News Brief: North Korea, Sacramento Shooting, Depression Drug

Mar 6, 2019
Originally published on March 6, 2019 9:33 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

North Korea seems to be rebuilding a missile testing site.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Yeah. It's a missile engine testing stand that North Korea dismantled last year. That was back when it was promoting its interest in denuclearization. But last week, a summit between President Trump and North Korea's Kim Jong Un ended with no deal. And days later, satellite imagery shows this stand has been rebuilt.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been following this story from Seoul, South Korea.

Hi there, Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what was this testing stand part of, and what did the overhead images show?

KUHN: Well, this is a rocket launch test site called Dongchang-ri on North Korea's west coast, and it had been partially disassembled. And now what satellite pictures are showing are that a rail system to put a lock - a rocket on the launch stand, as well as buildings, roofs are being reassembled, cranes are in sight there - or cranes are on site, putting stuff up. So it's a little bit hard to interpret. Intelligence officials and other watchers are not quite sure when this happened. Some believe it happened around the middle of February, so before the Hanoi summit, and could have been working on it as recently as Saturday, after the summit concluded.

So the concern is that they're heading in the opposite direction of what Kim Jong Un and North Korea had promised, which is dismantlement and movement towards denuclearization.

INSKEEP: Appreciate the note of caution here - I guess we should recall satellites do not necessarily - I mean, commercially available satellite imagery does not necessarily cover all the world, all the time. You may not be able to get a look at a particular site every single day. So we don't know just when this happens, but we do know that it seems to have happened quite recently. And Joseph Bermudez, an expert quoted at npr.org today, is saying, wow, this seems to have happened within days. Now, how extensive is this complex that seems to be getting rebuilt?

KUHN: Well, this one itself is not that huge. And also, another thing to remember is that a lot of the rockets and missiles - the missiles that North Korea launches can be launched from mobile launchers, so that's not big of a deal. It was part of a package - two things - a nuclear test site and a rocket test site that Kim Jong Un said that he had begun to dismantle, and therefore he wanted the U.S. to react, to reward him for this with some sort of sanctions relief.

INSKEEP: So as someone who's watched North Korea for a long time - of course, we can't peer into the heads of North Korean leaders - I mean, the question that immediately occurs to us is, is North Korea going right back to where it was now that this summit has failed? What evidence are we able to look at to try to begin to answer that?

KUHN: OK. Well, first of all, after President Trump had left Hanoi, the North Koreans gave a press conference in which they said, you know, these partial moves to dismantle our system are all we can offer you right now. And if you're not interested, Kim Jong Un may not be interested in negotiating with you. And he'd also said previously that, you know, if things don't work out, they can do it another way. They can go back to their testing of missiles and nukes, and that is the main concern right here.

INSKEEP: OK, so some early evidence that the North Koreans may be moving in the direction they actually did threaten to go. Anthony, thanks so much, really appreciate it.

KUHN: Sure thing, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

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INSKEEP: California's attorney general says he will not prosecute two Sacramento police officers who killed an unarmed black man last year.

GREENE: Yeah. The decision by Xavier Becerra is the same decision made by a local district attorney. Both say police had reason to open fire on Stephon Clark. They said they thought he had a gun. It turned out to be his cellphone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stephon Clark.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Say it now.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stephon Clark.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Say it now.

GREENE: That's the sound of protests erupting after the prosecutor's decisions. And last night, activists disrupted a city council meeting, demanding changes to California's use-of-force law.

INSKEEP: So let's talk about that law and the decisions that were made under it with Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler, who's in Sacramento.

Hi there, Ben.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Given what the law says, was the state attorney general's decision a surprise?

ADLER: No. No, not really. Becerra, just like the local prosecutor over the weekend, laid out the state and federal laws that govern when police or anyone else really can use deadly force. Basically, it is that you have the right to use it if you're in imminent danger of death; in other words, self-defense. So here is Stanford criminal law professor Robert Weisberg, who says this is longstanding law with additional benefit of the doubt given to police officers.

ROBERT WEISBERG: You're allowed to use deadly force if it is actually necessary to prevent deadly force from being used against you or others or if it reasonably appears that it is necessary, and that's the big caveat here.

ADLER: It's a caveat that infuriates the law's critics because they argue it's just too easy for police officers to avoid accountability.

INSKEEP: I guess, from the point of view of the critics, police can simply say, I thought I was threatened, and that seems to them to be the end of it. Is that really, though, what the attorney general says? Does he say he's just taking the police officers' word for it here?

ADLER: Well, he did lay out specific pieces of evidence that were available from the sheriff's helicopter overhead, police body camera videos and audio and other factors as well. So it's not just based on the police officers' words, but it does play a role here.

INSKEEP: So what is it that protesters and critics of these decisions would like the law to say instead?

ADLER: Well, they want to change the use-of-force standard from reasonable to necessary. And lawmakers tried to do that last year at the state Capitol, but the bill stalled amid some fierce law enforcement opposition. This year, there are two bills - the one from last year's back, and, for the first time, law enforcement groups have their own proposal. And the law enforcement proposal keeps the reasonable standard but funds and implements new training. And the argument there is the training will help officers make better decisions under pressure, and that in turn would reduce unnecessary deaths.

INSKEEP: OK, so we have two different possible ways to respond to this shooting, which happened right in the state capital, Sacramento, which you cover, of course, Ben Adler. Is this a situation where California's Democratic-dominated legislature is under pressure to pass something, to change something?

ADLER: Absolutely. There is a lot of pressure coming to bear, and then there's a lot of people who lead state government saying, yes, we think there needs to be changes. Governor Gavin Newsom, Democratic legislative leaders in both chambers and the attorney general, Xavier Becerra, yesterday saying he was going to be present in that discussion as well. We do think there is going to be pressure for both sides to come to the table and compromise. So something in between reasonable and necessary, which Weisberg, our law professor, says it's going to be really tricky to do.

INSKEEP: Ben, thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

ADLER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Ben Adler of Capital Public Radio in California.

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INSKEEP: Some more news now. For the first time in decades, the FDA has approved a major new drug to treat depression.

GREENE: Yeah. This is a nasal spray that can relieve symptoms in hours instead of weeks. The medicine is called Spravato, and it's produced by Johnson & Johnson. It's based on the anesthetic ketamine, which is also - has a reputation as a club drug. Now psychiatrists like Martin Teicher from Harvard Medical School have been using that drug to treat a growing range of disorders.

MARTIN TEICHER: I think it's actually one of the biggest advances in psychiatry in a very long time. It doesn't work for everybody, but it's sort of remarkable to have a treatment that can work pretty much immediately.

INSKEEP: What does that mean for any number of patients? NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton is covering this story. He's in our studios.

Good morning.

JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: First, how is it that an anesthetic would treat depression?

HAMILTON: Well, that brings up the question that nobody really understands - scientists really don't understand how any drug treats depression. These drugs like Prozac, nobody is exactly sure how they work.

INSKEEP: They just know that it seems to work for a lot of people.

HAMILTON: But it does, right. What they do know is that drugs like Prozac target what's known as the serotonin system in the brain, whereas this drug targets the glutamate system. So it's clearly a different mechanism, and that's why there's so much excitement about it.

INSKEEP: Does that mean that this drug might work for people who get no effects from Prozac or other antidepressants?

HAMILTON: That's correct. There are - about a third of people with major depression don't respond adequately to other drugs, and so you're talking maybe 5 million people out there. And so there are a lot of people who might respond to this who don't respond to others. And studies show that those patients who have failed on other drugs do succeed on this drug.

INSKEEP: How do they identify who can use this new drug, then?

HAMILTON: The test for getting it is that you have to have what they call failed on two other antidepressant drugs, and then you are eligible for treatment with this drug.

INSKEEP: You've spoken to somebody who knows something about this, I guess.

HAMILTON: I have. A few months back, I spoke to a patient who was taking ketamine. So that's the drug that this is based upon. His name is James. He's an advertising executive. And he didn't want us to say his full name because he was afraid it would hurt his career.

JAMES: My wife took a summer off to be with me because she was scared of what was going to happen to me. She would go to work for a few hours, rush home. There'd be times I'd call her just screaming, please come home. I can't get through another minute.

HAMILTON: So the thing that intrigued me is that there are a lot of people like James. You know, depression is a really serious condition. It can be a fatal condition. People - many of the suicides that occur in this country are from people who are depressed. So having a treatment is a big deal.

INSKEEP: OK, so this sounds great. But we're talking about - this is a nasal drug, is that right? It's a nasal spray?

HAMILTON: That's right. You take this drug as a nasal spray.

INSKEEP: So you have a nasal spray, something that's very easy to take, and it's based on this other drug that has a reputation as a club drug.

HAMILTON: Party drug, yes.

INSKEEP: How concerned are people about abuse?

HAMILTON: Well, the FDA is very concerned about it. And so the drug company, Johnson & Johnson, that is selling this drug has taken a lot of steps to make sure that this drug will not get out on the streets, that it will not be abused. So for instance, if you want to be on this drug, you have to go and take your dose in an approved, a certified clinic, where you will be observed. You don't get to take this drug home or anything like that.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, Jon, thanks for the update. I really appreciate it.

HAMILTON: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jon Hamilton on news of a new anti-depression drug.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEIL COWLEY TRIO'S "GANG OF ONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.