cover image American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts

American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts

Chris McGreal. PublicAffairs, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-1-610398-61-9

The U.S.’s opioid epidemic stems from slippery medical and corporate ethics, shoddy research, and lax government oversight, journalist McGreal reveals in his incisive debut. Opening with the story of a shady undertaker-turned-pill-purveyor, McGreal takes the reader into clinics that churned out prescriptions for painkillers like assembly-line widgets, rarely requiring follow-up appointments or other checks on patient progress when issuing refills. He tells tales of individuals whose quest for pain relief turned them into addicts and often took their lives, leaving heartbroken family and friends behind and sending thousands of children into foster care. He writes that classism played a role in the reluctance of the FDA to address the crisis; many victims came from low-income areas such as rural West Virginia, and OxyContin became known as “hillbilly heroin.” Finally, the book describes in detail how lobbyists for both the pharmaceutical industry and in some cases the medical establishment, who were profiting greatly from the dangerous drugs, thwarted early efforts, in the first years of the 21st century, by doctors and others to sound the alarm to Purdue (OxyContin’s manufacturer), the FDA, and the medical establishment. This urgent, readable chronicle, which names names and pulls no punches, clearly and compassionately illuminates the evolution of America’s mass addiction problem. Agent: Zoe Pagnamenta, the Zoe Pagnamenta Agency. (Nov.)