Mr. Rich Lord of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contacted me earlier this month for one of his articles about the prescription drug epidemic in which I was mentioned. Although I was unable to contribute to his article in time, it gave me the opportunity to communicate with a reporter. My concern is that the news media only spread the propaganda that the government wants them to spread. I was interested in finding out just where the general news reporter stands in this media frenzy going on about addiction. He agreed to an interview.
Q: What is the standard manner in which reporters get assignments like this one?
A: Mr. Lord is on a project team. They look for trends and areas that deserve further exploration than the usual daily or weekly story. They try to quantify what they are seeing. “The opioid issue is real important in this area.” He did some research reading the book Dreamland on pharmaceutical companies, read about Purdue Pharma, and read the profiles of addicts. He felt that there hadn’t been enough exploration of the part of doctors in the area. So the first article in the series, “Overdosed: How Doctors Wrote the Script for an Epidemic”, explored that aspect.
A: They saw this as a problem in their region and the country—the prescribing of prescriptions.
Q: Are you given instructions in the overall message for the articles?
Q: Did you have a prejudice on prescription drugs when you wrote them?
Q: Have you had any personal experience or family/friends with addiction blamed on prescription drugs?
A: He has not. He’s had close family die of cancer and sees the necessity of pain meds.
Q: What part does sensationalism come to play in writing your articles?
A: “The role of a reporter is to try to gain an understanding and try to condense that into stories that the readers will find informative.” Writers don’t write the headlines, the editors do.
Q: Let’s look at the title of your article:
“Overdosed: How Doctors Wrote the Script for an Epidemic.”
You state that doctors continue to prescribe opioids even though they have been “warned time and again that pain pills can addict and kill.” So if you were a doctor with a legitimate patient in excruciating pain, let’s say from a fractured arm, what would you do?
A: He has a hard time putting himself in those shoes. “I’m not a doctor,” he said. “There is a legitimate problem with taking a tool out of the tool kit.”
When they wrote the series “Overdosed”, they looked at 4300 state disciplinary board actions, eliminated the ones where doctors prescribed opioids for broken bones or cancer, and focused on doctors that gained the attention of their state boards.
Q: Do you believe that everyone that gets attacked by the government is guilty?
A: No. They spent a lot of time studying how the feds handled the mortgage issue—went after the small fish.
We talked for a good 40 minutes. In the end, I felt that a lot of the bad press might not always be the reporter’s fault. They are only able to write about what they can learn about. The problem is that they can only learn from the bad guys. The legal system in America doesn’t allow defendants to present their position.
However, in my case Mr. Lord wrote about two patients that, according to the government propaganda, died as a result of my prescribing. In reality, they died as a result of the government closing my practice. And even though Mr. Lord was made aware of this incorrect reporting, the article was finished and his story remains as written with government propaganda in the forefront. So, in a sense, my main question remains unanswered.