cover image American Cartel: Inside the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry

American Cartel: Inside the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry

Scott Higham and Sari Horwitz. Twelve, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5387-3720-0

In this brilliant account, Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporters Higham and Horwitz (Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery) convey how America’s largest drug distribution companies facilitated the opioid epidemic. To frame their complex narrative, the authors focus on two individuals: Joseph Rannazzisi, who led the DEA unit responsible for policing the pharmaceutical industry, and Paul T. Farrell Jr., a West Virginia small-town lawyer. The efforts of Rannazzisi, who was outraged that companies required to question suspicious orders of opioids didn’t, and his team to pursue criminal inquiries were often stymied by higher-ups at the Department of Justice, who settled cases with fines that the defendants could well afford. The industry’s lobbying culminated in legislation that weakened the DEA’s enforcement abilities easily passing Congress without dissent. Farrell, aware of the toll opioids took on his impoverished community and the corporations’ culpability, spearheaded lawsuits across the country that sought a measure of justice. Higham and Horwitz paint a highly disturbing picture that makes clear that companies ostensibly in the business of supplying needed pain medications acted instead like a cartel that wrought more pain and death than the syndicates smuggling cocaine and heroin into the country. This is a must-read for voters and political leaders alike. Agent: Gail Ross, Ross Yoon Agency. (May)