Empire of Pain — Book Review

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Cross-posted from Goodreads.

This book was my introduction to America’s opioid crisis. I had no doubt heard of countless celebrity deaths due to overdosing on prescribed drug. But I had absolutely no idea how grim the situation was in America. The bigger picture that emerges from the book makes the coronavirus pandemic look innocent in comparison to the great opioid epidemic.

In case of coronavirus, people at least had a choice to wear masks and get vaccinated. In case of opioids, the very doctors that were supposed to be trustworthy were literally killing people by unnecessarily prescribing highly addictive drugs to keep money flowing to them and their corporate overlords (the Sacklers).

The author has done a great job with investigating the complicated world of pain medicines and explaining it with stories and hard evidences. The first part of the book is written in a biographical style. It focuses on the origins of the Sackler family especially how three doctor brothers with seemingly good intentions went from rags to riches. The second part of the book goes extensively into painstaking details about the whole legal drama around Purdue Pharma (Sackler’s money-minting firm) and the opioid crisis in general.

At one point I wished it wasn’t that detailed. I guess the author wanted to comprehensively cover all bases. Interestingly, John Oliver has covered the topic a few times. See Opioids II and Opioids III.

The book has permanently changed how I view advertisements (most of marketing is bullshit and outright lies) and corporate greed (it’s worse than I thought). I now cannot ever buy a product simply based on ads, no matter how harmless and logical they may be.

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