Beginning Thursday, March 21, Marketplace will report on how U.S. drug policies enacted during the crack epidemic 30 years ago continue to impact the opioid epidemic today.
The third season of the Marketplace Wealth & Poverty Desk podcast, The Uncertain Hour, will explore the drug crisis, but your audiences will hear radio-only feature stories, excerpts and interviews on Marketplace broadcasts from Thursday, March 21 through Thursday, April 25, and Marketplace Morning Report broadcasts each Friday, from March 22 through April 19.
Here’s what your audiences will hear on our evening broadcasts, in addition to the day’s economic news and numbers from Kai:
- Thursday, March 21: Launch – Q&A (Molly Wood, Krissy Clark)
Molly asks Krissy what season three of The Uncertain Hour is about.
Today, we’re in the midst of the worst drug crisis our country has ever faced – the opioid epidemic. This season, we’re asking the question: How do you end a drug epidemic?
- Friday, March 22: Looking back to crack (Krissy Clark)
Thirty years ago, George H.W. Bush held the first televised address of his presidency from the Oval Office. He used it to declare war on the “gravest domestic threat facing our nation today” – drugs – by holding up an actual baggie of crack he said was seized in a drug bust in the park right across from the White House.
We’ll share the strange tale of how Bush got the crack in the first place (spoiler: the real story is far different from the one Bush told that night), and why that speech still reverberates through our drug policy today.
- UPDATED – Tuesday, March 26: The history of the anti-drug PSAs (Peter Balonen-Rosen)
Arizona is betting on shock to keep teens away from opioids, spending more than $400,000 on ads with a “horror movie feel.” Marketplace’s Peter Balonon-Rosen has the story on the history of anti-drug ads and how they’ve evolved.
- Thursday, April 4: Profile of Bucky Culbertson (Caitlin Esch)
You can trace the booms and busts of Appalachian Virginia through one man’s career. Bucky Culbertson has worked in all the region’s defining industries: coal, lumber, and finally drug enforcement.
Wise County, in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, has some of the highest prescription opioid rates in the country. In 2015, one small town had five prescriptions for every man, woman and child.
These days, Bucky builds cases against low-level street dealers, and sometimes, takes down a big fish – like the doctor who wrote 64,000 prescriptions, many to the area’s top drug dealers. But as pain pills become harder to buy on the street, new drugs move in to fill the void – opioids like heroin and fentanyl and stimulants like methamphetamine. We’ll get to know Wise through one man and his career trajectory.
- Thursday, April 11: Wise Works (Caitlin Esch)
If you drive around Wise County, you’ll see people mowing the lawn in front of the courthouse, painting lines on the little league field, or working the front desk at the local community college library. These are not paid employees. They’re working off drug charges. Wise County is sick of sticking people in jail for low-level drug offenses, costing $30 per day, per inmate.
For the past 15 years, Wise has been dealing with the opioid epidemic largely through the criminal justice system. The jail population has more than doubled and spending on the jail has tripled, even as the county’s overall population (and tax base) has declined. The county’s defining industry, coal, now pays just one-tenth the taxes it once did to the county. Schools have been consolidated and property tax raised.
All of this has gotten Wise thinking of creative ways to save money. Wise Works is a program where people convicted of low-level drug felonies work off their charges instead of sitting in jail “eating Twinkies,” as the Commonwealth’s Attorney puts it. It might seem lenient compared to a two-year jail sentence, but it’s still punitive. Participants work for hundreds – even thousands – of hours without pay. They pay hundreds of dollars in court fines and fees, they lose their license and they have to plead guilty to felony charges. How’s this approach working out?
- Thursday, April 18: Building a rehab clinic (Caitlin Esch) – TENTATIVE
Everyone in Wise County seems to agree – you cannot jail your way out of a drug epidemic. But what do you do instead?
Paula Hill Collins and Teresa Tyson are registered nurses and best friends since eighth grade. They drive a mobile health “wagon” (really an RV) through the hollers of Appalachian Virginia to bring healthcare to rural people who do not have health insurance.
For the past year and a half, they’ve been struggling to open an addiction clinic, so that they can treat the overwhelming physical and mental health issues they’re seeing in hundreds of patients. But they’ve run into every roadblock imaginable. This feature follows their triumphs and failures treating drug users.
- Thursday, April 25: Profile of Joey (Caitlin Esch)
Joey Ballard represents what happened to Wise County when pain pills flooded it in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Joey was just finishing high school, driving around with friends, hanging out at Wal-Mart, occasionally smoking pot. Suddenly, pain pills were everywhere, and he gave them a try. He liked them a lot. Joey ended up marrying the stepdaughter of a local OxyContin dealer and for much of the next 15 years, he was using drugs and selling on the side.
Then, at the age of 34, Joey decided he had to quit. So, he left Wise County and moved in with his mother across the border in Tennessee. He found a job, met a girlfriend and bought a new used car. But can he manage to stay sober?
We caught up with Joey several months later at the county courthouse. He was there to plead guilty to some misdemeanors. He had returned to Wise County and had relapsed. This time, it was methamphetamine. Meth has become the drug of choice in a lot of small rural towns.
This profile looks at Wise through the eyes of Joey Ballard and explains how pain pills tore this county apart. And how once an epidemic starts, it’s hard it is to recover.
Details on our morning broadcasts to follow soon.
We’re excited to share this highly relevant reporting on the drug crisis with your audiences. It offers new opportunities to cross-promote your Marketplace broadcasts and your local reporting on drug use, policies and campaigns.
Contact your Station Representative for more information, including:
- A list of officials and agencies featured in the stories.
- Photos from the series.
- The regions with the most compelling opioid data, from D.C. to L.A.