Excerpt from Death in Mud Lick by Eric Eyre, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Death in Mud Lick

A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic

by Eric Eyre

Death in Mud Lick by Eric Eyre X
Death in Mud Lick by Eric Eyre
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2020, 304 pages
    Apr 2021, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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Print Excerpt

A Death in Mud Lick

At sunup, Debbie Preece drove north on the two-lane blacktop that traced the Tug Fork of the Big Sandy River, hurtling onto a rutted gravel road that tunneled deep into the woods. She stopped with a jolt at the rust-bitten trailer in Mud Lick. The coroner had already picked up her brother's body and transported it to the morgue for autopsy. Debbie insisted that someone show her where William "Bull" Preece had spent his last hours. She was directed to a back bedroom, vacant save for a dresser and a torn mattress set atop a box spring. The sheriff's deputies had already removed the blood-spattered clothes and swept up the residue of crushed pills.

It was the first Monday in October 2005, five years since Bull had fallen from a ladder and injured his back at Penn Coal mine and secured that first prescription for pain pills, which led to another and another. Bull kept finding doctors to prescribe OxyContin and Lortab. He had been taking painkillers for two years before Debbie realized he was addicted. He'd slump into the sofa at her house and fall asleep. She tried to reason with him. She checked him into rehab. He'd stay a few days, then relapse. He lost his home after failing to pay the mortgage. He became a stranger to Debbie. The contents of a pill bottle would transform a once strong and proud coal miner into a coward prowling darkened streets and dive bars for his next fix. He tried to shed the addiction at a methadone clinic. He stopped going after six months. He told his sister he was taking pain medication, but he assured her he wasn't snorting pills or shooting up.

"Be careful," she had told him as he was leaving their mother's house in Kermit, the last time they spoke.

"See you tomorrow," he said.

After rifling through the single-wide, Debbie stepped outside, her platinum-blond hair afire in the morning sun, her brown eyes, rimmed with red, narrowing to scan the depths of the hollow. At forty-eight, she was three years older than Bull, so nicknamed because he was a bullheaded child.

Debbie noticed a white truck parked beside a shotgun-frame house with a broken porch. It was Bull's Ford Explorer. She swung open the passenger-side door and retrieved a stack of family photographs—Bull with his thirteen brothers and sisters, Bull with his arm around his father, Bull dressed in a navy firefighter's uniform and white cap beside the fire truck outside the Kermit VFD.

A man emerged from the house and waved Debbie inside. He wanted to show her something he had discovered in the truck's glove box. Prescription receipts and four orange plastic prescription bottles. They were empty. Every one of them.

The evening before his death, Bull and his estranged wife and another man had been drinking beer at a honky-tonk called Sweeties Teardrop Inn. They drove back to Mud Lick at 1:00 a.m. that Sunday. Bull fell asleep on the mattress. The man swiped Bull's truck and drove across the Tug Fork into Kentucky to buy more beer. On the way back, he lost control of the Explorer, ran it up a hill, and slammed into the neighbor's porch. Someone rushed the man who wrecked Bull's truck to the hospital in Louisa, Kentucky. He slipped out of the emergency room before the authorities figured things out and tried to arrest him. He got back to the trailer around 1:00 p.m., fell onto a couch, and turned on the television to watch the Cincinnati Bengals game. Bull was still on the mattress in the bedroom. He hadn't moved. Nobody bothered to wake him.

The recounting of events was unsettling. Debbie rolled the hard plastic bottles in her palm, then gripped them tight. The white labels revealed the missing contents: ninety Valium; sixty oxycodone; ninety OxyContin, an extended-release form of oxycodone; and thirty Zestril tablets. She recognized the drugs. A sedative, painkillers, a blood-pressure medication. She knew the dangers of mixing them. She had attended too many funerals not to know.

Excerpted from Death in Mud Lick by Eric Eyre. Copyright © 2020 by Eric Eyre. Excerpted by permission of Scribner. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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