I read Dopesick when it first came out in hardcover, and I was stunned by the stories and the information contained inside. It was released before it became more common knowledge about how the drug companies bargained with and bribed doctors to prescribe more pills. Before we knew that the companies were aware of how addictive Oxycontin is – and continued to sell it alarming rates anyway. Before many were aware of how bad our opioid epidemic truly is – and how much worse it’s likely to get. I read this book because, as with so many, I knew someone who fell into its trap.
I met one of my closest friends in adulthood in a group I belonged to – a gal so much like me in so many ways, that we became close pretty quickly. Her other half was a great guy, funny and outgoing, doting dad to their daughter. And then…in what felt like overnight to me and turned out to be anything but…her world came crashing down. It turned out that he had been nursing an addiction to opioids for quite a while, based on a prior injury. At some point, that pill addiction morphed – and so did he. Things started disappearing from their house. Their bank accounts were emptied. He lost his job, and found out he had been using fake medical struggle stories of her to borrow money from work that never got paid back. His personality changed, and this kind and funny guy became mean and cruel and even frightening. It all came to a head when she kicked him out, left with no savings, many of their valuables hawked without her knowing – while she was being diagnosed with a disease and their daughter was facing major surgery. She tried, so valiantly, to get him into this rehab or that rehab – and they never took. You know those radio and tv commercials about rehab facilities? THEY’RE LIES. It can be a battle to get a loved one into one, and often by the time there’s a bed ready – they have disappeared back into their drug use again. I now have to turn the radio off or down when they come on because I get so angry at the empty promises made to desperate people. This became her daily struggle, along with fielding calls from creditors, trying to find ways to help him, dealing with her own health concerns and that of their daughter, and knowing that he could call or show up at any time and demand money that she simply didn’t have.
Then Dopesick came out, and I scooped it up. I have always been the “no such thing as too much information” type, and I wanted to learn. And boy, did I learn. I learned that our country is dealing with a crisis, one of our own making. A crisis we tend to see in shades of black and white, even though it is anything but. One filled with people who have been negatively labeled, though so SO many of them were simply trying to fix their pain and didn’t know at what cost. What Beth Macy did was to make all the information that too few knew, and make it easily accessible and understandable, even to average folks like me.
Macy shows how our current treatment systems are flawed, and how so much of those flaws come from our own biases about those addicted to these drugs. How families go though hundreds of thousands of dollars, trying to get help for their loved ones. She shares methods that *are* working, and talks with the people who are actively trying to make those methods more common. Most of all, though? She gives the addicted a voice. She allows these people their stories, without judging, and gives hope to those reading that change *is* possible.
My friend is now happily married, and managing her disease as best she can. Her daughter got an amazing scholarship to an excellent school, and she is thriving. Her former partner? In and out of jail and prison, still addicted, and more often than not living on the streets. It’s all around us, if we only open our eyes.
We all know someone who knows someone who has an addiction. It would be difficult to find someone who has NOT been touched by this battle, in one capacity or another. And change is happening, though far too slowly for so many out there (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/2/4/21115481/trump-state-of-the-union-2020-overdose-deaths-opioid-epidemic). However, it’s still a HUGE problem, and the emergence of fentanyl is only complicating that. As such, it’s on ALL of us to learn what we can, and to have the knowledge of what is happening around us. We all may say that it would never happen to us or to anyone we love – but I’m here to say that I thought that too.
NOTE: To purchase a copy of Dopesick, you can use this link, which takes you to options for independent bookstores, as I won’t link to Amazon: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316551304
Beth Macy also has an audio book out, titled Finding Tess, that follows up on one young lady she profiled in Dopesick. It’s not a long listen, but its immediacy in that format is undeniable, and it’s a should-listen for sure. Have kleenex, and be prepared to be angry and upset and to have *all the feelings*.