Seattle Times reporters, Michael J. Berens and Ken Armstrong, were awarded The Pulitzer Prize, a prestigious honor for journalism, for their investigative series about methadone. The three-part series exposed the state of Washington's financially driven practice of routinely prescribing a deadly painkiller for people with state-subsidized healthcare.
The three-part series, titled "Methadone and the Politics of Pain," revealed over 2,000 deaths from 2003 to 2011 from accidental methadone overdose. Methadone is an extremely cheap pain-killer, often costing less than a dollar a dose. With the tough economy and numerous government budget cuts, Washington State made methadone one of the two preferred pain-killers for people with Medicaid and worker's compensation.
The Pulitzer citation honors these two writers for "their investigation of how a little known governmental body in Washington State moved vulnerable patients from safer pain control medication to methadone, a cheaper but more dangerous drug, coverage that prompted statewide health warnings."
The series showed that the poor have been hit the hardest by the state's reliance on methadone. Only 8% of the population has Medicaid, but they make up 48% of the methadone deaths. State officials have claimed that methadone is as safe as any other pain-killer, despite the drug's propensity for both addiction and overdose.
After the series was published in December, Medicaid officials released an advisory, detailing the unique dangers of methadone. By January, doctors were instructed to provide methadone only as a last resort. Washington's pain program had been a national model, so the ripple effect of this prize-winning investigative series could be felt across the country.
The Pulitzer Prize is the highest award in journalism. Berens said the project "underscores the importance and relevance of investigative reporting, and highlights the many brave people and fearless voices that put their trust in this newspaper to tell a difficult story that, all too often, was taiga and preventable." Armstrong was most grateful when he read an email from a man whose wife was in the hospital. The doctors wanted to put her on methadone, but he had just read the series and knew the dangers of the drug. He would not allow them to prescribe it to her. This series has the power to change the lives of many pain patients receiving state-subsidized healthcare, and will potentially save lives. Investigative journalism, at its best, sheds light on these dark corners to inevitably change the lives of those in need.
- Item Tag: methadone