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tv   Author Discussion on the Opioid Epidemic  CSPAN  November 9, 2021 3:53pm-4:26pm EST

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>> presidential historian craig fairman because the autobiography in coolidge the forgotten classic presidential writings in the new authorized expanded and allocated editions of the coolidge autobiography justin published by isi a books and editors quote coolidge in their introduction of saying, is a great advantage to a president and a major source of safety to the country for him to know that he is not a great man. we asked her to give us some background about the coolidge autobiography which was originally published in may 1929. chair of the calvin coolidge presidential foundation emily slave on this episode of footnotes plus, available on the
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c-span now app or wherever you get your podcast. >> hello, and welcome to the 2021 library of congress, national book festival. i'm a reporter at the washington post i am here with patrick radden keefe, to talk about the book on the opioid epidemic that is claimed the lives of 500,000 people nationwide and to cover the worst drug overdose epidemic in american history as for the last three years reporting for the washington post investigative team about the opioid crisis and i'm writing a book about the epidemic with my colleagues so i'm particularly thrilled to introduce you to the others is worked in the books i greatly admire. patrick radden keefe an award-winning writer for the new yorker is the author of the new york times bestseller, "empire of pain", the secret history of
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the dynasty and eric eyre won a pulitzer prize at the charleston gazette and now at the spotlight in west virginia is the author of "death of mud lick", a coal country fight against the drug companies in developed the opioid epidemic. patrick radden keefe, let me start with you and your devastating absolutely devastating portrait of this family and their role in the opioid epidemic and can you give us a brief description of "empire of pain" and tell us what led you to write this book. >> i first of all want to think you and very humble the two the two of you of recent amazing seven this issue and it s is so vague is an issue that i feel as though different parts of it have been worked over by people in different ways, the great
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books on the opioid crisis and i wanted to lookth closely at the perpetrators. so is very interested in his family, who owned, this pharmaceutical company that produces oxycontin, sort of the tip of the spear, the drug it started us on the road to where e we are today. it's not an opioid crisis book per se, sort of a broad look at three generations of thiss famiy more of a family saga but i think there's all sorts of 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 edit big pharma. that's kind of an origin story for the opioid crisis told through the lens of this one particular family. >> so we talked about the story "death of mud lick", what is the
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book about an the count them the fight for justice. patrick radden keefe's book focuses a lot on the causes and your book describes the effect. so how is this "death of mud lick". >> and i'm also honored to be here with you as well, such eve done such incredible work in this epidemic and i have a confession to make want to sell patrick's books was coming out, i thought he knew everything about the epidemic and i totally wrong and he has relation after revelation 80 just pretty much flip to any page and you would be like oh my god, you've gottad be kidding me, this is incredible incredible work. basically drive and to describe the book as david and goliath, thdavid versus goliath tale in which a small group of appalachians get together and take on the giants of the
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industry and a start out in of west virginia where a coalminer dies evan oxycontin and oxycontin overdose. and it's in an area called mud lake which it explains the tile read and then his sister, like the aaron brockovich character and she decides that she's not going to let her mother become another statistic and she's going to revenge his death had she connects with a lawyer by the name of jim who she had known for years when she was interested in the conspiracy charges. in the two of them get together on the first filed suit against the doctor who prescribed the oxycontin and filed against the pharmacy and then they go to other pharmacies and he does not
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stop there ready debbie has his question, where did all of these painkillers where they coming from and she didn't know if they were coming from dcs or express or united states postal service or who knew so she actually took it upon herself to get into the car and follow some of the delivery trucks that came around to the county and she had a license plate trace to company called cardinal health which turns out is one of the biggest opioid distributors in the country. and from there, they again go up and up the chain, the supply chain announcer this sort of the spot to the power and in particular, watchdog reporting by my story started with a tip from the newspaper about the new attorney general who was elected he has strong ties to the
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pharmaceutical distributors. and he inherited a lawsuit filed by his predecessors sunny way to sum it up, it took several months if not a year to release documents related to the total numbers of shipments of opioids to all of the counties in west virginia read ... 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, you literally stop breathing and die and i was happening all over west virginia. we reached all-time highs and overdose deaths and the problem didn't seem to be getting any better.
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also the data we saw was most of the shipment to mom-and-pop drugstores. they were independently owned and in one case we had in west virginia, population 412 million opioid consent to the loan pharmacy in town, 12 million oxycontin over the course of three years. eventually it winds its way all the way up to the ceo's on capitol hill just to bidders. >> unbelievable numbers. i just want to say or all of you watching, you can submit questions and the last ten minutes i will take your
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questions to patrick and eric. the theme of the national book festival this year is open a book, open the world. in keeping with that theme, how have books opened the door for your? >> it money, this is a theme i thought about talking about books when i was young but i want to say something slightly different, so much of my time on the phone and on screens and increasingly will books are to me is stepping away from that, you're unplugging my sort of removing yourself from the world in the sense of any information you want being instantly findable at your fingertips or people e-mailing or protectingli your but there's this time where ihe can sort of start breathing normally or feel like my heart rate was getting back to normal
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and that does open up world to me, it makes me see the world and appreciate it again and same for my family. i've reached them and it's the same thing, it becomes this safe haven in a way in which i can reacquaint myself with the world in a way that's not mediated by a stream which feels like think these days. >> that's great, i know that feeling exactly, a kind of escape. eric, what influence has theer book had a new in your writing? >> i hate to admit it but when i was growing up as a boy, i read a very few books, probably the hardy boys, i went through pretty quickly. when i was in college, my parents moved to a small town in indiana called logan, 17000
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people and they had moved, my dad was a factory worker, to indiana and it didn't have much to do except during the day i bailed hay and the afternoon and evening i headed down to the local library. a community size, it was incredibly well-stocked library and the librarian, thank god for librarians, she introduced me to an indiana writer, scott russell sanders who writes, i was interested in his science fiction and also does a lot of nonfiction essays. my next step after i read his work at the time, i decided to write him a letter, this was pre-e-mail and he wrote back and said thanks and said i might be
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interested in some other authors and he gave a list, charles johnson, kim o'brien and those of the books that open up the world to me and the universe. i just read and read, sometimes i would read the book. four times and it planted a seed if i could write even close to some of these matters, i can't say that i can w but at least i couldno apply my way into the field of journalism and i did. i wound up in alabama so they planted the seed and i thought maybe now looking back, it's an inspiration for writing my first
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book at age 55. >> i'm going to ask you both about an impact question about something that me have happened while doing your work.ap patrick, in empire of pain, you take on three generations of the family. i'm wondering, had experiences in my own writing and recording, did you ever feel threatened or intimidated by the family or lawyers for purdue? >> the first thing i should say for the psaki of clarity, i wrote a book about three generations of the family, they didn't want me to write the book and faye started threatening to sue me even before i started writing, it was announced publicly i was writing a book and that's when legal threats
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started coming and they continued the next couple of years. >> what kind of legal threats? >> they were these long letters objecting to my reporting in the new yorker and making all kinds of ominous. [background noises] about what wouldha happen if i didn't get things right and there's a crazy thing called the litigation hold where they wrote to me and said we may be suing you so what we need you to do is not destroy any evidence that could be used in that lawsuit but don't destroy any scrap of paper or delete e-mails, hold onto all this because it's going to be evident if and when we bring a lawsuit against you and you will appreciate asked a reporter, on the one hand i was happy to keep up but i did have funny moments on the way, at one time a source got in touch with
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me during the pandemic and said i have 40 boxes of documents i want to give to you, i will send them to your home and i told my wife i was excited about these legal documents that i told my wife we are w going to get a delivery 40 boxes of stuff and we can never throw them away because i have this litigation hold and she said not going to happen. there is no room for that many boxes so i had to fly at the height of the pandemic to a city where this person was and reviewed the documents are. little things like that. toward the end of my writing, there's a private investigator at my house in the suburbs of new york city. it's a little strange to answer your question because not really to be honest, i think this comes with the territory and in some
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ways part of the story i was trying to tell was about a family and themi company that gt away with itt for a long time ad part of the reason they got away with it is they used these kinds of tactics so in the book i talk about when you have a purdue pharma sales representative suing the company because she wasn't pushing their opioid as aggressively as they wanted her to be and they fired her, they crush her. they lawyered up and went after her. when barry meyer was reporting for the new york times did unbelievable ground breaking reporting on the purdue pharma, they sent lawyers to new york times and said you have to take barry meyer off the story for complicated reasons, the history of the times at that particular moment, they did, they tookim hm off the story so. >> he was very unhappy about it. >> he was very unhappy about it. there's a big mistake but in a
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way what's interesting about that episode, is a story of two institutional cultures so what happened at the new york timeses just before purdue went to them and said take the guy off the story, they had written a book so the time strikes out just before that, there was the scandal with the writer who was fabulous. part my god, what have we done? we can never let this happen t again so they are vulnerable to criticism from the outside of moment. contrast that with purdue pharma which 2000, he paid $600 million fine just right on going doing the bad stuff it had been doing and pleads guilty to new terminal charges 2020 so it's interesting, on the one hand the but can make that decision and feel they were delete and
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manipulated. on the otherer hand, they were trying to behave in a responsible way, very stark contrast the way they conducted themselves. >> eric, how about you? you bring and report about the countries c most powerful up yor distributors, d did they ever ty to intimidate you? >> first off, congratulations to patrick, i've dealt with purdue pharma and the sackler's and its a nasty company. you should be congratulated for your courage and conviction. i didn't have any black limousines stalking my house but there was a lot of threats of litigation from the attorney general in west virginia. when i got late documents, i
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notified him i was going to do a story about his role in the lawsuit against the distributors and he had one of his underlying calls and he e-mailed me that if we printed this story from it would be a case of malice and read face court sanctions, that meant i was going to jail or somebody was going to jail. it didn't happen. agee retargeted and launched an investigation into the newspaper because of where i was working at the time and he subpoenaed us for our personnel records and financial records so that was in retaliation for what we reported. the last -- last may i heard the landmark trial, we found doctors tto bidders hired a consultanto
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turn the tide of my investigative reporting into the drug companies. unfortunately, they weren't turning the tide of the opioid epidemic and reduced that they were trying to basically derail my reporting, and poor their corporate image. the good news, their plan didn't work, still here in west virginia and covering the opioid crisis and plan to continue to do so. >> on that note, i think we are going to take some questions here from the audience and there's one west virginia that may be you can help us understand. she wants to know, why did some states like west virginia opt out of the multistate's and
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opioids? i guess you have to do a little background but why did west virginia -- i think we are confused by that. >> in a nutshell, it's because they didn't think they would get enough money from the national settlement. i've seen numbers close to 400 million they get from the national settlement. they think the state deserves a lot more than that, i think the people in the state feel the same way. we've got three different things going on. and the outcome part of $26 billion settlement on the table, that's been moving forward, 40 states have signed onto and what they are doing now is working on the city's to sign up and they have two or three months to do that. we have a pending case,
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huntington is the second largest city in west virginia in that case concluded to make a decision. there's also something called the mass litigational panel whih is 60 plus cities and hospitals, they are separate from the mdl but it basically boils down, they feel west virginia has bore the brunt of the opioid storm and therefore we should get a lot more money than we are going to get out the current settlement. >> patrick, there's a question here you can help us with. a few weeks ago there was a settlement approved by bankruptcy court in new york that dissolved purdue pharma. it's interesting how the company go to bankruptcy, but this
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particular settlement requires the sackler family to pay billions of dollars to address the opioid epidemic but it's protecting them from further liability so i think people would like to know what the court did and whether that's the end of the story and we have a question from susan who says, can you help us break down or interpret d.o.j. access on the sackler bankruptcy deal? my understanding is the justice department this week took action to block the controversial deal so can you walk us through this? is confusing. >> how long do you got? [laughter] >> we have about seven minutes so. >> hopefully we have time for another question. very w briefly, 2019 purdue phaa
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declared bankruptcy, instruct people as strange because the company that generated a huge amount of money from oxycontin so how could they declare bankruptcy? one, thousands lawsuit againste the company, every state in the union was suing them but more importantly over the prior decade, the sackler m family pulled more than $10 billion out of the company so they siphoned all the money out kicked the company into bankruptcy so the bankruptcy deal was approved but a lot of people from the sackler's themselves did not declare bankruptcy but through the bankruptcy b court they've been given essentially immunity from any future civil liability relating to the opioid crisis. they had to pay for that so they pledged they would pay over a decade, foreign a half billion but that's it given the fact their fortune, they can manage that amount, it's a lot of money compared to the damage
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appeal try to block the deal from going through, there are a couple of states that already announced they would appeal, this is significant and interesting politically because during the last administration there was an effort to wrap things up with the sackler survey have a change of ministrations. there wasn't a formal objection so that's unclear where this will go but it seems to trigger the appeal which is upsetting to people who want to see the deal done and resolved. we will now have to see form the
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appeal will take from a physical through the district court or write to the circuit court, did it go to the supreme court? at the heart of this is a question of can a federal bankruptcy judge released from future liability people who haven't declared bankruptcy before him from a people who are not in his court, does he have the power to say for certain sum of money he will let the sackler's go on their merry way and not face any liability in the future? i did that in three minutes. >> you did very well. it's interesting in all of these settlements, billions of dollars, no one taking responsibility for this horrific opioid epidemic exclaimed thousands, hundreds of thousands of lives. you and your book, your tough heartbreaking look describe the
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epidemic, the causes and effect is anyone going to be held accountable you think eric can take that and then patrick? >> with purdue pharma, they have multiple lawsuits, thousands of lawsuits filed against them. every time they would see all the records, cop entire case file which is absolutely unheard of in exchange for the plaintiff's of the families who lost loved ones, agreeing to a certain settlement, basically they were buying silence from these families. thanks to patrick and others, that's no longer the case, we no longer, we now know the whole story. as far as holding individuals accountable, that's probably not going to happen. there are manufacturers, i don't see that happening with distributors in terms of jail
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time or anything like that. >> i would agree, i think -- and i should say, this is part of a deeper problem in the united states which is that we are very accommodating of people who commit corporate crime and we make it ourur system, i think it makes it surpassingly easy for big corporations out of any individual liability in this happened with purdue, the corporation is guilty and agreed to pay a fine but there's no individuals charged at all and it begs the question to the man on the street, how can a corporation plead guilty and say no individual did anything wrong? in my book, it's almost like a driverless car, how is it that it could engage in this misconduct without any human
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agency? i'm afraid that's the way it works though. generally speaking and you can obviously contrast that went what happens when street level drug dealers sell heroin or fentanyl, these people are often people of color, are held to account when people take the drugs and die for disturbing them and sent away to prison for years. we don't see that in corporate context. what i worry about at the next t crisis is, what kind of a deterrent is this if they know there are billions of dollars to be made and in the event there is really negative downstreamea consequences, they won't be personally held responsible, they can hold their head high and move on to j their next job. the company will plead guilty and paid a fine and they will just keep moving so to me it's one of the most dismayed takeaways from the whole story.
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>> you might want to say with the highest payout for victims, isn't it like c 35000? >> yes and that's in an extreme case where you can prove a relative died of an overdose of oxycontin. you have all kinds of people will get a few thousand dollars, if that. >> exactly. >> our last question, and both of you can try to answer this, we don't have much time left but what can ordinary people do to try to improve the opioid situation with regards to these corporations? >> what? >> working ordinary people listening to this,eo reading yor books do to try to improve the
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opioid situation in regards to these corporations? >> i mean, they can write letters to their legislatures, i'm not sure it will do much good on the ground. i know around here everybody carries narcan including myself but maybe patrick has an idea. >> patrick wrote about protesters who went to the museum. >> right. >> i think that kind of protest had an impact, i think with the sackler's, it probably helps on some levels family, a story that can be told, the board members may not be but i do think public protest, getting out there on the street, letting people know you are watching, letting
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elected officials know, i think the state attorneys general who pushed really hard to extract from perdue, i think they were driven in part, the once really honest and out there and driving the story, and contact with community groups, they had seen and away it played out in their own communities and had seen outrage and there should be accountability here so i don't knowow that i can ever be enough but i think that level of engagement makes a difference. >> unfortunately, we are out of time. thank you to all of you watching and thank you to our extraordinary authors patrick keefe, eric


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