Opioid Addiction: Reasons and Recovery

The opioid epidemic didn’t have to happen. It was a human-made disaster, predictable and tremendously lucrative. At every stage, powerful figures permitted its progress. Jessica Bruder, New York Times Book Review

I. Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic (Second Edition) by Barry Meier (2018)       

Originally published in 2003, Barry Meier‘s exposé about OxyContin, Big Pharma, the medical system, and other interrelated factors was updated this year. From Publishers Weekly:

At one level, Meier’s story is a public health quandary pitting the interests of patients and their advocates in the ‘pain management movement’–which urges the increased use of strong opiates like OxyContin to help cancer patients and other victims of chronic pain–against the irrepressible urge of bored teenagers to abuse anything that will get them high. But it’s also a cautionary tale about the corrupting influence of the profit motive on medicine. According to Meier, Purdue, the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug, touted it as a less addictive alternative to other formulations, then dragged its feet on restricting the drug when reports of addiction and illicit dealing began to come in…

II. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy (2018)  

“In these politically fragmented times, Beth Macy shows, astonishingly, that the only thing that unites Americans across geographic and class lines is opioid drug abuse,” notes the publisher.

Like Meier, Macy has deeply investigated the opiod epidemic, particularly “in the heart of Appalachia and other out-of-the-way places dependent on outmoded industries, bypassed economically and culturally, and without any political power to speak of, ‘hollows and towns and fishing villages where the nearest rehab facility was likely to be hours from home.’ Prisons are much closer.” (Kirkus Reviews)

Of particular note, Macy points out that “almost to a person, the addicted twentysomethings I met had taken attention-deficit medication as children.”

Recovery efforts are the focus of the last third of Dopesick, according to Jessica Bruder, NY Times Book Review. “Macy advocates for medical-assisted therapies to help victims of the crisis and notes some pockets of progress. But the epidemic continues to grow, aided by a legal system that criminalizes victims and a health care framework that treats patients as consumers.”

III. American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis – and How to End It by Ryan Hampton (2018) 

Author Ryan Hampton, a recovery advocate for non-profit Facing Addiction, has been an addict himself. Kirkus Reviews: “The story is common: Hampton suffered an ankle injury, was prescribed Dilaudid, and came back for second helpings on a prescription from one doctor, and then another, who was glad to help…Upon hitting his own bottom, he fell into the orbit of advocate/activist Greg Williams, founder of a recovery group called Facing Addiction that aimed to see that ‘people like me were treated like human beings, with equal opportunities and equal rights as everyone else’.”

His advice regarding recovery programs: “…generally to step away from the 28-day model and instead focus on the long term, with a five-year plan of inpatient treatment, outpatient support, and adequate social and legal protections for addicted people.”

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