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tv   Author Discussion on the Opioid Epidemic  CSPAN  December 30, 2021 9:30pm-10:03pm EST

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answer. that was the big truth i walked out of the office with. >> thank you so much for being with us and sharing your book. thank you for joining us. if you would like to get a copy please use the link to do that. if you want to donate please feel free to go to the website. there's ways to do that. thank you for your time. >> great to see you again. >> thanks.
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hello and welcome to the 2021 library of congress national book festival. i am a reporter at the "washington post" and i am here with patrick and eric fire to talk about their books on the opioid epidemic which has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 peopleg the worst drug epidemic in american history. i spent the last three years from the investigative team about the crisis and i'm actually already writing a book myself on the epidemic with my colleague so i'm particularly thrilled to introduce you to two offers whose work and books i
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greatly admire. patrick, an award-winning writer at the new yorker is the author of "the new york times" bestseller empire of pain the secret history of the dynasty and eric won a pulitzer prize for his reporting on opioids and is now reporter at the spotlight in west virginia as the author of a cold country fight against the drug companies yet developed the opioid epidemic. let me start with you and your devastating, absolutely devastating portrait of u the family and their role in the opioid epidemic. can you give us a brief description and tell us what led you to write this book? >> i should say i am humbled to two people that have written such amazing stuff on this
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issue. the crisis is so big is an issud i feel different parts of it have been worked over, there is great works of the opioid crisis. to work with the perpetrators i was very interested in this family that owned perdue pharma and produces oxycontin that a lot of people think of the tip of the spirit of the crisis that started us on the road. it's not in opioid crisis per se but it's a broad look at three generations of the family. it's more of a saga but in the history of the family it helps explain the ways in which the treatment of pain and use of medicine has been hijacked by commerce and big pharma so in that sensese it is an origin sty told through the lens of this
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particular family. >> can you tell us the story what is this book about and what led you to write this account of the fight for justice? patrick's book focuses a lot on the causes and your book seems to describe the effect. >> i i'm also honored to be here with you. i have a confession to make i thought i knew everything about the epidemic. i was totally wrong. you've got to be kidding me. just incredible work. i describe my book as a david
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and goliath tale in which a small group get together and take on the giants of the opioid industry. it starts out in the southern fields of west virginia where a coalminer dies of an oxycontin overdose then his sister who is like this aaron brockovich type of character and decides she's not going to let her brother become another statistic. she's going to avenge his death and connects with a lawyer she had known for years when she was arrested on drug conspiracy charges. the two ofr them first file
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against the pharmacy and then they go to other pharmacies but it doesn't stop there. where do all these painkillers come from, she didn't know if they were coming from fed express or the postal service so she took it upon herself to get in the car and follow some of the delivery trucks that came around and had the license plate traced to a place called cardinal health. and from there, again they go up the supply chain and there's kind of a subplot to the power of local news reporting, in particular watchdog reporting.
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dmy story talked about the general elected and had the strongties to the pharmaceutical distributors and he inherited a loss filed by his predecessor. to sum it up, it took several months if not a year for some documents related to the total number of shipments to all the counties in west virginia and what we saw was a shocking. ith was upwards of 78 million pain pills. essentially the distributors had flooded the state with painkillers and these were oxycontin and hydrocodone. if you take those drugs in large amounts you literally stop
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breathing and die and that is what was happening all over west virginia we had reached all-time highs and overdose deaths. >> also the data that we saw was most of the shipments went to mom and pop drugstores and situations that has population 400 to the loan the pharmacy in town that's 12 million over the course of three years to a town of 400 people. the story is just sort of snowball. >> tunbelievable numbers. i just wanted to say, i forgot
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to say that for all of you that this interview you can submit questions in the last ten minutes i will take your questions. the theme of the national book festival this year is open a book, open the world so in keeping with that theme how have books opened the world for you? i knew this was a theme when i talked about the books that meant a lot to me when i was young but i want to say something slightly different which is i spend so much of my time on the phone and on the screens and increasingly what books are to me when i step away from that it might seem you are kind of unplugging and removing yourself from the world in the sense of that any information you want being instantly at your
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fingertips and people e-mailing or texting you but it becomes a timeout where i can sort of start breathing normally and feel as though my heart rate is getting back to normal and that does open up worlds to me and appreciate it. and i can sort of reacquaint myself with the world in a way that isn't by a screen that feels like a very precious thing these days. what influence have the books have on your and your writing?
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when i was in college my parents moved to a small town in indiana about 17,000 people we moved fromev philadelphia to loganspot indiana and i didn't have much to do except during the day i bailed hey and in the afternoon and evening i decided to head down to the local library for a community of its size, it was incredibly well-stocked and the librarian introduced me to a writer by the name of scott russell sanders who writes, i was interested in the science fiction and he does a lot of nonfiction essays. my next step i decided to write
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him a letter and he said thanks and he gave a list included leslie, charles johnson, tim o'brien and of those are the books that opened up the worldth tohe me and the universe. i just read and read, bailed hey, and red. sometimes i would read the same book two or three times he and i think i kind of planted the seed that if i could write even close to some of these at least i could go into the field of journalism invited, a small people in alabama so they planted the seed and i thought
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just maybe now looking back on it it's an inspiration for writing my first book at age 55. >> something that may have happened while doing your work, in empire pain, you take on three generations and i'm wondering because i had experiences in my own writing and reporting did you ever feel threatened or intimidated by the family or the lawyers for perdue? >> the first thing i should say for the sake of clarity i wrote this book but the family
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wouldn't talk to me and started threatening that's when it started and they continued over the next couple of years. what sort of legal threats? >> they were these long letters objecting to my reporting in the past and making sort of all kinds of ominous noises about what would happen if i didn't get things right and there's kind of a crazy thing called the litigation hall where they wrote to me and said we may be suing you so what we want you to do is not destroy any evidence that might be used so don't destroy any scrap of paper or e-mails you need to hold onto this stuff because that is going to be evidence if and when we bring a lawsuit against you and you will
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appreciate that on the one hand this is no big deal i was happy to keep all this stuff but i did have these moments along the way a source got in touch with me during theas pandemic and said i have 40 boxes of documents i want to give to you and send them to your home. i told my wife i was excited at the thoughts of 40 boxes of legl documents and i told my wife we are going to get a delivery and we can never throw them away because i have a litigation hold and she said not going to happen. so at the height of the pandemic to a city where this person was and review all the documents of their so it's little things like that. there was a private investigator in the suburbs outside of new york city.
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was i intimidated? not really, to be honest this kind of comes with of the territory and part of the story i was trying to tell was about a family and the company that got away p with it and part of the reason they got away with it is they used these kind of tactics and so in the book i talk about how when you had a perdue pharma sales representative that is food because she wasn't pushing the opioids as aggressively as they want and they fired her, they just crushed her. they lawyered up and went after her. when barry meyer was reporting and did unbelievably groundbreaking reporting the companies and its lawyers to "the new york times" and said for complicated reasons having to deal with the institutional history of the times in that particular
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moment. >> and he was not happy about that. >> many people in retrospect it was a big mistake. what happened days just before perdue said you have to take him off the story, he had a conflict of interest because he had written the book. just before that, there had been the jayson blair scandal where there was a writer that in the times to its great credit was seized by this feeling what have we done, we need to write this ship we can never let this happen again so they were vulnerable. contrast that with perdue pharma in 2007 pleads guilty and just keeps going but indeed pleads
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guilty to new criminal charges in 2020 so to me this was interesting. anyone can look atg the decision and feel that they wererk sort f bullied and manipulated on the other hand they were trying to behave in an institutionally responsible way which is a stark contrast that they've conducted themselves. >> you've written and reported about the country's most powerful opioid distributors. did they ever try to intimidate you? >> first congratulations to patrick. you should be congratulated for your courage and conviction. greatt work.
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i didn't have any black limousines stalking the house but there was a lot of threats for the attorney general west virginia. when i got some documents, i notified him that it was going to do a story about his role in this lawsuit against the distributors and they had a lawyer call and e-mail me and when we printed the story it would be a case of actual malice and we would face court sanctions. he also retaliated and launched an investigation into the newspaper and subpoenaed us for all of our personnel records and financial records, so that was in retaliation for what we have reported and last may at the
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landmark trial, we found out they hired a consultant to, quote, turn the tide of the investigative reporting to the drug companies. they were basically trying to derail and improve their corporate image. n the plan didn't work. i'm still here covering the crisis and plan to continue to do so. >> on that note i think we are goinghe to take some questions here from the audience, and there's one from west virginia that maybe you can help us
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understandiv. betsy wants to know why did some states like west virginia opt out of the multistate settlement on opioids and i guess you will have to give aid little bit of background but why did west virginia, people are confused about that. >> estate deserves a o lot more than that and they feel the same way. we've got three different things going on. part of a $26 billion settlement that's on the table and that's been moving forward. i think they got 40 states assigned onto that and what they are doing now is working on the cities and counties to also sign
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up and they have i think two or three months to dolu that and tn there is a pending case. that case is concluded to make a decision and others the mass litigation panel that is most of these others, 60 plus cities, school boards. they are separate from the mdl but it basically kind of boils down to feel west virginia is more in the brunt of the opioid storm and therefore we should get a lot more money than we are going to get out of the current settlement. aa few weeks ago there was a
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settlement in new york. it's interesting how these companies go to bankruptcy but it rehires the family to address the opioid epidemic but it's protecting them from further liability and so i think more people wouldac like to know what the court did and whether that's the end of the story. we haveth a question susie says can you help us interpret this action on the bankruptcy deal because my understanding is the justice department took action to block this controversial deal. can you walk us through this because it is pretty confusing. >> ahow long have you got?
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>> it looks like we owe about seven minutes. >> very briefly, in 2019 perdue pharma declared bankruptcy. this struck some people as strange because it generated a huge amount of money so how could it be declaring bankruptcy. one, there were thousands of lawsuits against the company every state in the union was suing them but more importantly over the prior decade, the family pulled more than $10 million out ofe the company so they sort of siphoned of the money and kicked the company into bankruptcy so this deal has been approved. what a lot of people find really galling is that they did not declare bankruptcy but through the bankruptcy court they've been given immunity from any civil liability relating to the crisis. they've had to pay for this so they would pay $4.5 billion, but
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that's it and given the size of the fortunate stands to reason they can manage that money but it's tiny compared to the damage and when someone argues that responsibility compared to the remaining fortune. what happened this week as the trustee of the department of justice who was helping oversee this appealed, filed a notice of appeal and tried to block the deal from going through. there are a couple of states that already announced they were going to appeal. this is interesting politically because it was during the last administration there was kind of an effort to ramp things up it's a little unclear where this will
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go but it does seem to trigger thend appeal and to see the deal kind of done and resolved and we now have to see what format that will take. does it go through the district court, to the circuit court, supreme court and really at the heart of this is this question of can a federal bankruptcy judge release from all future liability people who haven't declared bankruptcy before hand, people who were not in his court, does he have the power to say that for a certain sum of money he will let them go on their way and not have to face any liability in the future. >> you did very well. it's interesting in all these settlements of billions of dollars, no one's taking responsibility for this horrific
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opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands, hundreds of thousands. in your book, the very tough, heartbreaking books you describe the epidemic, the cause, the effect. is anybody going to be held accountable? do you want to take that first andy then patrick? >> they have dozens of lawsuits and every time they would seal the entire case file which is absolutely unheard of in exchange for the families that lost loved ones and agreed to a certain settlement so basically they were buying silence from all these families. thanks to patrick and others that is no longer the case.
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as far as holding individuals accountable, that's probably not going to heaven. i don't see that happening with any of the distributors in terms of jail time or anything like that. >> i would agree and i should say to my mind this is part of a deeper problem in the united states, which is that we are very accommodating of people that commit corporate crime and we make it our system i think it is easy for big corporations to buy their way out of any individual liability, so what happens and this has happened with perdue, they'd plead guilty but there's no individuals charged at all and it sort of begs the question how can they plead guilty to things if no individuals did anything wrong.
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in my the guys say it's almost like a driverless car, how is it that it could have engaged in this misconduct without any humaner agency, but i'm afraid that's f the way it works generally speaking and you can obviously contrast of that with what happenso when a street-levl drug dealers sell heroin or fentanyl. often people of color are held to account when the people take those drugs and die and they are sent to prison for years. we don't see that in the corporate context and we are not worried about looking at thehe next crisis it's what kind of a deterrent is it if they know that there's millions, billions of dollars to be made and in the event if there's human costs of the decisions they won't personally be held responsible, they hold their head high and
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move onto the next job. the company will plead guilty in the pay of the fine and keep moving so that is one of the most dismayed to take a ways from the whole story. >> the highest payout is for victims of the crisis isn't it like 35,000? >> you can prove that a relative died of an overdose of oxycontin but they will get a few thousand dollars if that. >> exactly. >> the last question and both of you can try to answer this, we don't have much time left, but this comes from k who asks what can ordinary people do to try to improve the opioid situation with regards to these corporations?
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>> but that public protest getting out there on the street letting them know that you are watching leading
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officials know that i think the state attorneys general who pusheds really hard to extract greater concessions that they were driven in part by those who were out there and driven in part by contacting victims groups with community groups they have seen the way that this played out in our own communities in that sense of outrage and that there should be psalm semblance justice and k accountability. of it could ever be enough but that level of engagement does make a difference. >> and fortunately we are out of time thank you to all of you who have been watching and thank you to our extraordinary authors i encou y

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