— American Overdose – The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts, by Chris McGreal (PublicAffairs, 2018)
Drop what you’re doing and read this book.
Back in December (2018), Observer contributor Gonzalo Baeza reviewed award-winning journalist Beth Macy’s book Dopesick, in what he described as a “… timely, in-depth look at America’s opioid crisis that tells the stories of its victims and traces the social and economic roots of the epidemic.”
Among a collection of disturbing numbers and revelations, Baeza added: “The approval of OxyContin by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1995 coincided with an increase in the advertising spending of pharmaceutical companies, which jumped from $360 million that year to $1.3 billion in 1998. Purdue Pharma bonuses for its representatives grew from $1 million to $40 million between 1996 and 2001.”
If you haven’t read Dopesick, you should. To that end, there’s a strong likelihood you have, or know someone who has, an addict in their life. For that reason, you should also read American Overdose – The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts, by Chris McGreal, which came out in November (2018), just three months after Dopesick. In fact, both books comprise very similar through-lines, even spotlighting many of the same people, places, and statistical nuggets. But I think McGreal’s work hits even harder. Quite frankly, I believe every American should read this book—but especially every West Virginian.
Two testimonials on the back cover of American Overdose pretty much set the stage. Author Marc Lewis writes: “McGreal shows how the overdose crisis was driven by the pursuit of profits, not just drugs—both of which combine our instinctive craving for pleasure with our evolving capacity for denial and deceit. Fascinating, disturbing, impressively researched, and elegantly written.”
And author Ioan Grillo writes: “With great reporting and compelling storytelling, American Overdose lays bare the tragedy of the opioid epidemic tearing at the soul of the United States. Those who want to understand the issue of narcotics and addiction have to read it.”
But perhaps no summary best describes the information and exposure within this book better than the inside jacket. An excerpt: The opioid epidemic has been described as “one of the greatest mistakes of modern medicine.” But calling it a mistake is a generous rewriting of the history of greed, corruption, and indifference that pushed the U.S. into consuming more than 80 percent of the world’s opioid painkillers.
Without a doubt, the opioid epidemic didn’t happen by accident—not by a longshot. Everyone was on the take, from industry foremen to street hustlers to small-town pharmacists to c-suite execs and politicians at every level of government. If you want to know how it all started, and get a glimpse at the sinister depths to which Big Pharma, corporate America, and even Congress will go to make a profit, then simply read this book.Review by Mike Chalmers