Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Oct 22:  The second and, presumably, final presidential debate occurs. Gilead’s remdesivir is the first FDA-approved drug to treat COVID-19 after 3 randomized trials found it to decrease the length of hospital stays and reduce the likelihood that patients will require oxygen. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee advance Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Trump follows through on his threat to post footage of an interview with 60 Minutes, which he walked out on, before CBS could air it. The 37-minute video shows Stahl asking Trump, “You’re okay with some tough questions?” Trump responds, “No, I’m not.” Rocky Mountain National Park closes due to massive fires.

Oct 23: The U.S. sets new single-day coronavirus case record at 85,000. The FBI reports that a far-right extremist from the “Boogaloo Bois” opened fire on Minneapolis’ third police precinct and sparked violence during May’s George Floyd protests

From the Cutting Room Floor...

Today I read that the Justice Department announced the settlement with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharmaceuticals—$8.3 billion over their predatory profiting and promotion of the the opioid epidemic in this country. It seems like Dr. David H. Gorski’s skepticism regarding the trustworthiness of the country’s regulatory agencies expressed earlier this month was dead on. To be sure, it is a massive settlement. And they were able to connect the Sackler family to the 2012 Purdue marketing plan called “Evolve to Excellence.” Pudue Phama’s plan targeted physicians who were already writing as much as 25-times the typical number of OxyContin prescriptions for patients.[1] The belief is that strategies like this helped fuel a good portion of the opioid crisis for many years, before doctors slowed down prescriptions and users transitioned to heroin and other street drugs.

If the settlement is approved by Judge Robert Drain of the Southern District of New York, who is overseeing the possible dissolution of Purdue Pharma, it will set up a public trust under government control. Theoretically, the trust will manage the dispensation of opioids in a more measured way. Nonetheless, that trust will continue to manufacture opioid medications, making the government a drug dealer. That deal could also put the personal assets of members of the Sackler family out of reach from future lawsuits about their role in the opioid crisis.[2]

These punishments seem too soft to many. Twenty-four states continue their fight over settlement fees.[3] Connecticut, in particular, sued because “Patients [on] … 80mg OxyContin, die of opioid related overdose at a rate of almost 2%,” which Purdue knew and did nothing about.[4] The fact that the Sackler’s themselves will not be seeing a jail cell rankles even more.[5] There is more consternation than celebration at this news.

Here we are, about eight months into a pandemic that has killed over 220,000 Americans, and there’s a fair amount of evidence to suggest that the government is still offering more support to the individuals and companies who control the biomedical-industrial complex than they are to the nation’s financially and medically vulnerable. The Sacklers will likely stay billionaires, despite pushing a drug that has crippled thousands of families. Recently, Congress shot down a bipartisan bill that was supposed to protect Americans from surprise out-of-network bills in the case of a hospital visit because of, say, an acute case of COVID-19.[6] As I learned in February, almost 40% of all visits to emergency rooms are classified as “out-of-network” by health insurance companies, which drastically increases the bill that one has to pay. Moreover, 27% of in-network hospital visits still result in an out-of-network bill.[7] This means that even people with health insurance are being bankrupted by medical expenses. As soon as the bipartisan bill passed out of committee, the private equity firms that make money from these sorts of charges blitzed Republicans like Senator John Cornyn of Texas with ads to muscle him into keeping surprise billing alive and well. Perhaps not surprisingly, Texas is one of the states where these surprise bills are most common.[8] Although there is some state legislation in Texas now that could help patients avoid these costs of several hundred to several thousand dollars, much of the rest of the country has no such protection.[9]

In the midst of a pandemic, with healthcare providers and members of Congress influenced by rapacious corporations, one would think we could come together to acknowledge our shared goals of curbing the exploitation and staying alive. Sadly, when private equity firms charge surprise fees at local hospitals, they call it “individual freedom,” and we fail to see that there is nothing free about any of this.[10]



[1] Meryl Kornfield et al., “Purdue Pharma Agrees to Plead Guilty to Federal Criminal Charges in Settlement over Opioid Crisis,” Washington Post, October 21, 2020,

[2] Brian Mann, “Purdue Pharma Reaches $8B Opioid Deal With Justice Department Over OxyContin Sales,” NPR, October 21, 2020,

[3] Daniel Fisher, “Fee-Fight Emerges in Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy over Paying Plaintiffs Firms,” Legal Newsline, November 13, 2019,

[4] Josh Kovner, “Connecticut and Other States Opposing Settlement with Purdue Pharma Say Company Has Failed to Act to Protect Patients as OxyContin Users Continue to Die,” Hartford Courant, December 10, 2019, sec. Connecticut,

[5] Sissi Cao, “Critics Rage as Purdue Pharma Settlement Won’t Send Sacklers to Jail,” Observer (blog), October 21, 2020,

[6] “Alexander: Senate Health Committee Votes 20 to 3 for Bipartisan Bill to Reduce Health Care Costs,” The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, June 26, 2019,

[7] Avik Roy, “How To End The Scourge Of Surprise Medical Bills In The Emergency Room,” Forbes, March 12, 2019,; Avik Roy, “House Democrats’ Capitulation on Surprise Billing Proves They’ll Never Pass ‘Medicare for All,’” Forbes, February 19, 2020,; Eric C. Sun et al., “Assessment of Out-of-Network Billing for Privately Insured Patients Receiving Care in In-Network Hospitals,” JAMA Internal Medicine 179, no. 11 (November 1, 2019): 1543,

[8] Paul McLeod, “Here’s How Private Equity Firms Targeted Republican Sen. John Cornyn With Dark Money To Preserve Surprise Medical Billing,” BuzzFeed News, October 19, 2020,

[9] Jack O’Brien, “Texas Governor Signs Surprise Billing Legislation,” HealthLeaders, June 17, 2019,

[10] Charles P. Pierce, “Sometimes, Freedom’s Just Another Word for Not Giving a Damn,” Esquire, October 22, 2020,

Read more

Ulrike Heimes & Markus Steinhausen, “How Dangerous Is the Air around Us?,” COVID-19 Special, DW News, October 23, 2020,

CBS News. Trump Administration Violates Agreement, Releases “60 Minutes” Interview Footage, 2020.
60 Minutes. President Donald Trump: The 60 Minutes 2020 Election Interview, 2020.
Pierce, Charles P. “Sometimes, Freedom’s Just Another Word for Not Giving a Damn.” Esquire, October 22, 2020.
Wassel, Bryan. “Smaller Gatherings, Less Trick-or-Treating, Shape Shoppers’ Halloween Search Activity.” Retail TouchPoints (blog), October 23, 2020.
U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Minnesota. “Self-Described Member Of ‘Boogaloo Bois’ Charged With Riot.” United States Department of Justice – Offices of the United States Attorneys, October 23, 2020.
Offord, Catherine. “SARS-CoV-2 Disables Key Components of Human Cells’ Defense System.” The Scientist Magazine, October 22, 2020.
Wen, Leana S., and Nakisa B. Sadeghi. “The Opioid Crisis and the 2020 US Election: Crossroads for a National Epidemic.” The Lancet 396, no. 10259 (October 24, 2020): 1316–18.
Chan, Eugene Y. “Moral Foundations Underlying Behavioral Compliance during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Personality and Individual Differences, October 21, 2020, 110463.
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