N.C. journalist goes to Europe for lessons about opioid crisis

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

NC Health News reporter Taylor Knopf interviews Thilo Beck, head of psychiatry at Arud Centre for Addiction Medicine inside a heroin-assisted treatment facility in Zurich, Switzerland.

Photo: Andy SpechtNC Health News reporter Taylor Knopf interviews Thilo Beck, head of psychiatry at Arud Centre for Addiction Medicine inside a heroin-assisted treatment facility in Zurich, Switzerland.

Last year, Taylor Knopf, a health care journalist at North Carolina Health News, spent more than a week out of a vacation to report on how France and Switzerland have been able to do what the health care system in the United States has so far failed to do: stem the tide of opioid-related deaths.

Knopf earned first place in AHCJ’s Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism Public Health (small) category for her six-part NCHN series, “Lessons from Abroad.”

“These stories were a delight to read, delivering one surprise after another,” AHCJ’s judges wrote about Knopf’s work. “They surely forced all who read them to rethink the rules of public health and wonder how on earth such programs could ever be sold on this side of the Atlantic.”

The judges also put the work into perspective, writing this: “A series in a small nonprofit news service can’t change public policy overnight. But it began a conversation that, with any luck, will continue. In ‘Lessons from Abroad,’ North Carolina Health News punched way above its weight class.”

NC Health News reporter Taylor Knopf visited France and Switzerland to learn how other countries have handled their own opioid crises.

Photo: Andy SpechtNC Health News reporter Taylor Knopf visited France and Switzerland to learn how other countries have handled their own opioid crises.

In a new How I Did It piece, Knopf outlines the steps she took before and during her trip to Europe to set up interviews in both countries. She added time onto a family vacation and used a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network. The planning she did before her trip allowed her to soak up as much information as possible from her interviews and tours of treatment facilities. As she explained, those facilities are not the usual form of care for opioid-addicted Americans.

Before joining NCHN in March 2017, Knopf was a politics and general assignment reporter for The News & Observer. At NCHN, she began covering mental health with an investigative series into the prison system, “Solitary to the Streets.”

In 2017, she wrote about the prison system series for AHCJ with this article, “News brief became catalyst for series on mental health, solitary confinement.” Since then, she has covered mental health, addiction and harm reduction extensively.

NCHN published the first article in her “Lessons from Abroad” series on Jan. 18, 2019. In that article, “Why I went to Europe to learn about the American drug crisis,” Knopf explained that deaths due to opioids continue to rise in in the United States while in Europe overdose deaths have plummeted. She set out to explain what health care providers in France and Switzerland were doing differently.

The series concluded six months later when Knopf addressed what would be needed to apply the lessons from Europe to North Carolina. That article was, “As the opioid death count climbs, will North Carolina try what’s worked elsewhere?”

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