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American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts

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4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,150 ratings  ·  192 reviews
The opioid epidemic has been described as "one of the greatest mistakes of modern medicine." But calling it a mistake is a generous rewriting of the history of greed, corruption, and indifference that pushed the US into consuming more than 80 percent of the world's opioid painkillers.

Journeying through lives and communities wrecked by the epidemic, Chris McGreal reveals no
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Published November 1st 2018 by PublicAffairs
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Chris McGreal Yes, my book delves into not only how the epidemic spread on the ground but how it was allowed to happen. Where were the institutions that should have…moreYes, my book delves into not only how the epidemic spread on the ground but how it was allowed to happen. Where were the institutions that should have been protecting Americans, like the Food and Drug Administration? Why were the alarm bells rung 15 years ago ignored? This is a story of how an industry coopted and corrupted medical policy, and why the people with the power to do something about it went along. (less)

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Debra
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
4.5 stars

(In 2012) "Doctors write more than 250 million prescriptions for opioids, enough to provide a bottle to every adult in America. The United States consumes more than 80 percent of the world's prescription narcotics."
- Scary, Scary statistic. That was 2012.

***Please note the information I received from the Author after writing my review. The below information concerns levels today. The new updated information will be included in the final proof of the book!:

"Around 200 million-plus opi
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Diane S ☔
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unconsciousable, if there is one word I would use to describe the greed I read about in this book, this would be the word. One would have to be completely out of touch to have not heard on the news, or read in the papers, about the opoid epidemic striking our nation. Untold deaths, families, lives ruined. A documentary about West Virginia, which was literally a opoid mill, was shown a few months back, towns completely taken over by addiction. What I didn't realize was how this was accomplished. ...more
Michael
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
A three-part history of the opioid epidemic, American Overdose charts how relentless greed led the pharmaceutical industry to hook the nation on highly addictive painkillers. Journalist Chris McGreal starts his book by tracking how Big Pharma, in cooperation with the federal government, fabricated and popularized the myth of a national pain epidemic in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, in order to market dangerous new opioids first to white Appalachians and later to Americans at large. The author then de ...more
Michelle
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts (2018) is a devastating and shocking expose of the chain of events that defines the worst drug epidemic in American history, authored by notable journalist for the Guardian Chris McGreal. As ordinary American’s use and abuse substance, suppliers/dealers of illicit drugs were included in the same category as the wellness clinics, “pill mills” (of West Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida) and the doctor’s that prescribed “astronomical” amount ...more
Jenna
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
​This is a very informative book on the opioid crisis in the US. Had I not recently read another, I'm sure I would have rated this 5 stars. However, there was a lot of overlap with the other book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America and I found myself bored part of the time with this one. If you're looking for a book on the crisis, I recommend American Overdose more than the other. It's very well-researched and written and contains much more information than the ...more
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
I was riveted by this account of the start and spread of the opioid epidemic and how it has helped fuel the rise of heroin and fentanyl. McGreal deftly deals with the complicated mix of players from the pharma companies to unscrupulous physicians, corrupt police and politicians, and failed government oversight. He highlights the hazards of a government that bends more to corporate interests instead of protecting the public health. A fascinating read.
Kristy K
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, 2019, arc, sociology
3.5 Stars

If you want to be infuriated with pharmaceutical companies, the government, and doctors, then read this book. The blatant way that they ignore or twist data and warnings and succumb to greed is largely the reason there’s an opioid epidemic in America. Those few doctors who stood up to them (and their patients) and pointed out the harm and addictiveness of opioids were quickly dismissed and sometimes had active smear campaigns against them. This book looks largely at the crisis in W. Vir
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Renata
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Every time I read anything on the topic, I get furiously, uncontrollably angry. This book is fairly new (2018?) and already feels out of date. The war rages on with no end in sight. Sure, Purdue Pharma and Sacklers have been forced to account for their sins, but their billions are safe and secure. And the failure on the part of our government to address the issue in the face of the obvious is truly disheartening.
Shelly
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Interesting and illuminating do not even come close to describing this book! This is the devastating narrative of how the opiate crisis came to pass in America. Written in a unique, comprehensive and educational manner, I found myself wishing that this book was a reading requirement for all high school students to help them avoid the pitfalls of the current addiction culture. I then found myself wishing it was a requirement for ALL Americans to read. Several years ago an individual remarked to m ...more
Calzean
A book that stars my least favourite people - drug companies, corrupt/lazy/dumb government officials and greedy people. I was hoping there would be an ending of some hope but instead the drugs keep on coming, the doctors keep prescribing, people find ways around any laws or regulations and the users die, go broke, or go to jail.
As a book it is well researched but I found the structure a little repetitive and the writing a little devoid of empathy. Maybe the author was just hollowed out after see
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Margaret Sankey
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
McGreal chases the string of events via which Purdue pharma got doctors to start thinking of pain as a "fifth vital sign" and, with relaxed advertising rules, started convincing people that pain was an unendurable blight, even after surgery or as part of aging. Once the market was primed, FDA labeling lobbied for by the company, and sales people armed with big data targeting specific communities and doctors flooded the medical community with Oxycontin, Oxycodone and promises that time release wo ...more
Perri
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book to help understand this question-"How was the greatest drug epidemic in American history allowed to grow virtually unchecked for nearly two decades with no end in sight?" Epidemic sounds like fear mongering but when the word is right, we must use it. More people dying of opioid overdose than car crashes!?!
Turns out there's lots of blame to go around. Apparently that old adage "follow the money" still works "Nine out of ten members of the House of Representatives and all but a ha
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Kyle
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
A received an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

A fascinating read about how the opioid epidemic arose. Through meticulous research, McGreal is about to identify the various factors and individuals responsible for this epidemic. McGreal explores the epidemic from all angles, and presents perfect representation of each subject and how it contributed to the epidemic. Even those readers already well versed in this subject will gain a greater knowledge of the opioid e
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Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
More historical and less emotional than other books on this topic the author tells with a journalistic and historical perspective on one of the most damaging, in terms of lives lost and lives destroyed, piece of corporate corruption. Greedy Pharma out to make a buck damn the people it hooks on deadly opioids. In essence, acting like a legalized drug cartel. Pharmacies and doctors are implicated as well. The upshot is over 350,000 lives lost since 1999. Excellent piece of reportage. For a feel of ...more
Caidyn (BW Reviews; he/him/his)
This review can also be found on my blog!

I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review!
This is publishing November 1st!


CW: drug use, addiction, overdoses, suicide, and government assholes


Where I am for my social work practicum is a place very different than this book’s stance. Every day — well, Mondays and Tuesdays — I listen to opioid use and the people who use them to make themselves better. The angle I’m coming at this topic from is very different than what McGreal is comme
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Janet
Jul 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
received a DIGITAL Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
From the publisher ---
A devastating portrait of the opioid epidemic, a uniquely American and catastrophically lethal tragedy born of Congressional neglect, amplified by corporate greed, and brutally exploited by illegal drug cartels.
The opioid epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history; it results in 90 American deaths a day and has eviscerated communities across the country. It
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Andy
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent reporting. The title is misleading however insofar as what this book demonstrates is that the opioid epidemic is not so much a tragedy (sad but unavoidable fate) but a completely preventable, deliberate crime with one main culprit and many co-conspirators with varying degrees of responsibility. Appalling and gripping story of corruption and incompetence.

I liked this much better than the recent Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America, which focused more on
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Lissa
Reading this book was personal to me, and it broke my heart. I'm originally from the Appalachian foothills, and Appalachia (particularly the tri-state area of West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and southern Ohio) is ground zero for the opioid epidemic.

I first remember hearing about opioids back in the early 2000s - and I'd even heard about the loose standards in Williamson. But it didn't spread very fast in my part of Ohio - or, if it did, I didn't notice. I mean, they were prescriptions from a d
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Rachel Dick Plonka
Jul 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
American Overdose by Chris McGreal - 5/5 stars

From time to time, I read a book that keeps me angry from beginning to end. Two other books that did this for me were Catastrophic Care by David Goldhill and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. The book American Overdose by Chris McGreal completely blew me away. Much of the American public heard about the opioid crisis for the first time when it was addressed by Trump when he came into office. A big part of me wondered why he was the first to mention and ad
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Jessie
Nov 04, 2018 rated it liked it
This book makes an attempt, in three acts, to sum up the current opioid crisis in America. It’s long long form journalism. This is a heavy topic, although I have to say, the weight of this book for me was more about the often unparsable reams of info about big pharma, the FDA, and all of the legal issues with the mainstream prescribing of opiates for moderate pain, than to do with the astounding death tolls. I think the facts shared were well researched, but this book was short of qualitative in ...more
Melissa
I haven't read Dreamland or Dope Sick yet (on the TBR, I swear) but my first dive into books about the opioid crisis made me Very Angry. All the systems that are supposed to prevent problems like this failed us because Capitalism and Political Lobbying (like, WTF, do people not understand what a Conflict of Interest is???). Also, an extremely concerning disregard of actual science by scientists and physicians.
David Wineberg
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
OxyContin: “Industrial-Scale Delivery of Death”

Opioids came to my attention a few years ago when a report came out that New York State doctors had written more than 24 million prescriptions for opioids the previous year. Unstated in the story, but obvious to me, was that there are only 19 million people in the state, total. Doctors were flooding the state with narcotics. That can’t be right. Chris McGreal’s American Overdose details how very wrong it was and continues to be. It’s capitalism, g
...more
Nicole
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A really thorough, if intensely depressing, account of the opioid crisis and how we got to where we are. I came away with a really good understanding of the roles played by each of the parties - the medical community, big pharma, regulators, local and national officials, dealers, and the addicted and their families. Understanding, and a deep sense of frustration and mistrust.

I read this at the same time as What the Eyes Don’t See, and there were a lot of parallels. One, that it very much depend
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Darcia Helle
"Tragedy" is an apt word for the way opioids have been managed by pharmaceutical companies, doctors, and our government. I've read several books on this topic, and American Overdose is right up there with the best.

One aspect that makes this a standout read is that Chris McGreal addresses the FDA's absolute failure in oversight, and perhaps even complicity in the false and dangerous claims about a prescription drug that led to nationwide addiction. If you happen to come to this book with the bel
...more
Rebecca
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book was an eyeopener for me. I always wondered what was meant by "the opioid crisis". This is surprising because I have been working as a nurse in the hospital system for 15 yrs and 20 yrs in home health and hospice. I thought the crisis was related to the problems for diversion of prescribed narcotics to family members forefather abuse by them or sales for abuse. I have been aware of changes in thinking about treatment of pain, but was not aware of the push to use narcotics as treatment ...more
Emilia
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This was a hard read. Not by quality of reporting (excellent) or length (290 pages). But by the heartbreaking cost of it all. McGreal highlights how so many segments of the medical and social systems failed the American public. Not failure through incompetence or fortune. But failure under the pressure of greed from pharma companies, distributors, medical associations, and regulators. The book is rife with stories of the human cost of such greed. As more people in America die per day from opioid ...more
Jennifer
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My first Netgalley!

This book made me so mad. As a substance abuse counselor the personal stories are not new to me, but how Oxycontin was pushed on doctors from the drug companies and marketed as safe was ridiculous. This went on for so many years before enough people stepped up and said enough. Unfortunately the damage has been done in so many says. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
Maureen
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
How many books will I read about the opioid crisis? Apparently as many as people will write. I found this book more engaging than Dopesick in many ways. However, there were still long passages that were pretty boring. The worst for me was the lack of copy editing- a single dropped ‘the’ or ‘an’ is one thing but there were so many errors in this book, I almost stopped reading it. Overall this book is thoroughly researched and an informative, if infuriating, read.
Jill
Nov 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 stars

“A comprehensive portrait of a uniquely American epidemic--devastating in its findings and damning in its conclusions. The opioid epidemic has been described as "one of the greatest mistakes of modern medicine." But calling it a mistake is a generous rewriting of the history of greed, corruption, and indifference that pushed the US into consuming more than 80 percent of the world's opioid painkillers. “

This book is eye-opening and very maddening to read. The sheer magnitude of this epidem
...more
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Chris McGreal is a reporter for the Guardian. A former correspondent in Johannesburg, Jerusalem and Washington DC, he now writes from across the United States.
He has won several awards including for his reporting of the Rwandan genocide, Israel/Palestine, and on the impact of economic recession in America. He received the James Cameron prize for "work as a journalist that has combined moral visio
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