent weeks, upped his likelihood of running "from 70, to 80 and even more recently 90 percent," Democrats and party figures tell NBC News. He's also reportedly called and congratulated some 2020 candidates on their announcements, despite saying in December he's "the most qualified person in the country to be president."

Biden has also gone so far as to threaten to physically fight President Trump, so there's no concern over his willingness to rumble. He's just worried about "reprehensible" attacks on his family — something Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) explained when speaking with NBC News after consulting with Biden about 2020. "Trump demonstrated in the 2016 election an enthusiasm for attacking not just his opponents but his family, including famously by making things up," Coons said, adding that he thinks Biden should "let others take up the mantle of defending his family."

Still, Biden has a few more "gut-check conversations with his children and grandchildren" to check off before making a final decision, NBC News says. Read more about his reservations at NBC News. Kathryn Krawczyk

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