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About AHCJ: General News

Winners of 2016 health journalism contest announced Date: 03/16/17

Columbia, MO. – In-depth investigations into heroin and pain-pill abuse drew several top awards in this year’s Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism.

The 2016 awards, announced today by the Association of Health Care Journalists, recognize the best health reporting in 11 categories. This year, the contest’s 13th, drew nearly 400 entries.

Winning entries included investigations into inflated prescription-drug prices, agricultural practices fueling antibiotic resistance, and poor oversight of dangerous drug interactions.

The contest’s top beat reporting prize went to April Dembosky of KQED Public Radio in San Francisco. Dembosky’s work included showing how pharmaceutical companies more than doubled the price of a drug commonly used in assisted-suicide and how health insurance companies skirted mental-health parity laws by routinely listing therapists in their networks who weren’t taking new patients.

The national opioid crisis was the focus of several other winning entries.

The Palm Beach Post brought the issue home in stunning detail. The newspaper’s staff used autopsy records, police reports and a state overdose database to build a front page showing 216 people in Palm Beach County, Fla., who had died of heroin-related overdoses in 2015.

The Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity dug deeply into how pharmaceutical companies spent more than $880 million in lobbying and political donations to stave off tighter regulation of painkiller sales. The team showed some of that money was quietly funneled through patient-advocacy groups.

Eric Eyre of the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail showed how state regulators stood by while pharmaceutical wholesalers shipped 780 million pain pills into West Virginia in six years, as 1,728 of the state’s residents fatally overdosed on those pills.

Contest entries were screened and judged by more than 50 working journalists or journalism professors. AHCJ board members and contest committee members were not eligible to enter the contest.

“At a time when many journalism outlets are being stretched, it’s encouraging to see so many reporters continue digging deeply into complicated and vital issues,” said contest co-chairman and AHCJ board member Tony Leys, who is a staff writer for the Des Moines Register.

In addition to Leys, the contest committee included AHCJ members Julie Appleby, Blythe Bernhard, Charles Ornstein and Cate Vojdik.

The awards will be presented during a luncheon on April 22 at Health Journalism 2017, the association's annual conference, taking place this year in Orlando. First-place winners will receive $500 plus registration and hotel accommodations at the conference. Some winners will speak on conference panels about their work.

AHCJ is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues. With about 1,500 members across the United States and around the globe, its mission is to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of health care reporting, writing and editing. The association and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism provide training, resources and a professional home for journalists. Its offices are based at the Missouri School of Journalism.