COOS BAY — Beneath the surface of Coos Bay is an aging storm drain system.
A sinkhole was spotted near the Devereux Center on Newmark Avenue and Ocean Boulevard earlier this month after a 30-inch metal culvert failed. According to City Manager Rodger Craddock, that pipe was more than 40 years old.
“It was originally put in by the Oregon Department of Transportation when Ocean Boulevard was still part of the state highway system,” Craddock told The World. “It began to fail as corrugated metal pipe will do after time.”
The city secured the services of Benny Hempstead Excavating Inc. to perform an emergency storm sewer line replacement.
“We don’t know how much this is costing,” Craddock said. “It’s a time and materials deal because it is an emergency.”
According to a press release, construction began last week. The work is estimated to continue for another two weeks with construction hours running from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Because of the project, the east entrance to the Devereux Center has been closed.
“The pipe is fairly close to a building near the Devereux, so we are moving it over,” Craddock said. “We found the problem because of the appearance of a sinkhole and, based on what staff told me, they filled in the void but the void continued to sink. That is how we learned that the sinkhole was caused by the pipe and it needed to be replaced.”
It is up to the city to take care of the problem since it took ownership of Ocean Boulevard from ODOT back in 2003.
“The city made a deal with ODOT for acceptance for $4.8 million to take over 16 lane miles of formally owned state highway, so it is our responsibility to maintain it,” Craddock said. “It should be resolved fairly soon.”
The release stated that there should be minimal traffic impacts since the work is being done on private property and not in the street.
“When you’re dealing with a system where some parts of it are over 100 years old, parts wear out and you start to see sink holes,” Craddock said. “If you see a sinkhole, give us a call and we will check on it. If it needs to be addressed, we will address it.”
To report possible sinkholes, call Coos Bay Public Works at 541-269-8918.
PITTSBURGH — The pain clinic tucked into the corner of a low-slung suburban strip mall was an open secret.
Patients would travel hundreds of miles to see Dr. Andrzej Zielke, eager for what authorities described as a steady flow of prescriptions for the kinds of powerful painkillers that ushered the nation into its worst drug crisis in history.
At least one of Zielke's patients died of an overdose, and prosecutors say others became so dependent on oxycodone and other opioids they would crowd his office, sometimes sleeping in the waiting room. Some peddled their pills near dilapidated storefronts and on blighted street corners in addiction-plagued parts of Allegheny County, where deaths by drug overdose reached record levels last year.
But Robert Cessar, a longtime federal prosecutor, was unaware of Zielke until Justice Department officials handed him a binder of data that, he said, confirmed what pill-seekers from as far away as Ohio and Virginia already knew. The doctor who offered ozone therapy and herbal pain remedies was also prescribing highly addictive narcotics to patients who didn't need them, according to an indictment charging him with conspiracy and unlawfully distributing controlled substances.
Zielke denied he was overprescribing, telling AP he practiced alternative medicine and many of his patients stopped seeing him when he cut down on pain pills.
His indictment in October was the first by a nationwide group of federal law enforcement officials that, armed with new access to a broader array of prescription drug databases, Medicaid and Medicare figures, coroners' records and other numbers compiled by the Justice Department, aims to stop fraudulent doctors faster than before.
The department is providing a trove of data to the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit. Data drawn from authorities in 12 regions across the country shows which doctors are prescribing the most, how far patients will travel to see them and whether any have died within 60 days of receiving one of their prescriptions, among other information.
Authorities have been going after so-called "pill mills" for years, but the new approach brings additional federal resources to bear against the escalating epidemic. Where prosecutors would spend months or longer building a case by relying on erratic informants and limited data, the number-crunching by analysts in Washington provides information they say lets them quickly zero in on a region's top opioid prescribers.
"This data shines a light we've never had before," Cessar said. "We don't need to have confidential informants on the street to start a case. Now, we have someone behind a computer screen who is helping us. That has to put (doctors) on notice that we have new tools."
And Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, said the Justice Department will consider going after any law-breaker, even a pharmaceutical company, as it seeks to bring more cases and reduce the number of unwarranted prescriptions.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been in lock-step with President Donald Trump about the need to combat the drug abuse problem that claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016, a priority that resonates with Trump's working-class supporters who have seen the ravages of drug abuse first-hand. The president called it a public health emergency, a declaration that allows the government to redirect resources in various ways to fight opioid abuse.
But he directed no new federal money to deal with a scourge that kills nearly 100 people a day, and critics say his efforts fall short of what is needed. The Republican-controlled Congress doesn't seem eager to put extra money toward the problem.
While the effectiveness of the Trump administration's broader strategy remains to be seen, the Justice Department's data-driven effort is one small area where federal prosecutors say they can have an impact.
The data analysis provides clues about who may be breaking the law that are then corroborated with old-fashioned detective work — tips from informants or undercover office visits, said Shawn A. Brokos, a supervisory special agent in the FBI's Pittsburgh division. Investigators can also get a sense for where displaced patients will turn next.
Authorities acknowledge there are legitimate reasons for some doctors to prescribe large quantities of opioids, and prescriptions alone don't necessarily trigger extra scrutiny. What raises red flags for investigators are the dentists, psychiatrists and gynecologists who are prescribing at surprisingly high rates.
The effort operates on the long-held perception that drug addiction often starts with prescriptions from doctors and leads to abuse of more dangerous black market drugs like fentanyl, which, for the first time last year, contributed to more overdose deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing pain pills and heroin.
But that focus can cause law-abiding physicians to abandon disabled patients who rely on prescriptions, for fear of being shut down, said University of Alabama addiction researcher Stefan Kertesz. Those patients will turn to harder street drugs or even kill themselves, he said.
"The professional risk for physicians is so high that the natural tendency is to get out of the business of prescription opioids at all," he said.
Investigators said Zielke charged $250 a visit and made patients pay in cash. But Zielke said prosecutors unfairly targeted him. Instead of more prosecutions, he said, the government "should promote more alternative therapies," he said. "And they should find out why so many people have pain."
A second indictment by the anti-fraud unit involved a cardiologist in Elko, Nevada, accused of routinely providing patients fentanyl and other painkillers they did not need. Justice officials hope to expand the data-driven work nationwide.
Will it work? As Soo Song, who watched addiction warp communities while serving as acting U.S. attorney in western Pennyslvania, put it: "The best measure of success will be if fewer people die."
COOS BAY — Coos Bay has seen warming centers come and go, but now officials want an ordinance to help manage the facilities.
The idea for a city ordinance rose in early October when City Manager Rodger Craddock suggested it to the fire department.
“An ordinance would mean we wouldn’t approve these facilities on a case-by-case basis anymore, but have the ordinance lay out ground rules for anyone who wanted to open a warming center,” said Coos Bay Fire Chief Mark Anderson.
But when Anderson started looking into it, he found a can of worms. Writing a brand new ordinance meant that the city needed to establish the differences between a warming center, temporary shelter and an emergency shelter.
“They all sound similar, but are not the same,” Anderson said.
He worked with the city building officials and came up with definitions based off web searches and research on what other jurisdictions have done.
“Essentially a warming center is open for inclement weather as a place of refuge, typically not to provide bedding or separate living spaces but a place for people to get out of the elements,” Anderson said.
Meanwhile, a temporary shelter is a place that puts individuals or families up in a facility not designed to be a residence. Often these places are churches.
“Restrictions include needing adequate privacy and separation between people,” Anderson said. “If you put people up, you need bathroom and shower facilities, the ability to have some form of privacy.”
Finally, an emergency shelter would only be used in the case of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina. Coos Bay’s version of the Superdome would potentially be school campuses and churches, or large areas with no expectation of privacy.
All three of these facilities require pre-approval.
“In October I went to the Nancy Devereux Center to say we are working on an ordinance, but since we have potential for cold weather we had city approval to allow them to operate as a warming center under certain conditions,” Anderson said. “It isn’t the first warming center Coos Bay has had though. Prior to the Devereux was the Green Spot and Joey’s Arcade.”
Though the Devereux is approved to operate as a warming center this season, it will need re-approval next year once the ordinance is formally approved by the city council.
“The reality is anyone who wants to be a warming center, whether they be a church or a business, can be right now,” Anderson said. “They need to notify us, contact the city, and we will inspect the structure and determine if it is feasible and to what degree.
“The benefit of having an ordinance is to make it standard across the board, where it won’t matter who applies and they won’t be subject to someone’s interpretation. There will be a fair process so when I one day retire, someone else can pick up the same document and interpret it the same way.”
As the weather grows colder, interested parties can notify the city to establish a warming center. To do so, call the building department at 541-266-1098.