New Perspectives on the Opioid Epidemic

A timely account that will interest advocates and concerned citizens; McGreal offers a brisk, persuasive, and sobering look at an epidemic that is unlikely to abate any time soon

redstarInglis, Lucy. Milk of Paradise: A History of Opium. Pegasus. Feb. 2019. 464p. illus. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9781643130552. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781643130958. HIST
With this latest work, Inglis (Georgian London) presents an intriguing world history of the appearance, spread, use, and abuse of the opium poppy and substances derived from it (morphine, heroine, opioids) from prehistory through today. There are more than 400 species of opium, but the opium poppy was never a wild plant; it has always cultivated. It first surfaced in the West but was lost to the East during the Dark Ages only to resurface again in Europe in the 18th century. Within a century, it was a scourge in both East and West. This account does not slight complicated historical connections: the East India Company’s depredations in the Raj fold into production of the poppy farther east. The discussion of the rise of present-day poppy production in Afghanistan is a model of lucidity. ­Inglis explains how, in 2012, more than 250 million U.S. prescriptions for opioids were written, and that in Walker County, AL, alone, 335.1 were issued per 100 people. ­
VERDICT This timely account will interest advocates and concerned citizens. Inglis’s skillful command of style will please them all.—David Keymer, Cleveland

McGreal, Chris. American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts. PublicAffairs. Nov. 2018. 336p. notes. index. ISBN 9781610398619. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781541773776. SOC SCI
Award-winning Guardian journalist McGreal traces the trajectory of the American opioid epidemic, and with dire conclusions. Avarice, corporate corruption, government malfeasance, and a sustained campaign of misinformation on the part of major pharmaceutical companies have all played roles in exacerbating a crisis that has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The author interviews those who have both propagated the crisis and been victimized by it, centering his reporting on West Virginia, which, owing to an impoverished populace and a lack of well-trained physicians, is considered ground zero for the opioid epidemic. After doctors were given carte blanche in the 1990s to prescribe opioids such as Oxycontin for pain, “pill mills” began to proliferate. Patients became addicted and eventually turned to fentanyl and heroin. Efforts by some members of Congress and victims’ families to lobby on behalf of more drug regulation and stricter FDA control were ignored. Ultimately, and at every level, greed has fueled the fires of this ongoing tragedy.
VERDICT Although McGreal treads the same ground as Beth Macy in Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America (a 2018 LJ Best Book), she offers here a brisk, persuasive, and sobering account of an epidemic that is unlikely to abate any time soon.—­Barrie Olmstead, Lewiston P.L., ID

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