I once worked for a network whose star anchor regularly stripped the lead from his best correspondent’s scripts to use as his own spoken introduction. You might think of this as a tribute to one of the greatest correspondents of our era, and one of the great journalistic writers of all time. If the anchor ever admitted what he was doing. Which he never did.
So here it comes – a flat-out purloined lead – a declared tribute to the journalist who wrote it – our guest today, Chris McGreal of Guardian US.
AND I QUOTE: “In West Virginia, they are bracing for the second wave.
“The epidemic that hit the Appalachian state harder than any other in the U.S. finally looked to be in retreat. Now it’s advancing again. Not coronavirus but opioid overdoses, with one scourge driving a resurgence of the other.” END QUOTE.
This is what a lead is supposed to do: hook you, and land you, by giving you a concise, crystal-clear bulls-eye view of the heart of a great big beast of a news story.
It’s a painful story McGreal may know better than he wants to, having written a fine book on it, not two years ago – American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts. McGreal reported his way along both sides of the Ohio River Valley, through Ohio and West Virginia, through not just a valley of opioid addiction death, but the valley of what social scientists Anne Case and Angus Deaton – the people who truly broke the story – called “deaths of despair.”
The novel coronavirus is a despicable pathogen. Its mode of attack is sneaky – people without symptoms, but still highly contagious, super-spreading the COVID-19 disease is bad enough, but the way the sickness targets every vulnerability within a vulnerable population is even worse. In the Valley of “deaths of despair,” the COVID-19 pandemic has multiplied the desperation.
Look at the graph of COVID-19 cases and deaths in West Virginia and you’ll see a state that had flattened a low curve for the first months of the outbreak in America, then surged after the Memorial Day weekend, then resettled until the Fourth of July. Since then, caseloads have gone crazy and the death curve is sure to follow. As of July 20, West Virginia had 5,142 cases of coronavirus and 100 deaths. The statistics suggest worse days are ahead.
Which predicts much harder times, and not just days, but months, years and lifetimes for the far higher numbers of people trying to survive addiction to opioids or – the damned thing never goes away – methamphetamine.
Chris McGreal writes for Guardian US and is a former Guardian correspondent in Washington, Johannesburg and Jerusalem. He is the author of American Overdose, The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts.