Eric Eyre of the Charleston Gazette-Mail won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting on Monday for his coverage of the opioid crisis in small-town West Virginia.
The Pulitzer judges said Eyre won the prize “for courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country.”
Eyre’s investigation found that, over six years, drug wholesalers dumped 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills onto the state while 1,728 West Virginians fatally overdosed on those two painkillers.
Eyre, 51, originally from Broad Axe, Pennsylvania, has been with The Charleston Gazette and now the Gazette-Mail for 18 years.
“This is an issue that’s devastated our state,” Eyre said. “We wanted to put the focus on the root causes and costs of the epidemic. By doing so, we hope we are part of the solution.”
In his address to the newsroom following the Pulitzer announcement, Gazette-Mail Executive Editor Rob Byers said the award reflects the importance of the issue of prescription drug abuse in West Virginia and the Appalachian region.
“It shows what a small newspaper can do when it has the right attitude and the right people — people who are dedicated to the community and dedicated to journalism,” Byers said. “I like to think of this award as the culmination of all the reporting done by many of our journalists over the past 17 years regarding prescription drug abuse. That’s ‘Sustained Outrage,’ which is our motto.”
The prize is the first Pulitzer for what was The Charleston Gazette and now is the Charleston Gazette-Mail, following the paper’s combination with the Charleston Daily Mail in 2015. Jack Maurice of the Daily Mail won a Pulitzer for commentary in 1975, during the Kanawha County textbook controversy.
The Gazette’s late publisher, Ned Chilton, coined the term Sustained Outrage.
“My father, who set the tone for the aggressive nature of this paper, would be so proud if he were here today,” said Gazette-Mail Publisher Susan Shumate.
Daily Gazette Co. President Elizabeth Chilton, the widow of Ned Chilton, said: “I’m so happy and proud of Eric and the Charleston Gazette-Mail for this amazing honor. We’re so appreciative that his work is being recognized.”
Eyre’s investigation also won the Scripps Howard First Amendment Award, was a finalist for the Selden Ring awards and won a first-place award for investigative reporting from the Association for Healthcare Journalists.
Byers said Eyre’s investigation benefited greatly from the help of legal partners Pat McGinley and Tim Conaway, who worked pro bono to help the Gazette-Mail secure the records needed to show the massive number of painkilling drugs being shipped into West Virginia.
Armed with Eyre’s work, numerous counties and towns in West Virginia have sued some of the nation’s largest drugmakers.