Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the drug company that addicted America, by Beth Macy

September 1, 2018 at 11:15 pm (Book review, books)

  This is probably the most depressing book I have ever read. It chronicles the struggles, mostly failed, of the addicted, and the anguish of their friends and families. The story of one of them, Tessa, threads its sad and painful way throughout the narrative.

Interwoven with these stories are facts that can only appall, such as this one: “Between 1998 and 2005, the abuse of prescription drugs increased a staggering 76 percent.” From this stark reality flows a litany almost unrelieved misery.

Addicts struggle and relapse, struggle more and relapse yet again. As Tessa’s mother Patricia says, “‘Your giving starts to give out.'” One thing I had to constantly discipline myself about as I read was my anger toward the addicts, for getting themselves and their families into this horrible mess, with seemingly no end in sight. As I read on, several factors served to mitigate that anger. One concerned the role of doctors in prescribing highly addictive pain medication – primarily Oxycontin –  in generous quantities and with refills allowed. Another is the relentless advertising and favor-bestowing of certain drug companies, in particular Purdue Pharma. And there are the strategies employed by illicit suppliers, as described here:

Some dealers encouraged underlings to “hot pack” their product, giving superhigh potencies to new users to hook them quicker. Once the user is hooked, the product gets titrated back, forcing the person to buy more.

That passage has really stayed with me. Taking advantage of another person’s ignorance and/or weakness in this manner seems to me the very definition of evil.

Judging  by this book’s subtitle, I expected there to be more about Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, but clearly Macy felt that her brief was to give voice to the people who have suffered most grievously from the ubiquity of Purdue’s supposedly miraculous painkiller.

So why did I read this book? Because I wanted to gain a deeper insight into what has been causing this addiction crisis. Beth Macy provides that, and more. Her depiction of the battle waged by addicts to get sober  and stay that way, and the agony their families endure, is vivid and enraging, but in the end, very sad. One thing I learned that helps explain why the rate of relapse is so high: The process of ridding your system of these toxic substances – whether heroin or prescription drugs like Oxycontin – makes people so sick that they wish they could die. They’ll do anything to avoid having to undergo that experience. I’ve always heard it referred to as withdrawal, but apparently in current parlance, the term is dopesick.

All praise to journalist Beth Macy for her determination in telling the unvarnished truth about this terrible scourge, and for her sympathetic portrayal of  the victims, their families, and others who have fought valiantly and often fruitlessly to stem the tide of misery. Some of these stories must have broken her heart. They certainly broke mine.

Beth Macy




  1. Angie Boyter said,

    And you are suggesting I might want to read this????? Too sad for me!

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Nope, just saying that I read it, & that was my reaction. I completely understand your wanting to pass on the experience.

  2. whatsnonfiction said,

    Fantastic review. I’ve been trying to decide whether I should read this one because I’ve already read Dreamland and American Overdose, an upcoming book that focuses more on the Congressional failings and doctors responsible for the “pill mills”. I thought maybe reading a third book about it would be overload but this sounds really insightful.

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