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Behind the Post's opioids investigation

Posted: Oct. 19, 2017 | Tags: opioids

Above: The Washington Post's Lenny Bernstein and Scott Higham, along with "60 Minutes" producer Ira Rosen, discuss their Washington Post-CBS News investigation on the drug industry and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The joint investigation published Oct. 15 explained how a targeted lobbying effort helped bolster a new law, the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act, that made it harder for the DEA to act against giant drug distributors. Some distributors had been fined for repeatedly ignoring warnings from the agency to shut down suspicious sales of hundreds of millions of pills.

Graduate student and Workshop intern Reis Thebault was a contributing reporter to the project.

One of the things he tackled was a timeline of the way the legislation wound its way through Congress — chronicling its sponsors and co-sponsors with each iteration of the bill, then matching them up with campaign contributions. 

"It was like a front-row seat into this big blockbuster investigation," Thebault said in a recent phone interview from California, where he is now completing his second year of a master's program at the University of California, Berkeley. 

Thebault recalls getting to be a part of the process, including sitting in on interviews and a meeting with the Post lawyer, and, overall, gaining a better understsanding of how Scott Higham and Lenny Bernstein worked. "It was really a cool part of the whole summer. Catching snippets of the way other reporters do their job, and then just talking to them about it, was really valuable," he said.

In addition, the report "seems to have had real impact," he said, noting the quick response to the story, which led to Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) withdrawing his name to be drug czar. "A lot of times it’s hard to really quantify that (impact)," Thebault said. "This seems to be a complicated issue, dealing with the supply chain of pharmaceutical drugs, but I think it speaks to how good a job Scott and Lenny did … they made it easy to see the injustice."

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