The best books about the opioid crisis written by journalists

Eric Eyre Author Of Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic
By Eric Eyre

Who am I?

I’m a West Virginia-based journalist. I have covered the opioid epidemic for nearly 10 years. In 2017, I was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for stories about massive shipments of OxyContin and other painkillers to small towns in Appalachia. 


I wrote...

Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic

By Eric Eyre,

Book cover of Death in Mud Lick: A Coal Country Fight Against the Drug Companies That Delivered the Opioid Epidemic

What is my book about?

Death In Mud Lick is a true-crime thriller about how a group of underdogs took on the Goliaths of the opioid industry. Set in West Virginia’s southern coalfields, the book chronicles Debbie Preece’s fight for justice on behalf of her brother, a coal miner who died after overdosing on OxyContin. I wanted to tell the story behind the story for families impacted by the opioid crisis; It’s a rigged system—made up of rogue doctors, pharmacists, distributors, manufacturers, lobbyists, and politicians—that raked in billions of dollars and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. At its heart, Death in Mud Lick is a story about resilience and redemption, holding the powerful accountable, and overcoming monumental odds. Sometimes, persistence pays off. Sometimes, underdogs do win.

The books I picked & why

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Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America's Opioid Epidemic

By Barry Meier,

Book cover of Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America's Opioid Epidemic

Why this book?

Meier’s takedown of Purdue Pharma was ahead of its time. First published in 2003, Pain Killer was updated and re-published in 2018, Meier’s book is a hard-hitting account of the early causes of the opioid crisis. He shows how Purdue tried to hide information about OxyContin’s widespread abuse and the painkiller’s addictive nature. He also spotlights the Justice Department’s repeated failures to combat the drug epidemic. Meier is a former reporter at The New York Times. At one point, the Times’ editors yanked Meier off the opioid beat in response to complaints by Purdue Pharma lawyers. The complaints, of course, were unfounded, and editors later admitted they had been duped. I’m glad it didn’t stop Meier from writing and updating this landmark book.


Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic

By Sam Quinones,

Book cover of Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic

Why this book?

For years, Dreamland has been my go-to book to understand the opioid crisis. Quinones, a former reporter with The Los Angeles Times, skillfully weaves the stories of a heroin drug syndicate based in Mexico—known as the “Xalisco Boys”—and the unfettered prescribing of pain pills in the U.S. The combination battered towns and cities. His book won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for nonfiction.    


Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America

By Beth Macy,

Book cover of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America

Why this book?

Macy’s bestselling book also became an award-winning Hulu limited TV series of the same name. Macy also co-wrote the screenplay and has a cameo in one of the eight episodes. She is a former features writer with The Roanoke Times, a Virginia newspaper. A lot of the book is set in small communities not far from Macy’s hometown. Dopesick is a gut-wrenching tale of the ruin and devastation that drug companies left behind. I’ve been so impressed with Macy’s compassion for people struggling with addiction. Her book hits all facets of the opioid scourge. This is an essential read about the biggest man-made health crisis in American history.


Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

By Patrick Radden Keefe,

Book cover of Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty

Why this book?

The New Yorker writer and author of the New York Times bestseller Say Anything—unveils the secrets and lies of the Sackler family, the billionaire owners of Purdue Pharma. Keefe is a master of narrative storytelling and an incredible researcher, and this book made me want to scream at the greed and callousness of the Sacklers. Many see the family as downright evil, and understandably so. Since Keefe’s book came out, a number of museums and organizations have tried to distance themselves from the Sacklers. Keefe also testified before a congressional committee that aimed to hold the Sacklers accountable for the opioid crisis. Keefe poured through hundreds of thousands of documents—including messages sent from one family member to another—as part of his definitive investigation of the Sacklers. I admire reporters like Keefe who are willing to do the tedious work of scouring records.


American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts

By Chris McGreal,

Book cover of American Overdose: The Opioid Tragedy in Three Acts

Why this book?

McGreal’s book fell a bit under the radar, but in my mind, it’s one of the best books of reportage on the opioid epidemic. As a reporter for The Guardian, McGreal covered the drug crisis for years. American Overdose connects all the dots that caused it. The book starts out, “Even as a teenager, Henry Vinson wanted to be an undertaker,” then takes flight from the hollows of West Virginia to the halls of Congress. McGreal is a tenacious reporter and a superb writer. He’s one of the first reporters to lay bare the Food and Drug Administration’s cozy relationship with Purdue Pharma. And he introduces readers to former DEA agent Joe Rannazzisi, who tried to put the brakes on massive shipments of painkillers to small towns across America, but was forced to step aside after Big Pharma complained about him to powerful U.S. lawmakers. The story builds from one chapter to the next. If you like propulsive, page-turning accounts of important subjects, then this is your book. 


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