​Beth Macy tells hard truths in her 2018 book, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America. To me, it’s about the way capitalism allows one group of people to harm another, all in pursuit of the almighty dollar and in the guise of treating a very real condition. It’s exceedingly complex to tease out the right and wrong here. Nothing is black and white. And, it’s probably not ideal quarantine reading. But one of my online book groups picked it for April, and so here I am.

There are a lot of depressing stories in Dopesick. But they need to be told, because the issues around our opioid epidemic don’t go away just because of a global virus pandemic. In fact, people fighting or even just trying to survive an opioid addiction are in especially dire straits right now. So maybe, it’s not a bad thing to revisit life and death with this perspective.

Macy is first and foremost a storyteller. She takes investigative journalism deep into people’s lives and doesn’t shy away from getting involved. That’s both positive and negative, I suppose. Journalists intend to be objective, but how do you do that here?

Her perspective is focused on the addicts, perhaps because there’s so much emotion in their stories. But she does explain how the opioid pain killers came into existence, and how Purdue Pharma tried to make them harder to abuse. She also spends significant time discussing medication assisted treatments (MAT) like suboxone and methadone, particularly as it relates to her subjects’ rehab and recovery experiences.

My conclusions

Dopesick is every bit as good as the reviews say it is. If the topic interests you, this is definitely worth the time. I also thought Macy did a strong narration of the audiobook.

For me, it hits home. Like most people in the United States, several people in our extended family are in recovery from addictions. It’s not a linear process, and the possibility that addiction could rear its ugly head it always there. I appreciate that Macy shows both the addict’s side, and that of the family member or caregiver.

I think Macy covers the nuances of all the issues. It’s important not just to talk about addiction, but the difficulties faced by people trying to get clean. She delves into real-life situations and doesn’t shy away from ugliness. Again, given the dark and difficult nature of this book, think long and hard before you choose it during quarantine days. Otherwise, I heartily recommend its discussion of the opioid epidemic.

Pair with Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari. Or, since so much opioid addiction begins with chronic pain, try Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women’s Pain by Abby Norman. 

You might also want to pair this book with Macy’s Audible Original, Finding Tess: A Mother’s Search for Answers in a Dopesick America. I wrote a short review on Goodreads, if you’re curious.