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While it seems that news about the opioid epidemic has been running non-stop for the past several years, the deluge of reports can make it difficult to remember exactly where and how the trouble started. Beth Macy’s book Dopesick takes the reader all the way back to 1996, when Perdue Pharma first formulated Oxycontin and then aggressively marketed it to doctors as a pain-relief wonder drug. Oxycontin was said to be abuse-resistant, but once the pills entered into the economically devastated areas of Appalachia such claims were quickly disproven. Even after Perdue Pharma paid fines for deceptive marketing and altered the Oxycontin formula so the pills couldn’t be crushed and smoked, millions of people were already addicted and simply moved on to other narcotics such as heroin. 

Macy devotes the bulk of her book to telling the stories of various people who suffered through the epidemic as it began in Appalachia, particularly the families of young men and women who became addicted (and many of whom died). Macy tells these stories with compassion and takes great care to emphasize that addiction is not a moral failing, but a physical disease that literally alters the chemistry of the brain. It is a sobering book, but not without hope. Macy finds that Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) programs combined with counseling are an effective way to manage addiction, and the family members of deceased addicts often become advocates and counselors for others fighting the pernicious disease of addiction. An important book and good introduction to the subject--the reporting is straightforward so that even readers who do not know much about the causes of the opioid epidemic will soon be up to speed on the basics.

Review by Catherine, Downtown Library


About the Author

Beth Macy

Beth Macy is a journalist who writes about outsiders and underdogs. Her writing has won more than a dozen national journalism awards, including a Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard and the 2013 J. Anthony Lukas Word-in-Progress award for "Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local -- and Helped Save an American Town," published by Little, Brown and Company in July 2014. She lives in Roanoke, Virginia, with her husband Tom, her sons, and rescue mutts Mavis and Charley.

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