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David Epstein

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MainMuck: Made in Chi—, Er, Chemically Tweaked in China

Remember that time you told your rowdy niece Elsa (her parents are “Frozen” nuts) to stop banging that pot, only to have her switch to banging a pan instead? That’s kind of like what a STAT report says some Chinese chemical companies are doing, except instead of switching from pots to pans, they’re switching from old deadly drugs to designer deadly drugs. This week’s three W’s: What? Which? And What Else?

What?

The feds haven’t outlawed unicorn trafficking. Why? Because (spoiler alert!) unicorns don’t exist. Similarly, they don’t ban drugs that don’t exist. Thus, Chinese chemical companies have been slightly altering drugs to make new compounds that can’t be regulated until the DEA learns they exist, STAT says. The DEA then confabs with the FDA and it makes the drugs controlled substances. The company, of course, then just alters the drugs again. Said a spokesman from the DEA’s Department of Understatement: “It is a challenging process for us.”

Which?

According to the STAT report, the most recent culprit is the pleasantly alliterative furanyl fentanyl, a tweaked version of fentanyl, the narcotic painkiller involved in thousands of overdose deaths. This newest version already reportedly chalked up a kill, a 30-year-old man in Illinois.

What else?

Tweaking the chemical structure of drugs isn’t the only trick. The Washington Post reported that a Chinese chemist recently resurrected a powerful, synthetic opioid painkiller that was patented in North America in the 1980s, but abandoned before it ever came to market. The drug is known only as W-18, and an expert told the Post that it is, oh, about 10,000 times stronger than morphine and around 100 times more potent than fentanyl. But who’s counting, amirite?!?

They Said It

A Chinese chemical company told STAT that furanyl fentanyl was new to its catalogue, and for “laboratory research.” Uh huh.

MiniMuck

T-Not-Upwardly-Mobile?

It seems so stupid it must be brilliant: If your employees want to form their own union, just create this sort-of-but-not-really union thingy first, and they’ll be tricked into thinking they already have a union. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, that’s what the Communication Workers of America allege happened at T-Mobile. CWA had been trying to unionize T-Mobile workers for more than a decade. Last year, the telecom rolled out T-Voice, which CWA says looks like a union, and quacks like a union, but ain’t a union. T-Voice consists of employee representatives who relay “pain points” from workers to management and track their resolution. (Sounds like a u–! Wait, nevermind. T-Mobile did not respond to Bloomberg’s request for an interview.) Creating company-controlled unions to sap independent unions is actually against the law. Last year, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that some T-Mobile policies violated federal law. One such policy stopped employees from discussing a union at work.

#facepalm Of The Week

Presidential candidate Ted Cruz may want to brush up on his sports-isms if he runs in 2020. Cruz was wooing voters in the Hoosier State with his professed devotion to the basketball flick “Hoosiers,” in which a tiny Indiana high school wins the state championship. He even held a rally in the gym where the movie was filmed. It was all dandy until he called that orange thing attached to the backboard a “basketball ring,” (you might know it as a “hoop”), thereby showing he doesn’t know s*** about basketball and maybe never even watched “Hoosiers.” I think we can all agree that Ted failed to kick a home run on this one.

Tweet of The Week

Additional research by Kate Brown.

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ProPublica does not vouch for the accuracy of stories appearing on SRSLY. We select, review and summarize key points from accountability stories that may not have gotten wide exposure. But we are not able to independently vet or vouch for the accuracy of stories produced by others. We will inform readers if we learn that stories have been challenged publicly or corrected.

David Epstein

David Epstein covered science and medicine issues as well as sports science. Prior to joining ProPublica, he was a senior writer at Sports Illustrated.