Interview: Rayne Pearson

Rayne Pearson, Attorney. Credit: Ethan Morris/KCTS.

Prescription drug overdoses kill two people a day in Washington state. But the damage caused by addiction to painkillers is even more widespread. As part of its collaboration with InvestigateWest, KCTS invited recovering addicts and their families to share their stories. Here Ethan Morris, executive producer for public affairs at KCTS interviews Rayne Pearson, a practicing attorney in Seattle.

Ethan Morris: Let’s start by telling me your name and why you’re here.

Rayne Pearson: My name is Rayne and I am a recovering addict.

EM: What are you recovering from?

RP: I’m in recovery from prescription drugs mostly. Opiates and benzodiazepines.

EM: Can you tell me how you came to start using drugs?

RP:  I started using drugs when I was very young, about 14 or 15. And I think, like a lot of addicts, I started with alcohol and pot and I was definitely addicted from the very first time I ever used drugs. I used drugs on a daily basis, probably from the time I was 17 until the time I got clean when I was 32. The disease is progressive, so my using intensified. I started using harder and harder drugs, and I think it was probably in my mid 20’s when I had my first prescription for Xanax, which is a benzodiazepine. I started abusing it right away.


How Addiction Nearly Killed Justine

Editor's note: Stephanie Schendel, a journalism student at Washington State University, interned at InvestigateWest during the summer of 2011. Here she shares a compelling first-person account of how the prescription drug epidemic affected her own life and that of her roommate, Justine, who agreed to be interviewed for this story. It’s a personal tale, but also one that is playing out on campuses around the state and country as colleges grapple with the ready availability of alcohol and prescription drugs, and the students who get hooked on them.

First impressions

When I first met Justine, she was chugging from a bottle of vodka.  I was 18 years old and at my first frat party.  I barely knew anyone, and the fraternity’s basement smelled like old beer and cheap deodorant.  The smell, blaring music, and the amount of people and alcohol overwhelmed me, but not Justine. Outgoing and friendly, Justine seemingly already knew everyone there, even though it was her first week of college.

The first thing Justine told me that night was that she’d already downed 18 beers  in order to “medicate” for the tattoo she had gotten earlier that day.  I was alarmed and impressed.  She showed it to me, the irritated skin still red and puffy.  It was three words written in Hungarian. She said they meant “strength, loyalty and compassion.”

She didn’t remember meeting me that night.  Or even the second or third night we met, but I remembered her: She was girl who had an insane tolerance for alcohol and could out-drink a fraternity any day of the week.

By then, she was already deep into her addictions.  Years later, she told me her substance abuse had started in middle school with pot and alcohol.  By the time she was thirteen she was stealing pills from her grandmother’s medicine cabinet.


Where There's Smoke, There's Sickness: Wood Smoke now a major Northwest air polluter



The warning label on the wrapping of neatly split firewood is one we're more accustomed to seeing on cigarettes or heavy-duty chemicals: “known… to cause cancer, birth defects or reproductive harm.”

But in fact, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, asthma attacks and premature death – in addition to cancer – all are linked to wood smoke pollution. It’s a finding that poses a vexing dilemma for poor and rural communities around the Northwest where wood is a cheap or even free source of heat.

And in Tacoma, where the air is so dirty it violates the Clean Air Act, authorities are gearing up for what promises to be an arduous and expensive campaign over the better part of a decade to clean up wood smoke pollution. It’s an effort that already has some residents chafing at government interference, and one that will set the stage for how other Northwest communities are treated when they bump up against tightened federal pollution standards.

In Tacoma and many towns across the Northwest, wood smoke is a prime culprit in driving spikes of sooty, toxic air pollution that leave some residents – particularly asthmatics, kids and the elderly – gasping for breath.  It’s especially bad during sunny, cold stretches like those we’ve seen in recent weeks, because atmospheric conditions trap the pollution close to the ground.

Seattle glass recycler Saint-Gobain leads list of NW companies fined for violating Clean Air Act

In partnership with:
Coverage by iWatch News
Coverage by NPR
Coverage by Northwest News Network
Coverage by EarthFix

Robert McClure and Lisa Stiffler


Saint-Gobain Containers bills itself as a “world leader” in protecting the environment.  Its hulking south Seattle plant recycles used glass into new bottles – part of a noble effort to conserve resources, the company says.

“We are committed to a sustainable future for not only our business – but the planet,” the company says.

And yet Saint-Gobain’s Duwamish-area plant, operating under its Verallia label, has racked up more than $962,000 in fines for violating the Clean Air Act in the last five years, making the Paris-based company the most-fined toxic air pollution emitter in the Northwest, government records show.

Saint-Gobain’s plant on Highway 99 just north of the First Avenue Bridge is only one of dozens of facilities around the Northwest, and particularly concentrated in the Puget Sound region, where regulators have struggled for years to rein in pollution – often exceeding time frames that regulators themselves set as deadlines.

Robert McClure's picture

Shell refinery No. 2 in NW clean-air fines; others include LaFarge, other manufacturers


Highest Northwest air-pollution fines

By Robert McClure


The list of facilities that have ended up on the wrong side of Clean Air Act enforcement efforts in the Pacific Northwest is a long one. Dozens of firms are classified as “high priority violators,” often because the potential for affecting public health is high. Following are snapshots of a few of the Northwest facilities regulated under the Clean Air Act. A full listing of enforcement actions is available through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Compliance History Online database.

Shell Oil: Shell’s refinery has escaped the intense publicity directed at its neighboring refinery in Anacortes, Wash., Tesoro, where a massive blast killed seven workers in 2010. But Shell’s fines for environmental infractions actually outstrip Tesoro’s, with Shell’s $291,000 in fines in five years numbering it as the No. 2-most-fined Clean Air Act violator in the Northwest. Shell also faced 16 notices of violation and 15 formal enforcement actions in that period. EPA has classified the Shell refinery as a “high priority violator” at least since the end of 2008, the ECHO database shows. The EPA data indicates the agency stepped in several times when state efforts did not work – which is the way the system is supposed to work.  Jody Barnett, external affairs coordinator at the Shell refinery, did not return three telephone messages requesting comment .


Poisoned Places - Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

By Jim Morris, Chris Hamby and Elizabeth Lucas / Center for Public Integrity's iWatch News in collaboration with NPR

For all of her 62 years, Lois Dorsey has lived five blocks from a mass of petrochemical plants in Baton Rouge. She worries about the health of people in her life: A 15-year-old granddaughter, recovering from bone cancer. A 59-year-old sister, a nonsmoker, felled by lung cancer. Neighbors with asthma and cancer. 

She's complained to the government about powerful odors and occasional, window-rattling explosions — to no avail, she says. Pollution from the plants — including benzene and nickel, both human carcinogens, and hydrochloric acid, a lung irritant — continues.

“If anything," said Dorsey, herself a uterine cancer survivor, "it’s gotten worse."

Americans might expect the government to protect them from unsafe air. That hasn’t happened. Insidious forms of toxic air pollution — deemed so harmful to human health that a Democratic Congress and a Republican president sought to bring emissions under control more than two decades ago — persist in hundreds of communities across the United States, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News and NPR shows.


EPA grant to help Duwamish Valley residents, businesses prioritize health needs

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying south Seattle’s pollution-scarred Duwamish Valley needs help to sort through health and environmental problems, on Tuesday awarded a $100,000 grant to local groups to examine health risks and come up with strategies to improve conditions.

The valley between West Seattle and Beacon Hill  encompasses the neighborhoods of South Park and Georgetown, which have disproportionately large minority and low-income populations, as well as the industry-packed Duwamish River. The river has been declared a Superfund site under federal law, meaning it’s one of the most-polluted sites in the country.

The grant announced Tuesday is to examine health issues outside the immediate area of the Superfund site.  Across south Seattle, as InvestigateWest has documented, residents face a plethora of health issues, including toxic air pollution, the highest rate in King County of kids hospitalized for asthma, residents eating contaminated seafood, and the fact that the area is a “food desert” because of a lack of fresh groceries. A separate $50,000 grant will help the groups advise EPA about health issues related to the Superfund site itself.

“With our partners, we will make a difference,” said James Rasmussen, executive director of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition/Technical Advisory Group, “… not just to make plans but to take action.”

The grant is to:


Changes at InvestigateWest

InvestigateWest is announcing some exciting new changes!

With the departure next month of Executive Director and Editor Rita Hibbard, the InvestigateWest board is pleased to announce the Robert McClure, a co-founder as well as an award-winning environmental journalist, is succeeding Hibbard as acting Executive Director.

At the same time, Carol Smith, a co-founder and acclaimed social issues and health journalist, is moving into the role of acting Executive Editor.

“Robert will guide a growing, stable and exciting news organization into its next phase,” said Hibbard, who is leaving to pursue other projects long put on hold by the demands of a thriving nonprofit newsroom. “As a co-founder, he profoundly understands the importance of what we do, and is in a great position to push it forward.”

InvestigateWest is an independent, nonprofit investigative news organization founded in 2009 and based in Seattle. It is staffed by journalists with a track record of producing in-depth stories that produce change in public policy and practice.  It has received funding from both national and regional foundations.

InvestigateWest’s work resulted in three laws passed by the state Legislature in 2011, including two establishing worker safety and health rules after the publication of a story linking exposure of chemotherapy drugs to illness and death among health care workers, and another banning carcinogenic pavement sealant after InvestigateWest wrote about their widespread use.

 “Carol also will bring her investigative and narrative skills to the fore in her new role,” said Hibbard, who has been at the helm since InvestigateWest’s launch. “She’s a wonderful writer and journalist who will contribute hugely to the new organizational structure.”