By Chris Adams
Lisa Girion was on the country’s opioids epidemic before the rest of the country was even calling it an epidemic. Kristina Davis is now tracking the same story, day-in and day-out, from the courts to the morgues.
In a session with National Press Foundation fellows, the two California reporters detailed how they produced their stories.
Girion (bio, Twitter) spent 16 years at the Los Angeles Times and now works for Reuters. She broke into the opioids issue in 2012 with “Dying for Relief,” a Times investigation that documented how prescription overdoses kill more people than heroin and cocaine – and that drugs prescribed by a small number of doctors caused or contributed to a disproportionate number of deaths.
For the story, Girion and colleagues built a database of accidental deaths involving prescription drugs from 2006 through 2011 in four Southern California counties. Among the startling conclusions: 71 doctors in the study had three or more patients die of prescription drugs; one doctor had 16.
In 2016, Girion expanded on that with “OxyContin goes global — “We’re only just getting started,” which detailed the worldwide ambitions of one of the most popular prescription opioids.
Davis (bio, Twitter), of The San Diego Union-Tribune, chronicled the lives of people who died from drugs. The “Death Diaries” project examined which drugs killed 254 people in 2013 and who had prescribed them; it built on the work of the director of a local emergency room.
The lead of her story detailed a 34-year-old woman went to a Walgreens and filled a prescription for oxycodone. It was the 54th prescription she had filled in the past year — prescriptions written by 36 different doctors and dispensed by 21 different pharmacies.
She died of an oxycodone overdose five days later.
Davis also talked about the latest thinking on opioids and treatment, including the push for medication-assisted treatment – still controversial and shunned in parts of the country but gaining adherents around the country.