Reporters dig deep to tell history of opioids and the epidemic

The history of "how painkillers became killers," as the Courier Journal's print-edition headline put it, was told by CJ reporter Laura Ungar and Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Miss., in a USA Today Network story Sunday. The CJ's online headline says "Drugs kill more Americans than guns and cars. Kentucky was ground zero from the start."

And it still is, as a county-by-county map opioid prescription rates with the story helps illustrate. Most with high rates are in Appalachia, reflecting the deep roots of the opioid epidemic in the region.
USA Today map adapted by Kentucky Health News
The seedbed of the epidemic was Eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, and in 2001 the state of West Virginia sued Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, the drug that "arguably opened the floodgates," as Caitlin Esch put it last month in a report for Marketplace, based partly on previously unsealed files from McDowell County. She reveals how a misleading sentence in the drug's label, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, became "the linchpin of the most aggressive marketing campaign ever undertaken by a pharmaceutical company for a narcotic painkiller," The New York Times reported in 2007. 

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