September 13th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

A special report on the opioid epidemic, and the startup that has everyone saying Dios Mio!

“Once a bustling industrial town, Huntington, West Virginia has become the epicenter of America’s modern opioid epidemic, with an overdose rate 10 times the national average. This flood of heroin now threatens this Appalachian city with a cycle of generational addiction, lawlessness, and poverty.” The new Netflix documentary Heroin(e) (produced in collaboration with my friends at the excellent Center for Investigative Reporting) tells the story of three women on the front lines of the battle to save small towns from the perfect storm of America’s opioid/heroin disaster. It’s only thirty minutes. Take the time to watch it. Below, I’ve shared a collection of articles to frame this pressing story.

+ Cincinnati Enquirer: Seven days of heroin: This is what an epidemic looks like.

+ “Often omitted from the conversation about the epidemic is the fact that it is also inflicting harm on the American economy, and on a scale not seen in any previous drug crisis.” Even if politicians are not moved by the moral issue, they should be moved by the economic factors. The New Yorker on the cost of the opioid crisis.

+ “Distributors have fed their greed on human frailties and to criminal effect. There is no excuse and should be no forgiveness.” From the Charleston Gazette-Mail: Drug firms poured 780M painkillers into WV amid rise of overdoses.

+ What can a company like Purdue Pharma do to make ends meet when the domestic market finally gets hit with regulations? The family behind the company decided to follow in the deadly footsteps of big tobacco. From the LA Times: OxyContin goes global.

+ Bloomberg: Big Pharma’s Tobacco Moment as Star Lawyers Push Opioid Suits.

+ When American states started to legalize marijuana, drug cartels saw the writing on the wall. They knew they’d need a new source of income, and the opioid crisis provided them with a market of addicts suddenly facing a legal crackdown on pain pill mills. From the great Don Winslow: El Chapo and The Secret History of the Heroin Crisis.

+ And for a look at the rise of pill mills (a hurricane that hit Florida long before Irma), check out the book American Pain, by John Temple.


Minding the Store

“For the past 10 months, the pair has been testing out the concept at 30 locations in the Bay Area ranging from apartment lobbies to dorms to offices to gyms. The idea is to preempt what people might need, then use machine learning to constantly reassess the 100 most-needed items in that community.” This is probably not the headline the company’s founders wanted from FastCo: Two Ex-Googlers Want To Make Bodegas and Mom-And-Pop Corner Stores Obsolete. I’m guessing there would be a lot less controversy about Bodega if they had named the company Vending Machine. For better or worse, this is a key retailing trend: Using big data and algorithms to get products to you the minute (or even before) you need them. We deliver everything else these days. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a startup wants to deliver the whole store.


Fire in the Whole

“You’ve seen the apocalyptic images from the Columbia River Gorge, Glacier National Park, and the Los Angeles Suburbs, but those fires are only a small part of the overall picture. Currently there are 13 active wildfires in Washington, 26 in Oregon, 23 in Idaho, 46 in Montana, and 38 in California.” Outside: Why the West Is Burning.


The War of the Words

“Over the past several years, the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media. In the process, Russia has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far.” From Jim Rutenberg in the NYT Magazine: RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War.


No Escape From the Heat

From WaPo: “Police opened a criminal investigation Wednesday into the deaths of at least six people at a South Florida nursing home that apparently was without air conditioning amid ongoing power outages from Hurricane Irma.” Officials knew there would be power outages and that the lack of air conditioning would be especially difficult for older people. But how did six people die at a nursing home that’s right across the street from a hospital?

+ More than 4 million Floridians are still without power.


Paper Buoy

The Wirecutter has always been a useful site with a simple business model (they get affiliate fees from Amazon and others). And the site has only gotten bigger since its acquisition by the NYT. Can this form of “service journalism” provide the news industry with enough revenue to make a difference?

+ ReCode: BuzzFeed thinks selling physical goods like hot plates and fidget spinners can be a serious business.


Kingdom Dot Com

“The new spotlight on these companies doesn’t come out of nowhere. They sit, substantively, at the heart of the biggest and most pressing issues facing the United States, and often stand on the less popular side of those: automation and inequality, trust in public life, privacy and security. They make the case that growth and transformation are public goods — but the public may not agree.” Ben Smith: There’s Blood In The Water In Silicon Valley. (Actually, that’s not regular water. It’s La Croix.)


Accidents Happen

“There are self-help books written for seemingly every aberration of human experience: for alcoholics and opiate abusers; for widows, rape victims, gambling addicts, and anorexics; for the parents of children with disabilities; for sufferers of acne and shopping compulsions; for cancer survivors, asexuals, and people who just aren’t that happy and don’t know why. But there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person.” Alice Gregory in The New Yorker: How do you live after unintentionally causing a death?


Hill Shot

There’s been a lot of coverage of the White House basically calling for ESPN to fire Jemele Hill following a tweetstorm in which she referred the president as a white supremacist. Interestingly, there’s been less coverage of a pretty remarkable (unanimously passed) resolution in which the Congress called on President Trump to “unequivocally condemn the shameful and hate-filled acts of violence carried out by the KKK (Ku Klux Klan), white nationalists, white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville.” (Basically, all of Congress is demanding that Trump denounce white supremacy…)


Bottom of the News

Everyone knows that there’s a lot of coded language in real estate listings. For example, charming usually means small. But here’s a new one. “Quiet Neighbors” means the house is next to a cemetery.

+ “Crews in London are working to unblock a section of the city’s sewer system. The culprit, a stomach-churning, 130-ton mass of sanitary products and cooking fat. You might call it disgusting. Water company officials call it a fatberg.”

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