Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic (Hardcover)
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A New York Times Critics’ Top Ten Book of the Year * 2021 Edgar Award Winner Best Fact Crime * A Lit Hub Best Book of The Year
From a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter from the smallest newspaper ever to win the prize in the investigative reporting category, an urgent, riveting, and heartbreaking investigation into the corporate greed that pumped millions of pain pills into small Appalachian towns, decimating communities.
Death in Mud Lick is the story of a pharmacy in Kermit, West Virginia, that distributed 12 million opioid pain pills in three years to a town with a population of 382 people—and of one woman, desperate for justice, after losing her brother to overdose. Debbie Preece’s fight for accountability for her brother’s death took her well beyond the Sav-Rite Pharmacy in coal country, ultimately leading to three of the biggest drug wholesalers in the country. She was joined by a crusading lawyer and by local journalist, Eric Eyre, who uncovered a massive opioid pill-dumping scandal that shook the foundation of America’s largest drug companies—and won him a Pulitzer Prize.
Part Erin Brockovich, part Spotlight, Death in Mud Lick details the clandestine meetings with whistleblowers; a court fight to unseal filings that the drug distributors tried to keep hidden, a push to secure the DEA pill-shipment data, and the fallout after Eyre’s local paper, the Gazette-Mail, the smallest newspaper ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, broke the story.
Eyre follows the opioid shipments into individual counties, pharmacies, and homes in West Virginia and explains how thousands of Appalachians got hooked on prescription drugs—resulting in the highest overdose rates in the country. But despite the tragedy, there is also hope as citizens banded together to create positive change—and won. A work of deep reporting and personal conviction, Eric Eyre’s intimate portrayal of a national public health crisis illuminates the shocking pattern of corporate greed and its repercussions for the citizens of West Virginia—and the nation—to this day.
About the Author
Eric Eyre has been a newspaper reporter in West Virginia since 1998. In 2017, his investigation into massive shipments of opioids to the state’s southern coalfields was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia, with his wife and son.
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Investigative Reporters & Editors Book Award.Winner
"Powerful . . . . [Eyre] writes with candor and gravity; a tensile rod of human decency braces every paragraph. . . . . [Death in Mud Lick] is the work of an author who understands that objectivity is not the same as bland neutrality. I expect it will be taught to aspiring reporters for many years to come. It's the story of an epidemic; it's also the story of a newspaper."
—New York Times
“Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting in 2017, for a revelatory series of articles on West Virginia’s opioid epidemic. His new book is a well-written account of that reporting. It’s a profoundly human document that also reads like a simmering John Grisham thriller. Eyre begins with the story of a single pharmacy in Kermit, W.Va., population 382. In just two years in the mid-aughts, it distributed nearly nine million opioid pain pills to customers. We meet some of those customers, and this story expands until it takes in corruption and greed on a gruesome scale.”
—New York Times, Times Critics' Top Books of 2020
"Death in Mud Lick is a product of one reporter’s sustained outrage: a searing spotlight on the scope and human cost of corruption and negligence."
"At the Gazette-Mail, Eyre’s career has been the stuff of quiet legend ... Eyre served his community in a time of need. With his new book, he took the death of a coal miner, William (Bull) Preece, found dead in a trailer in Mud Lick amid a residue of crushed pills, and told the how and the why. His reporting led to restrictions on prescriptions, greater tracking, more transparency. He shamed an industry and saved lives. Working at a small newspaper, Eyre made a big difference."
“[An] important new book . . . . “Death in Mud Lick’’ is more than a takedown of the out-of-state predators who exploited West Virginians for obscene profit; it’s a 300-page rebuttal to those who dismiss honest reporting as #fakenews, or claim that journalism doesn’t matter. . . . [and] a real-life legal thriller that barrels along like a runaway coal truck on Horsepen Mountain. "
"Death in Mud Lick is full of sharp reporting and story-telling. But is also infused with the kind of compassion and moral outrage necessary to understand how a man-made disaster like this one happens."
"Eyre mined for the truth not with a hard hat or heavy machinery, but with notepads, pens and a doggedness to keep digging. Death in Mud Lick is for readers who root for the underdog, who want justice served and who love newspapers."
"Death in Mud Lick is an insistent narrative about one American town that became every American town not only because of addiction to drugs, but because the companies that pushed them became addicted to money."
"Compellingly told ... a tale of compassionate people deeply wronged and a dogged journalist who won't stand for it."
—Booklist, starred review
“Packed with colorful details and startling statistics, this page-turning journalistic thriller shines a brilliant spotlight on a national tragedy.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Timely and well documented, with appeal to a broad range of readers.”
—Library Journal, starred review
“Disturbing, moving, and heart-wrenching…”
"Compelling and terrifying... In many ways [Death in Mud Lick is] as interesting as a John Grisham courtroom thriller, featuring an extended series of legal actions, the requisite heroes and villains, and personal problems that add to the drama."
—The Daily Beast
"How did they get away with it for so long — the corrupt drug manufacturers, distributors, pharmacies and physicians who flooded the most vulnerable communities in America with highly addictive pain pills, raking in billions of dollars even as thousands died from overdoses? Read Death in Mud Lick and understand. It is a stunning story, and Eric Eyre tells it with compassion, grit, deep knowledge and the 'sustained outrage' (as he puts it) that is the rocket fuel of great journalism."
—Dan Fagin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Toms River
"Death in Mud Lick is simultaneously a gripping account of the corporate interests who started the opioid epidemic and a vivid illustration of the power of scrappy, relentless, investigative journalism. Eric Eyre is not just a great West Virginian; he’s a national treasure."
—Keith Humphreys, former White House drug policy adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama
"Eric Eyre represents the absolute best of newspaper reporting: He’s dogged, fair, and as scrappy as the mountains he calls home. His book, Death in Mud Lick, is a riveting, intimate look at the corporate greed, regulatory failure and lobbying shenanigans that led to pill mills complete with “courtesy snacks” and cash registers so full they wouldn’t close. In the most opioid-ravaged place in America, Eyre makes you see the opioid crisis anew."
—Beth Macy, author of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America
"I thought I knew about the roots of the opioid crisis in rural Appalachia. Then, I read this book with my mouth agape. The larger-than-life characters, the vivid scenes, so many deaths, and so much money made from an alliance of local crooks and global corporations. With searing storytelling and deep investigative reporting, Eric Eyre has written an indispensable book that you won't be able to put down."
—Anna Sale, host of the podcast Death, Sex & Money and author of Let's Talk About Hard Things
"In his newspaper work, Eric Eyre performed a historic public service, with his pioneering coverage of America's opioid disaster. In this book, he converts that achievement into a riveting drama of crime, collusion, coverup — and then unveiling, by a reporter and a news organization that refused to give up. Death in Mud Lick attaches names, stories, and vivid characters to the major public-health story of our times."
—James Fallows, author of Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America
Eric Eyre blows the lid off the corporate malfeasance and institutional greed that created the greatest public health crisis in a generation. Death in Mud Lick raises the curtain on the players, tactics, and corruption that continues to rip our communities apart. A uniquely American tale and heartbreaking account that will leave every reader certain on how we got into this nightmare otherwise known as the opioid crisis."
—Ryan Hampton, nationally recognized recovery activist and author of American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis — and How to End It
"At a time when real journalism is under attack, Death in Mud Lick stands as a clenched fist of rebuke. Eyre and the scrappy Charleston Gazette-Mail exposed the hellacious mendacity and moral criminality of America’s biggest businesses and richest executives, and the hack politicians and lobbyists who enabled them to exploit some the most vulnerable people in this country and then leave them to die. Eyre’s book is a thrilling recounting of how it all went down in the tradition of Call Northside 777 and Spotlight."
—Brian Alexander, author of Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town