In 2016, Eric Eyre at the Charleston Gazette-Mail revealed the breathtaking size and scope of the painkiller industry that was ravaging parts of West Virginia.
780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills over six years. 433 pain pills for every person in the state. 1,728 overdose deaths. In West Virginia alone.
Eyre had been denied access to the data, which drug companies argued was “proprietary,” until a county circuit court judge unsealed documents that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had sent to the state’s attorney general.
The coverage eventually led to a slate of million-dollar settlements, clinic closures and changes to state law — and earned Eyre a Pulitzer.
At The Washington Post, Jeff Leen and the data team saw the scope and impact of Eyre’s reporting and wondered what it would take to obtain painkiller data for the entire United States. A massive data trove called Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System — or ARCOS — contained information about the manufacturing and distribution of painkillers across the entire country, but the pharmaceutical industry had no plans to open it up for journalists to navigate.
When 2,000 communities across the U.S. sued dozens of big drug companies over the destruction that painkillers were causing, a federal judge ordered the ARCOS data turned over to the plaintiffs for examination, but sealed the data away from the public and the media as part of a protective order.
That’s when the Post and HD Media, the owner of the Charleston Gazette-Mail, jumped in.
Read more here: https://www.poynter.org/reporting-editing/2019/the-washington-post-created-a-database-about-the-opioid-epidemic-its-had-nearly-40000-downloads/