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A journalism footnote in Death in Mud Lick has some New York resonance

I recently read Eric Eyre's excellent and troubling book Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opiod Epidemic.

I'll refer you to reviews in the New York Times and Washington Post, which laud the shoe-leather reporting and "sustained outrage" exhibited by both Eyre and the newspaper where he worked, West Virginia's Charleston Gazette.

(That philosophy came from its crusading and idiosyncratic owner, Ned Chilton. I worked at the Gazette in 1980s for four-and-three-quarter years.)

Eyre doggedly pursued information from a variety of sources, advantaged by his years of experience, plus the few degrees of separation in a state, and capital city, as small as West Virginia.

Pressuring the Attorney General

But one key set of documents were U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) records referenced in an unsealed lawsuit filed by the state Attorney General's office against a major drug distributor, records that would reveal "the number of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills sold to every pharmacy in the state."

The Gazette had filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the office of the Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey. Note that Morrisey was a Republican, while the Gazette was editorially aligned with Democrats and the newsroom seen, fairly or not. as more sympathetic to them.

After Gazette reporters pressured Morrisey at a public press conference, and readying an article about the Attorney General's seeming reluctance to respond, Eyre finally got results. "Its contents arrived in my newsroom mailbox two months after my formal request," writes Eyre, "even though state public records law required a response within five business days."

Wait a sec.

New York State similarly sets schedules for responses (though not delivery), but I and many other reporters get periodic updates that the agency at issue is still searching for records. Yes, Eyre was pursuing vital information about a crisis devastating the state. But two months, at least in New York, would be a victory.

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