The 5 Books You Need To Read To Better Understand America's Opioid Crisis

In 2017, our nation has been gripped by one tragedy after another, but there is one in particular that has politicians in both parties paying attention: the national opiate crisis. For those of you trying to understand the opiod epidemic that has been gripping the United States for years, these essential nonfiction books can help.

In August, Donald Trump declared a the opiate epidemic a national crisis, but that is all he did: declare. A month later, and the administration is yet to take any formal action, and the problem just continues to grow. Six states — Maryland, Massachusetts, Alaska, Arizona, Virginia, and Florida — have declared opiate use a public health emergency, and have already increased funding and started putting new policies in place to combat it.

Unfortunately, it still isn't enough. In 2016 alone, drug overdose deaths reached over 59,000, and that number is on track to grow even bigger in 2017. A serious and dangerous epidemic that crosses racial, gender, sexuality, and class boundaries, opioid addiction is no one specific group's problem: it is one of our entire nation's biggest threats.

To help you better understand exactly how the epidemic got started, what is being done to combat it, and how it affects people across the country, I've rounded up these five essential nonfiction books on the topic that should be considered required reading.

'Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic' by Sam Quinones

In this National Book Critic Circle award winner, author Sam Quinones takes readers from the small west coast villages of Mexico where the poppy grows in abundance to boardroom of the country's biggest pharmaceutical companies and everywhere in between to get at the very core of America's opiate epidemic. Dreamland is at once a heartbreaking narrative about the individuals in the grips of addiction, and a thorough history of how that addiction was made possible by a variety of key players. Featuring voices from every corner of the crisis, including pharmaceutical bigwigs, young Mexican drug runners, police, doctors, addicts, survivors, and families touched by epidemic, Dreamland is a must-read for anyone grappling with the story of heroin addiction in the United States.

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'Opium: A History' by Martin Booth

A thorough history of mankind's most widely used narcotic, Opium chronicles the drug's significance throughout time and around the globe. From its early religious uses that date all the way back to prehistoric times, to its rise in popularity for pain treatment and its designation as a "wonder drug," to its current hold over addicts around the world, the substance's story is long, controversial, and often painful. Engaging and eye-opening, Martin's book painstakingly details each moment of that story, and clearly illuminates the path that lead it to the center of America's current War on Drugs. A fascinating read.

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'Drug Dealer, MD: How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked, and Why It’s So Hard to Stop' by Anna Lembke

A close look at the forces that propel the opioid epidemic today, Drug Dealer, MD reveals, among other shocking things, that three out of four heroin addicts likely started with a prescription. With the help of meticulous research, extensive interviews, case studies, and more, Dr. Anna Lembke reveals that at the center of an epidemic being combated with a failing War on Drugs lies something even more dangerous: a floundering healthcare system. Short and powerful, Drug Dealer, MD offers a new way of looking at the crisis threatening Americans across the country.

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'Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy' by David Sheff

From the author of Beautiful Boy, a heartbreaking portrait of addiction from the perspective of a parent, comes Clean, a refreshing look at drug addiction and treatment that goes far beyond law, order, and "will." Instead of treating addicts like failures or delinquents, David Sheff makes an argument for treating them like medical patients with a disease. Though it is not specifically about heroin, Clean is a compelling guidebook for anyone touched by, or struggling to understand, the opiate crisis.

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'American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic' by John Temple

This fascinating true crime narrative documents the stunning rise and dramatic fall of one of the United State's biggest pill mills: American Pain. The product of Chris George, a wealthy convicted drug felon, and a local Florida doctor who showed him how easy, and how profitable, pain clinics could be, this now infamous drug ring pumped over $40 million of prescription pills into the country in two years alone. What's more, it served as inspiration for hundreds of others that followed suit and opened their doors across America. A well-researched and brilliantly reported book, American Pain will make you even angrier than you already are at the drug epidemic and the powers at be who watched it unfold without lifting a finger.

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