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With 'Raising Lazarus', Roanoke author Macy finds positives amid the opioid crisis

Jeff Bossert with Beth Macy.jpg
Dutchie Mirolli
Radio IQ
Jeff Bossert with Beth Macy

After covering the nation’s opioid crisis in the book and streaming series ‘Dopesick’, Roanoke journalist and author Beth Macy has checked in with a second book on the issue.

‘Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America's Overdose Crisis' updates efforts to treat people struggling with addiction rather than send them to jail, and seek justice against drug manufacturers.

“I see this book as a guidebook to how to make change around issues in your communities," said Macy, who has written about this issue for about a decade. "Just like we did with the HIV crisis. If we can get them these live-saving medications, the stigma begins to lessen. That is really key – to have a little hope around this.”

An extended interview with Beth Macy

She sees this book as the last in a trilogy, following 'Factory Man' in 2014, and Dopesick in 2018. Much of this book looks at harm reduction techniques like needle exchange programs.

"Harm reduction is kind of a counterintuitive thing. You're going to give these drug users needles? Isn't that going to enable their use?, "she said. "Well, it turns out - no - because they've been so far left out of our systems of care that they don't trust the systems anymore." Macy said those who have entered a needle exchange are five times more likely to enter treatment.

Raising Lazarus, by author Beth Macy
Mariah Dwyer / Publicity Assistant / Little, Brown and Company
Raising Lazarus, by author Beth Macy

Macy also looks at the legal fight against the Sackler family, the owners of Purdue Pharma, who have faced numerous lawsuits after the creation of OxyContin.

"There are still people working to hold their feet to the fire, and there's talk of criminal indictments for the first time in years," she said. "This wasn't a driver-less car. Somebody ran this company. And those people should be held to account. We’re playing checkers while they’re playing chess. They have hired people (lawyers) to look 13 moves down the road to see the best way to insulate themselves.”  

Macy also writes about changing the minds of politicians and shifting them to harm reduction. They include Rahul Gupta, President Joe Biden's Drug Czar, who formerly served as West Virginia Health Commissioner. She also believes the position of Drug Czar should be elevated to a cabinet-level position.

'Dopesick', the Hulu streaming series based on Macy's book, is up for 14 Emmy Awards. Macy, also who served as executive producer and cowriter, is excited to see what the attention could mean for the opioid crisis.

"The best feedback we've had on the show has been from family members who said things like 'after I watch your show, I picked up the phone and I called my addicted son for the first time in three years," she said. "So it's starting to change that Overton window, that thinking away from the drug war mentality that these people are moral failures - to these are human beings. Our loved ones. And maybe they've caused us harm in the past. But if we can help them access the right kind of treatment, maybe can put our families back together again."

On Monday, August 22, Macy will discuss the new book in downtown Roanoke. The event, hosted by Book No Further, will take place at Charter Hall at the Roanoke City Market Building, starting at 7 p.m.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Jeff Bossert is Radio IQ's Morning Edition host.
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