Veteran journalists speak from front lines of prescription drug epidemic

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

In a subject area increasingly defined by its steady drumbeat of alarming numbers and increasingly dire statistics, the opening to a recent episode of WBUR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook still manages to make even the most jaded readers sit up and take notice.

Prescription drug abuse is sky-rocketing in the United States as accidental overdose deaths now exceed crack deaths in the 1980s. Overdose from prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Xanax is now the leading cause of accidental death in 17 states.

The show touches upon every point of the prescription drug epidemic, from the pill mills of Florida to the devastated counties of rural Appalachia, where entire generations have been lost. The show is driven by the expertise of guests like Louisville Courier Journal reporter Laura Ungar and The Charleston Gazette‘s Alison Knezevich, both of whom will be speaking at the June 3 lunch session of AHCJ’s upcoming Rural Health Journalism Workshop in St. Louis. The thoughts of these veteran journalists are also supplemented by a unique interactive element, thanks to On Point‘s national reach and call-in format. One example:

On Point caller Michelle in Carter County, Ky., grew up with her mother addicted to prescription medications.

“We would wake up in middle night and have to put her to bed because she was like a zombie,” Michelle said. “It was like no one was there.” Michelle is now going to school to be a drug abuse therapist.

A summary of the show is available online, as is an MP3 of the entire broadcast.

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