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Summary and book reviews of Death in Mud Lick by Eric Eyre

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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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2020, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 6, 2021, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jamie Chornoby
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

1
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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

By looking at the opioid endemic as a multifaceted public health matter, Eyre is successful in bringing visibility to the issue and its many layers. He places it in a national context, sharing not only West Virginia's specific relationship with opioids, but also data about nationwide drug distribution. Thanks to his investigative work, the public has new information showing a side of addiction that is seldom understood, one that looks beyond individuals and into the larger systemic factors that make this a patterned problem...continued

Full Review Members Only (801 words).

(Reviewed by Jamie Chornoby).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
[A] highly readable account where events unfold in ticktock and the scenes are set cinematically...A powerful subtext of the book is the irreplaceable role of local journalism. Not simply to inform — an essential task in itself — but to help serve justice through investigation. Consistent with its 'sustained outrage' ethos, the Gazette-Mail has been a tireless watchdog on the coal industry...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.

New York Times
Eyre finds a tone for his story. He writes with candor and gravity; a tensile rod of human decency braces every paragraph. He attached himself to this story the way a human fly attaches to a skyscraper, and he refused to let go...Death in Mud Lick is meat and potatoes journalism in a light, sensible broth...It’s 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.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[R]iveting and essential...Packed with colorful details and startling statistics, this page-turning journalistic thriller shines a brilliant spotlight on a national tragedy.

Booklist (starred review)
Compellingly told...a tale of compassionate people deeply wronged and a dogged journalist who won't stand for it.

Library Journal (starred review)
Timely and well documented, with appeal to a broad range of readers.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Portions of the narrative feature first-person narration, as the author illuminates how time-consuming, budget-busting investigative journalism functions despite circumstances that mitigate against it...Timely, depressing, engrossing reportage on an issue that can't receive too much attention.

Author Blurb Dan Fagin, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Toms River
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.

Author Blurb Keith Humphreys, former White House drug policy adviser to Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama
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.

Author Blurb Beth Macy, author of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America
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.

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Beyond the Book

Federal Raid on Mingo County, West Virginia

A church and other buildings in Kermit, West VirginiaIn 1988, Mingo County, West Virginia appeared in headlines across the country, with reports of staggering corruption in the southwest part of the Mountain State. There were allegations that elected officials paid for votes, firefighters set property ablaze for insurance payouts, and mom-and-pop trailer shops peddled pot, LSD and PCP.

The Preece family was at the center of the town, and in turn, the center of the scandals. "Wig" Preece and his wife "Cooney" had 13 children. They were affiliated with folks in the highest offices — the county prosecutor's office, the school board, the fire house, the county commission and the jail. With clout in practically all pockets of Mingo County, they seemed untouchable. According to FBI ...

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