Senators ask Justice Department to investigate EpiPen maker

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senators are asking the Justice Department to investigate whether pharmaceutical company Mylan acted illegally when it classified its life-saving EpiPen as a generic drug and qualified for lower rebate payments to states.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Wednesday and suggested the company may have gamed the system to divert millions of dollars from taxpayers.
Mylan CEO Heather Bresch has come under fire in Congress as the price of the emergency allergy shots has skyrocketed in recent years. The list price of EpiPens has grown to $608 for a two-pack, an increase of more than 500 percent since 2007.
At a House hearing last week, Bresch said her company, with sales in excess of $11 billion, doesn’t make much profit off each pen and she signaled that Mylan has no plans to lower prices. Republicans and Democrats criticized her for being vague about the company’s finances and profits.
In the letter, the senators said that Mylan “may have knowingly misclassified EpiPens, potentially in violation of the False Claims Act and other statutes.”
Under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program created by Congress, drug companies pay a percentage of their revenues to states — known as rebates — to try and help protect states from high drug prices. The drug companies themselves are responsible for deciding whether their products should be classified as non-innovator drugs, which pay smaller rebates to the states, or innovator drugs, which pay larger rebates.
Mylan has classified the EpiPen as a non-innovator multiple source drug. That classification usually is reserved for older drugs available from multiple sellers. That means the company is paying lower rebates, even though there is currently no direct competitor to the EpiPen.

More mitigation meetings on tap in West Virginia flood areas

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Several more meetings are coming up to help homeowners get grants to reduce risks during future disasters in flood-ravaged areas.
The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management says a meeting about the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program will take place Wednesday evening at Alumni Hall in Richwood.
Two more evening meetings will follow — one on Oct. 3 at Workers United Local 863 in White Sulphur Springs, and a second on Oct. 4 at Rainelle Elementary.
The June 23 floods killed 23 and destroyed homes, businesses and infrastructure.

Researchers: West Virginia economic recovery lackluster

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia University researchers say economic indicators show West Virginia is further emerging from a recession.
The university said in a news release that the Mountain State Business Index has posted gains in four of the past six months. The index combines seven economic indicators to measure the expected swings in the state’s economic activity.
But the statement says the state’s recovery from the recession has been lackluster compared to previous business cycles due to the devastating floods in June and other economic issues.
WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research director John Deskins says it remains uncertain if stronger economic growth will occur in the coming months.

Report: West Virginia chemical spill could have been avoided

By JONATHAN MATTISE, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A 2014 chemical spill into the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians could have been avoided if a company inspected its storage tanks and saw two tiny holes forming at the bottom of one, federal investigators said Wednesday.
Almost three years after the spill, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a draft report on the January 2014 leak from Freedom Industries. The spill prevented the capital city and surrounding areas from using their tap water for several days. Businesses were temporarily shut down for days and hundreds of people headed to emergency rooms for issues from nausea to rashes.
The disaster quickly inspired a new state law requiring more inspections and registrations of aboveground storage tanks. It spurred Freedom’s bankruptcy and resulted in 30-day prison sentences for two company officials on federal pollution charges, and fines and probation for four others.
Legal action over the spill is picking up again soon. On Oct. 25, a class-action lawsuit will head to a jury trial over whether West Virginia American Water and Eastman Chemical, the producer of the main spilled chemical, crude MCHM, did enough to safeguard against the widespread contamination.
“My message here today is what happened in Charleston was preventable,” Chemical Safety Board Chairwoman Vanessa Allen Sutherland said Wednesday at a press conference in Charleston. “This incident could have been avoided if regular inspections had been conducted on these storage tanks, and the effects could have been mitigated with enhanced communication and preplanning.”
The board discussed and was to vote on the 125-page report Wednesday evening at a public meeting in Charleston.
In January 2014, two tiny holes in tanks at Freedom Industries leaked coal-cleaning chemicals underground and through a dilapidated containment wall into the Elk River. Johnnie Banks, Chemical Safety Board supervisory investigator, said it’s possible that the leak started before the day it was noticed.
Freedom’s MCHM tanks hadn’t been inspected internally for at least 10 years, and the company had no leak prevention or leak detection systems, Banks said. State law required a better containment wall, but state environmental regulators didn’t inspect the site due to resource constraints, the report says.
A mile and a half downstream, West Virginia American Water received incorrect information from Freedom about the characteristics and volume of chemicals heading its way, and kept the plant open, the report says.  There was no alternative backup water source available for the plant.
However, the water company knew Freedom was upstream and hadn’t requested public information before the spill to understand what it stored, the report says.
“I think they were operating with the best information they had at the time they were making their decisions,” Banks said of the water company.
Federal health officials scrambled to make a benchmark based on limited scientific studies about when it would be safe to drink the water again. The health announcements that followed were confusing, and new, conflicting information kept residents wary of their water long after it was declared safe to use.
The report offers just a handful of recommendations, and none of them to government agencies. It suggests that a water provider trade group circulate the findings to companies. It recommends that all of the water plants within American Water Works Company identify which chemicals nearby pose threats to water supplies, and recommends drawing up treatment and contingency plans in case of spills.
West Virginia Water spokeswoman Laura Martin said the recommendation should be made to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency so that changes are made industry-wide.
The report also gave credit for upgrades made at the West Virginia American Water plant.
Eastman Chemical spokeswoman Candy Eslinger says the company updated its safety data sheets earlier this month with new federal crude MCHM experiments conducted after the spill, another recommendation by the federal board.
Banks said the board has no specifics on whether MCHM helped corrode the tank, a claim at the center of the class-action lawsuit against Eastman.
Despite the additional studies, Banks said little is yet known about chronic health impacts of crude MCHM.
But he said there haven’t been reports of long-term health problems from people who went to emergency rooms, and no reports of low birthweights associated with the spill.

Funding, tracking system move forward rape kit testing

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia has received more than $1 million in federal funding to help improve its testing of backlogged and future sexual assault kits in the state.
The Herald-Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/2dzJP9f) the U.S. Department of Justice says in a news release that West Virginia was one of nine jurisdictions to be awarded part of over $13.6 million in funds to expand sexual assault kit testing through the department’s National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
Last week, the state Division of Justice and Community Services launched an online system that tracks the kits as they go from health care facilities to law enforcement agencies for investigation and then to a forensics testing lab.
West Virginia is currently taking inventory of and testing about 2,500 kits identified as part of an estimated 16-year backlog.
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Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com

Mayor says she’s facing heat for loaning town money

ROWLESBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Rowlesburg Mayor Barbara Banister says she’s being investigated by the state for loaning the town money that hasn’t been paid back yet.
Banister tells The Dominion Post (http://bit.ly/2d4G1h4) that she’s facing trouble with the State Ethics Commission because she used over $54,000 to pay off a bill owed by the town. The commission says it’s prohibited from confirming or denying whether a complaint has been filed or an investigation is under way.
Banister says the loan was no secret and that she told the council what she was going to do. She says it would have taken months for a bank loan to be approved to pay the bill and the company “wanted their money now.”
Banister says although there’s no contract, she would like the town to repay her.
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Information from: The Dominion Post, http://www.dominionpost.com

Printing plant where Charlie Hebdo killers died reopens

By CATHERINE GASCHKA, Associated Press
DAMMARTIN-EN-GOELE, France (AP) — A printing plant north of Paris reopened Thursday for the first time since it was badly damaged during a deadly standoff between police and two brothers who gunned down cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo newspaper.
President Francois Hollande presided over the re-opening in a sign of the national significance of the drama that unfolded there in January 2015. It was among a string of Islamic extremist attacks that have rocked France.
After visiting the now-rebuilt printing plant in the suburb town of Dammartin-en-Goele, Hollande honored the two men who were taken hostage that day with the Legion of Honor.
Michel Catalano, owner of the plant, was released by the two heavily armed attackers nearly two hours into the police siege. Lilian Lepere, a graphic designer, remained hidden in a tiny space under a sink for more than eight hours before an elite unit killed the two hostage-takers and released him.
Hollande hailed the “two French citizens who have shown the greatest courage” in the face of a fearsome ordeal. He said the printing plant was both a “symbol of barbarism” and a “symbol of what the human will is able to do” in rebuilding a nearly destroyed plant and reviving a suddenly halted business.
“We are always threatened by terrorism,” Hollande said during the ceremony.
Catalano, who gave a first aid to a wounded attacker, said that “barbarism will not make me head down” in a moving speech, his voice breaking with emotion and with tears in his eyes.
“It’s a constant struggle against myself. Actually it’s a struggle I’ve been going through for the past 20 months,” he told The Associated Press. “There are difficult times but I know we can overcome that, and this is the image I want to give.”
The two attackers, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, led police on a two-day manhunt after attacking Charlie Hebdo, then hid out in the printing plant. Police surrounded the building and the brothers were killed in a shootout after a day-long siege. At the same time, another attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, was taking more hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris. He was also killed when police raided the store.
The attacks that week on Charlie Hebdo, police and the kosher market killed 17 people.

AP Explains: What does OPEC’s tentative deal mean for oil?

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — OPEC nations have agreed in theory that they need to reduce their production to help boost global oil prices during a meeting in Algeria, but a major disagreement between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran still may derail any cut. What happened to oil prices and why can’t OPEC agree to anything more binding?
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OIL PROFITS DRY UP
Crude oil sold for over $100 a barrel in the summer of 2014 before bottoming out below $30 a barrel this January. That fall largely came from a boom in U.S. shale oil and countries like Saudi Arabia keeping their production high to hold onto market share. In the time since, a deal between Iran and world powers over its contested nuclear program allowed it more firmly back into the global oil market. The Islamic Republic wants to make up for lost time by boosting its own production.
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TALKING UP OIL PRICES
The 14-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which had tremendous power in previous decades, has spent some two years trying to decide what to do. An April summit in Qatar that was widely expected to product an output cut fell apart. Meanwhile, financial markets have hung on every vague utterance suggesting a deal, sparking mini-rallies in crude prices that later fade. The same seemed to be happening after Wednesday’s meeting, as U.S. crude futures surged and later fell back.
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A DEAL TO MAKE A DEAL
Under the terms of Wednesday’s deal, OPEC agreed to have a committee look at potentially cutting production to 32.5 million to 33 million barrels a day. That would be down from August’s production of 33.2 million barrels a day. At the most, the possible deal would shave off 700,000 barrels a day — some 2 percent of overall production. The deal would need to be agreed to by OPEC members at their planned Vienna meeting in November.
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PAIN FOR PRODUCERS, COMFORT TO CONSUMERS
Producers like Venezuela and Nigeria face tremendous economic pain as oil prices remain low. Even mega-producer Saudi Arabia has cut salaries for senior government officials while eating through its foreign reserves and cutting subsidies as it wages a costly war in Yemen. But consumers benefit. U.S. drivers pay an average of $2.20 a gallon (58 cents a liter) for regular gasoline, down from $3.69 a gallon (97 cents a liter) in June 2014 at crude’s height.
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PRODUCTION CAP OFFERS NO GUARANTEES
If ratified in November, an OPEC production cut wouldn’t stop members from ignoring their quotas and pumping whatever they can. It’s happened many times before. Meanwhile, any price rise in oil also could entice U.S. shale producers, whose break-even production costs are often higher than OPEC countries’, back into the market. A generally weakened global economy could keep demand down as well.
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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/jon-gambrell.

75,000 could starve to death in Nigeria after Boko Haram: UN

By MICHELLE FAUL, Associated Press
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — As many as 75,000 children will die over the next year in famine-like conditions created by Boko Haram if donors don’t respond quickly, the U.N. Children’s Fund is warning. That’s far more than the 20,000 people killed in the seven-year Islamic uprising.
The severity of malnutrition levels and high number of children facing death make the humanitarian crisis confronting northeastern Nigeria perhaps the worst in the world, according to Arjan de Wagt, nutrition chief for UNICEF in Nigeria. He said children already are dying but donors are not responding.
Most severely malnourished children die of secondary illnesses like diarrhea and respiratory infections, de Wagt told The Associated Press. “But with famine, you actually die of hunger,” and that is what is happening, he said.
Severe malnutrition is being found in 20, 30 and even 50 percent of children in pockets of the region, he said.
“Globally, you just don’t see this. You have to go back to places like Somalia five years ago to see these kinds of levels,” de Wagt said. Nearly 260,000 people died in Somalia between 2010 and 2012 from severe drought aggravated by war. At the time, the United Nations said aid needed to be provided more quickly.
UNICEF on Thursday doubled the amount of its appeal for Nigeria, saying $115 million is needed to save children whose “lives are literally hanging by a thread.” Only $24 million has been raised so far, the agency said.
The lack of money has meant some 750,000 people living in accessible areas could not be helped this year, spokeswoman Doune Porter told the AP.
Most of the estimated 2.6 million people who fled Boko Haram’s insurgency are subsistence farmers who have been unable to plant for two years or more.
Several thousand people returned this month from refugee camps to towns being secured by Nigeria’s military, but it’s too late to plant as the rainy season draws to an end. Meanwhile, Boko Haram still attacks outside urban areas.
Of 4 million people in desperate need of food are about 2.2 million people trapped in areas where Boko Haram is operating or in newly liberated areas that still are too dangerous to reach by road, de Wagt said. Among them, 65,000 are living in famine-like conditions.
The crisis has reached “catastrophic levels” for people who have sought refuge in towns controlled by the military but who are “entirely reliant on outside aid that does not reach them,” aid group Doctors Without Borders said Wednesday.
“Many families are only able to eat once every few days and usually only watered-down porridge,” said Oxfam aid group spokeswoman Christina Corbett. “They are going to bed hungry and waking up with no way to change that.”
UNICEF limited its outreach to the region after Boko Haram fighters attacked a military-escorted humanitarian convoy in July, wounding a UNICEF worker and others when a rocket hit an armored car.
But de Wagt said the agency continues to deliver some therapeutic food by helicopter and to train local health workers to treat malnourished children living in dangerous areas.
Doctors Without Borders, also known by the French acronym MSF, said the highest levels of starving children are in camps in Maiduguri, the northeastern city free of conflict where aid workers have been active for two years.
“The mortality rate is five times higher than what is considered an emergency, with the main cause being hunger,” it said in its statement.
The Associated Press has reported recent allegations by displaced people and aid workers that food aid is being stolen in Maiduguri. Nigeria’s government has said it would investigate.
MSF said Nigerian authorities are responsible for ensuring aid is delivered and described the overall aid response as “massively insufficient, uncoordinated and ill-adapted.”
Muhammad Kanar, the area coordinator for Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency, denied there is even one case of malnutrition in Maiduguri. Some officials from his agency, which manages the camps, are among several accused of stealing food aid.
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Associated Press writer Haruna Umar contributed to this report from Maiduguri, Nigeria.

France fines 35 modeling agencies in decade of price fixing

PARIS (AP) — France’s anti-competition regulatory body has fined 35 modeling agencies over a decade-long practice of fixing prices, saying the tables established each year were illegal.
Thursday’s decision came in the midst of Fashion Week, a particularly intense time for both modeling agencies and the men and women who work for them.
The agencies were fined a total of 2.4 million euros ($2.7 million). A total of 37 companies were implicated in the case but two have since discontinued operations.
According to the decision, the agencies used the models’ salaries as a base and built in a markup of 30 percent in the prices passed on uniformly to clients.