“While every market is subject to the vagaries of currency fluctuations, political upheavals, and all the things that adjust our lives on a daily basis, I am surprised that there has been such resilience in the market for photography over the past decade,” says Michael Hoppen of London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery. He will be among the 160 international dealers exhibiting at Paris Photo, the 21st edition of which runs at the Grand Palais November 9 to 12. Hoppen’s observation is underscored by a recent analysis of this niche, says Roman Kräussl, a specialist in alternative investments at the University of Luxembourg School of Finance.
“Benchmarked against other asset classes, photography remains a wise investment,” Kräussl notes. “Moreover, its relative affordability provides a wealth of opportunity for collectors looking to get in the game.”
Despite a recent cooling in the overall art market, sales of photographs at auction notched $72 million globally in 2016. Of that figure, $31.6 million was shared by category leaders Phillips, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s. According to the London-based art-market analytics firm ArtTactic, which has monitored sales in the medium since 2008, last year the trio brought in $12.78 million, $10.67 million, and $8.17 million, respectively. Their revenues were propelled by an increase in demand for contemporary photographs, which for the first time surpassed modern works in terms of dollar volume. Among the recent six-figure sales are images by blue-chip notables Thomas Struth, Andreas Gursky, Gilbert & George, Helmut Newton, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Cindy Sherman.
Distaff.01 (2017), an embroidered photograph on canvas by Juana Gómez, will be shown by Michael Hoppen Gallery at Paris Photo. Photo: Courtesy
While sales of blue-chip works tend to make headlines, it’s important to note that nearly half of the images sold at auction command less than $50,000. At Phillips, for instance, 45.6 percent of the photographs sold last year were purchased for less than $10,000, making the house an attractive destination for collectors looking to enter the market with little downside risk with respect to quality and authenticity.
“Forty percent of the buyers at our New York sale this past April were new to the photography market, which for us is an encouraging sign,” says Vanessa Hallett, deputy chairman for the Americas and worldwide head of photographs at Phillips. She adds that the house has also seen tremendous growth in Asia, where photography remains a relatively new collecting category. Last November, Phillips Hong Kong achieved an artist record at auction for British fashion photographer Nick Knight when his Tatjana Patitz for Jil Sander (1992) sold for HK$2,360,000 ($304,204) on its estimate of HK$420,000 to HK$620,000 ($53,800 to $79,500)—more than doubling the previous auction record for Knight’s work, which was set at Phillips in London in May 2016.
Man Ray’s artist record in all media was set this past May when his photograph Portrait of a Tearful Woman (1936) sold for $2,167,500 on a $400,000–$600,000 estimate at Christie’s in New York Photo: Courtesy Christie’s
Hallett attributes Phillips’s success in attracting new audiences in part to its growing reputation for introducing new artists to the market at relatively affordable prices. A case in point, she says, is Awol Erizku, whose chromogenic print Girl with a Bamboo Earring (2009)—a riff on Johannes Vermeer’s 1665 tronie Girl with a Pearl Earring—achieved $52,500 on its $12,000 to $18,000 estimate at the house in April. For Hallett, the sale not only marked an impressive auction debut for the 29-year-old Ethiopian-American artist but also increased the number of artist records established at the house since 2015 in the photography category—a number that now stands at 40.
“The beauty of photography is not just its broad appeal,” says Emily Bierman, head of photographs at Sotheby’s, “but the fact that you can buy a masterpiece in a way that you can no longer buy a painting, making it a perfect gateway category for serious collecting.” Bierman notes that while the price points between these two categories may be dramatically different, the divide between them is beginning to narrow.
Sotheby’s has witnessed increasing interest in contemporary photographs over the past couple of years, according to Bierman, particularly from collectors of contemporary paintings and sculpture. This marked upsurge in demand prompted the house to hold its first stand-alone sale of postwar and contemporary photographs this past fall. “This season, we felt we were especially well positioned to make the move, given the extraordinarily strong group of photographs we had on offer, which was anchored by a selection of 49 lots from the Steven and Ann Ames Collection,” Bierman says, referring to the house’s September 28 sale, which brought in $2,486,125. The total was well within the house’s presale expectations of $2,099,00 to $3,162,000 for the 93 lots offered. From December 5 to 18, Sotheby’s is offering five additional images from the vaunted Ames Collection online, among them Thomas Struth’s chromogenic print Todai-Ji, Daibutsu-Den–Nara (1996), which carries an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. For those interested in the work of the German artist, Thomas Struth: Nature & Politics opens November 5 at the Saint Louis Art Museum. The exhibition runs through January 21, 2018.
A statue of Jackie Robinson in a football uniform was unveiled Wednesday just outside of the Rose Bowl.
Before breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Robinson was an accomplished football player. He played for Pasadena City College in 1937 and ’38, then continued his career with UCLA.
Vin Scully, who was celebrating his 90th birthday, was the emcee of the event. Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, also was in attendance.
Scully told stories about Robinson’s athleticism at UCLA, where he lettered in four sports. Robinson, Scully said, lettered in basketball, baseball, football and track and was good in all of those, except for baseball.
“In baseball, Jackie Robinson played one year at UCLA,” Scully said in his address. “This great player who is in the Hall of Fame, who is looked upon as one of the great baseball players of all time … his one year playing at UCLA, he batted .097. No wonder he went on to other sports.”
Matt Lauer was fired from NBC News on Wednesday after an employee filed a complaint about “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,” the network announced.
Savannah Guthrie made the announcement at the top of the “Today” show, where Lauer has been an anchor for two decades.
NBC News chairman Andrew Lack said in a memo to staff that it was the first complaint lodged against Lauer in his career at the network. But he said “we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident.”
Just last week, CBS News fired one of its own morning anchors, Charlie Rose, after a report in The Washington Post chronicled years of sexual misconduct.
Guthrie said she was informed just moments before going on the air.
“This is a sad morning at ‘Today’ and NBC News,” she said. “As I’m sure you can understand, we are devastated. I’m heartbroken for Matt. He is my dear, dear colleague.”
Guthrie also said she was heartbroken for the woman who accused Lauer of misconduct, noting “it’s long overdue” that women feel comfortable coming forward against abusive men.
Hoda Kotb, on the set with Guthrie, said she has known Lauer for years and “loved him as a friend and a colleague.”
“It’s hard to reconcile the man who walks in everyday” with the person who was identified in the complaint. #SPMGMedia
From their first meeting to their idyllic African getaway to their splashy public debut, here are the biggest moments of the couple’s fairy-tale romance.
July 2016 The couple meets through friends. Most believe the main matchmaker to be Markle’s close pal Markus Anderson, a Soho House consultant (who later accompanied her to the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games).
October 2016 The Sunday Express reports that Harry and Markle are dating. “The romance is in its early stages, but it’s no exaggeration to say he’s besotted with her,” a source tells the British tabloid. Harry and Markle stay mum, but she posts a cryptic Instagram of two bananas spooning with the caption, “Sleep tight xx”—which many take as a romantic gesture.
November 2016 In a statement via Kensington Palace, the royal confirms his relationship with the Suits actress. But it’s not a joyous one: Harry slams the press and public’s harassment of his new gf. “Some of this has been very public—the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces; and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and Web article comments,” it read. “Some of it has been hidden from the public—the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door; the attempts of reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home and the calls to police that followed; the substantial bribes offered by papers to her ex-boyfriends; the bombardment of nearly every friend, coworker, and loved one in her life.”
A few weeks later, Prince William issues a statement supporting Harry’s.“The Duke of Cambridge absolutely understands the situation concerning privacy and supports the need for Prince Harry to support those closest to him,” it read.
December 2016 We’ve got visual confirmation, people! The Sun publishes photos of the newly public couple holding hands in London. It’s reported the two went to see a West End play and maybe even bought a Christmas tree. How romantic!
February 2017 Another date night across the pond. Paparazzi catch Markle and Harry leaving Soho House.
March 2017 Harry and Markle go to Jamaica for the wedding of Harry’s friend Tom “Skipp” Inskip. They reportedly stay at the island’s glamorous Round Hill Hotel and Villas.
April 2017 Markle shuts down her lifestyle blog, The Tig. “After close to three beautiful years on this adventure with you, it’s time to say goodbye to The Tig,” she writes in her final post. “What began as a passion project (my little engine that could) evolved into an amazing community of inspiration, support, fun, and frivolity. You’ve made my days brighter and filled this experience with so much joy.”
May 2017 After months of “will she or won’t she” speculation, Markle attends Pippa Middleton’s wedding reception as Harry’s date (she wasn’t invited to the ceremony—but lest you perceive this as a slight, it’s a common English custom for plus ones or peripheral guests).
Reports also emerge that Prince Harry asked—and got—Queen Elizabeth’s permission to propose to Markle.
August 2017 The pair jets off to Africa for a romantic and reclusive getaway. The engagement rumor mill reaches a fever pitch—so much so that British bookmakers stop taking bets on whether or not they’re going to get engaged, because it’s no longer a question of if but when.
Reportedly, their visit is capped off by a trip to Victoria Falls.
September 2017 Markle graces the cover of Vanity Fair’s October issue. “We’re a couple. We’re in love,” she tells the magazine. “I’m sure there will be a time when we have to come forward and present ourselves, and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us. It’s part of what makes it so special, that it’s just ours. But we’re happy. Personally, I love a great love story.”
Markle and Harry make their first official appearance together at the Invictus Games in Toronto. The initial spotting is at the opening ceremony, where they sit several rows apart.
Then comes the grand and PDA-filled rollout: The two sit front row at a wheelchair tennis match, laughing and embracing throughout. Later, they hold hands in front of the cameras.
November 2017 It’s all happening! Markle quits Suits, flies to London, and moves into Kensington Palace with Prince Harry. After a week of intense speculation, the couple finally announces their engagement on November 27.
Walmart’s Cyber Monday Sale Is All About Electronics. Here Are the Best Deals
Millions of Americans rushed to retailers around the country to score deals on Black Friday.
But for those who prefer to shop for deals inside their own homes, Cyber Monday offers a more enticing alternative.
Ahead of Cyber Monday, countless retailers who regularly participate in Black Friday are continuing to offer deals online to entice more customers. Those retailers include Walmart, which is advertising a new batch of deals and as well as a continuation of popular ones from days before.
Walmart has a host of deals online starting at 12 a.m. (E.T.) Monday, including big discounts on televisions, video game consoles, toys and more. Here are some of the best deals Walmart is offering for Cyber Monday.
Prince Harry is to marry American actress Meghan Markle, it has been announced, with the Royal family flocking to congratulate the couple.
Clarence House confirmed the much-anticipated news that the Prince, 33, and his 36-year-old girlfriend are engaged in a statement on Monday morning.
The royal wedding will take place in the spring of next year. Prince Harry and Ms Markle will appear at a photocall at Kensington Palace on Monday afternoon to celebrate their engagement and record a television broadcast due to be screened on Monday evening.
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh said they were “delighted” for their grandson and his bride-to-be, and “wish them every happiness”.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge said: “We are very excited for Harry and Meghan. It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together.”
Ms Markle’s parents wished their daughter and Harry “a lifetime of happiness”, adding: “We are incredibly happy for Meghan and Harry.
“Our daughter has always been a kind and loving person. To see her union with Harry, who shares the same qualities, is a source of great joy for us as parents.”
Visiting Poundbury in Dorset on Monday, the Prince of Wales said he was “thrilled” and “very happy indeed” for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Their 16-month whirlwind romance blossomed when they met through mutual friends in London, and the pair have been almost inseparable in recent months.
The much-anticipated news was confirmed by the Prince of Wales in a brief statement issued by Clarence House.
It read: “His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince Harry to Ms Meghan Markle.”
It revealed that the pair became engaged in London earlier this month.
“Prince Harry has informed Her Majesty the Queen and other close members of his family. Prince Harry has also sought and received the blessing of Ms Markle’s parents,” the statement said.
The couple will live together in Harry’s current home, Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace.
Ms Markle will become an HRH and a senior royal after marrying Harry and joining the Windsors.
She is expected to become a duchess – just like Kate Middleton did when she became the Duchess of Cambridge after saying her vows in 2011.
But unlike Kate, Ms Markle is not a future queen. With the arrival of the Cambridges’ children, Harry is too far down the line of succession to have a realistic prospect of being monarch.
Ms Markle will most probably become HRH the Duchess of Sussex, if Harry is made the Duke of Sussex by the Queen on the morning of his wedding.
The pair were secretly engaged earlier this month and rumours a wedding was imminent stepped up a gear when Harry took Ms Markle to meet his grandmother the Queen for tea at Buckingham Palace.
The Queen has given her blessing to the union, with Prince Harry at fifth-in-line to the throne obliged to ask her permission under the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.
Ms Markle has been wed once before, marrying film producer Trevor Engelson in Jamaica in 2011, but splitting after just two years.
Meghan Markle’s parents tell of ‘great joy’
In a statement issued by Kensington Palace, Ms Markle’s parents Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland said: “We are incredibly happy for Meghan and Harry. Our daughter has always been a kind and loving person.
“To see her union with Harry, who shares the same qualities, is a source of great joy for us as parents.
“We wish them a lifetime of happiness and are very excited for their future together.”
Prince Charles: ‘They’ll be very happy indeed’
The Prince of Wales has said he is “thrilled” and “very happy indeed” after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement.
Prince Charles told reporters the news was “very good” and added: “Thrilled for them both. They’ll be very happy indeed.”
He spoke at the start of a series of engagements at Poundbury in Dorchester, Dorset, which is built on Duchy of Cornwall land.
The prince was visiting Damers First School to meet staff, students and parents, and find out about their community and sustainability programmes.
World reacts to long-awaited wedding news
The world reacted with joy following the long-awaited news that Prince Harry is set to marry Ms Markle.
Prime Minister Theresa May offered her “very warmest congratulations”, wishing the couple “great happiness for the future”.
“I would like to offer my very warmest congratulations to HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle upon their engagement,” said Mrs May in a statement.
“This is a time of huge celebration and excitement for two people in love and, on behalf of myself, the Government and the country, I wish them great happiness for the future.”
I would like to offer my very warmest congratulations to HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle upon their engagement.
This is a time of huge celebration for two people in love and, on behalf of myself, the Government and the country, I wish them great happiness for the future. https://t.co/Sfx76X98BW
Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron called the announcement “wonderful news”, and wished the pair “a long and happy life together”.
Tessy Ojo, chief executive of the Diana Award, said: “The Diana Award offers their warmest congratulations to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their engagement and we wish them every happiness for the future.
“Prince Harry has had a huge impact on the young people he’s met through our youth charity set up in memory of his mother Princess Diana. We know how delighted our young people will be to hear this news today.”
Labour supporters boo as Jeremy Corbyn asked about Royal engagement
Labour supporters roundly booed when Jeremy Corbyn was asked about the Royal engagement at a party rally in Glasgow, with one shouting: “Who cares?”
But Mr Corbyn said: “My congratulations to Harry and Meghan. I wish them well. I hope they have a great time and great fun together and having met Harry a couple of times I’m sure they’re going to have a great deal of fun together.
“I really do admire the way Harry and his brother are actually drawing attention to mental health conditions all across the country.
“So I wish him well, thank him for what he’s done on mental health, and I hope they have a great life together.”
‘Cinderellas are crying’: World-wide media reaction
Russia: Harry has ‘broken those hearts once and for all’
“Cinderellas are crying: Batchelor Prince Harry has announced his engagement,” read the headline on the site of the popular Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, reports Alec Luhn.
“The youngest nephew of Queen Elizabeth, who has for many years been stirring up the hearts of girls around the world, has broken those hearts once and for all,” the paper wrote.
Although Prince Harry is “one of the most envied bachelors on the planet,” he “has not until now demonstrated any inclination toward monogamy,” it added, explaining that paparazzi had often photographed him “at wild parties with one beauty or another”.
“Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have announced their engagement. Clear out, girls,” tweeted TV Rain.
Italy: ‘A revolution for the British royal family’
“The long awaited announcement has arrived,” says Corriere della Sera, one of Italy’s leading papers, on its website, reports Nick Squires. “Harry and Meghan will marry in the Spring.”
The paper comments: “The announcement of the engagement signals a revolution for the British royal family. After William’s marriage to the ‘commoner’ Kate Middleton, Her Majesty Elizabeth II has given her blessing to another ‘unusual’ union for Buckingham Palace, with the arrival in the royal household of an American divorcee with a black mother.”
France: Meghan is ‘a Kate Middleton à l’américaine’
Madame Figaro called the royal bride-to-be “a Kate Middleton à l’américaine”, reports Henry Samuel.
In a long online piece, the magazine writes: “The American actress and Prince Harry had waited 15 months to make their relationship public. A blessed period for the future Princess of Wales who loved keeping these moments ‘just for them’.”
“(This quiet period of) happiness would prove to be short-lived as on 23 September 2017, the duo unleashed passions by appearing hand in hand at the Invictus Games in Toronto. A documentary, an incendiary book by her half-sister, interviews and hundreds of articles later, she who came to celebrity late has seen her innermost secrets splashed across the media of the world.”
“At last!,” headlined RTL radio in an online piece. “Her Majesty’s subjects could bear the wait no longer. The British had already fallen head over heels in love with William and his bride Kate Middleton.
“Their wedding, the long white dress of a then mere commoner, the kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace… such images remain engraved in the kingdom’s collective conscience. Now, the United Kingdom will have a second memorable ceremony.”
The Clarence House statement in full
In the statement announcing what Royal watchers had been waiting for, a Clarence House spokesman said: “His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince Harry to Ms. Meghan Markle.
“The wedding will take place in Spring 2018. Further details about the wedding day will be announced in due course.
“His Royal Highness and Ms. Markle became engaged in London earlier this month. Prince Harry has informed Her Majesty The Queen and other close members of his family.
“Prince Harry has also sought and received the blessing of Ms Markle’s parents.
“The couple will live in Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace.”
Walking hand-in-hand, they watched the wheelchair tennis together in an affectionate half an hour together in front of the world’s media.
Ms Markle had also made an appearance at the Games’ opening ceremony, sitting apart from Prince Harry but under the watchful eye of his protection officer.
Until then, they had managed to keep details of their early romance largely under wraps, after being introduced by mutual friends in London in July 2016.
In October 2016, their fledgling relationship was exposed in a Sunday newspaper, and confirmed a week later in an unusual statement issued by Prince Harry pleading for Ms Markle to be given her privacy.
Over the following months, they were photographed together on several occasions including visiting the theatre in London and at a friend’s wedding in Jamaica.
While Ms Markle worked on Netflix drama Suits in Toronto, Canada, she and Prince Harry flew back and forth regularly as their relationship deepened.
In May 2017, the pair were photographed embracing at a polo match in Ascot, with Ms Markle spending time with new friends including Mark Dyer, a former Army officer often described as Prince Harry’s mentor.
Later that month, the actress attended the wedding reception of the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister, Pippa Middleton, who wed James Matthews in a no-expenses-spared day for their rich and famous friends.
The summer of 2017 saw the Prince, 33, whisk Ms Markle to Botswana and Zambia for a romantic holiday, with reported outings on safari and to Victoria Falls.
‘We’re in love’: The Vanity Fair interview
By the time she gave an interview to Vanity Fair, the engagement seemed all but a formality. In an unexpectedly frank article, conducted with the blessing of Prince Harry, the actress confirmed: “We’re a couple. We’re in love.”
Calling him her “boyfriend” publicly for the first time, she said: “We’re two people who are really happy and in love.” The actress said they were treasuring “our time”, before sharing details of their relationship with the watching world.
A history of Royal weddings
She has already begun the transformation to Royal life, shutting down her lifestyle blog and rumoured to be leaving legal drama Suits at the end of its next season.
Kate Middleton also gave up her job as an accessories buyer for Jigsaw ahead of her engagement to Prince William in 2010.
The Prince has made no secret of his ambition to settle down. In 2015 he spoke of hoping to find someone to be “next to him” and share the unusual pressures of Royal life.
he National Dog Show presented by Purina is an annual affair that hosts the best of the best in every AKC-registered breed. Every Thanksgiving at 2pm EST, you can watch the best fluffballs, the best mop dogs, the best long-legged hounds compete for Best in Show.
And while it’s all serious business in the ring, the behind-the-scenes is a total animal house (pun intended). Among the barking rows of dogs getting primped and pampered, you can catch a butt sniff here or a kissing attack there. Here are a few of our absolute favorite moments from the 2017 National Dog Show presented by Purina.
The Washington Post report published Monday includes claims by eight women who worked for or aspired to work for his PBS program. He stands accused of acts including unwanted sexual advances, groping and exposing himself.
Below are O’Donnell and King’s responses.
“This is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women. Let me be very clear: there is no excuse for this alleged behavior. It is systematic and pervasive and I’ve been doing a lot of listening and I’m going to continue to do that. This I know is true: women cannot achieve equality in the workplace or in society until there is a reckoning and a taking of responsibility. I am really proud to work at CBS News. There are so many incredible people here, especially on this show – all of you here. This will be investigated. This has to end. This behavior is wrong. Period,” O’Donnell said.
“I really am still reeling. I got an hour and 42 minutes of sleep last night. Both my son and my daughter called me, Oprah called me and said, ‘Are you OK?’ I am not OK. After reading that article in the Post, it was deeply disturbing, troubling and painful for me to read. That said, I think we have to make this matter to women – the women who have spoken up, the women who have not spoken up because they’re afraid. I’m hoping that now they will take the step to speak out, too. This becomes a moment of truth. You know, I’ve enjoyed a friendship and a partnership with Charlie for the past five years. I’ve held him in such high regard and I’m really struggling because how do you – what do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something that is so horrible? How do you wrap your brain around that? I’m really grappling with that. That said, Charlie does not get a pass here. He doesn’t get a pass from anyone in this room. We are all deeply affected. We are all rocked by this. And I want to echo what Norah said, I really applaud the women that speak up despite the friendship. He doesn’t get a pass because I can’t stop thinking about the anguish of these women. What happened to their dignity, what happened to their bodies, what happened maybe even to their careers. I can’t stop thinking about that and the pain they are going through. I also find that you can hold two ideas in your head at the same time, you can grapple with things. And I’m, to be very honest with you, I’m still trying to process all of this. I’m still trying to sort it out because this is not the man I know, but I’m also clearly on the side of the women who have been very hurt and very damaged by this,” King said.
King and O’Donnell both said they hadn’t spoken to Rose since the allegations were made. King went on to say that she does intend to speak to him on Tuesday.
David Nipple was less than two miles from home, and his beloved cats, when he died.
It was around 8:30 p.m. on May 4, 2014, and Nipple was riding his motorcycle eastbound on a Tennessee highway. He checked his rearview mirror, and saw the red glow of his backlight on the blacktop. Then he was blinded by two headlights directly in front of him.
Nipple quickly calculated the height of the vehicle heading toward him–a Chevy Tahoe–and realized he’d either land “in the grill, underneath it or in the windshield.” He swerved, but the SUV struck him and sent Nipple flying 30 feet.
He can only recall fragments from the time he spent beside the highway waiting to be airlifted to a hospital. His right hand resting near the knee of his left leg, where four inches of bone protruded from the skin. Seeing several inches of bone sticking out of his left arm, while the night hid the blood pouring from his wounds. Telling the people around him he was worried about his cats–no one had a key to his place, so who would feed them? And the relief at realizing his helmet was still locked on his head as the thunk of incoming helicopter’s blades chopped louder and louder. Somewhere in all this, Nipple’s heart stopped, hospital staff told him later, but someone was able to revive him.
When he finally came to in the hospital, Nipple’s left leg had been amputated above the knee. While he recuperated, though, the pain was unbearable. He suffered from phantom limb syndrome, the excruciating sensation that an amputated extremity is still attached.
“When the phantom pain kicks in, it’s like reliving the accident,” says Nipple, who’s now 62. “The top of the leg is being ripped off to the side and the leg is being twisted.”
But Nipple wanted to avoid opioids. He’d seen several friends get hooked and didn’t want that to happen to him. Luckily, he found a different solution. Specifically, a pillbox-size device created by the startup SPR Therapeutics, which treats pain by sending low-voltage electrical pulses to a patient’s nerves.
SPR is among a clutch of startups explicitly taking aim at the opioid epidemic. Such startups, unfortunately, have a lot of opportunity. Opioid and heroin-related deaths have skyrocketed in the past decade, thanks to the overprescription of legal painkillers like Oxycontin and an influx of heroin, which many who are dependent on opioids turn to after exhausting sources for prescription pills. Nearly 35,600 Americans died of overdoses from such drugs in 2015, according to the most recent data available from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–up from 12,937 in 2005.
To understand the work these new companies are doing, it’s worth hearing from people like Nipple–who today is back to riding motorcycles, and whose Facebook nickname “Alien Leg” pokes fun at his prosthesis–and a person Inc. will refer to as Will (who requested anonymity), who is a patient of Groups, which provides affordable treatment to people who are addicted to opioids,
“Sometimes I just sat there and cried,” says Nipple, describing his agony while abstaining from substances he feared getting hooked on–opioids, marijuana, and the non-narcotic nerve pain medication Gabapentin. “I’ve got friends that take Gabapentin and they say its not addictive,” he says. “But when you start popping it like candy, that’s addiction.”
Nipple learned about SPR while browsing a Facebook page for amputees around a year after his accident. Nipple qualified for SPR’s pain study and was outfitted with the company’s SPRINT Peripheral Nerve Stimulation System–a small device that physicians attach nonsurgically to a patient’s skin, near the afflicted area. A thread-like wire connected to the device is placed under the skin, close to the nerve that’s registering pain, to administer electrical pulses. Nipple wore the device for the recommended 60 days–and says he’s only felt phantom limb pain twice in the two years since the device was removed.
This is typical of SPRINT users, says Maria R. Bennett, the founder of SPR Therapeutics. “We see a sustained or carryover effect,” she says. “Our device delivers significant relief of pain not only during those 60 days but after the device has been removed.”
Bennett launched the Cleveland-based SPR in 2010 and received clearance last year from the FDA to market the SPRINT system for chronic and acute pain. The company also received nearly $9 million in two contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop SPRINT and specifically target amputees who, like Nipple, suffer from chronic pain caused by nerve damage. Bennett says traditional implantable neurostimulation devices–which provide electrical impulses to treat pain–can cost around $30,000, but SPR’s therapy costs more than 80 percent less.
The long-term goal for SPR is becoming a non-opioid pain treatment for more general use. For example, SPRINT could be used on a patient who’s received a knee replacement, a procedure known for its long and painful recovery process. The majority of people who get this operation are prescribed opioids, says Bennett, but SPRINT “could relieve their pain and avoid them ever even taking the opioid or filling that prescription”–the route by which countless Americans became dependent on opioids.
SPRINT would’ve been helpful for Will, who was prescribed opioids after an Army training injury in 2005. Back then, Will, who’s now 33, was carrying a 200-pound rucksack during a drill when he stepped in a pothole and tore his ACL. After finishing his prescription bottle of opioids, Will began using heroin. He saw a doctor to treat his addiction, but after back surgery, he was again prescribed opioids. When that prescription ran out, Will says, he went on a six-month bender.
Then he heard about Groups, a startup that brings treatment to communities plagued by the opioid crisis. Specifically, Groups targets areas with fewer than 10,000 residents and little access to recovery programs. For $65 a week, patients receive a prescription to Suboxone, a medication that treats opioid addiction, and entry to weekly group therapy sessions. In such settings, they are welcomed into a community of people who are fighting a similar battle. Groups’ clients provide the basics of emotional and logistical support to other members, like a social life and transportation, says the startup’s co-founder Dr. Jeff De Flavio.
“Being in recovery can be really lonely, and being with other people who can really understand you and actually engage in change with you is really important,” says De Flavio, who started the company in 2014 with co-founders Silas Howland and Joy Sun. “Rather than meeting alone with a doctor, and having a more shame-based experience.”
Will was initially kicked out of Groups because he kept using opioids–he was spending roughly $1,000 a week on heroin and pills–and failed a urine test. But then he went back to Groups and begged for a second chance. It’s been about two and half years since he was readmitted and Will reports he’s currently clean. He’s also working toward a degree in behavioral science so he can become an addiction counselor himself.
“You have to really want to try, and you have to be able to get whatever luggage is on your back off,” Will says. Once you do, he says, “there’s nothing better than that free feeling.” But, he adds, “you can’t do it in an hour a week,” and mentions how Groups encouraged him to participate in additional forms of counseling.
Groups opened its first clinic in New Hampshire in March of 2014 and has expanded to locations in California, Indiana, Maine, and Ohio. De Flavio got the idea for Groups as a medical student in New Hampshire, at Dartmouth, and saw how opioids were plaguing that community. He worked with a professor who specialized in addiction treatment to open the first clinic in nearby Claremont, a 30 mile drive from his campus. “We tried to focus on a different part of the problem, which is the people who are left out of the traditional treatment options,” De Flavio says. “Because they are living in the wrong place, or because they don’t have insurance or have Medicaid”–patients with Medicaid can end up waiting a long time for treatment, he points out. And, often, there’s little treatment available in rural areas for behavioral or mental health issues. Groups avoids that problem by giving anyone, regardless of their health insurance plan, a place for treatment at a relatively affordable cost.
“We have better treatment for opioid addiction than any other kind of substance abuse,” De Flavio says. “So it’s particularly tragic to me that people don’t have access to it. That’s what got me into this.”
While the country may not be blanketed with Groups facilities just yet, some Medicaid spending on treating opioid dependency has increased in recent years under the Affordable Care Act, according to the public policy think tank Urban Institute. Medicaid spending on addiction treatment drugs buprenorphine and naltrexone, along with naloxone (which reverses opioid overdoses), has increased from around $400 million in 2011 to about $950 million in 2016.
However, that trend line would likely be reversed if President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans make good on promises to repeal or dismantle the ACA. The most recent attempt to do so–the Senate’s Cassidy-Graham bill–would have reduced the amount of federal money designated for Medicaid and private insurance subsidies by $215 billion between 2020, when the plan would start, and 2026, according to The Washington Post.
The latest effort was abandoned in late September, but Republicans in the House of Representatives are studying a proposal from Trump to use the new tax plan, released on November 2, to repeal a major part of the ACA. Trump wants to include language in the tax bill that would eliminate the ACA’s individual mandate, a change that would leave 15 million Americans without health insurance, according to The Washington Post.
Given that, it’s worth keeping in mind what Will’s treatment, thanks to Groups, has meant to him. When asked where he’d be without Groups, Will, a husband and father who now can take his family on vacations, and who’s just three classes shy of becoming an addiction counselor, has a succinct answer.