3 books that helped Susan Juby examine the modern opioid crisis
It's all over the news these days: opioid drug abuse and addiction in Canada is a fast growing concern. The Next Chapter columnist Susan Juby thinks it's a good time to dig into this with the help of Beth Macy's Dopesick, Johann Hari's Chasing the Scream and Susan C. Boyd's Busted.
This interview originally aired on Oct. 29, 2018.
"She's a longtime reporter based in Roanoke, Va., and the author of two previous books. She does this deep dive into the epidemic that is ravaging North America. It focuses on the Appalachian region, which is where a lot of people think it started. She begins by outlining the role Purdue Pharma and their drug OxyContin played in starting this crisis.
"It describes these unbelievably aggressive business practices employed by the company and about how sales reps aggressively courted doctors with gifts, ran all these marketing schemes and how the company focused intentionally on distressed communities.
"Those efforts helped propel OxyContin which debuted in 1996 to more than a billion in annual sales by the early 2000s. She talks about how some towns, that have only a few hundred residents, were being prescribed millions upon millions of pills — which is a breathtaking breach of trust by that company."
"It's a wide-ranging look at how the modern war on drugs began. He shows that the war on drugs has caused almost unfathomable suffering to individuals, families, communities and entire nations. He has a lot of addiction in his family and he starts to question his own drug use. He decides to investigate and learns that a lot of what he thought he knew about addiction was wrong.
"The main instigator of this never-ending 'War on Drugs' that we're in is a man named Harry Anslinger, who was the first commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics. 'Chasing the scream' refers to Anslinger's early experience with listening to a drug addict screaming. It made this tremendous impression on him. He seems to have been a fairly frightening character and the early experience of listening to the scream imprinted on him this sort of unquenchable thirst to get rid of all drug addicts."
"The author has assembled this remarkable visual record of Canada's war on drugs, which vividly illustrates this country's kind of tortuous approach to dealing with drugs. What I've found most notable here are the racist underpinnings of so much of the prohibition in this country. She writes that Canada was mostly alcohol-free prior to colonization and that white settlers introduced alcohol to Indigenous peoples. But the first prohibition was directed at Indigenous people.
"In order to drink legally or vote, those deemed status Indians had to give up their status and race. Prohibition did not stop people from drinking because prohibition tends not to stop anything. Instead it encouraged covert and dangerous drinking practices, illegal consumption selling and discouraged social drinking."
Susan Juby's comments have been edited for length and clarity.