Sierra Pfeifer


Reporter Profile

A native of Hillsborough, North Carolina, Sierra Pfeifer is a mental health and addiction reporter for KOSU in Oklahoma. Previously, Pfeifer served as the audio editor for The Daily Tar Heel, where she led a team covering everything from local politics to the UNC-Duke rivalry. She also served as the producer for Carolina Connection, a student-run radio show covering higher education, and worked as a reporter for local radio station WCHL. Pfeifer was a part of NPR’s Next Generation Radio fellowship, where she put together a non-narrated audio story covering modern ties to “home” in the American South, and won first place in the National Hearst Audio Competition this year. In her free time, she likes making collages and wading through creeks.


Beat: Mental health and addiction

Oklahoma has among the highest rates in the country for mental health disorders and substance abuse. Based on 2020 data, 25.6 percent of the state’s population struggles with a mental illness, and 16.1 percent has a substance abuse disorder. Between 700,000 and 950,000 Oklahomans need services, but less than 20 percent of those in need are receiving care. This gap has an impact on the health care system, education system and criminal justice system. However, the scant news coverage in the state of these systems treats the issues primarily as symptoms without connecting dots to the larger issues. Additionally, Oklahoma and tribal nations that reside within the state were among the first to sue opioid manufacturers and distributors. This more than $1 billion is now flowing into the state and reservations, and this beat covers how is this money is being used to address the mental health and substance abuse crisis.