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A reporter earned the biggest journalism prize covering the opioid crisis.
Eric Eyre, a reporter with the Charleston (WVA) Gazette-Mail, won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for his series of articles on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, written over several years.
His opening line? “Follow the pills and you’ll find the overdose deaths.” His series of articles exposed the flood of opioid drugs into West Virginia.
Eyre wrote of how a town with a population under 400 had a pharmacy that received nearly 9 million hydrocodone pills in 2 years. The whole state received 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills over 6 years, or 433 pills for every man, woman, and child. “One mom-and-pop pharmacy in Oceana received 600 times as many oxycodone pills as the Rite Aid drugstore just eight blocks away.” Regulations to help control the flow of prescription opioids by spotting suspiciously high shipments were not enforced.
Eyre also told the stories of families broken by painkiller addictions.
The citation from the Pulitzer committee called Eyre’s reporting courageous because it was done in the face of powerful opposition. Drug wholesalers and distributors fought to keep their sales number secret and denied they played a role in the state’s epidemic.
You can read the Pulitzer citation here, which has links to the articles that won Eyre the prize of $15,000.
Eyre is statehouse reporter for the Gazette-Mail. He has won several other journalism awards, including the Investigative Reporters & Editors Medal and the National Headliners Award.