2022 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Small Newsroom finalist

Turned Away

About the Project

While reporting on Pennsylvania’s inherently flawed oversight system for drug treatment facilities, Spotlight PA reporter Ed Mahon learned about a man who couldn’t get funding for opioid addiction treatment because of his medical marijuana card.

The man, 24-year-old Tyler Cordeiro, overdosed and died just weeks after being denied treatment funding. In “Turned Away,” Mahon found state officials had failed to clarify federal rules around addiction treatment funding and medical marijuana use, sowing confusion with deadly consequences.

In addition to Cordeiro’s death, Mahon identified other harms in his story, “Delayed and Denied,” including a medical marijuana ban in a homeless assistance program, restrictions on initiatives aimed at providing alternatives to jail, and widespread uncertainty.

Mahon continued reporting on medical marijuana and addiction treatment — and his work revealed more unintended consequences and more harm.

“Unproven, Unsafe” — a follow-up investigation based on a first-of-its-kind review of more than 60 websites — revealed how some Pennsylvania cannabis companies made misleading, incorrect, or even dangerous medical claims as they tried to attract customers.

In “The Ad Block,” he revealed how a rare advertising ban and inconsistent enforcement silenced physicians and gave an advantage to largely unregulated businesses that stand to rake in millions of dollars each year courting Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients.

In between these larger investigations, Spotlight PA published a story that focused on the experiences of patients who used cannabis to treat opioid use disorder and the unfulfilled promise of a state research program.

In all, Mahon analyzed thousands of pages of marketing materials, scientific journal articles, and previously hidden state records. And he interviewed dozens of patients, health policy experts, addiction doctors, and others on the front lines of the state’s opioid crisis. Most importantly, he’s persistently breaking new ground and driving accountability on a topic that’s otherwise receiving little to no attention in Pennsylvania.