It’s not a book for everyone.  But if your life has been affected by opioids in any way – or you are raising young children – read it.

It may terrify you.

Recently I moderated a book discussion for the Annapolis Book Festival with authors Ben Westhoff and Jessie Dunleavy.  Dunleavy’s memoir, “Cover My Dreams in Ink,” is a searing account of one mother’s desperate attempts to save her son.  Misdiagnosed from early childhood, Paul grows into manhood plagued by mental health crises and addiction until his life ends at age 34 in an overdose mixed with fentanyl.  She tells her story, laced with his poetry, with all the pathos and fervor of a mother trying to prevent others from experiencing the same.

Westhoff’s book, “Fentanyl, Inc., How Rogue Chemists Created the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic,” takes us into the dark, global world behind Dunleavy’s story.  “Fentanyl” is a near-textbook look at how synthetic drugs are killing Americans, most of them young like Paul, who often have no idea what they actually are using.  We meet families across the country, from towns like Grand Forks, North Dakota and St Louis to the streets of Los Angeles.

Westhoff describes an “out of control” drug industry where it is far too easy to switch a molecule or two, making an illegal substance legal, thereby letting it slip past regulators into the arms of  often unsuspecting youth.  His book is filled with names of drug makers, drug dealers and the real-life victims of a world gone mad.  We even go behind the scenes into a fentanyl plant in – of all places – Wuhan, China.

The final chapters bring these books together. Deaths from overdose remain the top killer of Americans under age 50. The authors suggest life-saving solutions that other countries have tested and found beneficial.  But such efforts chafe at our nation’s reluctance to accept addiction for what it is – a chronic condition that no one – not even the sickest person – wants to have.

What the authors offer, in the end, is hope.

But are Americans smart enough and brave enough to give it a try?


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