It’s easy to see how Beth Macy got people to share the heartbreaking personal stories found in her new book, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America, to be released in August by Little, Brown. Seated in her publisher’s offices, Macy’s warmth is apparent as she leaps up to greet a Little, Brown staffer with a hug and hand off a stack of handwritten notes to booksellers and reviewers to accompany the hot-off-the-press galleys. “I just feel like it’s nice,” she says. “I really do appreciate everybody who’s been kind to my other books.”

When Macy wrote about the disastrous effects of globalization on the American furniture industry in Factory Man (2014) and about the poisonous racism of the Jim Crow South in Truevine (2016), her prose had the punch of that of a veteran journalist who knows how to lay out economic, political, and social issues. (She won numerous awards for her work during her more than two decades with the Roanoke Times in Virginia.) She does the same sort of big-picture reporting in Dopesick, which features a blistering account of the fraudulent marketing of OxyContin by Purdue Pharma.

But when Macy talks about accompanying a woman to the funeral of her drug-addicted daughter, dead just days before her 29th birthday, the writer’s expressive face twists with distress, and her voice cracks with the empathy of a fellow parent. “My sons are 19 and almost 24, so as a mother I have a little bit of a window into this,” she says. “It could happen to any one of us.”

Macy says that as with her first two books, also based partly on interviews, she feels a strong sense of obligation toward her sources. “They all want to know, ‘How are you going to present my story in your book?’ I had to be very transparent and say, ‘I don’t know yet, but I can see that you are wrestling with this, it’s an important issue, and I really appreciate your opening yourself up to me.’ I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it. I knew there were certain stories I had been tracking since 2012, when [the opioid crisis] hit the wealthy suburbs of Roanoke and everybody went, ‘Holy crap! There are white people taking heroin?’ ”

Macy continues: “I had to figure out how to write a story that would illuminate this crisis, help readers understand it, but also give a snapshot of what I’ve come to think are the most important issues: that it’s so easy to be overtreated with these drugs, but the moment you’re addicted, it’s so easy not to get any treatment at all. I had to pick the stories that I thought reflected that the best. And what I always do is go with the stories that put up the hair on the back of my neck or make me cry or make me laugh.”

Many of the best stories she’s found over the years, Macy says, came from the photographers she worked with at the Roanoke Times. “Photographers do more assignments than reporters do, so they know their communities better. The first series I did that won a national prize was because this photographer, Josh Meltzer, noticed that there was an apartment complex in Roanoke, which is one of the more segregated cities in the South, where 18 languages were spoken. The refugee office was settling all these people in one place, so in the middle of this very black-and-white city you had all this diversity. We decided to tell the story of these African refugees through that lens. I did a lot of big projects with Josh, and I never felt my interviews were complete until I got back to the office and we discussed them, because he had always noticed something I hadn’t. I really miss that now when I’m writing a book.”

Factory Man grew from a newspaper series inspired by another photographer, Macy says. “Jared Soares was freelance, and he had assigned himself to go down to Martinsville in Henry County [site of several closed furniture factories], because he thought it was interesting that nobody was covering this. He said, ‘People there are craving for their story to be told, because more than half their jobs went away, and nobody gave a crap.’ He had this idea for us to team up and report on the aftermath of globalization, and that led to the article that led to my first book, which led to a new career at age 50, which was cool.”

Macy says that she loved her years in newspapers, and she remains grateful for the space and freedom her editors gave her. But she knew firsthand the difficulties of working in a downsizing industry when she began the reporting on the decimated furniture trade that led to her first book. “I hadn’t had a raise in eight years, and the Roanoke Times had laid off more than half its staff,” she says. “I happened to be lucky enough to have had an editor who gave me the time to figure out this global story, and it ran on five full pages in the paper. It was the first story I ever did that was obviously a book, because of what it represented, and also because I had enough information to write a book proposal.”

Enter Macy’s agent, Peter McGuigan. “If you were doing a movie about an agent, he would look like Peter: in the tiny suits, working a deal all the time,” she says. “He’s so enthusiastic about what he does. He has shaped all three books, and he picked this new one for me. I didn’t want to do it, because it was so hard.”

John Parsley, who edited Factory Man and Truevine, also at Little, Brown, provided crucial early advice when Macy was agonizing over how the individual stories she was following would fit into Dopesick’s larger narrative. “He said, ‘Just be patient; you don’t have to know who the characters are yet, just let the stories unfold before you,’ ” Macy recalls. “He was a great encourager, but then he went to a different publisher.”

Parsley became editor-in-chief of Dutton in 2017, and Little, Brown executive editor Vanessa Mobley inherited Macy’s manuscript. “Vanessa took it on and surgically shaped it, always with an eye to sharpening my thinking,” Macy says. “She’d read a section and say, ‘What you’re trying to say is...’ And she would say it more forcefully than I had, and I would ask, ‘Can I use that?’ Some of the best lines in the book are hers, frankly.”

Dopesick was such a consuming project that Macy says she isn’t ready to think about the next book yet. “This story keeps changing every day, and I want to keep my head in it so when I’m talking about the book I’ll have the fresh statistics. That’s a lot for my 53-year-old brain to keep in.”

Macy says her mission is the same as it was when she was a reporter: “To bring more attention to these undertold stories. I’m not going to be able to put drug company executives in jail, but I can shine a light on the problem. That’s the tool I have at my disposal. You just keep shining a light and hoping people will start to pay attention.”