Opioids Part 2: 780 million pills in West Virginia

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In part 2 of our series on the opioid crisis in Appalachia, we talk to Eric Eyre, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter currently working with the Mountain State Spotlight covering opioids in West Virginia.  Eric has been a leading reporter on the ground working to shed light on the drug distributors’ role in the crisis.  Eric is also the author of “Death in Mud Lick.”

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For ongoing coverage of the issue happening in North Fork trailer park in Kentucky, check out our friends at My Old Kentucky Podcast.

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Intro – Why Mothman is from Planet Fitness

Chuck Corra:  this was brought up because someone tagged us in a tweet. That was, um, basically highlighting what I assume to be chest hairs on the moth man statue and point pleasant. Uh, and it got me really focusing on the detail of that statue. And we’ve like, we’ve mentioned before and we have in our merchandise store, it does have a dump truck ass, but it’s also guys washboard six pack abs.

Um, You know, a chest that really any Olympic athlete could be proud of a healthy set and a guy, one of your dogs. I don’t know which one it is, but he’s get he or she is getting real excited about this. I don’t know. 

Big John: Yeah. 

Chuck Corra: I don’t blame him. I mean, look, if I had a body like that, I’d be barking too. And in the chest hair, and I think he’s got a V you know, like a, the down at the laced area.

Um, it’s, it’s really astounding to me. And I was thinking like he would make a great spokesperson for old spice or something like that. We need to switch it up a little bit. We need to get out of the traditional male human person, advertising things like, like old spice. And I really think that cryptids is the next direction to go in.

Big John: I think that’s the only fair thing. Yeah. The, the funny thing is like, we talk about like, you know, Appalachian in West Virginia stereotypes. Right. But then you got moth man, which is like the. You know the opposite of, I mean, just ripped out of his damn mind, right? I mean, I don’t know what he’s doing. Like he is just that dude must’ve lived on planet fate.

This is mothman's chiseled body
Mothman’s ripped boy, via Billy Liar on Flickr

Chuck Corra: we have, we have done more to further the research on this creature then. Didn’t John keel could have possibly imagined. 

Big John: Oh my God. What a, wow. What a, what a realization. 

Chuck Corra: Yeah. Instead of the bat, the bat signal, it’s the luck alarm. And then you hit that and 

Big John: yeah, that’s that’s the red light people are seeing is that damn light that spins when the lung alarm goes off and 

Chuck Corra: we’re, I’m not gonna.

We’re onto something. I 

Big John: also planet fitness, smells like, which is exactly what people been saying. 

Chuck Corra: I was walked into it a number of times and it smelled like rotten eggs. So that also tracks cause that’s what, and oftentimes there are men in black that are there who come to collect debts per se and pull you out.

Um, that tracks as well. They’re also just in the black membership. 

Big John: Yeah. It turns out that people, when they said they were running Hills, they weren’t, they were actually just caught on the elliptical while moth man is over like squat and 400 pounds. I love this, this, this, this might be the breakthrough of, I would backdoor beg.

I would argue what, uh, the century. 

Chuck Corra: I will. Yeah, I think that’s fair. Cause there’s, you know, a lot of stuff has happened in the past a hundred years, but nothing like this, he and what do you think he dead lifts? I think he dead lifts at least the weight of the silver bridge. 

Big John: That’s fair. Yeah, I think, well, I think he started the silver bridge, but I’m pretty sure that dude, he could deadlift the new river Gorge by now.

Chuck Corra: Data’s trimming, you know, the whole thing, not just the bridge, the 

Big John: whole gorgeous about what’s missing from that statute. So you got, you have the ripped abs, right? You have the perfect, perfect pecs, right? You have that little V that I have no idea how people get. Uh, 

Chuck Corra: yeah. I don’t, I don’t know. I think they have to, to find a genie or something, but yeah, here’s the 

Big John: thing that’s missing.

Right? So you have all of those, the legs are massive. The dump truck ass, right? But really there, I don’t think there was enough detail on the muscular structure of those wings. 

Chuck Corra: You’re 

Big John: telling me. Right. So he literally he’s built like Dwayne, the rock Johnson, but have wings that would carry Kevin Hart. And that makes no sense to me.

Chuck Corra: Yeah, man. Yeah, you’re right. I honestly thought a lot about this, honestly, like. Do you think that the D you think that the math man statue was based off the body of Dwayne, the rock Johnson? Or do you think that Dwayne, the rock Johnson’s body was based off, 

Big John: man? Yeah. Dwayne, the rock Johnson’s dad, allegedly his dad, right.

Was Rocky Johnson. Who’s very, who was a very famous professional wrestler who was stacked built like moth man. But I don’t know. 

Chuck Corra: Yep. Built like a brick shit. I don’t know. 

Big John: The lineage past that something tells me moth man is attached to that lineage. 

Chuck Corra: Yeah, I think we need to do an ancestry.com of Dwayne, the rock Johnson and start to pull back some of the layers.

Big John: It’s a bunch of like kick ass Samoans. Cause I, that, yeah. He’s like, I think he’s Samoan. Um, so it’s a bunch of kick ass Samoans moth, man. Dwayne, the rock. 

Chuck Corra: Yeah. You just see like Dwayne, the rock Johnson’s like great uncle is, was best friends with Linda Scarbary and point pleasant, West Virginia or something like that.

And that’s it. That’s it. We got to 

Big John: figure it out. You can’t tell me to moth man had to a vacation. Right. 

Chuck Corra: So, um, yeah. Well he flies. I mean, I feel like he could 

Big John: think about this. Like he could have easily gone and visited that family throughout the time. Right. 

Chuck Corra: Sure. You know, he could have flown to the Samoa, the rock comes 

Big John: along and you know, if I’m moth, man, if I’m, let’s say I’m Dwayne, the rock Johnson’s great-grandpa I’m moth man.

And I’m his great grandpa. Sure. I go into hiding because I don’t think you can build anything better than doing the rock you’ve you’ve done it. You’ve succeeded. You have your species is now our species or at least what our species now wants to be. 

Chuck Corra: I completely agree. I think this is the beginning of our book on moth man.

Um, this’ll serve as a premise for sure. I do. Cause there’s no like you can’t get better than the Brock and he’s got the personality go with it too. Now we don’t know about Dan’s personality. I assume it’s just fine. He didn’t kill anybody. You just wholly rise out of people.

Big John: 20, 24. When the rock becomes president does moth man, get a seat at the table. Finally, is this what moth man has been working towards his entire life? 

Chuck Corra: I think you’re right. Well, at least he comes back. Right? And then he can live freely. He 

Big John: could finally clear himself. He could say, look, it wasn’t me that did all these terrible things.

I was trying to save the day. That’s why I invented the rock. 

Chuck Corra: Via compelling argument. All right. We’re going to have to see, we’re going to have to say, I think we’re going to have to start that crowdfunding campaign to get the rock to run in 2024, we can have our own selfish and take it 23 in Me and 2024.

That’s what the campaign is going to be called. 

Big John: I love it. 

Support our friends at Cornbread Hemp

Chuck Corra: Look, we, uh, we love Dwayne, the rock Johnson. We love moth man and his chiseled body and something else, John, that we love is Cornbread Hemp CBD, a sponsor of this show, sponsoring this series on opioids. I’m a big fan of it. I’ve used, their gummies have used their oils.

I really like it. It’s always full spectrum and it means as much THC as federal law allows, we like that. It’s not going to get you high, but it’s going to make you feel good and it’s going to help balance things out. And that’s what we like. 

Big John: We like those things. We like that it’s flower only extraction.

We like. Just like Afro man. Right? We love that; we don’t have to pick out the seeds and stems. Unlike 99% of other CBD companies. 

Chuck Corra: That’s right. Trust Afro, man, if there’s anybody that knows this type of industry, it’s him. Um, and the other cool thing about this, John, look, we, we choose our sponsors carefully obviously.

And something that we like to do is have ones that represent the local community cornbread hemp. Is from Kentucky and they’re Kentucky’s first USD, a certified organic CBD product at means that the department of agriculture has certified that they are organically grown. So you can be sure that you are putting something that’s good into your body.

It’s free of pesticides and it’s from Kentucky. What could be better than that? 

Big John: Well, I’ll tell you what can be better than that 30 day guarantee. You don’t like it. You send it back. They give you a full refund. So I’m telling you, you can have 29 of these, let’s say CBD gummies. You got one left. You didn’t like it.

Send it back. You get a full refund. I don’t think you’re going to send it back. 

Chuck Corra: No, I didn’t send mine back and I look. That’s I don’t know of any other company that does that maybe they do. I don’t know, but that tells you that they trust their product and that’s important. Something else to really understand about them.

We had Jim on the show, the co-founder of cornbread hemp, and it’s owned by him and his family. Uh, it’s family owned crowdfunded. That means that they’ve raised money from people, not corporations. So it’s not some corporate CBD. That’s just trying to take your money and make a profit at somebody that’s really invested in this product and really wanting to make it better and wanting to make it good for you.

Big John: And Jim, as the only two times, I’m guests of Appalachia only two-time guests. So he loves the people who listen to this podcast so much. I can’t believe it. It’s the deal of the century. You go on, you make a purchase at the end, you type in APPODLACHIA to get 25% off your entire order. Yeah.

Chuck Corra: Let me put that into perspective. That’s a quarter that’s like, if you get a pizza with eight slices, two of those slices are for free. 

Big John: Jim is literally telling you right now, he’s so confident in this. That he could give you a quarter off and he knows you’re coming back, baby. 

Chuck Corra: He knows that he knows you’re going to get those gummies and the gummies are delicious.

Trust me. I’ve had them. They’re amazing. Check it out. Cornbread, hemp.com link in the show notes, support this show support a Kentucky owned business 

Big John: and they have dog CBD. 

How you can support Appodlachia

Chuck Corra: Uh, I wanted to real quick before we kind of get into things though, I want to put out an appeal to support our Patrion. Um, cause John is, you know, we’ve been working hard at it for over a year and we’ve got a lot of exclusives on there.

We’ve got a lot of extra content. We’re doing a lot more for our supporters and it only takes $5 a month. And, um, it really helps us out. We, as we grow this podcast, we incur more costs when it comes to upgrading equipment. When it comes to. Getting the right platforms to do editing and uploading and all of that stuff.

And just the time that it takes to put this together, to do the research, to do the editing, the video, the audio, make it sound not terrible. Um, which I think if you go back and listen to episode one, and now there is a big difference. I hope so. It’s something that we put a lot of time into and we would love and appreciate your support.

If you haven’t been a patron member already, um, you can go to patrion.com/appalachia and give as little as five bucks a month. And it, it really makes a difference for us. I can tell you. Yeah. Um, well 

Big John: look, we, uh, are the Patrion is one of those things that I don’t think we thought would be one of the. Um, would be a focus of ours, like, you know, uh, as we’ve grown and as we’ve we’ve kept going, I actually have a lot of fun with the exclusives.

I, I think that it’s, it’s one of the best parts of the episode, to be honest with you. Well, it’s not even part of the episode. You have to be a patron member. So, uh, look. There’s a lot of cool stuff. That’s going to happen over there too. I think we’re going to do more zoom sessions. Maybe we’re going to do more Q and A’s, we’re going to do tons of stuff also.

I know I’m talking really weirdly and it’s because I lost my voice last night, so yeah, I’m, I’m powering through though, but anyway, patrion.com/app. 

Chuck Corra: Gotcha. Yeah. If you want to hear it, big John power three and more. There you go. Um, yeah. Well, I wanted to put that out there just because, um, we’ve been, w we’ve really kind of built a community around the patron too, and it’s been something a little bit of a labor of love for us, and it just helps really, I think, um, make sure that we provide the best quality stuff that we possibly can, including this series on opioids, which we, uh, we’ve been working pretty hard.

Interview with Eric Eyre on his coverage of opioids

Very, very true. Which speaking of that, we’ve got a phenomenal guest. We are, this is a so last week was the only time they’re just gonna hear from us on this because we’re not experts by any means. Not even close, not even, not even in the same universe, but we have experts coming throughout the next four episodes, including today.

Um, Eric heir, who is an investigative reporter with the mountain state spotlight, the watchdog journalism outlet in West Virginia. John, this was, this was a big get for us just because I think Eric is so accomplished in, in his reporting on opioids and has really, I think, I think blew the doors open with just how, how much of a role drug discovery drug distributors have played and bringing pills into States and, um, And so he’s just a really impressive guy.

I wanted to read some of his accolades real quick before we kind of get into the discussion about, um, he won the Pulitzer prize for investigative reporting in 2017, which is extremely rare for somebody from a local news outlet at the time he was with the Charleston Gazette and Charleston, West Virginia.

It is extremely rare. Most of the time, it goes to somebody from the times from the Washington post, from those other like LA times as big outlets, but a little old West Virginia hit the map. And so he won the Pulitzer for courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition to expose the flood of opioids flowing into West Virginia counties with the highest overdose rates in the country.

Three stories of his were included in his winning work for the Pulitzer. Most notably a piece titled 780 million pills, 1,728 deaths, which is a reference to the flood of pills into, um, and two small counties in Southern West Virginia, all of this. Um, he did a lot of reporting on this and wrote a book recently called a death in Mudlick, which I will link to.

It’s a great book. I read it and it really is a powerful accounting of his reporting, the struggles he went through to get the right information from. Attorney general Morrissey from the drug companies, the distributors, everything. Um, he’s also just won a ton of national awards for investigative reporting.

It’s extremely accomplished and we are, we’re really big fans of his work. Um, John, your reaction to this interview. Yeah, 

Big John: look, I knew it was going to be good. Okay. That was office, you know, you look at those credentials and how can it not be good? Right. I mean, especially with our groundbreaking ability to ask hard hitting questions.

This was one of those ones that you don’t in this interview. You’ll see how close journalists get to their stories because you know, Eric, you know, he tells you about it in the interview. I mean, This really wasn’t his life. Do you know what I mean?

It wasn’t something that he was going after in terms, of journalism. He didn’t leave school and say, I’m going to go cover opioids. Right. But it just it’s like, it’s like our Patrion it’s become a labor of love for him. And that is what his job is now. I mean, if you look at a lot of his stuff, He’s the guy that they go to now, because of, because of the, you know, all of the great journalism that he’s done, all the research, all finding out, just crazy stuff that’s been going on.

And he, again, to have a guy like that in 

Chuck Corra: West Virginia is. Uh, rare. 

Big John: I mean, you just, if you have somebody like him, usually don’t keep them. They usually, you know, they go off and, you know, go to the times, you know, whatever they go to, they go to really big, uh, journalistic outlets, but Eric stayed here and I guarantee you, he could have left, but I think he just loves.

What he does now. And he, I mean, he makes a difference in his, in everything he writes now, which I think is 

Chuck Corra: absolutely. Yeah. It was really interesting to kind of hear that he, he kind of stumbled into the, uh, subject of opioids about like seven or eight years ago. And hasn’t really stopped reporting on it ever since.

And I think as evidence of your point that he’s so important and this coverage is something that I think he first maybe mentioned on the show that came out in a. In a court or excuse me, they came out in court recently because there is currently a trial underway with the three major drug distributors in Charleston, West Virginia right now is that, uh, the drug distributors had a playbook on him.

And how to thought his coverage, how to avoid having stories written by him because they viewed his reporting as such a threat to them. And if the drug distributors view him as a threat, you know that he’s doing something right? Yeah. You got 

Big John: to hear this interview because his reaction to that, I mean, and you can tell too, it’s not like it’s something that he’s, um, that he was expecting, you know what I mean?

And come to find out it happened even before he, he, he broke, you know, Ground with, you know, his reporting. So I think it’s kind of like a prospect in baseball, right? Like, you know that they’re going to be a great hitter one day and they’re going to get to the league. I think people saw Eric and they thought this guy’s, this guy is going to be trouble even before he 

Chuck Corra: was.

Yeah, absolutely. And they were, uh, they had some, some good.

Damn straight. Well, let’s get into it. Let’s uh, let’s hear from Eric Eyre, Eric, thanks so much for joining us. I really appreciate it. And, um, at the outset, I really appreciate all the work actually that you and your colleagues are doing at mountain state spotlight. It’s a really impressive organization that you guys have running there.

Eric Eyre: I appreciate it. Yeah. We’re fortunate to have some really good young eager reporters. Through that report for 

Chuck Corra: America program. Yeah, I guess we can jump right into it. Um, obviously you’ve been covering the opioid epidemic for a while now. I’m kind of curious how you got started covering in West Virginia.

And, uh, and just how that all came about for you. 

Eric Eyre: Chuck. I came into it in a kind of a strange or different manner. Uh, I was working down at the Capitol building out at state house as a, basically a state government reporter, legislative reporter. And we got a tip that, um, our new attorney general Patrick Morrison, uh, uh, a party and we were kind of surprised that he would have an inaugural party.

Cause the governor has an inaugural parties, not usually, uh, attorney generals or a 

Chuck Corra: treasurer or agriculture 

Eric Eyre: or whatever. So, um, I went down the list of somebody suggested to take a look at the list of the people that were, were paying for the inaugural. And we went down the list and there was the normal ones, like the Western Nichole association, the Western natural gas association.

And then we came to a name called Cardinal health. So I asked somebody about Cardinal health. Uh, they had given money to the inaugural. They had given money to this campaign and it turned out that his predecessor. Download girl, but former Democrat that had it was the 20 year incumbent had filed a lawsuit against Cardinal health and other, uh, drug distributors.

So we did a little more digging and another person that was helping to pay for the inaugural was an organization called a capital council, which is a lobbying group in Washington, DC. It turned out that attorney general Patrick Morrisey, his wife was actually a lobbyist for Cardinal health. And so she was a lobbyist for Cardinal health while he was ever seeing a lawsuit against Cardinal health.

He said he had reduced himself from the case, but we would find that evidence later that showed that you had not refused or stepped down from the, from the case. 

Big John: That’s super interesting. I didn’t know about McGraw filing, no lawsuit, pre-Morrissey. I didn’t, I didn’t even think to connect that.

Uh, so that’s, that’s really interesting when you, when you first started this, I know that you said your, you transitioned from kind of state house to talk, you know, to kind of covering opioids. And, uh, what was your, what was your goal? I mean, I know that you, you know, you were just getting into it. Was, was there any goal to this research or to this coverage?

Initially 

Eric Eyre: it was to, uh, see if it was true that, uh, Patrick Morrisey had actually recused himself from the case. But then as I got digging deeper into things, you know, I looked at, uh, some of the, uh, pill, mill doctors and the pill mill pharmacies and all the, uh, you know, I followed the litigation and there were some sort of vague allegations that, uh, small towns were being, you know, Saturated or flooded with pills across the state.

Um, so I, I basically spent John the next, probably three years kind of just getting up to speed on this lawsuit and getting up to speed on the opiate epidemic. Did stories about the rising numbers of overdose deaths in the state, uh, and kind of just. Kind of just dogged that story for the next three or four years here I am eight years later, I’m still, still doing it because we finally got this litigation in federal court in Charleston.

Chuck Corra: So I think like looking towards, uh, some of the more sevenths of your work and obviously which formed, uh, the, the work that won the Pulitzer, which by the way, congratulations about that. That’s an incredible accomplishment by anyone, but especially, um, I, as I understand it rare for a. Um, a paper that’s essentially not the Washington post or New York times.

So that was incredible work. Um, your, your book, which I read and I really enjoyed, um, let’s call it a death in Mudlick and it’s a reference to the title, which is a reference to the death of a coal miner named bull priests. It had been addicted to opioids after being prescribed them for an injury. And I’m wondering what stood out to you about his story and why did you choose to reference it in the title of your book?

Eric Eyre: Well, that’s the Mudlick is the place where he passed away of a Oxycontin overdose. But, uh, the reason I focused on him was basically because of his sister, Debbie priest, who’s basically an American hero. All this started with Debbie priests. 3000 plus lawsuits, if you filed a wrong death lawsuit, way back in 2005, uh, after she settled, she, uh, you know, started wondering where all these, all these pills were coming from.

And she actually started tailing some of the delivery drivers that were showing up at the local pharmacies and she traced one of those plates back to, uh, Cardinal health and with the help of a GMT or who’s a. Incredible lawyer. Um, they, they got their heads together and they were the ones that came up with the idea to take it to down on McGraw, uh, filed a lawsuit against Cardinal health AmerisourceBergen and about 12 other smaller regional 

Chuck Corra: distributors.

That’s interesting. And, and her story really is incredible. And something that stuck out to me, just especially in the beginning of the book, um, is just how striking. In blatant, the system of moving Hills was especially in Southern West Virginia. You had very intricate system set up with people, driving people to Marietta and other places to get prescriptions and bring them back.

And it was, it was honestly, sounds like it was done in the broad daylight a lot of times. W was that shocking to you? Is that your, did that come across as a normal, like, what was your reaction when, when you had learned all of that?

Eric Eyre: I mean some of the numbers, uh, the number of pills that went to these small towns, as you probably know that the poster child for this is Kermit West Virginia, which has a population of, I think, less than 400, three 80, something like that. And they were shipped, there were three years, more than 12 million prescription opioids, or if you do it over two years, a little bit less than nine nine, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t this current Williamson.

Had, uh, upwards of 23 million pills. They were five years. Uh, she didn’t, that’s a town of about 3000, um, Mount gay in loving County. There was another pharmacy there that was actually high, the highest, uh, uh, receiver of opioids and dispenser of opioids in the state. So, yeah. And you know, these drive-through pharmacies, mostly independent pharmacies.

Is loaded up with people. Um, a story I tell I’ve seen some, uh, Jim Cagle gave me some investigator footage shot by a private investigator that he had hired for the case. And they showed us these crowds of people lined up outside this real tiny pharmacy. And when I say tiny, it’s not, it’s not like the size of a Rite aid or something.

It’s the size of like a quarter of a. Donald’s or something, and they’re just lined up in cars. You can see the footage there’s cars from far away as Florida. You can actually see one delivery truck shows up from a company called Miami. We moved in when she was no longer in business, it was a regional drug distributor, but you know, the one in Kermit the, I mean, the crowds got so big.

Cause I write in the book then had to put a camper trailer on the property. It’s all hot dogs and hamburgers and soda pop because people are getting sick of waiting in the long lines. Um, may yeah. You know, you can see on the video photos, people trading pills for cash. It was just a, just an incredible thing we found out in this subpoenas later, too.

They talk about, um, literally, you know, growing year, growing dispensing. Oh, periods over the counter. They couldn’t get the cash register shot. There was so much casks, cause it was pretty much all a cash only business. So it was just, you know, this incredible like wild West. Then we found out later that in this tiny town of karma that the pharmacist and the pharmacy, he was making upwards of $7 million a year, uh, 

Chuck Corra: so big.

Eric Eyre: Wow. And it was, I think it was in the top 10. 

Chuck Corra: For most prescription 

Eric Eyre: opioids of any facility in the country. And that means, you know, 

Chuck Corra: uh, you know, big 

Eric Eyre: New York city LA stuff like that. It was, it was just totally out of hand. 

Big John: That’s an incredible, I mean, we see, you know, everybody kind of saw the headlines when they came out, but when you put it, when you break it down like that, it’s, it’s even more, uh, of a worst situation, you know, whenever you think about comparing it to, let’s say New York city, for instance.

Um, so one of the themes throughout the book is you, you mentioned this a little bit is the murky relationship between. Cardinal health and attorney general, uh, at that time now, still Patrick Morrisey. Uh, could you explain, uh, that theme for it, for people who haven’t read the book? 

Eric Eyre: Yeah, I mean, um, so he was in charge of a lawsuit.

Against Cardinal health could be inherited from, from down overall, the democratic, uh, former attorney general. And he denied that he had any role in the lawsuit or wasn’t calling the shots in the lawsuit, but we later would find records that, uh, shared that he was meeting privately with our no, uh, lawyers.

Uh, he said he was meeting with them not to talk about the case, but. A letter, an email that says that, you know, it’s regarding state of West Virginia versus I don’t know how, um, later we had a, some documents that were leaked to us that we failed to get through freedom of information act and in a coordinator.

And, um, but they were leaked to us that Sherry bit, uh, the attorney general was insisting on being at court hearings. And, uh, you know, basically, uh, was, was calling the shots in the lawsuit and, you know, it mentions Cardinal health throughout the email that we got. But, uh, the, he was eventually, uh, cleared of any wrongdoing, but the board of the office of disciplinary counsel for the city of West Virginia dude, Ms.

Stern warning shoes gotten out of activities much sooner. 

Chuck Corra: Yeah. And, and I won’t go into detail on here, but the way that the, you ended up acquiring the email, um, that, that discussed, I think it was his involvement in the, uh, the Cardinal lawsuit or, or had mismatched when he had recused himself was really interesting about, uh, someone that dropped it off at your house after you’d been trying to get it for a foil for two years, I thought it was really fascinating.

Um, one thing I’m interested in you have, I mean, you’re, you. Are essentially. In sort of an advert, not really never Sarah really should, but you’re going up against sort of the, the West Virginia attorney general summits has a lot of power. Um, you’re doing a lot of important reporting, uh, that the big three Doug drug distributors probably don’t like very well and they have tremendous amount of power.

Um, what, like, did you probably have some sort of target on your back or something? I mean, could you like. Did you ever feel threatened or you ever, did anybody try to pressure you? What, what was the situation like that? 

Big John: Well, 

Eric Eyre: um, remind me to talk to you about the, the court hearing. And this week, I’m going to go back a couple of some new developments can out of the court hearing, uh, the trial this week, but, um, uh, Patrick Morrisey threatened to Sue me and the newspaper wrote paper.

Sattler several times. Interest in retaliation for the articles he filed and antitrust, uh, action, investigative action against the, is that male. Um, you’re asking for all of our employment records, um, personnel records and, um, budgets and, and, you know, our financial records that that case was eventually dismissed by the judge.

And. Putnam County that was hearing the case. Um, when we got the, when we got a leaked documents and other thing talk when we got the week documents, uh, uh, this top deputy lawyer called our lawyer, Pat McKinley was working pretty on the case. He’s a professor at WVU, and he said that if we, uh, if we ran this story in the paper, we would face quote, unquote sanctions.

Uh, if they were trying to stop the story from being published. Wow. But of course there’s the famous Pentagon papers case that you can’t, uh, preempt a story like that. Uh, there’s a precedent that you can’t stop stories like that. Now, going back to what I, what I learned last week, uh, which was a total surprise for me, uh, during the opening arguments and, and I’ve since gotten the documents, the trade brute.

For the drug distributor, the opioid distributors is called HDA or HTMA. And we found out that there’s a memo going back to 2015, that they had a strategy call. I’m looking it up right here, the crisis playbook and how it was like how to deal with the media. And they talked about how they did, basically, they listen to you by name, throughout the reports and, uh, you know, what can we do to.

Basically, we know what the word is, not necessarily for it, but to one my reporting. Wow. And other sides. This is in a, I still haven’t done a story on it. I’m not sure how to write a story about myself. Right. Um, it’s it’s uh, it was, it was very much a surprise to me. I had no idea. And, and so, you know, HD is called HD.

Uh, or HDMA Patrick Morrisey at one time with the top lobbyists for that, for the charity group that represents the drug distributors on the board of directors of HDA or, um, all of the, uh, exec all three of the big three. You have representation on the board of directors. 

Big John: Wow. Of course, I never, never sell 

Eric Eyre: it.

You know, I wasn’t, I wasn’t followed or anything. I was reading Patrick rating. Pete spoke about, um, the Sacklers and Purdue farm. And I guess they had a prime investigator in a black SUV outside his house. He heard about that, but nothing like that. I, you know, I say as people is that, you know, were you scared?

Well, first of all, I didn’t know. I didn’t know how, when I got into this at first. It took me a while to figure out how big these companies were, um, as it right. Is it right in the book? Um, you know, um, McKesson is number eight largest company, according to the fortune 500, um, AmerisourceBergen is 10 and, um, where it’s, uh, health, I think it’s like 12, it could be kind of shift around from year to year, but these are, these are big companies.

I mean, you’ve got, you know, Walmart at the top of the list. You’ve got Apple. You’ve got Exxon. And then all of a sudden you come to this, you know, McKesson and Maris would have been you like who, what, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t realize at the time they were so big. I, I kinda think at some point I had been, I have been saying that they really weren’t concerned with me because we weren’t the Washington post or New York times.

And they figured nobody was going to see the stories. Um, I don’t know what the governor said the other day. Somebody was like a mosquito on a. Dinosaurs ass or something like that. I think that’s the way it kind of looked at me, but there’s this new, new crisis playbook that came out kind of changed that for me.

So they, and this was 2015. And remember the poser story at one of the faults or didn’t run until December, 2016. So this was a year before 

Chuck Corra: that. Oh, so the playbook came out and they were writing that about you in 2015. Yeah. Oh, 

Eric Eyre: wow. I have to kind of go back check and see, you know, look at the timing of it.

What are your particular articles? I was, I was releasing because, um, you know, basically I was just following, following the lawsuit was going on at that time against the distributors. So as I was attending court hearings, um, um, but nothing, nothing huge. So I have to go back and look and match up the dates and find out what I was writing.

That admins are concern. I guess they wanted to keep the, keep it in the bottle and not let it, you 

Chuck Corra: know. Wow. 

Big John: Well, I mean, you know, you’re doing a good job if, uh, If you haven’t even published the, you know, the article that, you know gets you well, you know, well-known nationally and they’re still already making a playbook, but it’s like seeing it, it’s like being an offense and trying to play a defense that, uh, you’ve never actually seen it.

So that that’s incredible. Yeah. The whole 

Eric Eyre: initiative, the whole initiative, you know, they call this the crisis playbook. I’m looking at it now. It’s called turning the tide in West Virginia. Wow. And what’s bad about that. Of course, is they, weren’t talking about turning the time and reducing the number of Oh yeah.

We’re shipping or it’s talking about that. They were talking about turning the tide of their quote unquote image in West Virginia. 

Big John: Wow. That’s, that’s incredible. You, uh, you kind of mentioned this a little bit, but there there’s currently litigation going on and, uh, your you’re covering a trial right now.

If I’m not mistaken, could you give us a little insight on, on what that trial is? 

Eric Eyre: Yeah, this is, this is called the John the bellwether case or the landmark trial. This is the first trial that’s going on against CFA distributors. They had one a year or two ago in Cleveland that settled before the trial started, but this actually started, uh, This is the first of, you know, more than 2000 up to possibly 3000 cases.

And in this case, it’s the Campbell County and heartset in Huntington, in Calwell County versus the big three distributors. And as you probably know that, uh, Huntington and and owl, uh, are really, uh, even more so than Carmen and Mingo County are the epicenter. Opiod epidemic. I mean, they they’ve been through a really tough time and they’ve made some real, they made some real progress prior to pandemic, reducing opiate deaths, uh, opioid or drug overdose deaths.

Um, but so it’s these, you know, the city and the County is squaring off against, um, the three distributors. And what happens is what happens in this case. Now it’s a non-jury child. They call it a bench trial. Cause it’s just a judge with new jury. But depending on what he awards taboo in Huntington, uh, could have Reaper or get warrants, or if he read, even if they reach a settlement, which we thought we were going to see him last week and did not.

Um, but, uh, what happens here that the dollar amount that’s awarded, if there is, you know, an award. That they’re, you know, just every, every candidate I think, except one. And I’m not sure which one it is in West Virginia is suing these charges two years, uh, that will affect the amounts of those in those cases as well, based on population.

So it really, you know what happens at this trial, it is not going to stay here. It’s going to have statewide repercu, repercussions, and possibly national repercussions. 

Chuck Corra: Yeah. Well, and especially because, I mean, unlike Purdue pharma, which was a manufacturer and has declared bankruptcy, lost billions of dollars because of lawsuits, these are distributors.

And I mean, I think their main argument, if I recall, is that they’re just the middleman. They’re not the ones responsible and they blame it on everybody else. So it does seem like it could be a really. Um, a striking verdict. If, if one does come down, um, I, I’m kinda curious to, to wrap, wrap this up. Um, you started covering this, uh, the opioid crisis, uh, um, a number of years ago.

I’m wondering how has. The news coverage of it changed since you started writing about it. Cause obviously the, the topic itself has gained a lot of national notoriety and it’s, it’s a subject of talk for a lot of people now where it wasn’t probably back when you started. So I’m just kind of curious, maybe from your perspective, as some, as a journalist, how the news coverage has changed.

Big John: Well, 

Eric Eyre: yeah, I mean, back in 2015, there was a lot of people that were just blaming the quote unquote addict. And I’m used to, I don’t want to use that term. Substance use is a person with substance use disorder. Um, there was a lot of blame being put there. Um, I think my coverage in particular, uh, opened up, you know, there’s more, you know, more than Purdue pharma was responsible for this.

Frankly, it’s, you know, I get criticized that I didn’t put it up in about doctors way. My mom was like, uh, why don’t you get in, you know, blaming the doctor anymore, which I did a lot of articles about him, of doctors, you know, at the end of the day, it’s this, it’s this, it’s this basically this rating system where you’ve got crooked doctors, uh, you know, prescribing the drugs you’ve got, uh, You know, RO your pharmacist accepting cash and, you know, you know, dispensing, you know, opioids, people from Florida in West Virginia.

Um, and you you’ve got the distributors of course. And you’ve got the manufacturers that you’ve got lobbyists and you got politicians, they Paltel to the industry. And it’s all, it’s all just one big, great system it’s been described by one of the people who went into this Western India state police officers that was, uh, to get that position.

You described it as this, as a lever, we’ll drive a cartel. And the, one of the lawyers for the distributors, you know, was really taken aback. But now, you know, and then that price, it was back in June, 2016, but now it’s pretty much accepted a lot of people that are. Covering this, you know, all different facets.

So, you know, it really is like illegal drug cartel. 

Chuck Corra: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s any other better word for it than that, for sure. Um, well, Eric, thank you so much again for joining us and thank you again, just for the important work that you’ve done and continue to do. I know that, um, speak for all of our listeners.

When I say that we really appreciate the hard work that you put into all your reporting on this, because it really has changed the way that people view the crisis and really opened a lot of people’s eyes just to how significant it really is. So really appreciate that. 

Eric Eyre: Well, thank you so much to charge John.

Um, you know, appreciate the focus you put on Appalachia, really enjoyed your awards, uh,

father retweets. That was great. I think, uh, appreciate that you do, uh, Well, I guess it’s people who tweet or your followers or the amount  

Big John: our fans love. I love mountain state spotlight, all of Appalachia. There were people all over, all over the region voting for you all. It wasn’t just a, you know, West Virginia, they, they love y’all.

Okay, well, 

Eric Eyre: now you’ve set the marks so high.

Big John: We’re going to have to deliver exactly. That’s why I’m doing it. That’s why it’s a good idea. 

Eric Eyre: Yeah. And I mean, it’s trying to change the dynamic of, you know, keep local news alive, which I know you guys really support. Uh, I don’t think long-term newspapers have a lot of viability. I mean, there is that mail seal does great work.

Uh, but uh, I think this is going to be the model for the future. Uh, so I’m crossing my fingers and hopefully we can produce some more, uh, investigated in that work in the company. 

Chuck Corra: Absolutely. Absolutely. I hope so. Well again, thank you so much, Eric. I really appreciate it. And, uh, we really appreciate talking to you today.

Eric Eyre: Okay. Thanks so much. We’ll see. 

Chuck Corra: All right. That was our interview with Eric. I again, what, what an asset to the state of West Virginia. What an enemy to the drug distributors and to, uh, attorney general Morrissey. And I just, I think that um, the state and really, you know, the country quite frankly, has benefited from his work and him and all of his colleagues at mountain state spotlight.

I’ll give them a quick shout-out because they’re basically the dream team of investigative journalists and reporters for the state of West Virginia. Follow the Mountain State Spotlight. They’re doing some of the most important work in the state and, uh, and we need to support local journalism.

So that’s my quick plug to them. Yeah. They’re 

Big John: great. They have a lot of, and Eric is just part of that team. I mean, I think that’s the crazy thing. Like, um, they’re kind of like, you know, you ever watched space jam.

Chuck Corra: I ever watched space space? Are you kidding? Well, I’m going to make it honestly, I’m 

Big John: going to make a joke out of how much you used to like R Kelly.

But then I stopped 

Chuck Corra: funny because I actually hated R Kelly and in sixth grade, my sixth grade graduation, we had the same world’s greatest and I refused to sing it up. I refuse to sing it. I didn’t do it because you know, what 

Big John: They’re the good version of the Monstars.

Like they’re, they’re good guys, but they also have great journalistic powers that nobody else has, but they’re all on one team. It’s insane. So, I mean, it’s, it’s a, it’s a team that I will, I will root for is what I’m trying to say. Even though I did, I ruined the Monstars and in space geo, I’m not gonna 

Chuck Corra: lie.

That’s kind of weird. I decorated my childhood room in Space Jam. 

Big John: Look, I’m just trying to, I was trying to tee up as a co-host. I was trying to tee up 

Chuck Corra: and let, let, let you roll.

Look, you teed me up here because much like space jam, uh, the drug companies, the coal companies, the whoever are oftentimes the Michael Jordan of their industry. Uh, so they’re, they’re tough competition to go up against. Yeah. 

Big John: It’s true. And they’re, they’re a great group. Yeah. That’s the main point here and they really are.

You know, what happens to the region is I think we’re going to have a lot more journalists like that. 

Chuck Corra: Yeah, my hope is that there are more mountain state spotlights that pop up throughout the country, especially in Appalachia.

Beef with Big John – Opioids

Speaking of investigative journalism, the person on this show in charge of investigating bullshit, one big John Eisner to you have a beef this week, this week. Oh, man.

Okay. All right. Let it rip then what the let’s be fly this one’s 

Big John: littered on the grill. This one, I, I think this might be the one that I’d get the most pissed off at. Um, I, I am so sick of people looking at our series on opioids. Right. And thinking that either one, either one. We don’t understand the benefits of having access to these drugs, which were not morons.

We do understand the benefits that are, you know, that these drugs bring, we also understand the human element of things, where people are manipulated to get addicted to things so that companies can make more money. CEOs can buy two more houses and shareholders can continue to gain wealth. So it’s one of those things.

Chuck Corra: Yeah. We all hate to see them with just the one house it’s 

Big John: really fun. And so. I’m so sick of hearing that you, uh, believe it or not, you can criticize bad people and still say that their product has merit. Look at the MyPillow guy. He is a shit person, but the MyPillow probably okay. Soda lot. Right. I’m not going to buy it, but still, still.

Chuck Corra: Mike, John, my name is Michael Adele. 

Eric Eyre: And I just want to thank you. We are a sponsor of this 

Chuck Corra: podcast. We have 

Big John: the president. Have you seen that? We got it. No worries.

So anyway, let’s get back to me I’m so sick of that and, and, um, I apologize for the language. Anyway, the other thing that I’m really sick of too is the fact that People continue to try and dumb down the idea of addiction. The S you know, they try and say that the reason people get addicted are so many different things, but, you know, I think some of the research that you showed last time showed that these companies knew what they were doing.

It wasn’t even the fact that they had a hint of it. They knew exactly what they were doing. They knew people would get addicted and they knew people would die. But again, we have a lot of people across, even across this region who have been manipulated brainwashed by these companies to essentially protect them.

More than they protect their neighbor, which totally blows my mind because the Appalachia I grew up in is not like that. We would much rather protect our neighbors than just some random company, but that continues to be a problem 

Chuck Corra: that we see. I was. I was a little, I don’t want to say surprise, but there is a, a lot of people who will go so far as defend the drug companies and complained that what people like, what we’re doing is harming chronic pain, um, patients, because I keep seeing that.

And so. Which is interesting because I think like you said, the assumption is that like, Oh, if we’re, if we’re criticizing drug companies, we just don’t want opioids period. And that’s not the case at all. We understand that the value that they bring and the pain relief that they bring is really important, but.

It’s also the case that these companies, like you said, and like we talked about last week, new manipulated it for profit, not because of some altruism at good Samaritan, a part of their corporate soul that wanted to help people. That was not the reason. And we’re not advocating for eliminating opioids.

It’s just a matter of holding companies accountable and, and understanding and assessing the risk and understanding that they’re highly addictive. And we can’t. Like target your blame at the right entities, target them at the corporate entities, not the, not the people who have become addicted to them and not the people who are trying to shine a light on the corporate greed and profit.

Big John: Yeah. And the funny thing is like, if you look at the people who continue to do this, most of the time, I’m just seeing the people that it is, are the same people who would argue like that. You know, Democrats are like sheep falling in line. And you know, there are conservatives who continue to kind of push single digit ideology.

Like they always do like, like they continue to do, but then they fall in line behind these companies and continue to like try and protect them. Even though those companies have done Jack shit for their community, they, they, I will 100% give them credit that they were able to establish. The ability for somebody to have access to pain management, a hundred percent.

I hand that to them. There are two problems though. One they’re just terrible people running this company, these companies, continue to be terrible people. They continue to literally, look at their computer screen as two things and see a number of deaths. And they see stacks of cash, that’s it?

So as long as the stacks of cash keep coming in and they can at least kind of make excuses, right. Because that’s what they do. They say like, well, if they would have used it as prescribed, they’d be all right, but that’s not true either because shit, you pointed it out. Last time people were using drugs as prescribed.

And still dying. And these companies know that, and that’s what that’s part of the problem. Stop protecting people who will literally don’t care whether or not you live or die. That may not be what they try to present themselves as. But if you look at the documents in these court hearings, if you look at the, it blows my mind, the email exchanges, the text exchanges that are provided in these court documents.

They’re disgusting. And they’re, they’re people who blatantly, I mean, w you know, we saw it, we posted this on Twitter, like the pill Billies, right? Like that’s what they were, they were referring to people in West Virginia as,

yeah, we will. Uh, that’s fine. But, you know, it’s just, it’s just stuff like that. That continues to it. Blows my mind again, the Appalachia that I know, and I love. They’re the same people who protected coal miners over coal companies, right late. They looked at the person rather than the entity and they knew what was the important part.

And I think now we’re starting to lose that because you know, we’re creating excuses for these companies to continue to kind of manhandle our communities, even though we’ve seen now for years that their product, although does have benefits. Continues to allow for them to manipulate a ton of people. It leads to deaths, it leads to addictions, and it leads to just worst case scenarios, people coming in way worse than they ever were before.

Chuck Corra: It’s kind of like a, it’s not like big oil, you know, we can’t deny the benefit of gasoline in our cars, but it’s also the case that they’ve manipulated people they’ve lobbied against, uh, cleaner energy and, and, and renewable resources so that, because it’s it’s to their benefit and it’s for profit, um, just to kind of cap this off because, you know, if there were any doubt anybody’s minds at all, so this is a profit motive.

Um, just wanted to like. Toss in a little, a C-suite salary data for you, John, do you want to take a guess at the, uh, CEO salary of McKesson? One of the biggest pharmaceutical distributor? 

Big John: Yes. And donates a lot of money. Cause they donated a lot of money to my opponent and people like him. So I’m going to assume it’s really high.

I’m going to say 7 million. 

Chuck Corra: Southern millions of interesting guests, a good one, uh, but not, um, not really on the Mark for CEO, Brian S. Tyler from 2019, I would encourage you to double that, then add a million ease at 15 points. 

Big John: I essentially just tried to think of, um, uh, what mansion’s daughter made when she was with myelin.

I was trying, that’s what I was trying to base it off of. 

Chuck Corra: Yeah, that’s fair. Um, Uh, yeah. And so I just wanted to just throw that out there. Like don’t, don’t worry about these people. They’re fine. They’ve got plenty of money. It’s like 

Big John: saying, look, I understand that Walmart has benefits, right? It has access to a lot of products and people can walk in and buy what they want.

But I also can tell you that it has damaged communities. It’s created the need for low socioeconomic jobs that will never lead to any advancement and has killed mom and pop shops. It, you know, in the CEO there, his literally his name is Mick mansion. So look, it’s one of those things it’s going to constantly be.

You can, you can say that things have benefits, but you also can easily point out or should point out the negative sides of things. Especially if they’re killing people. Point blank. 

Chuck Corra: Truth for the record is make a hallway.

Yeah, we all do though. Got issues, but speaking of issues, that’s the end of this issue of opioids. Part two. Thank you for listening. We’re going to be back next week with a great interview from Dr. Sydney McIlroy, not just podcast fame, but also a theme in her community. Working with the community on harm reduction, which is an important aspect of combating the opioid crisis.

And she’s super smart, one of the best people we’ve talked to for this, and looking forward to having her next week. Anyway, thank you all for listening. Opioids Opioids Opioids Opioids Opioids Opioids Opioids Opioids Opioids placed here for phrase density.

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