Beth Macy

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Dopesick Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Beth Macy's Dopesick. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Beth Macy

Beth Macy was born in Urbana, Ohio, to a factory-worker mother and a housepainter father. She studied journalism at Bowling Green State University and earned a creative writing MFA from Hollins University. From 1989 to 2014, she wrote for the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Virginia. Her first book, Factory Man, was published in 2014. The book looked at the effects of globalization on a major furniture-maker based in a small town in Virginia. Macy is perhaps best-known for her most recent book, Dopesick, which looks at the causes and effects of the opioid crisis and which was adapted into a streaming mini-series in 2021. Currently, Macy writes essays and op-eds for the New York Times.
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Historical Context of Dopesick

Dopesick is about the opioid crisis in the United States that continues into the present day. Opioids have a long history of causing addiction: even Neolithic humans realized the strange power of poppy plants. In the mid-19th century, China and Britain fought in The Opium Wars, which involved trade rights, specifically the transportation of opium. At the time, it was widely known that opium was addictive, and China’s government tried to ban it. Around the same time period in the United States, many Civil War veterans who received opioids for their battlefield wounds were also showing clear signs of addiction. The current opioid epidemic began in the mid-1990s, when Purdue Pharma released OxyContin with a heavy marketing push that deliberately misled the public about the drug’s addictive properties.

Other Books Related to Dopesick

Beth Macy is a working journalist, and her writing has been shaped by her time as a reporter for the Roanoke Times and an op-ed writer for the New York Times. She has said that her work is influenced by other recent essayists and historians, including Annie Dillard, Anne Lamott, and Will Durant. Dopesick in particular was inspired by Barry Meier’s book Pain Killer, which was one of the first books to look at the burgeoning opioid epidemic and which helped draw attention to the activism of Dr. Art Van Zee (whom Macy interviews for Dopesick). Other books about the opioid epidemic include Dreamland by Sam Quinones, Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe, and Pain Killer by Barry Meier.
Key Facts about Dopesick
  • Full Title: Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America
  • When Written: Mid-2010s
  • Where Written: Roanoke, Virginia
  • When Published: 2018
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Nonfiction/Disease & Health Issues
  • Setting: Appalachia, particularly rural and suburban Virginia
  • Climax: Tess Henry is murdered in Las Vegas
  • Antagonist: The Sackler family and Purdue Pharma
  • Point of View: 1st person

Extra Credit for Dopesick

An Early Start. Macy claims to have been interested in journalism since she was four years old, and at age 10, she got a job delivering papers on her bike.

Star Power. When asked to rate Macy’s first book, Factory Man, Tom Hanks gave it “142 stars.”