Diverse perspectives on an American tragedy.
“No Family Is Safe From This Epidemic,” the title of a U.S. Navy admiral’s essay on his son’s fatal overdose, suggests the tone of this eclectic collection of nonfiction about the opioid epidemic. The book focuses on the aftermath of the disaster set in motion in 1996 when Purdue Pharma released the painkiller OxyContin and misled doctors, patients, and regulators about its addictive potential, ultimately driving users to cheaper street heroin. But rather than rehash the sins of drug companies, McMillian (American History/Georgia State Univ.; Beatles vs. Stones, 2014, etc.) gathers essays, reporting, and book excerpts that show the effects of the crisis on users, families, doctors, and law enforcement. Tom Mashberg and Rebecca Davis O’Brien expose a heroin mill on a quiet cul-de-sac in suburban New Jersey, and Margaret Talbot chronicles her meeting with a paramedic who saw a heartbreaking scene at a West Virginia home: a 7-year-old and a 5-year-old following a 911 operator’s instructions for performing CPR on their overdosed parents. In some of the most provocative pieces, contributors or their sources disagree on the value of options like 12-step programs or the synthetic opioids methadone or Suboxone or give surprising answers to thorny moral questions. A skeptical Sarah Resnick visited Vancouver’s controversial Insite, the first legal supervised drug-injection site in North America and left convinced that such initiatives save lives. Other contributors include Christopher Caldwell, Julia Lurie, Beth Macy, Gabor Maté, Sam Quinones, Andrew Sullivan, Johan Hari, and Leslie Jamison, who provides a foreword. If Sullivan’s views are more conservative than most in the book, they are hardly more optimistic: “If Marx posited that religion is the opiate of the people, then we have reached a new, more clarifying moment in the history of the West: Opiates are now the religion of the people.”
A kaleidoscopic introduction to the devastation wrought by—and possible remedies for—the opioid crisis.