The story behind how a West Virginia investigative reporter exposed the opioid epidemic and won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting.
Sometimes a book grabs you by the jugular, and all you can do is scream. Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies that Delivered the Opioid Epidemic, written by former Charleston Gazette-Mail reporter Eric Eyre, is that type of book. It is easy to read, impossible to put down, and hard to stomach. Eyre’s investigation and coverage was awarded the coveted Pulitzer Prize in 2017.
Death in Mud Lick is an important story that explains how it was possible that, in two years, 9 million opioid pain pills—in a state of 1.8 million people—were dumped into a southern West Virginia coal town of 382 people by some of America’s largest drug companies. It is a story that pieces together how greed, corporate malfeasance, corruption, and cover-up launched our state into an unconscionable crisis that has flatlined community after community. It is also a testament to the vital role that journalism plays in not just covering stories, but uncovering them.
You can’t help but feel that the book also bears witness to the unraveling of the state’s newspaper of record—one of the very few independent newspapers left in this country and one that, for more than 100 years, has acted as West Virginia’s watchdog. Although it is a triumphant David-versus-Goliath story, it doesn’t leave you feeling victorious. And, maybe for that reason alone, every West Virginian should read it—and be haunted by these words: “Democracies die behind closed doors.”