Tag Archives: kentucky

Widow sues attorney after husband commits suicide

 

By Adam Beam | AP June 10

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. — The Social Security Administration told Leroy Burchett and some 900 others like him in Kentucky and West Virginia last month that their disability benefits were being cut off because they were tied to an attorney suspected of fraud.

His wife said he then stopped taking his antidepressants and shot and killed himself less than two weeks later, on June 1. Now she’s suing that attorney who represented him, Eric Conn, blaming Conn for her husband’s death.

“If he hadn’t got that letter and hadn’t been losing his medical insurance this never would have happened,” Burchett’s widow, Emma, told The Associated Press, weeping as she recounted her husband’s final days. “He just wasn’t that kind of person. I mean, heck yeah we had problems, everybody has problems. But not like that.”

The wrongful death lawsuit filed Wednesday targets Conn, who represented all 900 of those people whose benefits were temporarily cut off. The agency restored those benefits June 4, at least until the recipients had a chance to plead their case in court. He has been investigated on accusations of fraud before, though he has never been charged with a crime and has denied any wrongdoing.

Conn bills himself as “Mr. Social Security” and estimates he handles roughly 60 percent of disability claims in this part of Appalachia where many depend on government benefits because of the coal industry’s decline and little else in the way of job opportunities. The parking lot of Conn’s office displays small-scale replicas of the Lincoln Memorial and the Statue of Liberty, and billboards urge potential clients to call 232-HURT.

He is the target of a whistle-blower lawsuit in federal court brought by two former Social Security Administration employees. The federal government declined to prosecute Conn in that case, according to his attorney, Kent Wicker. But the letters sent by the Social Security Administration told Burchett and others their benefits were suspended because “there is reason to believe fraud or similar fault” was involved with evidence submitted by Conn and his office.

Conn’s attorneys instead blamed the Social Security Administration for suspending the benefits without a hearing. And they blamed the publicity surrounding the suspension for creating a panic.

“Let me emphasize once again how sorry Mr. Conn is … for the people who have been victimized. But they were victimized by the Social Security Administration and not by Eric Conn,” said Joseph Lambert, one of Conn’s attorneys and a former chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court. “One wonders if the publicity and the somewhat overwrought rhetoric may have had something to do with Mr. Burchett’s decision.”

Mark Hinkle, a spokesman for the Social Security Administration, declined to comment about the lawsuit but said “the agency is saddened by Mr. Burchett’s death and his family remains in our thoughts.”

More than 8 percent of residents in Kentucky and West Virginia draw disability checks, among the highest rates in the nation. More than a quarter — 56,000 — of the nearly 194,000 people in Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District are considered disabled workers, according to the Social Security Administration. In Floyd County alone, more than 11 percent of the population receives disability benefits.

Leroy Burchett, was a furniture delivery truck driver when he met Emma, a part-time clerk at a Double Quick convenience store. He wooed her without saying a word, simply stopping in the store frequently and putting a pack of gum on the counter.

They were married for 14 years and had two children together. Emma Burchett, 45, said her 41-year-old husband had worked manual labor since he was old enough to push a lawn mower. He was plagued by chronic pain, culminating in several surgeries to have metal plates installed in his neck and back. He was granted disability about six years ago with Conn’s help.

“It was our main source of income,” Emma Burchett said.

Emma Burchett said she stopped working after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and black lung disease, an ailment caused by exposure to coal dust that mostly affects coal miners. She has never worked in a coal mine but has lived near one for years.

When the letter from the Social Security Administration arrived, Emma Burchett said she panicked, but her husband was even worse off. Afraid that he was losing access to his medication, including two antidepressants, he quit taking them.

“If he was even late taking it, he would get confused in his head,” she said.

She urged him to keep taking them, telling him she would lower his dosage to help his supply last longer until they could get everything straightened out.

But on June 1, Emma Burchett said her husband told her he “couldn’t take it anymore” before shooting himself. The next day, she discovered he hadn’t been taking his medication. The pill bottles were still full.

___

Correspondent Claire Galofaro contributed to this report from Richmond, Ky.

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Harvard study: Kentucky’s state government one of the most corrupt in the country

 

Image result for kentucky corruption

 

by Joe Sonka

Correction appended.

A new study by Harvard University’s Center for Ethics finds that Kentucky’s state government is among the most corrupt in the country, and second to none when it comes to the “legal corruption” of political favors in exchange for campaign contributions.

Whereas the most common measure of corruption uses only federal convictions, the Harvard study measures corruption based on the perceptions of experts, surveying hundreds of news and investigative reporters covering state politics. The reporters ranked the existence of both illegal and legal corruption in the executive, legislative and judicial branches on a scale of 1 to 5, from not common at all to extremely common.

Kentucky was one of only two states to receive the highest ranking of 5 for legal corruption in both the executive and legislative branches, in addition to being near the top for the judicial branch with a ranking of 3 for such corruption being moderately common.

Harvard found Kentucky to be one of only two states where legal corruption in the executive branch is “extremely common”

Kentucky also ranked near the worst for illegal corruption, defined as government officials receiving private gains in exchange for providing specific benefits. The legislative branch in Kentucky was one of 10 where such corruption was perceived to be very common, all receiving the highest scores. Kentucky’s executive branch ranked among the five worst, with illegal corruption perceived as between moderately common and very common. Judicial branch corruption in Kentucky was only slightly common with a ranking of 2, though only California had a worse ranking with 2.5.

Factoring in all of the responses, the Harvard study ranked Kentucky the third worst in the country for illegal corruption, and the very worst for legal corruption – meaning it is perceived as even more corrupt than Illinois and New Jersey, commonly know as two state governments with the worst history of corruption. (Louisiana, another state with a poor reputation, was not included, as no reporters from the state responded to the survey.)

Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, was indicted in October for allegedly giving $46,000 worth of bribes to a state mine inspector to ignore environmental regulations his coal company violated. Kentucky instituted sweeping ethics reforms after the BOPTROT scandal from the early-1990s sent 15 state legislators to prison, including the speaker of the house, though the perception of corruption within the halls of Frankfort has not vanished – at least among the press corps. While other rankings of corruption find many states worse off than Kentucky, at least our political media is on its toes and not taking anyone at their word.

* Text describing the map above previously referred to the legislative branch

 

Joe Sonka

Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville. He is a former news editor at LEO Weekly and founder of the Kentucky political blog Barefoot & Progressive. Sonka also has written for The Nation, ThinkProgress and RH Reality Check, and is occasionally a talking head on MSNBC sharing his

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All roads in Kentucky lead you through Hell

Subtitle:  How to age quickly and retire early from a life of Activism in Cannabis – via the DEA

Subtitle:  How to become a criminal vs. a patient in need of their medication…

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ShereeKrider; May 7th, 2015

I really hate writing about myself.  I rarely do and when I do it is for a reason.  I have no other choice but to tell the story as it happened – and unfortunately it happened to me, although you could say that I have set myself up for “martyrdom” by being involved with Activism in any aspect which has to do with Cannabis.  That is my sin – I smoke Cannabis.  I know that it helps my anxiety but I also knew that Cannabis alone most likely would not be able to handle my “condition” and that it was “illegal” to use.  O.K., that much is fact.

In 1979 I was diagnosed with Chronic Major Depression, Dysthymia, and Acute Anxiety.  This is no secret as I have not tried to hide the fact that I suffer from this condition.

Skip forward to 1990 when I finally was placed with a Psychiatrist that was very knowledgeable in his field and I took to him quickly.  I was glad to have someone that knew more than I did prescribing my medication.

I never hid the fact that I worked as an Activist with the USMjParty from him.  I never hid the fact that I used Cannabis from him. 

I left a pain clinic in 2003 where I tested positive for THC and the only medication they would prescribe at that point was Methadone which I had ironically enough just been able to detox myself from and was not taking anymore.  Hence, my reason for leaving.

My Psychiatrist, Dr. Theodore B. Feldman who works for U of L Psychiatric in Louisville Kentucky told me at that time that I did not have to worry about obtaining my medicine from him because he would never hold the THC against me.  My main two medicines were Zoloft and Xanax.  I had been tried on a multitude of drugs but this is what worked for me and I have been using the same medication since 1986.  He even filled out a form which is seen below, to send back to the pain doctors saying there wasn’t a reason to withhold my pain medication because of THC.

 

Theodore B. Feldmann, M.D., Associate ProfessorDr. Feldman is responsible for all aspects of the psychiatry curriculum during the four years of medical school. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati and his medical degree from the University of Louisville. He completed his psychiatric residency training at the University of Cincinnati and received additional training at the Chicago Institute for psychoanalysis and Cincinnati Psychoanalytic Institute. Dr. Feldman received his board certification in psychiatry in 1986 and in forensic psychiatry in 1996. His clinical activities include general adult psychiatry, long-term intensive psychotherapy, and forensic psychiatry. He has been the principle investigator on research activities related to workplace violence and hostage and barricade incidents. Dr. Feldman serves as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases in state and federal courts. He is a psychiatric consultant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation which includes consultation in hostage situations, training of hostage negotiators, and psychological profiling of offenders. Dr. Feldman serves as a consultant to the Baldwin County (GA) Victim Assistance Program and to the Louisville Metro/Jefferson County (KY) Police Crisis Negotiation Team. He has published numerous scientific papers and serves as a peer reviewer for a variety of regional and national publications. In addition to his clinical service, Dr. Feldman supervises and lectures to medical students and psychiatry residents on topics related to psychiatric assessment, personality disorders and psychotherapy.

http://louisville.edu/medicine/departments/psychiatry/faculty/feldmann

Dr. Feldman THC

I had also been told by Dr. Feldman not to worry if I could not get to an appointment – I could reschedule.  The problem was that when I rescheduled he was always booked three to six months at a time so it could be hard for me to get in.  

The first part of April this year I called in to get an appointment.  I had missed two previous, one because of weather and one because of taking my (ex)husband to an important heart cath appointment here in Glasgow.   When I called in I was told that I was NO LONGER A PATIENT OF DR. FELDMAN THAT I HAD BEEN DISMISSED FOR MISSED APPOINTMENT AND A PAST DUE BALANCE WHICH WASN’T PAID OFF.  I never received a letter to this effect from either Dr. Feldman, nor the office of the U of L Psychiatric Clinic.  I was told nothing until the day I called in for an appointment.  After much adieu the clinic called in my Zoloft and Xanax for one more month.  I needed them filled again by the first of May.

 

This is where I will go backwards a little bit.  I had also been a patient of Dr. Chandra Reddy here in Cave City.

 

Reddy 2013

 

He had been my primary doctor since I moved here in 2011.  He had filled my medications as needed for the most part – until I was caught by a drug test by him back in 2014.  At about that same time, in July of 2014 Dr. Reddy, himself, was found to be trading scripts for marijuana!  Kentucky.com reported the following on July 7th, 2014:

According to last week’s order restricting Reddy from prescribing controlled substances, Berry said patients would call for narcotic prescriptions without coming to the office. She also claimed to have a sexual relationship with her married boss and to have traded cash and prescription narcotics for marijuana for his use.  

http://www.kentucky.com/2014/07/07/3326421/the-candy-man-and-pain-clinic.html#storylink=cpy

 

Here is the PDF Document of the outcome of his demise.

 

The end of this scenario with Dr. Chandra Reddy is that he is now back in his office practicing medicine after having had these charges against him and he had admitted to smoking marijuana as well. 

Now, I move forward to current time.  The Physician I went to after Dr. Reddy was out of business was located in Glasgow.  I was referred to him by T.J. Samson Hospital approximately six months ago.

I will not use his name because he is currently still my physician.  He has done no wrong.  He is just doing what he has to do to keep his license.  When H.B. 1 was passed in January of this year all the Physicians who were already on edge, increased their drug testing and removal of patients who smoked Cannabis, because the new laws just served to create a free fall for all Medical Cannabis user’s.  We were immediately pegged because of drug testing in the Doctor’s office which is how I came to be in this situation to begin with. 

When I went to my current Physician in Glasgow they got me with a drug test.  I was positive for THC and he could no longer prescribe me “scheduled narcotics” – which would include the medicine I need the most to survive in this chaotic world I live in, Xanax.

Do to the fact I thought ahead and always kept an extra few weeks of medicine put back in case of emergency, which I think this definitely qualifies as an emergency, I am able to sit here today and write the story of what is happening to me.

The only thing my current Physician could do is refer me to a new Psychiatrist in Bowling Green for which my appointment is not until September! 

It is documented fact that after being on this medication for so many years, my age, my heart conditions and anxiety, I could die from withdrawals.  So therefore they know that that withdrawal will force me into a hospital for treatment (I’ve never had to be hospitalized for my condition before) and force me to “retire” from Activism all together – get me out of their way, an activist “culling” of sorts, and I damn well know that it is not just me that is being hung by the neck in this scenario.  It has to be playing out with many people – all Cannabis user’s.  In all areas of the Country.  It is just particularly bad in Kentucky — and my name is Sheree Krider. 

 

So effectively I have been given a death sentence by our Government and Health Care System.  If I do not become a criminal and find Xanax on the “street”, it is quite likely I may end up dead – or worse.

They have judiciously made me into a criminal for being ill and speaking out for something I believe in and not trying to hide the fact.  I was, in fact, very naïve to think that I could trust any Doctor – even Dr. Feldman who I felt I could be truthful with, after twenty-four years, kicked me out like an old rag.  Due to the fact that he is involved in Forensics I have to ask myself why I ever felt I could trust him.  These people are good at what they do.  And they damn well know EXACTLY what they are doing to me.

Let my scenario be your warning!  The legalization movement is truly a war.  And they are going to keep knocking us down every time we think we are getting a step up.  The Activists who are in my age range are particularly vulnerable because of other healthcare issues.  Legalize, tax and regulate as a form of control is not going to change this scenario.  Only true repeal of the prohibition of this plant would do us any good now.  Yes, you can “legalize” a schedule II Cannabis drug that will give the plant to the Pharmaceutical Companies to patent, and prescribe to patients…But you will never be able to grow a plant in your yard for your own use.  You will have to have a RX in order to get this medication and it will come straight through the FDA and DEA and don’t get caught with someone else’s “Cannabis RX” in your pocket!

 

I just cannot figure out how a Doctor can be sanctioned for bartering RX’s for Marijuana and be back in business within six months and I am a patient, half dead already, and cannot get my mental health medication filled because I smoke Marijuana ?????

 

That’s it, and that’s that.

 

All the years of hard work by Activists to free a plant are quickly going to Hell in a Hand Basket.  So enjoy while you can.

 

God Bless,

ShereeKrider

 

index

 

 

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY AUNT RUBY!

PLEASE HELP RONNIE SMITH’S FAMILY!

Brian McCullough via Renee Gibson

Ronnie’s sister here. He sent me a message today and I spoke with him a bit ago. It seems that the Dr’s. are giving him 2 weeks to live. He said he will be going home with hospice in a couple days. He is still hoping that the oil will help but is sad also. I have created a gofundme page to help me and his son get from KY to CO to be with him. If anyone can help us out it would be much appreciated.

HERE IS THE LINK TO DONATE!
http://www.gofundme.com/7orqn4

HIS FACEBOOK PAGE IS HERE.  PLEASE SEND LOVE AND PRAYERS!

Brian McCullough For the love of God…, please share this far and wide.On group pages and such…

I have to get off line and wont be back till Monday. I want his friends and ours to send healing energy to my buddy.

I can only hope you all will get this message before it’s too late.

Peace out, Brian

COMFYTREE PRESENTS A SYMPOSIUM IN LOUISVILLE AND LEXINGTON KENTUCKY ON JANUARY 11TH AND 12TH

 

THE U.S. MARIJUANA PARTY OF KENTUCKY HAS BEEN INVITED TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS IMPORTANT EVENT IN OUR STATE…

CTC Cannabis Academy KY Palm,

SPEAKERS INCLUDE BUT NOT LIMITED TO REV. MARY THOMAS-SPEARS SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF REPEAL OF PROHIBITION OF THIS PLANT AND HOW REPEAL WILL END THE WAR ON CANNABIS FOR EVERYONE.

PLEASE PLAN TO ATTEND ….

Ferry shuttles commuters, and a few Asian carp, from Illinois to Kentucky

captain

 

October 19, 2013 8:00 pm  •  By JOE GISONDI – For the Herald & Review

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Joe Gisondi and Brian Poulter, journalism professors at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, traveled Illinois 1 this summer and recorded their journey. For our purposes, their journey started in Danville, but the six-part series will cover the length of the road from its origin near Cave in Rock and its end at the south side of Chicago. On the Illinois 1 project, under a grant from Verizon, Poulter used an iPhone 5 and a Nokia Lumia 928 cellphone.

CAVE-IN-ROCK — Chris Berton was more concerned about the blood stains than anything.

Blood, Berton said, is difficult to clean off a deck on this ferry, now churning the three-quarter mile expanse across the Ohio River back toward Illinois.

So Berton tossed the body into the green, sediment-rich waters, where the carcass would either decompose, or, more likely, float along the river until it wedged against an embankment or among some weeds, a possible dinner for a raccoon or turtle.

Fortunately, Berton did not get hurt this morning by the 15-pound Asian silver carp that leaped more than 10 feet over the Loni Jo, the 350-horsepower diesel tug that powers this ferry across the river between Cave-In-Rock, where Illinois 1 ends (or begins, depending on your perspective) and Kentucky State Road 91. Like most silver carp, the fish bounced and tap danced across the deck in rapid-fire gyrations before leaving several red splotches on the crimson deck.

Berton, the boat’s deckhand, has been hit several times by these fish, which can grow to 70 pounds, although state biologists say they encounter very few heavier than 30. But even at that weight, Berton says, they pack a lot of power, making him feel as though he’d been smacked with a Louisville Slugger.

Berton looks like he can take a hit, though. He has wide shoulders and strong forearms, probably strengthened from hooking ropes around the metal cleats to connect the ferry to the tug each time it docks on either side as well as from scrubbing elements such as fish blood and scales from the deck. He walks among the cars he navigated onto the ferry’s three lanes in white New Balance sneakers, saying that arranging cars on board is sort of like playing Tetris, the tile-matching puzzle video game. Chris wears an untucked tan shirt that falls over a slightly growing waist and brown pants, a camouflage-green ball cap, and reflective sunglasses, certainly a necessity when riding over the river for at least eight hours a day.

Several silver carp jump aboard each day, usually when the tug turns around before heading across the river with a new load of cars, trucks and semitrucks. On departure, the tug floats away from shore for a few seconds before Captain Jim Littrell turns on the engine and redirects the boat, pivoting in sort of a three-point turn. The rumbling engine often startles the carp, which begin their wild, airborne dance.

Berton has seen several impressive acrobatics from these fish. He grabs a yellow bucket of water and a brush broom to scrub away the blood before it bakes into the paint. These silver carp, he says, have leaped high enough to fly through open car windows, landing on drivers’ laps. They’ve also jumped out of the water so explosively that they have dented car doors and hoods, and one carp even reached a car on top of a semi’s flat bed. It’s the ones that clandestinely flop inside the engine room that worry Berton the most. “If they sit there long enough,” he said, “they can really stink up the place.”

It’s not clear why silver carp react in this manner, unlike their cousin, the bighead carp, although state biologists like Kevin Irons believe this is a survival instinct. “By doing this, they confuse predators,” says Irons, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ aquatic nuisance species program manager, “and, hopefully, they won’t get eaten.”

Conversely, the larger bighead carp, which frequently grow to 70-plus pounds, say fisheries ex-perts, dive down when threatened.

“It’s just a flight mechanism,” says Paul Rister, a biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.

These carp were originally brought over to the United States from China to help control algae in catfish ponds, primarily in Arkansas. Over the years, the fish escaped, spawned and moved out across the region’s main waterways. Now, they far outnumber native species in the Illinois, Mis-souri and parts of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers — as much as 70 percent in some areas, says Irons.

These carp can eat 20 percent of the body weight each day, produce 700,000 eggs a year, and within a few months are too large for predator fish. As a result, they are eating so much plankton that other species, like shad and cuttlefish, are getting starved out, Irons said.

“We haven’t lost a species yet,” Irons says, “but the native species are not doing as well. The in-vasive process is not over. I’m sure they’re (bighead and silver carp) still reaching out to other watersheds.”

Rister recently watched 100 to 150 silver carp leap in the air almost instantaneously while he drove his boat through a large school on Lake Barkley, a 58,000-mile reservoir located about 60 miles south of Cave-In-Rock in the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. Like Berton, Rister has been hit a few times, which he says is something that “definitely gets your attention.” He says he’s also heard of leaping silver carp breaking one woman’s jaw and bruising the ribs of oth-ers.

Clearly, Brian Poulter and I should carefully scan the water for emerging, flying objects each time we depart these docks on this early August morning, although at six-feet-five, Brian remains both a larger target and a shield. So, I have little to fear, unlike the thousands of people who regu-larly drive boats, fish, and water ski among these large, skittish missiles.

JOSH FANN digs through the rubble of a demolished bank building on a ridge that overlooks the ferry crossing, his blue-and-white Ford Motor Co. ballcap pulled down far over a face that belies his youth. He’s no more than 18, wearing a cut-off gray T-shirt, jeans with a large, torn hole in his right knee, and brown boots. At noon, Josh is worn from bending, picking and stacking unbroken bricks worth reusing by his employer, a local construction company. The back-breaking work and sun are clearly sapping his youthful energy. He’s one of four people on this crew, whose mission is to collect and recycle 6,000 bricks. So far today, they’ve stacked several palettes four to five layers high. But piles of bricks still cover this lot.

Little else is going on at Cave-In-Rock on a Friday afternoon, besides folks filtering into Rose’s Kountry Kitchen around the corner, walking into the newly constructed Area Bank next door, or driving another 200 yards down a declining Illinois 1 to the ferry ramp. The city hall building across the street is empty, as are most of the structures in a town that is tiny both in size at 0.43 square miles and in population with about 318 residents.

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Merchants of Meth: How Big Pharma Keeps the Cooks in Business

With big profits on the line, the drug industry is pulling out campaign-style dirty tricks to keep selling the meds that cooks turn into crank.

—By Jonah Engle| July/August 2013 Issue

meth lab cleanup

State troopers clean up a meth lab found on school board property about a block from a London, Kentucky elementary school. Photos by Stacy Kranitz. See more of her photos from Laurel County, Kentucky.

 

The first time she saw her mother passed out on the living room floor, Amanda thought she was dead. There were muddy tracks on the carpet and the room looked like it had been ransacked. Mary wouldn’t wake up. When she finally came to, she insisted nothing was wrong. But as the weeks passed, her 15-year-old daughter’s sense of foreboding grew. Amanda’s parents stopped sleeping and eating. Her once heavy mother turned gaunt and her father, Barry, stopped going to work. She was embarrassed to go into town with him; he was covered in open sores. A musty stink gripped their increasingly chaotic trailer. The driveway filled up with cars as strangers came to the house and partied all night.

Her parents’ repeated assurances failed to assuage Amanda’s mounting worry. She would later tell her mother it felt "like I saw an airplane coming in toward our house in slow motion and it was crashing." Finally, she went sleuthing online. The empty packages of cold medicine, the canisters of Coleman fuel, the smell, her parents’ strange behavior all pointed to one thing. They were meth cooks. Amanda (last name withheld to protect her privacy) told her grandparents, who lived next door. Eventually, they called police.

Within minutes, agents burst into the trailer. They slammed Barry up against the wall, put a gun to his head, and hauled him and Mary off in handcuffs. It would be two and a half years before Amanda and her 10-year-old sister, Chrissie, would see their father again.

The year was 2005, and what happened to Amanda’s family was the result of a revolution in methamphetamine production that was just beginning to make its way into Kentucky. Meth users called it the "shake- and-bake" or "one-pot" method, and its key feature was to greatly simplify the way meth is synthesized from pseudoephedrine, a decongestant found in cold and allergy medicines like Claritin D and Sudafed.

Cops are waging two battles: one against meth cooks, the other against wealthy, politically connected drug manufacturers.

Shake and bake did two things. It took a toxic and volatile process that had once been the province of people with Breaking Bad-style knowledge of chemistry and put it in the bedrooms and kitchens of meth users in rural America. It also produced the most potent methamphetamine anywhere.

If anyone wondered what would happen if heroin or cocaine addicts suddenly discovered how to make their own supply with a handful of cheap ingredients readily available over the counter, methamphetamine’s recent history provides an answer. Since 2007, the number of clandestine meth sites discovered by police has increased 63 percent nationwide. In Kentucky, the number of labs has more than tripled. The Bluegrass State regularly joins its neighbors Missouri, Tennessee, and Indiana as the top four states for annual meth lab discoveries.

As law enforcement agencies scramble to clean up and dispose of toxic labs, prosecute cooks, and find foster homes for their children, they are waging two battles: one against destitute, strung-out addicts, the other against some of the world’s wealthiest and most politically connected drug manufacturers. In the past several years, lawmakers in 25 states have sought to make pseudoephedrine—the one irreplaceable ingredient in a shake-and-bake lab—a prescription drug. In all but two—Oregon and Mississippi—they have failed as the industry, which sells an estimated $605 million worth of pseudoephedrine-based drugs a year, has deployed all-star lobbying teams and campaign-trail tactics such as robocalls and advertising blitzes.

Perhaps nowhere has the battle been harder fought than in Kentucky, where Big Pharma’s trade group has broken lobbying spending records in 2010 and 2012, beating back cops, doctors, teachers, drug experts, and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. "It frustrates me to see how an industry and corporate dollars affect commonsense legislation," says Jackie Steele, a commonwealth’s attorney whose district in southeastern Kentucky has been overwhelmed by meth labs in recent years.

Map of the US

See more stats on the price of Big Pharma’s pseudophedrine addiction.

Before it migrated east to struggling Midwestern farm towns and the hollers of Appalachia, methamphetamine was a West Coast drug, produced by cooks working for Mexican drug-trafficking organizations and distributed by biker gangs. Oregon was particularly hard hit, with meth labs growing ninefold from 1995 to 2001. Even then, before shake and bake, police had their hands full decontaminating toxic labs that were often set up in private homes. Social workers warned of an epidemic of child abuse and neglect as hundreds of kids were being removed from meth houses.

In despair, the Oregon Narcotics Enforcement Association turned to Rob Bovett. As the lawyer for the drug task force of Lincoln County—a strip of the state’s central coast known for its fishing industry, paper mills, and beaches—he was all too aware of the scourge of meth labs. Having worked for the Oregon Legislature and lobbied on behalf of the State Sheriffs’ Association, he also knew his way around Capitol procedure.

Bovett knew that law enforcement couldn’t arrest its way out of the meth lab problem. They needed to choke off the cooks’ supply lines.

Bovett first approached the Legislature about regulating pseudoephedrine in 2000. "The legislative response was to stick me in a room with a dozen pharmaceutical lobbyists to work it out," he recalls. He suggested putting the drugs behind the counter (without requiring a prescription) to discourage mass buying, but the lobbyists refused. They did eventually agree to a limit on the amount of pseudoephedrine any one person could buy, but the number of meth labs remained high, so in 2003 Bovett tried once again to get pseudoephedrine moved behind the counter. "We got our asses kicked," he admits.

Then, in Oklahoma, state trooper Nikky Joe Green came upon a meth lab in the trunk of a car. The cook overpowered Green and shot him with his own gun. The murder, recorded on the patrol car’s camera, galvanized the state’s Legislature into placing pseudoephedrine behind the counter and limiting sales in 2004.

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The pharmaceutical industry fought the bill, saying it was unlikely to curb meth labs. But Oklahoma saw an immediate drop in the number of labs its officers busted, and Oregon followed suit later that year.

But the meth cooks soon came up with a work-around: They organized groups of people to make the rounds of pharmacies, each buying the maximum amount allowed—a practice known as smurfing. How to stop these sales? Bovett remembered that until 1976, pseudoephedrine had been a prescription drug. He asked lawmakers to return it to that status.

Pharma companies and big retailers "flooded our Capitol building with lobbyists from out of state," he says. On the eve of the House vote, with the count too close to call, four legislators went out and bought 22 boxes of Sudafed and Tylenol Cold. They brought their loot back to the Legislature, where Bovett walked lawmakers through the process of turning the medicine into meth with a handful of household products. Without exceeding the legal sales limit, they had all the ingredients needed to make about 180 hits. The bill passed overwhelmingly.

Industry’s motto has been "stop meth, not meds." One lawmaker likens it to the NRA’s "plea to people who own weapons that they are coming for your guns."

Since the bill became law in 2006, the number of meth labs found in Oregon has fallen 96 percent. Children are no longer being pulled from homes with meth labs, and police officers have been freed up to pursue leads instead of cleaning up labs and chasing smurfers. In 2008, Oregon experienced the largest drop in violent-crime rates in the country. By 2009, property crime rates fell to their lowest in 43 years. That year, overall crime in Oregon reached a 40-year low. The state’s Criminal Justice Commission credited the pseudoephedrine prescription bill, along with declining meth use, as key factors.

For Big Pharma, however, Oregon’s measure was a major defeat—and the industry was not about to let it happen again. "They’ve learned from their mistakes in Oregon, they’ve learned from their mistakes in Mississippi," says Marshall Fisher, who runs the Bureau of Narcotics in Mississippi. "They know if another state falls, and has the results that we’ve had, the chances of national legislation are that much closer. Every year they can fight this off is another year of those profits."

On a sunny winter afternoon, narcotics detective Chris Lyon turns off a country lane outside the town of Monticello in southeastern Kentucky, the part of the state hardest hit by the meth lab boom. In a case that shocked the state in 2009, a 20-month-old boy in a dilapidated trailer nearby drank a cup of Liquid Fire drain cleaner that was being used to make meth. The solution burned Kayden Branham from inside for 54 minutes until he died.

This afternoon, Lyon is following up on a call from a sheriff’s deputy about several meth labs in the woods. His Ford F-150 clambers up a steep muddy slope turned vivid ochre by the night’s rain. In the back are a gas mask, oxygen tanks, safety gloves, and hazmat suits, plus a bucket of white powder called Ampho-Mag that’s used to neutralize toxic meth waste. Cleaning up labs is hazardous work: In the last two years, more than 180 officers have been injured in the process. The witches’ brew that turns pseudoephedrine into meth includes ammonium nitrate (from fertilizer or heat packs), starter fluid, lithium (from batteries), drain cleaner, and camping fuel. It can explode or catch fire, and it produces copious amounts of toxic gases and hazardous waste even when all goes well.

Halfway up Edwards Mountain, Lyon pulls over in a clearing along the forested trail. Scattered over 50 yards are a half-dozen soda bottles, some containing a grayish, granular residue, others sprouting the plastic tubes cooks use to vent gas. Lyon snaps on black safety gloves, pulls a gas mask over his face, and carefully places each bottle in its own plastic bucket. Further up the mountain he finds more outdoor labs and repeats the procedure.

Police cleaning up a meth lab

Cops in Laurel County, Kentucky, work a meth lab—or, as they put it, a "glorified garbage pickup."

Lyon will drive his haul back to the Monticello Police Department, where a trailer is jam-packed with buckets he’s filled in the past few days. "No suspects, no way of making an arrest—it’s pretty much a glorified garbage pickup," he says with an air of dejection. "We have all kinds of information of people selling drugs," but there’s no time for investigations. "About the time that we get started on something, the phone rings and it’s another meth lab to go clean up."

It’s a problem Lieutenant Eddie Hawkins, methamphetamine coordinator for the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, was all too familiar with before his state passed its prescription bill in 2010. Since then the number of meth labs found in the state has fallen 74 percent. "We still have a meth problem," Hawkins says, "but it has given us more time to concentrate on the traffickers that are bringing meth into the state instead of working meth labs every night." Now, he says, they go after international criminal networks rather than locking up small-time cooks.

The spread of meth labs has tracked the hollowing out of rural economies. Labs are concentrated in struggling towns where people do hard, physical work for low wages, notes Nick Reding, whose book Methland charts the drug’s rise in the Midwest: "Meth makes people feel good. Even as it helps people work hard, whether that means driving a truck or vacuuming the floor, meth contributes to a feeling that all will be okay." But the highly addictive drug can also wreak havoc on users, ravaging everything from teeth and skin to hearts and lungs. And the mushrooming of shake-and-bake labs has left its own trail of devastation: hospitals swamped with injured meth cooks, wrecked and toxic homes, police departments consumed with cleaning up messes rather than fighting crime.

Meth-related cleanup and law enforcement cost the state of Kentucky about $30 million in 2009, the latest year for which the state police have produced an estimate. That doesn’t include the cost of crimes addicts commit to support their habit, of putting out meth fires, of decontaminating meth homes, of responding to domestic-abuse calls or placing neglected, abused, or injured kids in foster care. Dr. Glen Franklin, who oversees the burn unit at the University of Louisville Hospital, says his unit alone sees 15 to 20 meth lab burn patients each year, up from two or three a decade ago. They are some of his most difficult cases, often involving both thermal and chemical burns to the face and upper body from a bottle that burst into flames. Many, he notes, have also been abusing OxyContin or other prescription opiates, "so it makes their pain control that much more difficult." According to a study coauthored by Franklin in 2005, it costs an average of nearly $230,000 to treat a meth lab victim—three times more than other burn patients—and that cost is most often borne by taxpayers. Meth use as a whole, according to a 2009 RAND Corporation study, costs the nation anywhere between $16 billion and $48 billion each year.

With silver hair, glasses, and a gentle manner, Linda Belcher looks like the retired grade school teacher she is. Though her district, just south of Louisville, has a meth lab problem, she didn’t know much about the issue until Joe Williams, the head of narcotics enforcement at the Kentucky State Police, invited her and a few other lawmakers to state police headquarters. After a dinner of barbecue, coleslaw, and pork and beans, the guests descended to the basement to be briefed about key public safety issues. One was meth labs, whose effects and increasing numbers were depicted in a series of huge charts. One of Williams’ officers laid out the startling facts. Meth labs were up for the second year in a row in Kentucky, and they were spreading eastward across the state. They were turning up in cars, motel rooms, and apartment buildings, putting unsuspecting neighbors at risk. Police had pulled hundreds of children from meth lab locations. Prisons were filling up with cooks, and officers were being tied up in cleanup operations.

Belcher had been aware of methamphetamine, but she’d had no idea how bad things were getting. She set about learning more. "I went to a meeting and there was a young lady there who had been on meth," Belcher recalls. "During the time she was on it, she didn’t care about anything—not her daughter, not her parents. All she wanted was to get money and get meth. That convinced me."

A man and a woman kissing

Theresa Hall kisses her boyfriend goodbye. For being caught with meth paraphernalia and violating house arrest, she faces a year in jail.

Belcher asked Williams and other law enforcement officials what they thought should be done. They told her about what had happened in Oregon. It could work in Kentucky, they said. In February 2010, Belcher filed a bill to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine.

Soon her phone started ringing off the hook. The callers were angry. If her bill passed, they said, they would have to go to the doctor each time they were congested. It wasn’t true—more than 100 cold and allergy drugs made without pseudoephedrine, such as Sudafed PE, would have remained over the counter. And for those who didn’t like those alternatives, doctors could renew prescriptions by phone.

Members of the House Health and Welfare Committee, the key panel Belcher’s bill had to clear, were also getting calls. Tom Burch, the committee’s chairman, says the prescription measure garnered more calls and letters than any he’s dealt with in his nearly 40 years at the Capitol, except for abortion bills. "I had enough constituent input on it to know that the bill was not going to go anywhere."

Yet the legislation had gotten hardly any media coverage. How had Kentuckians become so outraged?

In April of that year, Donnita Crittenden was processing monthly lobbying reports at the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission when a figure stopped her in her tracks. A group called the Consumer Healthcare Products Association reported having spent more than $303,000 in three weeks. No organization had spent nearly that much on lobbying in the entire previous year.

Curious, Crittenden called CHPA. It was, she learned, a Washington-based industry association representing the makers and distributors of over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements—multinational behemoths like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. CHPA had registered to lobby in Kentucky just weeks before, right after Belcher filed her bill. But it had already retained M. Patrick Jennings, a well-connected lobbyist who’d earned his stripes working for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and GOP Rep. Ed Whitfield.

The bulk of CHPA’s record spending, though, was not for lobbyists. It was for a tool more commonly used in hard-fought political campaigns: robocalls, thousands of them, with scripts crafted and delivered by out-of-state PR experts to target legislators on the key committees that would decide the bill’s fate.

CHPA’s Kentucky filings don’t show which firm made the robocalls, but the association’s 2010 and 2011 tax returns show more than $1 million worth of payments to Winning Connections, a robocall company that typically represents Democratic politicians and liberal causes such as the Sierra Club’s campaign against the Keystone XL pipeline. On its website, the company boasts of its role in West Virginia, where it helped defeat a pseudoephedrine bill that had "strong backing among special interests groups and many in the State Capitol" via focused calls in key legislative districts. CHPA’s former VP for legal and government affairs, Andrew C. Fish, is quoted as saying that Winning Connections helped "capture the voice of consumers, which made the critical difference in persuading legislators to change course on an important issue to our member companies." Nowhere does Winning Connections’ site mention the intent of the bill or the word "methamphetamine." CHPA spokeswoman Elizabeth Funderburk says the association used the calls, which allowed people to be patched through directly to their legislators, to provide a platform for real consumers to get their voices heard.

Belcher’s bill never came up for a vote. Over the ensuing months, the number of meth labs found in Kentucky would grow by 45 percent, surpassing 1,000.

Belcher had learned a lesson. When she reintroduced the prescription bill in 2011, it had support from a string of groups with serious pull at the Capitol—the teachers’ union, the Kentucky Medical Association, four statewide law enforcement organizations, and Kentucky’s most senior congressman, Hal Rogers. Belcher also had bipartisan leadership support in the Legislature, and the Republican chairman of the judiciary committee, Tom Jensen—whose district included the county with the second-highest number of meth labs—introduced a companion bill in the state Senate.

But the pharmaceutical industry came prepared, too. Its team of lobbyists included some of the best-connected political operatives in Kentucky, from former state GOP chairman John T. McCarthy III to Andrew "Skipper" Martin, the chief of staff to former Democratic Gov. Paul Patton. In addition to a new round of robocalls, CHPA now deployed an ad blitz, spending some $93,000 to blanket the state with 60-second radio spots on at least 178 stations. The bill made it out of committee, but with the outcome doubtful, Jensen never brought it up for a vote on the Senate floor.

Soda cans and an ice pack laying on the ground

Meth cooks often set up shop in the woods.

John Schaaf, the Kentucky Legislative Ethics Commission’s counsel, describes CHPA’s strategy as a game changer. "They have completely turned the traditional approach to lobbying around," he says. "For the most part, businesses and organizations that lobby, if they have important issues going on, they’ll add lobbyists to their list. They’ll employ more people to go out there and talk to legislators. CHPA employs very few lobbyists and they spend 99 percent of their lobbying expenditures on this sort of grassroots outreach on phone banking and advertising. As far as I know, nothing’s ever produced the number of calls or the visibility of this particular effort."

In other words: Rather than relying on political professionals to deliver their message, CHPA got voters to do it—and politicians listened, in Kentucky and beyond. There has been no major federal legislation to address meth labs since 2005, when pseudoephedrine was put behind the counter and sales limits were imposed (see "The Need for Speed," page 37). Lawmakers in 24 states have tried to pass prescription bills since 2009. In 23 of them, they failed.

The single exception was Mississippi, where a prescription measure supported by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour passed in 2010. The head of the state Bureau of Narcotics, Marshall Fisher, says one key to the bill’s passage was making sure it was not referred to the Legislature’s health committee, where members tend to develop close relationships with pharma lobbyists. Fisher has testified about prescription bills before health committees in several other states. "It seems like every time we’ve done that, the deck is stacked against us," he says. "You can’t fight that." Following the bill’s passage, the number of meth labs busted in Mississippi fell more than 70 percent. The state narcotics bureau, which tracks the number of drug-endangered children, reported the number of such cases fell 81 percent in the first year the law was in effect.

Next Page: Everywhere else, industry has prevailed.

Judge shuts down Christian health ministry in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A Christians-only health care ministry must cease operations in Kentucky unless it can get regulatory approval from the state Department of Insurance, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The ruling by Franklin County Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate means Medi-Share, a Florida-based cost-sharing ministry, can no longer accept money or help pay medical bills for churchgoers in Kentucky.

The health care ministry closely resembles secular insurance, but only allows participation by people who pledge to live Christian lives that include no smoking, drinking, using drugs or engaging in sex outside of marriage.

Medi-Share had continued to operate in Kentucky a year after the state Supreme Court ruled that it is subject to the same regulations as secular health care plans. Medi-Share contends that its participants aren’t buying insurance, but are involved in a charitable endeavor to help cover medical bills of fellow Christians and potentially have their own expenses covered should the need arise.

Wingate ordered Medi-Share, which is operated by Christian Care Ministry of Melbourne, Fla., "to cease all operations in Kentucky unless and until it receives a certificate of authority or other applicable license from the Department of Insurance."

"Until that time, Medi-Share’s website must clearly state that it does not operate in Kentucky," Wingate said in the 14-page ruling. "If the commissioner of the Department of Insurance discovers proof that Medi-Share continues to operate, the commissioner is directed to move this court for an order requiring the secretary of state to place Christian Care Ministry in bad standing."

The legal battle between Medi-Share and Kentucky revolves around how tightly the state can regulate the Christian health care ministry that serves nearly 40,000 people in 49 states, including 800 in Kentucky. Medi-Share President Tony Meggs testified in August that the group has helped arrange for Christians across the country to pay some $25 million in medical bills for Kentucky participants over the past 10 years.

Meggs said the ministry has revamped its plan in an effort to alleviate Kentucky’s regulatory concerns by no longer collecting contributions from participants into a central account. Instead, Meggs said, participants make contributions into their own accounts at American Christian Credit Union. When Christians need money to pay medical bills, he said, money is transferred directly between member accounts, bypassing a central fund pool that was in existence at the time of the Supreme Court ruling.

The case has put the Department of Insurance in the unenviable position of having to fight against a Christian cost-sharing ministry in a Bible belt state. But the agency’s concern has been that some Christians might mistakenly believe they’re paying into an insurance plan that guarantees coverage if they’re hospitalized. Medi-Share offers no such guarantee.

"As a state agency, we are charged with enforcing the law and protecting consumers," said Department of Insurance spokeswoman Ronda Sloan. "This case has continued for 10 years but it always has been about those basic principles."

CONTINUE READING…

Division of Water (DOW) provides a public notice process for Kentucky Pollutant Discharge Elimination System

Division of Water

Public Notices

The Department for Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Division of Water (DOW) provides a public notice process for Kentucky Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (KPDES) and other wastewater permits, Water Quality Certifications (WQC), State Planning and Environmental Assessment Reports (SPEARs) and environmental findings associated with State Revolving Fund (SRF) funded projects.

DEP will provide interested parties and citizens an interactive public notice process. Features of this new process include the following:

  • A web-based searchable system that provides daily updates on actions being public noticed by DEP.
  • E-mail notification to those interested parties listed on DOW’s public notice distribution lists for each draft KPDES permit being public noticed.
  • A unique e-mail address for submission of comments by interested parties.

These Web site improvements will allow the public to search by a variety of criteria including agency interest number, agency interest name, county, municipality and type milestone change.

To access the public notice system, simply click on the appropriate link below to search for actions:

Each of these links has been set to provide a list of actions within the last 30 days for KPDES permits, Water Quality Certifications, and SRF funded projects and within the last 40 days for SPEARs. You may expand the search by changing the number of days in the "Activity with Documents Made Available in Last #Days:" field to a number other than 30 or 40. The public notice period for a particular action will expire at the close of business (4:30 p.m. EST) on the last day of the notice.

For approval of Socioeconomic Demonstrations and Alternative Analysis (SDAAs) for KPDES Coal General Permit coverages, the notice will expire 15 calendar days from the date of posting. For KPDES individual permits, other wastewater permits and Water Quality Certifications, the public notice will close 30 calendar days from the date of posting. For SPEARs, the public notice will close 40 calendar days from the date of posting.

Interested parties desiring to make comments may do so by submitting them electronically to the following e-mail address DOWPublicNotice@ky.gov or by submitting written comments to the public notice coordinator, Division of Water, 200 Fair Oaks Lane, 4th Floor, Frankfort, KY 40601.

More information regarding public notice comment procedures. 

Public Hearings

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​Kentucky Nonpoint Source Management Plan Draft
Public Notice Announcement
              -Deadline for comments is May 31, 2012

5/1/2012
5/31/2012

DEP Division of Water
200 Fair Oaks Lane
Fourth Floor
Frankfort, KY 40601
Phone: 502-564-3410
Fax: 502-564-0111
E-mail: DOWPublicNotice@ky.gov

Attorney General Conway Announces $101.7 Million in Tobacco Settlement

Office of the Attorney General
Attorney General Conway Announces $101.7 Million in Tobacco Settlement Money

Press Release Date:
Thursday, April 19, 2012

Contact Information:
Shelley Catharine Johnson
Deputy Communications Director
502-696-5659 (office)

Attorney General Jack Conway announced today that Kentucky, as required under the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between the major tobacco manufacturers and 52 states and territories, received its annual payment of more than $101.7 million in tobacco settlement money this week.

“The money Kentucky receives each year from the MSA provides funding for many invaluable programs –from agriculture to education,” General Conway said. “My office continues to closely monitor and enforce the agreement and stands ready to defend actions brought to challenge it in both state and federal courts.”

Under the MSA, the tobacco companies agreed to make annual payments in perpetuity to the settling states, to fund a national foundation dedicated to significantly reducing the use of tobacco products by youth and to abide by certain restrictions on promotional and lobbying activity. Kentucky’s share of the settlement is approximately $3.45 billion over the first 25 years. Payments are determined according to a formula that is calculated, in part, by the number of cigarettes sold by companies that have agreed to join the settlement. This year’s payment totals $101.7 million.

The total received by Kentucky since the initial MSA payment in 1999 is $1.4 billion for “Phase I.” An additional $600 million was received by Kentucky tobacco growers under “Phase II,” the Tobacco Growers Trust Agreement, which was created as a result of an MSA provision to address affected tobacco-growing communities in 14 states.

Most of the MSA payment was to be paid by the three largest cigarette manufacturers – Philip Morris USA, RJ Reynolds, and Lorillard. Philip Morris USA, RJ Reynolds and Lorillard put into a disputed payment account more than $750 million based upon their claim to reduced payments under a provision in the MSA called the Non-Participating Manufacturer (NPM) Adjustment. The Office of Attorney General is currently participating in an ongoing proceeding to obtain Kentucky’s full share of the disputed payment amounts going back several years.

This year marks the 14th full year since the signing of the landmark MSA. Cigarette sales nationally are down more than 30% since the agreement went into effect and the public health provisions of the MSA that restrict cigarette advertising and promotion in numerous ways have changed the way cigarettes are marketed in the United States. This decline will have significant long-term effects on the health of Kentucky citizens and in health care costs related to smoking in the future.

Although a portion of the payment was disputed, participating manufacturers still paid the states that are signatories to the agreement more than $6 billion this week, bringing the total payments made under the MSA thus far to all settling states to more than $72 billion.