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USF St. Pete Graduate, Pulitzer-Winning Journalist To Give Lecture

Charleston Gazette-Mail
Eric Eyre to speak at public event in St. Petersburg discussing his investigative reporting on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.

University of South Florida St. Petersburg alum, journalist Eric Eyre, will be returning to St. Pete later this week to give a lecture.

During the free public event, titled “Sustained Outrage,” Eyre will be discussing his Pulitzer Prize-winning reports on the opioid epidemic in West Virginia.

In December 2016, Eyre released a series of reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, exposing how major drug distributors were flooding the state with prescription drugs. The reports, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting in 2017, uncovered how the West Virginia's pharmacies failed to report these mass distributions, leading to the opioid epidemic in the Appalachian State.

“The numbers were just staggering,” said Eyre, reflecting on the data he found. “There were 780 million pain pills alone over a 6-year period that were shipped to West Virginia.”

Eyre said some family-owned pharmacies were seeing their drug shipments go far beyond the actual population of the small towns they were located in.

“There was one town, Kermit, that had fewer than 400 people, yet they received nearly 9 million hydrocodone tablets alone over a 2-year period,” said Eyre. That amounts to over 12,000 pills per person, per year.

West Virginia, which a population of approximately 1.8 million people, has the highest drug overdose rate in the nation. In 2016, there were 884 reported overdose deaths in West Virginia, and that number is said to have increased in 2017. Eyre attributes these numbers to the distributors that saturated the state with prescription drugs.

“These pills were just flowing unfettered to these pharmacies while our overdose rates were increasing dramatically,” said Eyre. “How did this happen?”

Eyre will be speaking about his investigative series in St. Pete, along with the roles of some different factors that may have contributed to the opioid epidemic. The USF St. Pete graduate will also be talking about the value of local reporting and hopes to have a discussion on how to save it.

The lecture will take place in the USF St. Petersburg Harbor Hall Community Room at 1000 3rd Street South in St. Pete at 5 p.m. Thursday, January 25. While the event is free, attendees are encouraged to RSVP by clicking here.

Hafsa Quraishi is a WUSF Public Media digital news intern for fall 2017.
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