UTK unites against racism, promotes diversity

“Hate my guts, not my genes,” graduate student Margaret Cross said as she took her place to stand against hate.

Cross, along with other students, faculty and community members, gathered at the University of Tennessee Friday, Feb. 9 in a show of solidarity against racism. “United at the Rock Against Racism” invited the UT community to leave its mark on the Rock, a campus staple and free speech forum. Each handprint represented campus unity, a university vision.

“It feels like a physical representation of the community,” Crystall-Marie Alperson said. “Hand in hand we stand together and we are together.”

The Student Government Association, Faculty Senate and the UTK Campus Ministries Council organized the event. Athletic teams, academic departments and individuals gathered to celebrate love and unity.

“We have a very diverse team, and I think it is really important that, as an athletic department and a university, we celebrate diversity. It is really important for us to spread love and not hate,” UT Volleyball team member Alyssa Andreno said.

Supporters filled Volunteer Boulevard which closed to traffic during the event.

Earlier this week, Chancellor Beverly Davenport sent an email to the UT community condemning racism and hate. Davenport spoke to attendees at the Rock to further her message.

“I wanted to come today to make clear the University of Tennessee views. Our views about unity, our views about peace, our views about acceptance, our views about what kind of future we want. That is what I want us to celebrate,” Davenport said.

During Davenport’s address, she turned to 7-year-old Reed Burgin and asked if he knew why everyone gathered at the Rock.

“[We are here] to not hate people for the color of their skin or where they are from,” Burgin said.

Before the event, Chancellor Davenport sent another message to address a white supremacist group’s intent to speak on campus Feb. 17.

“I want to let you know that after consultation between UTPD and senior advisors, we have decided that this group will not be allowed to use McClung Museum due to safety and security concerns,” Davenport said.

Davenport encouraged students to “get involved, get informed, and take care of each other.”

Following Chancellor Davenport’s speech, the UTK Campus Ministries Council organized a brief vigil. Vigil attendees raised their voices in song as the Rev. John Tirro and Dr. Loneka Battiste led “Draw the Circle Wide.”

“No one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side. Draw the circle, draw the circle wide.”

Featured Image by Ainsley Kelso

Video by Ainsley Kelso

Edited by Lexie Little

A Complicated Meth: Pharmacy regulations confusing, unhelpful in battle against methamphetamine

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]In the United States, nearly 50 million people suffer from nasal allergies. Waking up to a congested nose is an experience many Americans understand.

East Tennessee resident Nancy Blackwell is among that group. Suffering from allergies since she was a child, Blackwell has depended on relief from one particular drug.

“Sudafed is the only thing that works for me,” Blackwell said.

Looking for relief, she often finds herself headed to the nearest pharmacy. Although she is no stranger to the usual “behind the counter” routine, Blackwell recalls a time where she felt having allergies was “almost a crime.”

“I always stocked up on Sudafed,” Blackwell said. “But one day that labeled me as a criminal.”

She entered her local pharmacy, only to find that the Sudafed was not in its usual spot. Upon asking a clerk for help, she was directed to the pharmacy.

“I walked up to the pharmacist and told her what I wanted,” Blackwell said.

The next thing she knew, her driver’s license was being logged into a computer data base, questions on her use of Sudafed and her condition were demanded and a feeling of criminal intent surrounded her.

“I understand why they do it,” Blackwell said. “But I’m no criminal. I just want some relief.”

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Blackwell’s story resonates with many who suffer from severe allergies. Today, pharmacies are required to verify identification from the buyer of any product containing pseudoephedrine and to answer two questions.

Do you have high blood pressure? What is your intended use?

If answered correctly, the pharmacist will ensure that the buyer has not purchased their legal limit within the past 30 days. After the buyer is screened, questioned and booked, they are free to leave with their drug of choice.

These laws were put into effect in Tennessee in 2005. The regulations stemmed from an epidemic that has plagued the state, as well as the country, for years.

Reason for implementation: hinder and ultimately stop the illegal production of methamphetamine.

Efforts to control the sale of pseudoephedrine date back to 1986. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) introduced legislation that would make the drug a controlled substance. Under this label, individuals would need to present a prescription to purchase.

Consumers complained. Lobbyists fought the change. Ultimately, the legislature denied the label change and continued the approval of over-the-counter sales.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Danger Drug Task Force Director Tom Farmer recounts the sudden restrictions in the law and the impact it has had on the country since.

“Law enforcement across the country were asking ‘What are you [legislators] doing’?,” Farmer said. “We knew then that this was going to be a huge problem.”

Farmer’s prediction would come true. Since the initial denial, DEA has reported an increase in the amount of methamphetamine seizures. In 1986, 234 kilograms of methamphetamine were seized, compared to 2,946 kilograms in 2014 in the United states.

After 20 years in law enforcement, Farmer has seen these statistics play out first hand, watching meth users and manufacturers repeatedly getting arrested, to nearly losing their lives in explosions, only to return to their illegal practices.

Frustrated, overwhelmed and over budget in his enforcement efforts, Farmer has shifted his attention from this constant cycle. His theory, summed up in just a few words, may be the key in solving Tennessee’s meth problem.

“You stop the sale of pseudoephedrine,” Farmer said. “You stop the meth.”

Though frustrating, there has been progress in diverting sales of pseudoephedrine. Nancy Blackwell’s experience on a stuffy Spring morning was the result of the Tennessee Meth Act of 2005. This law required all businesses that sold products containing pseudoephedrine to log and track each sale.

The law also limited the amount a consumer could purchase within a 30-day period. This new tracking database would work two-fold in providing businesses with the means of knowing who they can and cannot sell to, as well as providing law enforcement information on repeat buyers, which might help in tracking down meth makers.

Generally, the tracking system has worked as intended. However, just as bacteria react to antibiotics, drug abusers have begun to adapt to and overcome their new obstacle.

Farmer’s agency began seeing a steady increase in meth production across the state, but no pharmacy data to support it. During lab seizures, boxes of pseudoephedrine were always found in the area. But when referencing the suspects to the tracking system, little to no information was provided.

A new type of criminal emerging. The most common name: smurf.

“We found that our suspects were picking up random people, often homeless off the street,” Farmer said. “They’d drop them off to different pharmacies to buy the pseudo for them.”

“Keep the change” was the smurf’s motivation. Their only job was to buy as much pseudoephedrine as they could with the money that was provided. If there was change left over, their services were paid from that.

A pharmacist in East Tennessee, who has been in the industry for nearly two decades, has had their share of suspicious customers. To protect their identity, the pharmacist chose to speak under the condition of anonymity. We’ll call this pharmacist Miller.

Miller recalls the sales of pseudoephedrine products a “battle between job and ethics.”

When a person suspected of drug abuse seeks to purchase the product, they are met with the same process as any other customer. However, Miller’s moral judgment has provided different tactics.

“There’s been times that I’ve hidden the medicine,” Miller said. “If I see the same people come in to buy Sudafed, I’ll just tell them we’re out of stock.”

Though admirable, these morals do not coincide with standard business practices. Company executives require their pharmacists to sell the product that the customer requests, in accordance with current laws.

“If they have a valid ID and are not over their sale limit, we’re required to provide the product,” Miller said. “Professional judgement is allowed, but not beyond the scope of the law.”

Following current law, pharmacies across the state continue to sell pseudoephedrine to individuals meeting their legal limit. As new entries are put into the system, tracking becomes more difficult than ever.

Smurfing was the new enemy.

“This changed everything,” Farmer said. “How could we possibly track a system like this?”

Determined to kill the root of the meth epidemic, Farmer’s theory of sale prevention never left his mind. It was more apparent that current regulations were not enough. Farmer has since shifted his focus to lobbyists in Washington D.C., hoping to enact the legislation that was struck down in 1986.

The battle has moved from meth labs, drug abusers and smurfs, to federal buildings, legislators and lawyers. However, several attempts by Farmer’s agency to require pseudoephedrine to be labeled as a scheduled narcotic have failed.

“The benefit outweighs the harm” of pseudoephedrine, legislators argue. After all, 50 million people are suspected of suffering from nasal allergies.

Farmer argues that, while he does not deny the need for pseudoephedrine, multiple alternatives are designed to be just as effective.

“There’s no cure for the common cold,” Farmer said. “But pseudo is not the only relief. There are safer options out there, but those won’t line the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies.”

One of these options is a form of pseudoephedrine that cannot produce meth. A brand titled, “Nexefed” claims to produce the same results as Sudafed, without the chemical properties that allow meth production.

Miller has used this brand as an additional tactic to curb drug abusers. However, price tends to be the deciding factor.

“I wish Nexefed was the only option,” Miller said. “But when you compare the price to regular Sudafed, there’s no contest. Sudafed is always the better deal.”

As the war against methamphetamine continues to grow across Tennessee, soldiers like Farmer and Miller are left only with the powers they are granted. Met with opposition, they find their efforts against meth hindered by powers beyond their control.

Those powers revolve around pharmaceutical companies and lobbyists in Washington D.C. with a common goal expected of all businesses: money. However, this goal is gripping the state of Tennessee, as well as the nation, in an epidemic that’s losing the grip from those trying to combat it.

Farmer vows to not give up. Now facing imports of methamphetamine from other countries, his efforts grow more challenging every day.

“I will keep making the calls, taking the trips, writing the letters, until I’m relieved of my duties or dead,” Farmer said. “I took my oath many years ago to protect and serve and I’m not about to slow down now.”

After 31 years of combative efforts, Farmer’s progressive nature will be put to the test. As the United States faces threats and challenges across the globe, an internal war has been waging over three decades.

“I don’t know where it will all go from here,” Famer said, “but I hope I live to see the end of it.”

Don’t we all.

Declining Birth Rates: From Japan to the United States

The birth rate in Japan continues to decline year-on-year, while the overall population continues to rise due to immigration. According to the CIA World Factbook of 2017, Japan is ranked 2nd for highest median age (47.3). As of October 2016 (mercatornet.com)  Japan’s birth rate fell below 1 million for the first time since 1899, while there were 1.3 million people that died the same year. If the declining birth rate continues to drop, Eric Johnston from JapanTimes states that, “896 cities, towns and villages throughout japan are facing extinction by 2040.”

 

Now, the problem seems to spread across the sea, as millennials in the U.S. refuse to have kids as well.

What is the problem with the population decline? Why do the local residents in either countries refuse to have kids?

A Graph from Osaka university (Slide 4) shows a result of a survey as to why Japanese citizens consider not to marry or to have children. The chart is separated by genders. Translated, it looks like this:

Either genders have the belief that being single means that they will have more freedom for hobbies and meeting with friends etc.

Another factor Osaka university points out is the progression of women in the workforce. The prominent answer on the female side is due to the fact that more females are now in the workforce with higher wages. This complements the other top answers, as they believe that it’s more convenient to focus on their work when they don’t have to worry about taking care of anyone else.

Below are some explanations from the survey as to why fewer Japanese people are considering marriage, or having kids.

Taking the subject matter from Japan to the United States, online articles from Rooster and Healthyway gives us some insight as to why some people in the U.S. might not consider having kids. Both articles had similar reasons, such as:

1.       The fear of raising kids in a bleak future.

2.       Financial problems.

3.       Fear of ruining their children with terrible parenting.

4.       More people wanting to pursue their goals in life. (College/Work)

5.       Fear of commitment of marriage/having kids.

Mary Sauer from Healthyway also mentioned the current position women are in, similar to the survey data seen from Osaka University. (Ex: Women are under less pressure and have more options, etc.)

According to Asia matters for America it is possible that millennials across the pacific have similar negative connotation towards having children too early. California has the highest Japanese population in the United States. To see if there are any correlation with the given data, we take a look at California’s birth rate and overall population, courtesy of the California Department of Finance:

While there might not be a direct correlation between Japanese people directly affecting U.S millennials, it’s important to consider that there is a possibility that the decline in birthrate might affect the environment you live in as well.

Don’t Make Light of Their Lives: Police Brutality

This summer, President Trump raised controversy when making “insensitive” jokes pertaining to police brutality during his speech in Long Island. Many believed that his comment supported the attacks that had been occurring over the past few years. Trump stated, “please don’t be too nice”, referring to police officer’s treatments to suspects. Although he and some of the officers in attendance at his speech may have found it funny, what about the innocent victims who had to deal with these cruel acts of unfairness, or what about their loved ones who had to bury them. It may not raise brows as much today, but let’s not forget about those that died in the past 6 years.

Police Brutality is nothing new to world. If anything, data has shown that in the last three years, numbers have dropped. Over the years, the topic of police shooting has resurfaced, by the help of social media and smartphones. Record, post, share! In the matter of moments, a new video is released via social media.

Between 2011-2016, thousands of people have died in police related shootings. Some have even suffered from the rough handling displayed by the police officers. More recently, the most prominent factor that each incident has had in common is that the victims were unarmed, black men.

Many people argued that the media portrayed black men as criminals without giving them the satisfaction of being suspects. People took to Twitter to start hashtags such as, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, which promoted awareness to the insensitive acts of media hegemony that depicted black men to be evil based on the images used on the news. One of the most famous pictured being that of Mike Brown, after he was murdered.

Could these shootings support claims that dominant ideologies overrule what is ethically and morally accepted in our society, in regards to police brutality?

“When people say ‘black lives matter,’ it doesn’t mean that blue lives don’t matter,” – Barack Obama.

In the middle of all of the controversy, the Black Lives Matter Movement, was structured. The sole purpose was to unify groups and allow people to stand up against police brutality civilly, but things did not always turn out peaceful.

Many people have been arrested for peacefully protesting. Take Ieshia Evans for instance, she silently stood in the streets during a protests and was sent to jail.

Over 900 people were killed by the police in both 2015 and 2016 each. Thus far, around 800 people have died due to shootings by police in 2017.

In the years to come let’s not forget about Kelly Thomas. Let’s not forget Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, and the thousands of men and women who lost their lives. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” Don’t for a second overlook the cases like, Kyam Livingston. Police brutality doesn’t only define the shootings that took place; remember those whose needs were ignored. “I can’t breathe”, 11 times Eric Garner cried out. Remember that these people did not have mercy. Remember that their lives were taken from them.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King.

 

 

Cost of Insulin Skyrocketing: What’s Behind the Hike and How it Affects Americans with Diabetes

 

The same 10 milliliter vial of insulin that cost $21 in 1997 now can come with a price tag of more than $250. These price hikes have resulted in many diabetics across the U.S. struggling to pay for this essential medication.

Diabetes is a chronic condition that diminishes the body’s ability to process sugar. If left untreated, diabetics develop extremely high blood sugar that leads to severe health risks and potentially death. The number of people with diabetes, specifically type 2, in the United States has increased exponentially within the last decade, according to the Center for Disease Control’s 2015 census.

As these numbers increase, so do the numbers of insulin prices across the U.S. market. David Kearney, a staff pharmacist at Vaughn Pharmacy in Powell, Tenn., explains that the way the pharmaceutical industry is set up in the United States makes it possible for price increases like these to occur.

“Our government does not regulate pricing of pharmaceuticals in this country,” said Kearney. “They can pretty much charge any price that is agreed upon between them and the insurance companies.”

The U.S. government allows the pharmaceutical industry to operate within the free market with the aim of keeping prices at a reasonable rate due to competition. The most prominent insulin manufacturers such as Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, however, have been steadily increasing their prices in lockstep over the last several years. Many critics have accused these companies of price-fixing as there seems to be no competition among the top-sellers.

A study conducted by the JAMA Network in 2013 shows how the price of insulin has increased within the last decade or so. It also revealed that the mean out-of-pocket expenditures on insulin treatments for diabetes were far greater than all other non-insulin therapies combined. In fact, the prices for non-insulin treatments had decreased between the years of 2008 and 2013 while the price of insulin increased.

Some companies claim that the reason behind the price increases is mainly the research that goes into the continued advancement of the drug. Many are left wondering if these advances are truly worth the extra cost, and others believe that this claim is simply a strategy used to maintain patent protections and keep prices high.

As newer, more effective, insulins enter the market, doctors prescribe whichever insulin they believe would be most beneficial for their patients . Kearney, however, explains that if cost is a barrier for a diabetic who is prescribed a newer insulin, they should speak with their doctor about other options.

“Older insulins are still a viable option to help treat diabetes, and it’s a lot better than not doing anything at all,” he said. “So it’s really important that they don’t just discontinue use of the medicine.”

Approximately 30.3 million people in the United States have diabetes. The below graphic displays the CDC’s assessment of each state’s diabetes rate.

The map below shows the poverty rate of each U.S. state. Interestingly, much of the information in this map seems to be reflected on the one above. One might draw from this that states with higher poverty rates have a higher number of diabetics. With the cost of insulin being so high, this poses an extreme problem for those living in poverty without insurance.

Although the majority of diabetics have health insurance, many suffer from high deductibles and end up paying out-of-pocket for their medication anyway. For those without, the out-of-pocket costs are far too expensive for them to pay. If the number of diabetics in these impoverished parts of the country continues to grow, this problem will worsen and many people will suffer.

For the approximately two million diabetics in America who are uninsured and who cannot use older formulas, many often have to ration their insulin supply or choose between paying for their mortgage and paying for their insulin. Reports say that some turn to crowdfunding on the internet or even the black market to get the medication they need.

As this issue continues to progress, the dialogue surrounding it also continues. Although Kearney does not believe that the prices of insulin will come down any time soon, he believes there are steps the U.S. can take to remedy the situation.

“We need to challenge our country to be more attentive to the patients that can’t afford this and find ways to get them the medicine they need,” Kearney said. The solution for this, however, is anything but simple as blame is tossed back and forth between insulin manufacturers and insurance companies. Ironically, this air of greed that exists within the insulin industry today was non-existent upon its discovery in the early 1900s. Those working to find a cure for this disease were doing so for the greater good of society rather than in their own interests.

Years of dedicated research and development within the industry have led up to the situation that exists today. Although it may seem far off, if this same kind of effort continues, perhaps other solutions for this disease will be discovered and the issue of insulin pricing will eventually become obsolete.

 

 

 

 

 

 

College Sports Revenue

 

Amateurism is quickly becoming the most understated word in collegiate sports. That’s because by now most people know better. Collegiate athletics has the ability to give an institution millions of dollars in revenue, while making their name and brand more popular. For instance did you know, that a school that wins the NCAA men’s basketball tournament receives an average increase in applications by 10% (Glatter, Hayley;2017. The Atlantic, The March Madness Application Bump)? Doing well in athletics, means flourishing in revenue stream…… and schools know it. That is why the pressure is so high to win, and it’s why some college coaches are paid so handsomely well. For example the SEC arguably the toughest football conference, owns 9 of the top 25 highest paid football coaches in the country, the conference only has 14 schools! Nick Saban, who coaches in the SEC for Alabama is the nations highest paid coach at $11 million, while Butch Jones was the nations 20th highest paid coach, Tennessee pays him $4.1 million annually.

The SEC has a zero tolerance for losing, that is why in the 14 team conference 6 of the schools are currently replacing their football coaches. All 6 schools except for one (Mississipi State) fired their head coaches, because of disappointing regular season results. The story that strikes closets to home, is Tennessee’s Butch Jones. Jones was fired after a 51-17 loss to Mizzou which left the Volunteers 4-6 overall and 0-6 in the SEC. Much of the fan base questioned why Jones wasn’t let go after the humiliating loss to Georgia, but rumors swirled it was Jones contract that saved him. Fans speculated the school did not want to buy Jones out of his contract for $9 million. The people that believed these rumors were enraged, after all Tennessee has money to spend, and a lot of it. We know this because Tennessee’s athletic Director, John Currie recently laid out plans to renovate Neyland at all small cost of 300 million. On top of that UT is constantly in the top 10 colleges for athletic revenue! (Strange, Mike; 2017. USA Today, University of Tennessee top 10 nationally in sports budget) so….. they got money.

Because of the monster revenue athletics brings to school, sometimes athletics is treated as business. Players may illegally receive money, to come play for a certain school, salaries for coaches are at an all time high, and of course the possibility for these athletes to go professional. Schools pay top dollar, to make sure they have a state of the art facility, anything for that competitive edge. A review from the Washington Post was conducted in 2014, on how much the athletic departments at 48 schools, from the 5 wealthiest conferences in college sports spend on their facilities. These 48 schools reported spending a combined $772 million on athletic facilities, up 89% from 2004. For an example that hits close to home, the University of Tennessee finished the new Anderson Athletic center in 2013, that is reported to have cost the school $45 million.

 

In some places winning is everything, just look at Miami’s Mark Richt, he was fired at Georgia, after going 10-3! Let me say that again 10-3! Most schools would be throwing millions at Richt to stay there, not Georgia. The worst part, it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. With schools receiving Nike deals, Adidas deals, TV deals, etc. college revenue will only continue to steadily raise, after all it was just last year that UCLA received a $280 million deal from Under Armor to become the school’s apparel sponsorship. The Under Armor deal is reported as the largest deal in college sports history.

 

It’s really quite amazing how much money college athletics generates, when you realize only two sports in the institution actually generate a surplus in money. Basketball and football, baseball I believe has the potential to make a lot of money, but that’s years away. Unfortunately the intitutions other sports, soccer, gymnastics, volleyball do not receive very much attention from fans and boosters alike, and that shows in a lot of ways. The first things you notice about the other sports, is they do not receive nearly the same attention from the media as football and basketball. No tabloids come out about soccer, and gymnastic is never televised. Another thing you noticed is coaches in the other sports are not nearly paid as well. Revenue in college sports…….. it’s a business.