Book Review: Generation Rx
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Book Review: Generation Rx


gen rx reviewIn 2009, Erin Marie Daly lost her younger brother Pat to a heroin overdose. He was just 20 years old. Like many other young addicts, Pat’s road to heroin addiction was greased by pain pills—specifically Vicodin, Valium, Percs and Oxycontin. As a teenager, he and his friends traded and sold pills pilfered from family medicine chests or prescribed by doctors for sports injuries to one another at school. Losing her brother inspired Daly—an author and journalist—to write Generation Rx: A Story of Dope, Death in America’s Opiate Crisis (Counterpoint, August, 2014), a book that’s part memoir of her brother’s life, including the events that led up to his death as well as the author’s grieving process, and part reportage on the crisis of opiate addiction in America.

The Ideal Way to Educate

Generation Rx is a well-crafted, insightful and important book—one that will prove useful to many, particularly those whose lives have been affected by a loved one’s problem behavior around substances. Usually, for the non-afflicted, addiction and addictive thinking is elusive, frustrating and confusing. This book enlightens readers by offering a translation of the addict’s reasoning and irrational thought process, which might be the book’s greatest achievement.

The author uses her grieving process to frame a larger portrayal of the opiate crisis in America. It’s an intensely personal entry point into the slow-motion tragedy that a 300% rise in painkiller prescriptions has unleashed. Daly and her brother’s story also lends the tome a sense of urgency that propels us toward a fuller understanding of how it is that painkiller overdose fatalities have overtaken traffic accidents as the leading cause of death in America. On average, nearly 40 people a day OD and die. These arresting statistics are just a few that the author uses to illustrate just how acute this crisis has become.

We Learn as She Does

Beginning her journey in relative ignorance, Daly takes us through what she learns and experiences in her quest to understand her brother’s affliction. Along the way, she assesses the pill epidemic via multiple perspectives and vantage points—loved ones, addicts, rehab counselors and law enforcement—allowing us to explore aspects of the situation that might not be immediately apparent to someone grieving a loved one’s death. It’s a sad undertaking and if there’s a flaw in this story’s presentation, it’s in the overwhelming breadth of misery portrayed in these pages.

Despite the macro lens, at its heart this book is about the suffering addiction wreaks on a family. As unsettling as the statistics may be, the book takes the next step and does an admirable job of humanizing and translating those stats into the perspectives of everyday addicts. Unless one knows an addict personally, it’s natural to assume the people that are dying are an unknown “them”—i.e., the archetypical lowlife, homeless junkie, the one making poor choices involving highly illegal street drugs. Daly helps the reader understand that, in fact, the victims of the current cycle of drug abuse come from every segment of society and that more affluent communities are actually affected far more than the less wealthy segments of the population. Hopefully this book will help people spot the addict in their midst before it’s too late.

This Time, It’s Not All Personal

The author’s journalism background provides an objective view into the lives of everyday young people—most in relatively affluent circumstances in places like Orange County, California, suburban Massachusetts and Florida. She does so with firsthand reportage on and from the addicts themselves but just as importantly, she talks repeatedly with those who love the addict and are affected by his or behavior—the parents and the siblings left behind, bewildered by the child, lover or a friend who has met his or her end prematurely.

Another strength of the book is the author’s ability to contextualize the crisis within society at large, recapping how these dangerous drugs—Oxycontin, Hydrocodone, Xanax, Vicodin—came to be so prevalent and easily available to Americans. She’s able to show us again and again that regular kids are being prescribed painkillers for a sports injury or mischievously sampling the extra pills at the back of Grandma’s medicine chest only to find themselves all too quickly in over their heads.

The Message Couldn’t Be More Timely

Generation Rx is timely because the pain pill epidemic is transitioning to a new stage. Now that law enforcement has begun to clamp down on “pill mills” and the medical profession can no longer claim ignorance when it comes to writing prescriptions for powerful opiates, society at large must wake up to its own responsibilities. With books like this, the conversation in the media is getting more and more prevalent and people are beginning to realize just how powerful and prone to abuse our everyday medications really are.

How society will balance servicing a legitimate need for pain relief and preventing kids from unwittingly taking a low road to full-blown drug addiction—and all the misery that the journey entails—is the grand endeavor at hand. Generation Rx should go some way in clarifying just what’s at stake and, if read at the right time, could literally help save lives.

Image courtesy of Erin Marie Daly

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About Author

Jared Mazzaschi is a writer and producer living in LA. He blogs at