Book in the news: how the US got hooked on prescription drugs

Cover of American Overdose by Chris McGrealAmerican Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts
Chris McGreal
Faber (£12.99)

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In the US, prescription painkillers accounted for 17,000 deaths in 2016. The wider opioid crisis has killed 350,000 people over 20 years. Chris McGreal provides “a detailed and compelling account of the spread of opioid addiction across the so-called rust belt, said to be the deadliest drug epidemic in American history”, says Andrew Anthony in the Guardian.

McGreal provides “meticulous research” on the causes of the problem, says David Cohen in the Evening Standard. The resulting book will “make uncomfortable reading for the Sackler family, as it accuses their company Purdue Pharma “of setting off the deadliest drug crisis in history”.

Purdue’s prescription opioid OxyContin had “unprecedented strength”, but Purdue “realised that chronic pain sufferers were where the real money was to be made”, so successfully pushed the US regulator to widen its use.

Despite making a strong case against Purdue, the author “does not find the smoking gun — proof that Purdue knew OxyContin was more, not less addictive than the alternatives, says James McConnachie in the Sunday Times. And the Sacklers are far from the only villains of the piece – “blinkered and compliant regulators”, corrupt medical clinics and a system that allows billions of dollars to be spent on direct marketing to doctors and lobbying politicians and regulators must all share the blame.