Dopesick by Beth Macy
This was a really hard book to get through. There was no narrative arc – even a work of nonfiction should have narrative; but this was just one bad thing after another. I chalked up seeming non-sequiturs to my lack of ability to focus; but by the end I was spotting them for sure. For example, on page 264 there’s a paragraph about how “Female user-dealers are incentivized to lie in their quest for what the government calls substantial assistance,” which comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere. The chapter isn’t about females, it’s about Ronnie Jones.
There are no happy endings here. I get that that’s reality. There’s no cure for addiction, just struggling every day to avoid the likely relapse. The closest we get to any hopeful notes in the book are the nods to medically assisted treatment, or MAT, as the best evidence-based route available to clean and sober living. So OK – couldn’t we read a story about someone holding down a job and family with the help of MAT? Just one little success story, one thread of hope, could make the difference in a reader coming away inspired to act to be supportive of addicts and MAT in their communities, vs. finishing the book horrified and hopeless.
Postscript: Last night my book club met and covered this. It was the most emotional book club meeting I’ve ever experienced in 20-odd years as a member. One of our members recently lost her son to opioid addiction. During the meeting she told his harrowing story.
I’m the club coordinator, and as such I’m the one who digs up possible titles and suggests them to the group. I had been second-guessing myself for even putting this one out there, in light of the bit I had known about this woman’s experience. But she had been the first one to vote we do it. She said it was certainly a painful read for her, and it obviously wasn’t easy to tell the story she did; but her goal in having us discuss it was to help remove the stigma surrounding addiction, to hopefully change people’s way of thinking.
Mission accomplished. I don’t think I’ll ever look at addiction the same way again. This is a disease. It alters the brain. It needs to be medicated. Unfortunately it’s an extremely long-term, sometimes lifelong disease. A little bit of 12-stepping isn’t a cure.