"Raising Lazarus" | Reviewed by Bill Schwab
While the COVID pandemic was making the headlines, news of the opioid epidemic receded to the back pages. However, in fact, opioid use soared to record-breaking levels during the pandemic and was responsible for the deaths of more than 100,000 people per year.
Journalist Beth Macy chronicles this national tragedy in detail in “Raising Lazarus.” She reports on her visits to the hardest hit places where opioid addicts live and on the personal costs of the epidemic that one-third of American families are bearing (according to a Gallup poll).
Macy talks with victims wherever she can find them: in trailers, under bridges, in parking lots, and in affluent neighborhoods. The author reacts to what she witnesses in the small communities of Appalachia and delivers a scathing indictment of the Sackler family who, “willfully created the opioid crisis…a murderous rampage that has victimized hundreds of thousands of people in this country.”
The Sacklers, through their company, Purdue Pharma, flooded the market with the pain-killer Oxycontin for decades, paid kickbacks to doctors who would overprescribe the drug, and then relied on the shameful stigma associated with addiction to avoid victims’ lawsuits.
“For a quarter of a century, the Sacklers masterminded and micromanaged a relentless marketing campaign for their killer drug, then surgically drained the company of $10 billion when they saw trouble on the horizon.”
While the Sacklers have been shamed, shunned, and prosecuted for their deplorable greed, they have been able to keep their family money by making settlements through Purdue. Meanwhile, the opioid crisis continues to get worse as drug users turn to Oxycontin’s chemical cousins heroin and fentanyl to maintain their habit. Macy also exposes and criticizes conservative politicians who continue to oppose initiative-taking measures that could halt the opioid crisis in their states. These politicians refuse to pass legislation that would curb needle exchanges, provide free clinics, fund homeless shelters, and offer other social services.
On a hopeful note, Macy applauds the health workers, legal reformers, and progressive judges who have brought lifesaving care to the homeless and addicted. She lauds frontline health workers, lawyers who give pro bono legal aid to bereaved families trying to hold the Sackler family accountable, and judges who sentence victims to treatment programs rather than jail time.
Macy's deeply reported and moving investigation is a complex story of public health, big pharmaceutical companies, politics, race, class, and dark money. It praises those “heroes” working to provide ethical healthcare, safe injection sites, harm reduction initiatives, and treatment options. “Raising Lazarus” shines a spotlight on a national catastrophic crisis and those who are trying to address it with both compassion and innovative solutions.
“Raising Lazarus” is a publication of Little, Brown and Company. Its 356 pages include a folio of pictures of some opioid victims and their helpers. I would recommend this well-documented book to anyone interested in this pressing social issue.
About the Author: Beth Macy is the author of “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America,” “True Vine,” and “Factory Man.” She has won more than a dozen national awards for her reporting, including a Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard. Her book “Dopesick” was adapted into a dramatic miniseries last year.