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Best of Slow Journalism: Guns, pills and trailer parks

Photo: AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade

How did a bunch of pot-smoking high school wrestlers wind up kingpins of an illicit, cross-country prescription-pill ring that saw them pulling down millions of dollars? In his piece for Rolling Stone, ‘The Dukes of Oxy’, Guy Lawson takes a long term view of the conditions that made the ascent of Doug Dodd, Lance Barabas and their friends possible, revisiting a period that runs from the gang’s troubled upbringings in Tampa, Florida, to their downfall in 2009.

Speaking from his home, where he remains under house arrest over four years after his arrest, Dodd guides Lawson through the whole story with extreme care. Early felonies led Dodd to the discovery of prescription painkillers like oxycodone, or ‘Hillbilly Heroin’. Dodd began selling the drug to fund his own addiction, but it wasn’t long before he, Barabas and several others were knee-deep in a world of booze and pill-fueled excess, involving arsenals of weaponry, stacks of loose cash, and wrestling tournaments in gutted trailer-park caravans.

Lawson’s piece underlines just how destructive the prescription pill epidemic of the mid-2000s was in Florida – a state in which, as Lawson reports, physicians were signing off ten times as many painkiller prescriptions as every other state in the country combined. “The statistic beggared belief,” writes Lawson. “The only logical explanation for the vast disparity was that the medical-industrial complex in Florida was complicit in the epidemic.” This, combined with the legal shades of gray that products like Oxycontin and Roxicodone fell under, saw Dodd and Barabas make their illegitimate fortunes with seemingly extraordinary ease.

Lawson brings an acutely human dimension to a problem that can seem overwhelming in its scale. You can read his piece here.

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