Beth Macy

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Tess Henry

Tess Henry is a young mother from the Hidden Valley region of Virginia and the daughter of Patricia Mehrmann. Tess first begins telling her life story to Beth Macy in 2015. The daughter of… read analysis of Tess Henry

Dr. Art Van Zee

Art Van Zee is a doctor in impoverished Lee County, Virginia, who looks a little like Abraham Lincoln. He’s cited by writer Barry Meier as being one of the first people to raise the alarm… read analysis of Dr. Art Van Zee

Ronnie “D.C.” Jones

Ronnie Jones is a Black man in his 30s who is the head dealer in a heroin ring that runs drugs along Interstate 81, from Harlem to Woodstock, Virginia. Jones is the one who… read analysis of Ronnie “D.C.” Jones

Kristi Fernandez

Kristi Fernandez is a mother from the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia whose son, Jesse Bolstridge, dies of an overdose in 2013. Fernandez becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her son—how he… read analysis of Kristi Fernandez

Jesse Bolstridge

Jesse Bolstridge, son of Kristi Fernandez, was a former star high school linebacker who died of an overdose in 2013. As a boy, Jesse was popular and excitable, but eventually his energetic behavior in… read analysis of Jesse Bolstridge
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Spencer Mumpower

Spencer Mumpower, son of Ginger Mumpower, is a young man from Roanoke, Virginia, who goes to prison in 2012 for selling his former classmate Scott Roth the heroin that leads to his fatal… read analysis of Spencer Mumpower

Sister Beth Davies

Sister Beth Davies is a Catholic nun and activist who works closely with Dr. Art Van Zee, Sue Ella Kobak, and Sue Cantrell in her activism against opioid addiction in the impoverished Lee… read analysis of Sister Beth Davies

Scott Roth

Scott Roth, son of Robin Roth, is a young man from Roanoke, Virginia, who dies of an overdose on heroin that he bought from his former classmate Spencer Mumpower. Growing up, Scott is… read analysis of Scott Roth

Sue Ella Kobak

Sue Ella Kobak is a lawyer and activist who is married to Dr. Art Van Zee and who was a close collaborator with fellow activist Sister Beth Davies in the early days of the opioidread analysis of Sue Ella Kobak

Beth Macy

Beth Macy is a journalist from Roanoke, Virginia, and the author of Dopesick. Although the book isn’t a memoir, she does occasionally insert herself into the story, usually to explain the process of interviewing… read analysis of Beth Macy

Patricia Mehrmann

Patricia is the mother of Tess Henry. She remains committed to getting help for her opioid-addicted daughter right up to the moment of Tess’s death. She seeks help from Hope Initiative members like… read analysis of Patricia Mehrmann

The Sackler Family (Mortimer, Raymond, and Arthur)

The Sackler family are the owners of Purdue Pharma, the company that created OxyContin and which author Beth Macy calls “The Company That Addicted America.” Purdue was an obscure pharmaceutical company when it was founded… read analysis of The Sackler Family (Mortimer, Raymond, and Arthur)

Dr. Sue Cantrell

Sue Cantrell is a former pharmacist and long-time health-department director in Virginia who works to combat the harmful effects of OxyContin, sometimes collaborating with Art Van Zee, Sue Ella, and Sister Bethread analysis of Dr. Sue Cantrell

Jamie Waldrop

Jamie Waldrop is the mother of former opioid addict Christopher. She meets Drenna Banks at a Families Anonymous meeting and becomes involved with the Hope Initiative for addiction treatment that Chris Perkins founds. After… read analysis of Jamie Waldrop

Dr. J. David Haddox

Dr. J. David Haddox is the head pain specialist at Purdue Pharma, working on behalf of the Sackler family to sell OxyContin as an effective, non-addictive painkiller. Haddox plays a key role in spreading false… read analysis of Dr. J. David Haddox

Ginger Mumpower

Ginger Mumpower is a community leader in Roanoke, Virginia, who is shocked when she finds out that her son, Spencer, has sold heroin to Scott Roth that led to his fatal overdose. Throughout the… read analysis of Ginger Mumpower

Dr. Steve Huff

Steve Huff is a doctor based in Laurel Fork, Virginia, who begins to notice the insidious effects of pharmaceutical marketing on doctors around the turn of the millennium. While many of his peers accept swag… read analysis of Dr. Steve Huff

Christopher Waldrop

Christopher Waldrop is an opioid addict and the son of Jamie Waldrop. The death of his friend Colton Banks is one of many wake-up calls that causes Christopher to reevaluate his life and try… read analysis of Christopher Waldrop

Chris Perkins

Chris Perkins is a retiring Virginia police chief who wants to do something good before he leaves the force, so he founds the Hope Initiative to help recovering addicts. The initiative attracts Janine Underwood and… read analysis of Chris Perkins

Janine Underwood

Janine Underwood is the executive director of Chris Perkins’s Hope Initiative and the mother of Bobby (who dies of a fentanyl overdose). She works with other concerned community members, including Jamie Waldrop, to… read analysis of Janine Underwood

Drenna Banks

Drenna Banks is the mother of Colton Banks, who dies young of an overdose. She connects with Jamie Waldrop at a Families Anonymous meeting and they bond over their shared struggles with their opioidread analysis of Drenna Banks

Teresa Gardner Tyson

Teresa Gardner Tyson hosts a major medical outreach event called Remote Area Medical (RAM), which provides support to the uninsured of southwestern Virginia. Reporters who come to RAM are often surprised by the scale of… read analysis of Teresa Gardner Tyson

Brent Lutz

Brent Lutz is a police sergeant in Woodstock, Virginia, who teams up with Bill Metcalf to investigate a heroin ring that is running drugs from Harlem down Interstate 81 to Woodstock. The chief suspect is… read analysis of Brent Lutz

Bill Metcalf

Bill Metcalf is an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives who teams up with Brent Lutz to track down Ronnie “D.C.” Jones, the head dealer for a heroin ring that… read analysis of Bill Metcalf

Richard Stallard

Richard Stallard is a police lieutenant in a relatively poor region of Virginia known as Lee County. He is on the front lines of the opioid epidemic, seeing firsthand what OxyContin is doing to local… read analysis of Richard Stallard

Heinrich Dreser

In the 1890s, Heinrich Dreser was a chemist at the pharmaceutical company Bayer who was responsible for creating heroin. He hoped it would be a safe replacement for addictive opioids like opium and morphine, but… read analysis of Heinrich Dreser

Ed Bisch

Ed Bisch is a father from Philadelphia who doesn’t know anything about OxyContin or the opioid epidemic until the day that he learns his son Eddie has fatally overdosed. His son’s death inspires him to… read analysis of Ed Bisch

Lee Nuss

Less Nuss is a mother from Philadelphia who loses her 18-year-old son Randy to the opioid epidemic. After connecting with Ed Bisch (who shares a similar story), the two join the mission of activists like… read analysis of Lee Nuss

Barry Meier

Barry Meier is the author of the 2003 book Pain Killer, perhaps the first major book to look at the harmful addictive effects of OxyContin. His book looks at the work of analysis of Barry Meier

Barbara Van Rooyan

Barbara Van Rooyan is a mother from Virginia whose son, Patrick, becomes a victim of the opioid epidemic at age 24. She becomes a vocal advocate against OxyContin, petitioning the FDA to recall… read analysis of Barbara Van Rooyan

John L. Brownlee

John L. Brownlee is a former paratrooper turned prosecutor in his mid-30s who hopes to make a name for himself by taking difficult cases against Purdue Pharma and OxyContin. He and his office’s fraud… read analysis of John L. Brownlee

Fayne McCauley

Fayne McCauley is a miner from Lee County Virginia who is one of the first clients to face Purdue Pharma in court, after he got addicted to OxyContin in the 1990s when it was prescribed… read analysis of Fayne McCauley

Paul Goldenheim

Paul Goldenheim is Purdue Pharma’s medical director. When Purdue becomes the target of a federal investigation for its role in the opioid crisis, it takes a plea deal in 2007, and Goldenheim is charged with… read analysis of Paul Goldenheim

Michael Friedman

Michael Friedman is the CEO of Purdue Pharma when, in 2007, the company accepts a plea deal for its role in manufacturing the opioid crisis. Along with Paul Goldenheim and Howard Udell, he is… read analysis of Michael Friedman

Howard Udell

Howard Udell is a lawyer for Purdue Pharma who aggressively defends the company’s controversial practices on behalf of the Sackler family. At one point, he gets the journalist Barry Meier taken off the opioid… read analysis of Howard Udell

Brandon Perullo

Brandon Perullo is a young opioid addict in Roanoke, Virginia, who makes the news in 2010 when he attempts to rob a bank. News reports focus more on the sensational nature of the attempted robbery… read analysis of Brandon Perullo

Don Wolthuis

Don Wolthuis is a prosecutor in Roanoke, Virginia, who specializes in “death cases” that involve prosecuting people who have sold drugs that led to fatal overdoses. He keeps an open case file about Jesse Bolstridgeread analysis of Don Wolthuis


Dennis is a friend of Jesse Bolstridge who convinces him to do heroin on the day that he has a fatal overdose. Jesse’s mother, Kristi Fernandez, believes at one point that Dennis may be… read analysis of Dennis

Jordan “Joey” Gilbert

Joey is a friend of Tess’s who dies young of an overdose. Her death is particularly tragic because she wanted treatment but had to wean herself off MAT so that the treatment facility would… read analysis of Jordan “Joey” Gilbert

Andrew Bassford

Andrew Bassford is the man who prosecutes the case of Ashlyn Keikilani Kessler. He has a noteworthy love of former president James Garfield and wears cowboy boots to make himself look like a TV… read analysis of Andrew Bassford

Thomas Jones

Thomas Jones is the brother of Ronnie “D.C.” Jones and raps under the name Big Pooh, touring around the world. He suspected that his brother’s stories about running a computer repair shop may be false… read analysis of Thomas Jones

Dr. Steve Lloyd

Dr. Steve Lloyd is a former opioid addict who becomes a charismatic speaker against addiction. As a doctor, he benefited from a rigorous (and expensive) recovery program that was available to him, but he argues… read analysis of Dr. Steve Lloyd

Rudy Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani was the mayor of New York City during 9/11, and he becomes a consultant for Purdue Pharma to help rehabilitate their image. His influence and star power show how Purdue Pharma had vastly… read analysis of Rudy Giuliani

Matthew “Mack” Santiago

Mack is the Harlem supplier for the Woodstock, Virginia, heroin ring run by dealer Ronnie “D.C.” Jones. Mack remains mysterious, known only by his nickname and completely eluding investigators Lutz and Metcalf at first… read analysis of Matthew “Mack” Santiago
Minor Characters
Colton Banks
Colton Banks is the son of Drenna Banks and a young opioid addict who dies during what would have been his last hurrah before a stint in rehab. His death shocks the local community and helps his friend Christopher Waldrop find the motivation to break his addiction.
Debbie Honaker
Debbie Honaker is a mother from a county in Virginia near where Dr. Art Van Zee works. She is one of many Virginia residents who is prescribed heavy painkillers after routine surgery and who suddenly ends up an addict, having a near-death experience and going to jail.
Crystal Street
Crystal Street is a patient at the same addiction clinic as Debbie Honaker, and the two have similar life stories. Addiction runs in her family—her octogenarian father is addicted to Dilaudid and sells prescription pills from his nursing home bed.
Eddie Bisch
Eddie Bisch is the son of Ed Bisch. His death (by fatal opioid overdose) inspires his father to create the website, where families of OxyContin victims gather to share their stories.
Randy Nuss
Randy Nuss is an 18-year-old boy from Philadelphia who dies of an opioid overdose and whose death inspires his mother, Lee Nuss, to become an activist against OxyContin and Purdue Pharma.
Patrick Van Rooyan
Patrick is the 24-year-old son of Barbara Van Rooyan. His death of an opioid overdose motivates his mother to become an active critic of the FDA and its role in approving OxyContin.
Gregg Wood
Gregg Wood is the chief fraud investigator at the office of John L. Brownlee. Wood builds such a thorough archive of Purdue Pharma’s various misdeeds that he needs to rent space at a local strip mall to store all the files.
Lisa Green
Lisa Green is the daughter of Fayne McCauley. She remembers her father’s many attempts at rehab before his eventual death in October 2009.
Randy Ramseyer and Rick Mountcastle
Randy Ramseyer and Rick Mountcastle are the U.S. attorneys who lead the 2005 case against Purdue Pharma for its role in creating the opioid crisis. Although they like the spotlight less than John L. Brownlee, they have a history of getting convictions against overprescribing doctors.
Jamey Singleton and Marc Lamarre
Jamey Singleton and Marc Lamarre are meteorologists in Beth Macy’s hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. When news breaks that both of them are major opioid users, it causes a sensation in the local news, marking a transition between the opioid epidemic’s stealth early phase and more open later phases.
Clifton “Lite” Lee
Clifton “Lite” Lee is a heroin dealer from Philadelphia who helps popularize the drug in Roanoke, Virginia.
Laura Hadden
Laura Hadden is the mother of Brandon Perullo. She tries to use her son’s opioid addiction to draw more attention to the issue, but many of the people she reaches out to just ignore her.
Brian is a member of the same Hidden Valley, Virginia, group of opioid users as Spencer Mumpower. While in recovery, he agrees to tell his story to Beth Macy.
Devon Gray
Devon Gray is a key distributor for heroin dealer Ronnie “D.C.” Jones. Gray’s arrest at a routine traffic stop helps lead to the later arrest of Jones.
Kareem Shaw
Kareem Shaw is another major dealer in the same Woodstock, Virginia, heroin ring as Ronnie “D.C.” Jones. He is arrested after Jones, but unlike Jones, he agrees to cooperate with the police and gets a lighter sentence as a result.
Marie is a user-dealer associated with Ronnie “D.C.” Jones who gives the police enough information for them to arrest Jones.
Ashlyn Keikilani Kessler
Ashlyn is a young mother from the suburbs of Roanoke, Virginia, who gets addicted to opioids through OxyContin and who finds she can take vast quantities of heroin without overdosing. She turns to selling to fund her habit and gets sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in a federal women’s prison.
Bobby is the son of Janine, and his death of a fentanyl overdose inspires her to join Chris Perkins’s Hope Initiative as the executive director.
Rosemary Hopkins
Rosemary Hopkins is a Virginia OxyContin addict and a patient of Van Zee’s who believes that the pain killer is part of a government conspiracy to deliberately get rid of “low lifes.”
Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson is the author of Just Mercy and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Macy interviews him to better understand the case of Ronnie “D.C.” Jones, and he helps explain unfairness in the U.S. criminal justice system, particularly the challenges that former prisoners face once they’re free.
Robin Roth
The mother of Scott. She is unable to help her son get off drugs, and he dies of a heroin overdose.