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tv   Author Discussion on the Opioid Epidemic  CSPAN  December 31, 2021 4:02am-4:35am EST

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national book festival. >> hello and welcome to the 2021 library of congress national book festival. i am sherry horowitz reported the washington post and i'm here with patrick and eric to talk about their book on the opioid epidemic which claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people
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nationwide the worst drug overdose epidemic in american history. i spent the last three years reporting for the washington post investigative team of the opioid crisis and i'm already writing a book myself on the epidemic with my colleague scott. i'm particularly thrilled to introduce you to two authors whose work in books i completely admire. patrick brad and keith in a word writer at the new york times bestseller empire of pain the secret history of the dynasty. eric i who won a pulitzer prize for his reporting on opioids at mayo and now a reporter in west virginia and the author a coal country fight against the drug companies that develop the opioid epidemic. patrick, let me start with you in your devastating, absolutely
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devastating portrait of the family and their role in that opioid epidemic. can you give us a brief description of empire of pain and tell us what led you to write this book. >> absolutely first of i'm really humbled and honored to share a panel with the two of you and who have written such amazing stuff on this issue, the opioid crisis is so big as an issue that i feel different parts of it have been worked over by people in different ways there's great books on opioid crisis i wanted to look closely at the perpetrators so i was very interested in the family who owned purdue pharma connecticut pharmaceutical company that a lot of people with the tip of this. of the crisis the drug that started this on the road to where we are today. it is not in opioid crisis per se it's a broad look of three generations of the families of
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family saga there is also two things in the history of this family that help explain the ways in which our treatment of pain and use of medicine has been hijacked by commerce and big pharma that's an origin story for the opioid crisis, tilted the lens of this one particular family. >> eric can you tell us a story of death of mod like and what made you write this account for the fight for justice patrick under patrick's book focuses on the causes and yours seems to describe your facts, tell us about death of mud lick. >> sure i'm also honored to be here with you, such incredible work with epidemic and i have a confession to make when i saw
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patrick coming out and i knew everything about the opioid epidemic i was totally wrong he has revelation after revelation and you can pluck any page and you would be like oh my god or you gotta be kidding me just incredible work. basically i describe my book as david and goliath, david versus goliath tale in which they get together intake on the opioid industry, it starts out in the southern coalfields of west virginia where a coal miner dies of an oxycontin overdose and it's in a holler name mud lick, then his sister debbie preece is like the sam brockovich type character, if she decides she's not going to let her mother become another statistic, she is
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going to avenge to his death and she connects with a lawyer by the name of jim cagle who she had known for years going back 30 years when she was arrested on drug conspiracy charges. the two of them get together and they first file suit against the doctor that had the oxycontin and then the file against the pharmacy and then they go to another pharmacy, does not stop there. in the question where are all these painkillers coming from she did know if they're coming from gps or express or the united states postal service, she actually took it upon herself to get in the car and follow some of the delivery checks and came around the county and she had the license plate traced to a company called cardinal health one of the
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biggest opioid distributors in the country. from there they go open up the chain the supply chain there's also a subplot to the power of local news in particular watchdog reporting, my stories started with the newspaper about the new attorney general that was elected and he had strong ties to the pharmaceutical distribution and he inherited a lawsuit filed by his predecessor. anyway to sum it up several months if not a year to release some documents related to the total numbers to all the counties in west virginia and what we saw was shocking and
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upwards of 78 million pain pills, essentially they had flooded the state with painkillers and these were both oxycontin and hydrocodone and if you take those drugs and large amounts you literally stop breathing and you die, that's what were talking all of our west virginia we had reached all-time highs in overdose deaths and the problem doesn't seem to get any better. also the data that we saw most of the shipments went to mom-and-pop, drugstores, they were independently owned and in one case we had situations in west virginia which had population 412 million opioids sent to the loan pharmacy in town, 12 million oxycontin and hydrocodone over the course of three years to a town of 400
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people. >> all the way up to where the ceos and capitol hill and the third day of reckoning. >> unbelievable numbers, i just wanted to say i forgot to say for all of you who are watching this interview you can submit questions in the last ten minutes i we'll take your questions to patrick and eric. >> the theme of the national book festival this year is open up the world so keeping with that theme how have books open the world for you? >> it is funny this is a theme that meant a lot to me when i was young but what i want to say is something different, i spent so much of my time on the phone
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and on-screen and increasingly what books are to me is the time when i step away from that and might be coerced because your unplugging and removing yourself in the sense of any information instantly fungible at your fingertips were people e-mailing you or texting you, it comes with a timeout where i can actually breathe normally that opens up worlds to me it makes me see the world and appreciate again and the same goes for my family i have small kids in it to same thing it becomes a safe haven in a way i can reappoint myself with the world in a way that is not by a screen which feels a very precious thing these days. >> that is great i know that
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feeling exactly that escape, eric what influences books had on you and your writing is. >> i hate to admit it but when i was growing up as a bore i read other books might parents moved to logansport of about 17000, they had moved from philadelphia where my dad was a factory worker to logansport indiana and i did not have much to do except for during the day i bailed hey you did the afternoon in the evening i decided to head down to the local library for community its size it was a well-stocked library and the
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library and thank god's for librarians, she introduced me too scott russell sanders i was really interested in the science fiction when he also has a lot of nonfiction essays. my next step after i read into all of his work at the time i decided to write him a letter, he wrote back and he said thank you and he said i might be interested in some other offers and he gave a list leslie martin, tony marson, charles johnson, tim o'brien and tc boyle, those of the books opened up the world to me in the universe i read and read sometimes i would reducing
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victory three times and i planted the seed if i write anywhere even close to some of these writers and i can't say that i cannot apply my way in the field of journalism and i did i went up in alabama they planted the seed and now looking back on it is also an inspiration for writing my own book at age 55. >> i'm going to ask you both a question, and impact question or a question of something that would happen when you were doing your work, patrick the empire of pain, you take on three generations of a powerful family and i'm wondering because i had experience in my own writing and
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recording did you ever feel threatened or intimidated by this family or the lawyers for that family. >> first thing i should say for the sake of clarity i wrote this big book three generations of the family the family would not talk to me they did not want me too write the book and they started threatening to sue me even before i had started writing it was announced publicly that i was writing the book and that's when the legal threat started coming and they continued over the next couple of years. >> what sort of legal threat? >> they were long condensed letters, objecting to my reporting in the past the new yorker and making all kinds of noises about what would happen if i didn't get things right and there's a crazy thing called the litigation hold where they wrote
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to me and they said we may be suing you so what we need to do is not destroy any evidence that could be used in that lawsuit so don't destroy any scrap of paper or e-mails you need to hold onto all that stuff because it will be evidence if and when we bring a lawsuit against you, you too will appreciate as a reporter on the one hand it was an open deal i was happy to keep up with all this but i had the funny moments along the way at one point a source got in touch with me this is during the pandemic and instead 40 boxes of documents that i want to give to you, i'm going to send them to your home and i told my wife, i was excited a 40 boxes of legal documents and i told my wife we had a delivery of those documents and we can never throw them away because i have a litigation hold and she said not going to happen there is no room. i had to fly at the height of
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the pandemic to where this person was in review all the documents are, it was little things like that towards the end of my writing there was a private investigator staking at my house in the suburbs outside of new york city it was a little strange to answer your question, was i intimidated, not really to be honest with you i think this comes with the territory in some ways part of a story i was trying to tell was about a family in a company that got away with it for a long time and part of the reason they got away with it is that they use these tactics, in the book i talk about when you had purdue pharma that sued the company for wrongful termination because she wasn't pushing the opioid as aggressively as they wanted her and they just crushed her they lawyered up and went after when
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barry meyer was reporting for the new york times did a believable groundbreaking reporting for purdue pharma and they said you have to take very meyer off the story and for complicated reasons having to do with the history at the time at that particular moment the paper did it took them off the story. >> he was very unhappy about that. >> he was very unhappy and i talked to a lot of people to time in retrospect it was a big mistake to do that in a way what is interesting like the episode a story of two and institutional cultures just before purdue went and said you had to take your geico story, a city had interest because he wrote the book. they took him off the story before that the jason blair a writer made up all that stuff and he got caught into his great credit of feeling of what we
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done we need to write the ship we can never let happen to get they were very vulnerable to criticize at that moment contract that was purdue pharma in 2007 the federal criminal charges with a hundred billion dollar fine and it keeps on going, indeed new criminal charges is quite interesting and they were manipulated and on the other hand they were trying to behave in a responsible way which is the stark contrast into which purdue has conducted itself about the country's most powerful opioid distributors did the ever try to block it or intimidate you?
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congratulations for your courage, conviction, kahunas will be the best way to put it, very great work. i didn't have any black limousine stocking my house but there was threats from the attorney general and west virginia, when i got some leaked documents i notified him that i was going to do a story about his role in this lawsuit against the distributors and he had one of his underlined call his lawyer and e-mail me and if we printed the story it would be a case of actual malice and we would face court sanctions, i don't know what that meant was that mean somebody was going to jail. it did not happen in a day
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retaliated by launching an investigation into the newspaper where i was working out at the time. and he subpoenaed us all of our financial records, that was in retaliation for what we reported i heard at the landmark trial we found out the distributors that hire a consultant to turn the tide as my investigative reporting into the drug company they and fortune were working to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic and reduce them they were trying to derail my reporting of course i did at the time, the good news their plan
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didn't work and i'm still here in west virginia covering the opioid crisis and plan to continue to do so. >> on that note i think we will take some questions here from the audience and there is one west virginia that maybe you can help us understand she wants to know why some states for west virginia opt-out of the opioid, you have to give a little background on the mdl, i think people are confused by that. >> in a nutshell it is because they didn't think they would get enough money from the national settlement i have seen numbers close to 400 million from the national settlement they think the state deserves a lot more than that and i think the people feel the same way we have three
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different things going on the mbl which is part of a $26 billion settlement on the table that's been moving forward 40 states to sign onto that and they're working on the cities and counties to sign up and they have two or three months to do that then we have a pending case huntington is the second largest city in the state of west virginia and that case has concluded in their waiting for a judge to make a decision there is also something called mass litigation, most of these others 60 plus cities town, counties, hospitals, their separate from the mdl, it basically boils down they feel that west virginia has
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borne the brunt and therefore we should get a lot more money than we will get out of current settlement. >> patrick there is a question that you can help us with, a few weeks ago there was a settlement by the bank of the court in new york through purdue pharma. it is interesting how these companies go to bankruptcies we sell this with the drugmaker also, this particular settlement on purdue pharma requires the family to pay billions of dollars to address the opioid epidemic but is protecting them from further liability, i think people would like to know exactly what the court did and whether that's the end of the story. can you help us break down and interpret this week's d.o.j.
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action on the bankruptcy deal, the justice department this week took action to block this controversial deal, can you walk us through all of this because it's pretty confusing. >> how long do you got. >> we have about seven minutes. >> hopefully we will get there we have time for another question, very briefly in 2019 purdue pharma declared bankruptcy, it is a company that had generated a huge amount of money from oxycontin how can it declare bankruptcy, to answers there were thousands and thousands of lawsuits against the company every state in the union was suing them but more importantly over the prior decade that the family had pulled more than $10 billion out of the company. bankruptcy has been approved and
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a lot of people find they did not declare bankruptcy but through the bankruptcy court they have been given immunity for future satellite ability to opioid crisis they paid for that over a decade they will pay for it have billion dollars, that is it given the fact that their fortune is a reason they can manage that amount of money it's a lot of money but tiny compared to the damage and someone argues that responsibility and compared to the remaining fortune. what happened this week the u.s. department of justice he was helping oversee this or monitor the bankruptcy and notice the appeal and try to block the steel from going through there are a number of states that already announced they were
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going to appeal this is significant and interesting it was during the administration that there was an effort to wrap things up with purdue and you have a change of administration and that may be part of what's going on and there wasn't a formal objection should he go to the supreme court and at the heart of this can a federal bankruptcy judge release all future liabilities, people who are not in his court for certain amount of money he will let them
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go on their merry way and not have to face the liability of the future. >> is interesting although these settlements a billions of dollars now when taking responsibility for the horrific opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands hundreds of thousands of lives in you experience heartbreaking books and described epidemic causes and the effects is anyone going to be held accountable you think erik? >> with purdue pharma they have dozens of lawsuits filed against them in every time they would seal the records, seal the entire case file which is absolutely unheard of in
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exchange for the plaintiff family that lost loved ones agreed to certain settlements basically they were buying silence from all these families patrick and others that is no longer the case, as far as individuals accountable that's not going to happen in some of the manufactures i don't see that happening with the distribution terms of jail time or anything like that. >> i would agree with eric to my mind this is a deeper problem in the united states which is we are very accommodating of people who commit corporate crime and we make it our system surpassingly easy for big
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corporations with individual liabilities in the corporation guilty in a agree to pay a big fine but there is no individuals charged at all in the question to the man on the street how can the corporation plead guilty of no individuals did anything wrong in my book is like a driver of the car how is it could've engaged in this misconduct without any human agencies, i'm afraid that's the way it works generally speaking and you can contrast that with what happens when street-level drug dealers sell heroin or fat no and people with color are held to account when people take the drugs and die for distributing them and sent away to prison for years we did not see that in the corporate context what i'm worried about
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looking forward at the next crisis what kind of a deterrent to people if they know there is millions of dollars to be made and in the event there is negative downstream consequences human talks of the bad decisions that they will ever personally be held responsible they know they gonna die and move on to the next job the company will plead guilty and pay the fine and they will keep moving to me that's one of the most things to take away from this whole story. >> you might want to say the highest payout for victims of the opioid crisis is in at 35000. >> yes that's in very extreme cases in the purdue cases that you can prove that a relative died of an overdose of oxycontin but you have all kinds of people that will get a few thousand dollars if that. >> exactly. >> her last question both of you
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can try to answer this we don't have that much time left this comes from k who asks what can ordinary people do to try to improve the opioid situation with regards to the corporations. >> what can ordinary people do, ordinary people listening to this, reading your books to improve the opioid situation with regards to the corporations. >> they could write letters to the legislatures i'm not sure that would do much good on the ground, i know everybody carries narcan including myself but maybe pat has an idea. >> patrick wrote about the protesters who went to the
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museum. >> i think that protest has an impact i think it probably helps on some level that it is a family in the personified support numbers like mcafee may not be. but i do think the public protest, getting out there on the street people letting people know that you are watching letting elected officials no i think the state attorney general's who push really hard to extract greater concessions and purdue i think they were driven in part by the ones who were earnest and after in driving the story they were driven in part by contact groups with community groups, they had seen the way this played out in their own communities in the
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context of outrage and there should be some semblance of justice and accountability. i don't know that it's enough or will ever be enough but i think that level of engagement does make a difference. >> unfortunately we are out of time, thank you to all of you who have been watching, thank you to both of our extraordinary authors patrick redden keefe and eric cairo i really encourage you all to read their books, they are just terrific and important books. , enjoy the rest of the national book festival. >> you are watching the tv coverage of this year's national book festival you just saw a panel of authors talking about the opioid epidemic in now on your screen is one of the two authors eric eyre death in mud like a fight against the drug


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