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Preparation, context put AP ahead on opioids verdict against pharmacies

In this undated combination of photos shown are CVS, Walmart and Walgreens locations. The retail pharmacy chains recklessly distributed massive amounts of pain pills in two Ohio counties, a federal jury said Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 in a verdict that could set the tone for U.S. city and county governments that want to hold pharmacies accountable for their roles in the opioid crisis. (AP Photo)

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Toledo, Ohio-based correspondent John Seewer and southern New Jersey-based correspondent Geoff Mulvihill used planning, prep material and contextualized coverage to put AP well ahead of the competition when a federal jury in Cleveland held pharmacy chains responsible for their role in the opioids crisis. The jury found CVS, Walgreens and Walmart pharmacies recklessly distributed massive amounts of pain pills in two Ohio counties.

Seewer and Mulvihill drafted prep that included not only the possible jury decisions but their potential impact on the larger landscape of opioids litigation. They also planned how to get the story out quickly, Seewer making sure AP was literally well-positioned, planting himself outside the courtroom waiting for the verdict. The result: an urgent filing by the East Desk’s Jeff McMillan that beat major competitors by at least 20 minutes, delivering remarkably strong play.

Swift teamwork added reaction from both sides,as Seewer talked with lawyers at court while Mulvihill got statements from the companies and reached out to other sources. Photos prepared in advance were quickly linked, and the reporters also helped ensure AP had video of lawyers reacting to the verdict.

The pair followed up the next day with even more context in a smart story that unspooled the central argument of the case — that the pharmacies creating a “public nuisance” with their dispensing — and looked ahead to how the verdict could affect other litigation and communities that want to hold pharmacies accountable.

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