Eric Eyre, on the opioid scandal: “Pablo Escobar and El Chapo could not have done better”

9:13 a.m., December 4, 2021, modified at 9:19 a.m., December 4, 2021

In the editors it is fashionable to remember that there is no short story, no short report in opposition to the big report. One way for the directors to protect themselves from swelling with helium on the part of these funny zebras, designated as great reporters. Death to Mud Lick is the perfect illustration of this. Who, in 2006 and at the national level, is interested in this wave of small pills in this part of America considered as the region of the “Red Necks”, of “White Trash”, these little white people who are often overweight, poorly educated and stoned like nowhere else in the rest of the country? Not many people. It will take what Graham Greene called the human factor. A reporter, Eric Eyre, Jim Cagle, a lawyer, and Debbie Preece, a lady from the Appalachians. Their paths will cross in what is not yet a real crusade when they realize the problem.

How 780 million pain relievers were delivered from 2006 to 2012 in the state of West Virginia without anyone saying anything. How was the small town of War, 800 inhabitants, able to receive more than three hundred thousand pain-relieving pills in two years of time or even Kermit, 382 unfortunate souls, in Mingo County and his 2? , 2 million hydrocone or worse Oxycotin, an ultra addicting painkiller. Yes how?

A sense of truth and honesty

Answer in this formidable investigation of the journalist Eric Eyre. He himself could have missed this tragic phenomenon so in quick succession, he had not received a phone call from an informant and had not come across the story of a woman, Debbie Preece, ex – detained, thanks to a devious lawyer, Jim Cagle. If the latter had placed his trust in Debbie, then Eric Eyre could do the same. Thus begins this extraordinary adventure based on the pugnacity of individuals driven by a sense of truth and honesty as one rarely finds.

Let’s start with Debbie Preece. She and her family have been in trouble with the law for drug trafficking (marijuana) in the past. Debbie has a brother, Bull, 45, who was injured falling from a ladder in the Penn Coal Mine. Bull is treated with painkillers. It will take two years for Debbie to realize that the brother is hooked like a common drug addict. He lost his house, his sister no longer recognizes him. He died in 2005, in Mud Lick, lying on his mattress after having been drinking shots the day before with his ex-wife and a boyfriend. But the course of events troubles Debbie. We are not talking about the vials lying on the floor near the bed. Ninety tablets of Valium, sixty of oxycodone, ninety of OxyCotin, a sustained-release form of oxycodone, and thirty tablets of Zestril. In other words, a sedative, pain relievers and a pill for blood pressure. All this for one man! Enough to ask a thousand questions. And that’s exactly what Debbie Preece is going to do. Because as a good former freedwoman, she is convinced that behind this mountain of drugs, there is something not clear.

But Debbie knows that on her own, she won’t get very far. She needs a lawyer in her pocket, it will be Jim Cagle, the lawyer who took care of her at the time of her legal troubles. The tandem will embark on a completely insane story / investigation and far beyond their skill or ability, Debbie transforming into a daring and courageous private investigator.

The pharmaceutical company Cardinal Health

Real characters worthy of an excellent thriller, are then set up with an author, Eric Eyre, who leads the ball. For his part, the journalist covered the multiple overdoses in a somewhat distant way. But in this year 2013, everything will change. He works at The Gazette for the past 15 years he has been in charge of monitoring the West Virginia State Capitol and has written on a lot of news like any local. He thinks he has seen it all. Until that phone call. This is Rod Jackson that Eric wrote badly about in a previous story and that he never got on the phone. This time he’s the one calling. Better still, he receives him and urges him to look into the brand new Attorney General Jim Morrisey, the first Republican since 1933 in West Virginia and whose wife is a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical company Cardinal Health.

Eric Eyre immediately understands what this informant who fell from the sky is going through. Cardinal Health is already facing legal action. Jim Morrisey is he sabotaging these lawsuits? The journalist’s investigation takes on a new dimension. There, he comes out of overdoses which the country mocks because it happens among rednecks, and will put his nose in the production circuit and especially distribution. He will get to the heart of the opioid scandal ravaging West Virginia. “Pablo Escobar and El Chapo could not have imagined such a sophisticated system”, he writes somewhat bewildered. Because the figures are staggering and the profile of the interveners, who turn into criminals, is just as astounding. They are doctors, pharmacists, and above all pharmaceutical manufacturers. Everyone has got their hands on this financial windfall as unexpected as it is discreet, and above all unlimited. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is not spared, its silence designated as culpable.

Eyre’s book is an ode to investigative journalism. It is also a tribute to the newspaper which employs it, in reality to all the provincial newspapers. In 2017, his articles on this opioid tragedy won him the Pulitzer in the category of investigative reporting. Nine months later, the Charleston Gazette is bankrupt. he must submit his CV to his future employer. Because in America nothing is ever taken for granted and everything is a big money story. The press and health are not escaping the original matrix of the country. The pharmaceutical industry, Big Pharma as it is called there, got its hand in the pill bag. Things are no longer going, he is told, people are dying too much, especially whites. No problem, we’ll resuscitate them. So another source of income is on the horizon. It bears the name of Narcan, from the name of the maker of this little magic spray that brings you back to life in the event of an overdose. The police, firefighters, hospitals would like to tear it away. Narcan has become THE miracle solution to these excessively large numbers of deaths. But it takes money. So, here we go again.

Narcan, a new godsend? It’s the snake biting its tail and the drugmakers are spreading their new venom because they double hit. On the one hand, addiction is not waning in the United States, but now it can be cured. Drug rehab centers are popping up all over America. As long as there is profit somewhere, the American dream has a bright future ahead of it. Fortunately, there are still men like Eric Eyre, journalist, who believed in his job to inform and denounce.

* “Death to Mud Lick” by Eric Eyre, Translated by Romain Guillou, Globe Editions, 324 pages, 22 euros.

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Eric Eyre, on the opioid scandal: “Pablo Escobar and El Chapo could not have done better”