What I'm Reading (No. 40): Dopesick + a new war memoir
Dopesick — a journalistic account of the opioid crisis — has been getting a lot of press lately, so I decided to check it out, and it mostly lived up to the hype. I also finished a new war memoir called Touching the Dragon, which hasn't gotten as much attention, but was crazy intense and really good.
The opioid crisis is not new. Virginia native and journalist Beth Macy makes that very clear. At least not in the Appalachia region. It's only new to our national consciousness in the last handful of years. In 2016, opioids caused over 40,000 deaths. Think about that for a second. It amounts to over 115 deaths per day — just from opioid overdoses. (And interestingly, that's well more than half of all drug overdoses.)
While its roots go wayyy back, OxyContin was first introduced as a prescription painkiller in 1996 by Purdue Pharma. At the time, it was hailed as a miracle, long-lasting painkiller, and best of all, it wasn't addictive!
If only that were actually the case.
Turns out, OxyContin is crazy addictive. Couple that with an emerging medical mindset that subscribed to the "any pain is bad pain" philosophy, and you end up with a way over-prescribed drug that soon started taking over small rural towns, at first in West Virginia and Virginia, and soon spreading out from there like a virus.
Macy eviscerates Purdue Pharma for ignoring the addictive warning signs of their drug (because they were making many billions of dollars), while rightly canonizing the doctors, lawyers, and parents of dead teenagers who are fighting this epidemic. Macy interviews all of the heroes, and tries to find any speck of light at the end of the tunnel that could possibly help stem the horrible tide of legal and prescribed drugs which are wreaking havoc in our country.
Like many journalistic accounts of national ills, it's a mostly heartbreaking story. But it's one that deserves telling, especially for the sake of the people who've been caught in OxyContin's strong web. There is some hope to be had, but honestly not much. Dopesick is a worthwhile, eye-opening read; just know going into it that there's not much of a happy ending. Be prepared to feel both mad and a little helpless by the end.
Sorry for the downer, folks.
Jimmy had plenty of battle credentials before being part of the Bowe Bergdahl search committee. But, that piece of his story is inevitably what gets the most attention.
Before getting to that part of his tale, Hatch tells us a bit about his growing up, how he got into the military, and some of his experience prior the mission that ultimately changed his life. Rather than getting into the politics of Bergdahl's choice to abandon ship, Hatch narrates — in superb, gripping, feels-like-I-was-there detail — the intense battle early in the Bergdahl saga that cost him his career, and nearly his life.
I've read plenty of war memoirs, and few are as powerfully and viscerally descriptive as Hatch's story. He describes the gunshot wound to his leg, which required his evacuation by helicopter. He describes his banshee-like screaming in the pitch black of a battlefield, ashamed and terrified that he'd be giving away not only his own position, but that of the guys trying to save his life. He describes, excruciatingly, the death of a working soldier-dog serving right alongside him in that battle (a death which tore him up almost more than his own injury).
And that's all just Part I.
Part II, which Jimmy would say is the whole point of the book, details his struggle with depression after that career-ending injury, including an intense (a word I've used a lot here, I know) suicide attempt. Ultimately, it's his family, friends, and battalion mates who bring him back from the cliff's edge.
Unlike Dopesick, though, this is a story that ends with a lot of hope. Hatch calls for an end to the machismo that keeps men from opening up when they're struggling with depression or PTSD.
Again, I've read a number of memoirs like this one, and Touching the Dragon definitely stands out as one of the best. Highly recommended.
That's it for me this week — what are you all reading and enjoying? Thank you for your time and attention — I know what valuable resources those are!