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Booksmart: How Did We Get Here?

Stack of booksAs the days grow shorter, autumn seems like the time we often turn to more indoor activities and that includes our reading lists. This year may be a good time for learning more about why the nation’s COVID pandemic made the drug overdose epidemic far worse than ever before.

Whether you are struggling to understand what led to over 93,000 deadly overdoses in 2020, a recovery ally trying to do more, or a family member who wants to know more, we have a wide selection of books about the crisis that may give you a clearer understanding. They cover a range of topics from basic primers on substance use disorder, to Big Pharma and prescription opioids, and stories of how it affects both families and communities. These books can also spark a deeper conversation whether it’s with friends, your own book club, or your entire community.

Some may provide you with answers to your questions, or perhaps raise more questions about why we are where we are today. Here are a few that may be worth considering:

Book Recommendations

UNDOING DRUGS — Maia Szalavitz (2021)
“I had no intention of quitting.” Those are the first six words by author Maia Szalavitz and a woman in long-term recovery. Szalavitz offers the first history of harm reduction interwoven with her personal story and of those who helped build the movement. It was during the AIDS crisis when she was first introduced to harm reduction by sheer luck: Szalavitz was a person who injected drugs and was shown how to disinfect her needles before using them. Harm reduction programs have evolved into remarkably different programs from abstinence-only models, offering a wide array of services, plus access to social services and health care. If harm reduction is an issue in your community or something a family member is considering, this is a remarkable resource.

NEVER ENOUGH: The Neuroscience and Experience of Addiction — Judith Greisel (2019)
Grisel is a noted behavioral neuroscientist whose research focuses on determining the root causes of drug addiction. She’s also in long-term recovery and started struggling with alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine use in her early teens. Her own experience led to her focus on how addiction affects the brain, especially the science behind how this works. Most important: you don’t have to understand neurobiology to follow her findings and observations about just how addictive substances change the brain.

HIGH: Everything You Want to Know About Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction — Nic Sheff, David Sheff (2019)
From the son & father behind Beautiful Boy, this is intended for a teen audience, but it’s a great tool to use as a conversation starter for parents, educators, counselors, and teens.

DOPESICK: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America — Beth Macy (2018)
With a ground-level focus on how the epidemic hit her own community, longtime journalist Beth Macy tells the story through the eyes of those fighting the disease of substance use disorder, their families, first responders, and the community ravaged by this epidemic.

AMERICAN FIX: Inside The Opioid Addiction Crisis – And How To End It — Ryan Hampton (2018)
From the perspective of a recovery advocate, this is not just another guide to what’s needed to solve the crisis. Hampton explores the growing social movement focused on the millions of Americans in recovery from substance use disorder plus their families, friends, and other stakeholders – and what’s needed to support long-term recovery in our communities.

DREAMLAND: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic — Sam Quinones (2015)
Quinones investigates and tells the story about the perfect storm that led up to the opioid epidemic: Purdue Pharma’s release of OxyContin and how we got where we are today.

PAINKILLER: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic — Barry Meier (Updated 2018)
In 2003, Meier wrote a groundbreaking report on the Purdue marketing campaign that promoted OxyContin, the drug that many believe was the gateway to our national epidemic.

Community Events

Where to start:

  1. For a large community event, ask your library to consider partnering to create a community discussion. We recommend using the American Library Association’s “One Book” planning resource to plan out a large event.
  2. Select one that resonates with your community. Alternatively, you can provide several options and have the community vote.
  3. Your local library generally purchases new releases of popular books, especially best sellers. For a community book read, you may need to work with them in advance for extra print copies. Include digital or audio versions  as well.  

Discussion Starters for Community Event or Book Club:

  1. We are going to start with a quick show of hands:
    1. How many of you think our community is facing a serious crisis?
    2. How many of you think it’s not very serious or not in your neighborhood?
    3. How many believe opioid use or any sort of substance use is a personal decision or failure?
  2. Who or what do you think is to blame for this epidemic?
  3. What surprised you in this book?
  4. Did this affect your perception of how the opioid crisis started? In what way?
  5. Much of the stigma that faces people with substance use disorder is that it’s their personal choice, and demonstrates a moral failing. Research and science show it’s a disease – just like diabetes or heart disease. After reading this book, how does this affect your belief about people who use any substances?
  6. For the personal stories that were shared in the book, did it change your opinion of those with substance use disorder? Why or why not?
  7. Were there any parts of the book that were particularly thought-provoking or disturbing?
  8. Where do you see gaps in our own community in how we are responding to addiction?
  9. The author outlined some possible solutions or changes that need to happen. Which ones do you feel could address the issue you see in our community?

Have other books on this issue that you’d like to recommend? Let us know at: