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Non-fiction Review: In Pain by Travis Rieder

Title: In Pain: A Bioethicist's Personal Struggle with Opioids
Author: Travis Rieder
Year Published: 2019

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 258 (plus notes and index)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2019 Google Reading map)USA (MD)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Travis Rieder's terrifying journey down the rabbit hole of opioid dependence began with a motorcycle accident in 2015. One month and several surgeries later, Travis was on painkillers around the clock.

The drugs he received were both miraculous and essential to his recovery--for a time. But the most profound suffering Travis would endure arrived months after the accident, when he went into acute opioid withdrawal while following his physician's orders. Over the course of four excruciating weeks, Rieder experienced firsthand, all day long and through the night, what it means to be "dope sick"--the absolute physical and mental agony that is opioid withdrawal. Clueless how to taper off these intensely powerful painkillers, Travis turned to his doctors, who suggested that he go back on the drugs and simply try again later.

Rieder's experience exposes a dark secret of American healthcare: the crisis currently facing us is actually an unsurprising and inevitable consequence of a culture deeply conflicted about opioids and a system grossly inept at managing them. AS he recounts his own brutal story of pain and pills, Rieder provides the fascinating history and trajectory of these drugs, from their invention in the 1800s through a long period of opiophobia to the eventual warm embrace of these medications that led to an environment of aggressive, even reckless, prescribing. Here rigorous examinations of the science of pain and addiction are considered alongside analyses of the systemic and cultural barriers we must overcome if we are to address the problem effectively on both a local and a global scale.

Review: I first heard about this book in an NPR interview with the author (probably Terry Gross' Fresh Air) and thought it sounded interesting. And now my family knows more about opioids than they ever wanted to know. I couldn't stop myself from sharing information as I read!

The author's personal story is what makes this book so compelling. How does a young healthy person become dependent upon opioids within a couple weeks? Why does no one tell him how to get off of them and help him when withdrawl makes him suicidal? These are huge questions and Rieder does a great job of weaving his personal experience, the history of heroin and opioids, and the role of physicians, nurses, and big pharma.

If you are at all interested in this issue, I highly recommend this book.

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