Dopesick

by Beth Macy, Apollo, 384pp, £20

In 1895, heroin was readily available at any American drug store or by mail order. Babies were frequently prescribed medicine containing morphine, codeine, opium, cannabis indica and heroin, a mixture advertised as “containing nothing injurious to the youngest babe”.

Most physicians were perfectly happy with this, but after a while a few prominent doctors began to criticise their over-subscribing peers. Only by 1906 did the American Medical Association step in and suggest this might present a problem.

This situation, Beth Macy argues in her new book on America’s opioid epidemic, subtitled Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America, is similar to the one we have today.

Although 2.6 million Americans are currently addicted to opioids, Macy suggests that most people only become aware of the scale of this problem when it either affects them or their families personally or a big celebrity case hits the headlines.

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