Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

Dopesick is not an enjoyable book to read. But, for many Americans, it is a necessary education on a critical topic: the opioid epidemic that has scourged the United States since the early 2000s. I have heard about opioids through the news, but I have not been personally affected by the crisis, so my understanding of it was sketchy at best. Now I know more than I ever thought I would about these drugs and their effect on Americans from every sort of background.

Author Beth Macy traces the rise of opioid drugs from the introduction of the painkiller OxyContin in 1996. She demonstrates that localities with high rates of unemployment and disability claims were specifically targeted by Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, with aggressive marketing that encouraged doctors to overprescribe opioid drugs. By the time lawsuits and petitions worked their way through the bureaucracy to force Purdue to reformulate and later recall OxyContin, the damage was done.

Macy reports that 2.6 million Americans are now addicted to opioid drugs. Many of them started with prescription medications such as OxyContin, then progressed to street heroin as pills became more difficult to abuse. At the time of writing, nearly 200 Americans were dying every day from drug overdose. That number staggered me. The personal stories Macy shares underscore her point that opioid abuse affects Americans of every race, background, and socioeconomic class.

Perhaps the most affecting part of the book is the discussion of treatment options for people suffering from opioid addiction. Macy states that only 1 in 10 addicts receives any treatment at all, and what they do receive is expensive and haphazard. The federal government’s approach to the epidemic has been harsh criminal penalties for users and dealers, with very little funding for treatment and prevention programs. Macy closes the book with profiles of local collaborations among doctors, social service workers, and law enforcement officers that aim to help addicts beat the disease and get their lives back.

This final hopeful note in an otherwise grim story galvanized me to action. I plan to learn what I can do to help people struggling with opioid addiction in my own community, and let my elected representatives know that I am expecting them to help out. If enough Americans lend their voices to a call for a federal-level response to the opioid epidemic, maybe someone will hear.

Located in Nonfiction (362.293 MAC)

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