It’s a problem that seems new, but is actually an old one – addiction to painkillers. The author goes back to trace the history of morphine, heroin and other painkillers in our society. She wrote of Civil War soldiers heavily addicted to morphine, laudanum (opium in alcohol) being given to adults as well as children, and drugstores selling heroin without a prescription. In 1920, Congress finally made it illegal to sell opiates over the counter. But these popular painkillers had gotten such a foothold that it was impossible to get rid of them.
The majority of the book focuses on the present-day, with an emphasis on heroin and Oxycontin. What is really sickening is the way the pharmaceutical company that patented Oxi pushed their pills. They lied when they said it wasn’t addictive, and gave doctors all kinds of financial rewards if they could get their patients to take it. Once people got started on it, they couldn’t stop taking it. Every time they would try to stop, they faced nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, pain in their bones, sweats, anxiety and depression. They called it “dopesick”.
The author spent much time talking with people who were addicted to Oxi and heroin, parents who had spent years trying to help their children break a drug addiction, and an imprisoned drug dealer. Their accounts were heart-breaking. After a while, I found the stories so depressing that I had to stop reading.
So now here we are – 2018 – with the government having declared a “War On Opioids”. Pretty much every state in the U.S. now only allows you to have a week or less of pain medication, some as little as five days. As terrible as the stories in this book are, it is also terrible to see ordinary people whose bodies are permanently damaged by disease or crushing accident to be unable to get relief from their lifelong injuries. They are now stigmatized when they ask for relief, and must jump through hoops to get even weak pain pills. The only winners here seem to be the pharmaceutical companies who have gotten rich by pushing one medication after another at the doctors and the general public. Given the misery of lives lost to addiction, would it have better for opioid painkillers to have never been discovered?