What I’m Doing, Where I’m Coming From, And Why This Matters

The 5 W’s

My name is Shannen Balogh, and I’m a graduating senior at the Journalism Institute at New York University. To complete my concentration in Media Criticism, I was tasked with a capstone project where I pick a particular issue in the news and evaluate how different journalists are covering it.

While searching for a topic, I went to The Economist, a magazine to which I subscribe — but, regrettably, rarely properly read. I found a Daily Chart online titled, “America’s opioid epidemic is getting worse.” Though I was aware of opioids as a problem in the US, I didn’t realize the magnitude.

via The Economist

Opioids, including prescription painkillers — such as Percocet and OxyContin (oxycodone) or Vicodin (hydrocodone) — and heroin are devastating towns and cities across the United States. Across all demographics and regions, America’s addiction to opioids is worsening. This is not a new phenomenon; it could be traced back to the advent of morphine hundreds of years ago, or, more recently, to OxyContin which was introduced in 1996. With the arrival of OxyContin, the United States reevaluated the notion of pain management. Initially marketed as non-addictive, these pills would lead to a nationwide prescription opioid epidemic that, since 1999, has killed over 165,000 people.

As Sam Quinones puts it in his award-winning 2015 book, Dreamland:

“With pain pills now so easily prescribed, the pills moved among vulnerable populations by a casual contact, a chance meeting — not unlike the way Ebola and AIDS viruses advanced. New opiate addicts spread information on where to find pills the way a cough spread germs.”

Deaths from prescription opioids have nearly quadrupled since 1999. Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US. In 2015, there were 33,000 opioid-related deaths in the US, which accounts for 63% of total overdoses. In the same year, heroin alone was responsible for more deaths than gun homicides.

My project is organized through four conversations with four journalists who covering the epidemic with distinct approaches:

Part I — Stumbling Upon Tragedy
Jack Healy, New York Times

Part II — Heroin Is A Headline Word
Katharine Seelye, New York Times

Part III — Fist-pounding Moments
Jason Cherkis, HuffPost

Part IV — The Heroin Reporter
Terry DeMio, Cincinnati Enquirer