Doctor and nurse practitioner charged in overdose deaths

A former Needham doctor and his nurse practitioner caused the overdose deaths of at least six people they knew to be drug-addicted by systematically prescribing them medically unnecessary painkillers in order to make a profit, according to charges handed up in federal court in Boston.

Dr. Joseph P. Zolot, a specialist in nonsurgical orthopedics, and nurse practitioner Lisa M. Pliner were indicted on charges of conspiring to illegally distribute controlled substances — including methadone, oxycodone, and fentanyl — and six counts each of distribution of controlled substances resulting in deaths. If convicted, they each face a mandatory sentence of 20 years to life in prison.

Law enforcement officials said it is one of the most significant cases of medical misconduct to reach a criminal court anywhere in the country.

“The conduct alleged in today’s indictment is incomprehensible,’’ US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said. “I hope it sends a strong message that the government will aggressively prosecute any medical professional who facilitates the distribution of dangerous and addictive drugs purely for financial gain.’’

Well, not any more incomprehensible than the pill factories masquerading as medical practices in Florida.

The indictment alleges that Zolot and Pliner knew their patients were addicted to drugs, including street drugs such as cocaine, but prescribed medically unnecessary painkillers in exchange for cash or payments from insurance companies. Authorities say patients then overdosed on those drugs, causing their own deaths…

“The deaths alleged by the government in [the] indictments are horrible tragedies; so too is the fact the government has chosen to charge Dr. Zolot with criminal conduct for the manner in which he practiced medicine and treated patients,’’ David Meier [Zolot’s lawyer] said. “His intent was to do good as a doctor. It was never his intent to cause harm, never mind death, to any patient…”

The prescription of painkillers for certain medical conditions is allowed even if the patient is a known addict — but only if the patient and the potential for abuse are monitored, according to standard medical procedures.

In this case, prosecutors said, the duo handed out an extraordinary number of prescriptions in blatant disregard for their patients’ safety, all for a profit.

“A license to practice is not a license to deal, and that is precisely what is alleged in this indictment,’’ said Steve Derr, special agent in charge of the Boston office of the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

RTFA. The details of the deaths in the case are there. I’m really of two minds about the case – not knowing any details, whether the accusations are true or false.

I’ve known physicians who prescribed painkillers for addicts. As the law states, there can be sound medical reasons for doing so. There’s also no shortage of doctors who pick up an easy buck prescribing for doctor-shoppers looking for a quick fix. I will follow the trial.

Renault industrial espionage scandal – seems to be a hoax

Renault Dezir electric concept at the Geneva Show
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The French carmaker Renault is facing embarrassment after admitting that the spying scandal that prompted its biggest ever industrial espionage investigation may have been a hoax. France’s most famous company has acknowledged that it may have been tricked and has reasons to doubt it has been a victim of industrial espionage.

The saga of a suspected spy ring, in which insiders were thought to have sold secrets of its electric car technology to shadowy foreigners, has been likened by the French press to “an incredible thriller” worthy of John le Carré. When it emerged in January that three executives had been escorted from their offices at Renault’s Technocentre outside Paris, the French government warned it was the victim of an “economic war”. President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered his intelligence services to investigate a Chinese link, which threatened to trigger a diplomatic row.

Renault never detailed its exact accusations against the three executives but the investigation centred on alleged bank accounts in Switzerland and Liechtenstein through which the spies could have received cash for revealing Renault’s secrets, in the competitive automobile world’s race to produce the most effective electric cars.

A source close to the French intelligence services investigation has told Agence France Presse that no accounts in Switzerland have been found. Nor have any Liechtenstein accounts been uncovered, according to a different source…

All three accused executives are suing Renault, saying they have done nothing wrong…

The case has strained relations between Renault and the government – the carmaker has came under fire for not informing authorities of its suspicions soon enough and carrying out a private investigation first.

French finance minister Christine Lagarde said on Friday that Renault would have to face all the consequences. “What counts today is getting to the truth and getting there quickly and, if the suspicions were unfounded, that justice be done, confidence restored and compensation paid,” she told French radio. “One shouldn’t shoot without a sight or accuse without proof.”

She’s obviously never had relations with Congress.

Or the average American tech pundit for that matter. 🙂

Welsh devolution referendum: Voters give emphatic “Yes”

Wales has said a resounding Yes in the referendum on direct law-making powers for the assembly.

When the last result was declared, all 22 counties except one – Monmouthshire – backed change. Turnout is provisionally put at 35%.

The final result saw 517,132 vote Yes, and 297,380 say No – a 63.5% to 36.5% winning margin.

The vote will give the assembly direct law-making power in 20 devolved areas, such as health and education…

First Minister Carwyn Jones told celebrating supporters in the Senedd, the assembly building in Cardiff Bay: “Today an old nation came of age.”

Deputy First Minister and Plaid Cymru leader Ieuan Wyn Jones said it marked “the beginning of a new era of Welsh devolution – the decade to deliver for Wales”.

To demand respect, you must first display self respect,” he said. “Today we have done just that, and the rest of the world can now sit up and take notice of the fact that our small nation, here on the western edge of the continent of Europe, has demonstrated pride in who we are, and what we all stand for…”

A No vote would have kept the current system where the assembly asked Parliament for powers to be transferred to Cardiff on a case-by-case basis.


Mazdas being recalled because of spiders. SPIDERS?

Yellow Sac Spider

A spider that likes the smell of gasoline so much it chooses to build its webs in car emission systems was behind the recall of thousands of Mazda cars in the United States this week.

Mazda said it was recalling 52,000 cars after the National Highway Safety Commission said the spider webs may restrict a vent line, which could cause the emissions control system to increase pressure in the fuel tank…

The culprit is the Yellow Sac spider, which makes the Mazda6 model of Mazda cars its home because it is lured inside by the smell of the fuel…

“While it’s very rare, this spider’s distinguishing characteristic is that it likes the smell of gasoline, caused by the hydrogen oxide,” said automotive journalist Mitsuhiro Kunisawa.

“Once it smells the gasoline from outside, it will go inside. In the United States, it’s a relatively common type of spider.”

The affected model, the Mazda6, has two pipes coming out from its gas tank, which is extremely rare and means that the smell of gasoline is strong enough to draw the spider in but not strong enough to kill it, Kunisawa said.

He added that there was no similar problem with any other Mazda car.

The recall will allow dealers to install a spring which will interfere with spiders entering the fuel vent.


A historic moment in the Arab world – Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera

As a democratic revolution led by tech-empowered young people sweeps the Arab world, Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera’s director-general, shares a profoundly optimistic view of what’s happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and beyond.

In the first talk posted online from the TED 2011 conference in California, Khanfar describes the powerful moment when people realised they could step out of their homes and ask for change.

President Obama, Congress and the lamebrains in our wonderful world of news as entertainment – all say the waves of revolt sweeping the Middle East and North Africa came as a great surprise. If they watched AlJazeera – if it was allowed the same access to cable and satellite broadcasts as white-bread TV news – they would have been prepared, knowledgeable and not surprised in the least.

Knowledge and truth still aren’t leading commodities in American government or telecommunications.

Cornrows get schoolgirl moved to troublemakers class

A schoolgirl has been moved into separate classes because of her braided hair-style.

Zena Elwood, 33, said she had put 11-year-old daughter Bradie’s hair into braids to stop a headlice problem recurring in her ‘Afro’ hair.

But teachers at Darwen Vale High School have deemed it inappropriate. And they have made the year-seven pupil sit in ‘Reflect’ classes with other children deemed to have broken school rules.

Bradie’s father’s family originates from the African island of Cape Verde, where the braiding style is an important part of people’s cultural identity.

Ms Elwood, of Lower Darwen, said: “It’s completely wrong. They’re not thinking about people’s cultures at all.

“If a boy had Rastafarian parents and he has dreadlocks, would they stop him attending the school?

“My daughter is really upset about it. It’s vital she settles in well at the school and doesn’t miss out on any classes, or interaction with friends.”

She added: “The hair isn’t pink or bright blue, it’s her natural colour of dark brown. They’re only plaits, at the end of the day.”

Ms Elwood took Bradie out of school on Tuesday after learning she had been put in ‘Reflect’.

She has now taken out the braids because she doesn’t want Bradie to miss out on any more classes.

Darwen Vale school rules state: “All styles must be neat and tidy. Unusual or bizarre styles, colours and excessive braiding and ornamentation are not allowed…”

The only thing I see that’s bizarre is the brain belonging to Headteacher Hilary Torpey. I question whether the decision is based upon slavish devotion to traditional Brit styles only – or if the issue has received an additional boost from old-fashioned racism.