Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies that Delivered the Opiod Epidemic

Author: Eric Eyre
Publisher: Scribner, 2020.  304 pages.
Reviewer: Mark Podvia | September 2023

The ongoing opioid epidemic has, sadly, detrimentally impacted the entire United States.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 109,680 people died from a drug overdose in 2022, which has risen over the years.  Unfortunately, a poor Appalachian state—West Virginia—has led the nation in such deaths.

Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic tells the story of the fight against those responsible for so many opioid deaths in the Mountain State.  The book’s author, Eric Eyre, is a West Virginia journalist and investigative reporter.  Eyre was a long-time correspondent for the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the leading newspaper in West Virginia’s capital city.  In 2017 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for his coverage of the flow of opioids into the economically depressed counties of West Virginia.

The book begins with the overdose death of a former coal miner, William “Bull” Preece.  He passed away in October 2005 in the tiny West Virginia hamlet of Mud Lick.  Preece had become addicted to opioids, specifically OxyContin and Lortab, after suffering a work-related back injury.  After his death, Debbie Preece, his sister, found a sympathetic lawyer and began investigating the pharmacies and drug distributors.

Preece was not the first to die from his drug addiction or the last.  Drug distributors such as Cardinal Health and McKesson Corporation had flooded West Virginia with opioids.  The Sav-Rite Pharmacy in the small town of Kermit, West Virginia—population 382—distributed almost nine million pain pills to its customers between 2007 and 2008.  The statewide numbers for West Virginia are even worse: During those same years, the drug distributors sent 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to a state with a population of under 1.8 million people.

However, the doctors who wrote the prescriptions, the pharmacies that dispensed the drugs, and the drug distributors who supplied them are not the only bad guys in this book.  The author explains how Republican West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey opposed his journalistic investigation into the opioid epidemic.  Not surprisingly, the Attorney General’s wife was a lobbyist for Cardinal Health; the drug distributor helped pay for Morrisey’s inaugural party.

This book also discusses the decline of the author’s newspaper, the Charleston Daily-Mail.  Despite superior reporting that uncovered those responsible for the opioid epidemic, hard times brought the paper to its knees.  The reader is left wondering: as newspaper subscriptions decline, will we continue to see investigative reporting such as that conducted by Eric Eyre?

A well-researched and well-written book, Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic, will immediately captivate you.  You will not be able to put it down.[1]


Mark Podvia is a member of the emeritus faculty of the Pennsylvania State University and retired University Librarian at West Virginia University.

[1] Eric Eyre, Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic (2020).

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