Dopesick

Dopesick

by

Beth Macy

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Dr. Art Van Zee Character Analysis

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 about the opioid epidemic. Married to Sue Ella Kobak, and frequently collaborating with fellow activist Sister Beth Davies and health administrator Sue Cantrell, Van Zee becomes a leader in the grassroots movement to expose the harmful effects of OxyContin. Originally from Nevada, and educated at Vanderbilt, Van Zee moves to Virginia in order to help a medically underserved community, and he quickly gains a reputation as an excellent doctor. He is concerned, however, when he sees the effects that opioids are having on his local community—and how many of his peers in medicine are overprescribing OxyContin, apparently buying in to marketing hype without considering the consequences. It’s only after going to public meetings and following the news in other parts of the country that Van Zee learns that the opioid crisis isn’t just a locally issue—it’s impacting communities across the country. Van Zee begins aggressively contacting the Sackler family’s Purdue Pharma (creator of OxyContin) and even gets a meeting with their medical director, Dr. J. David Haddox, but for the most part, the company refuses to hear his warnings about the addictive properties of OxyContin. Van Zee faces a difficult decision when Purdue offers grants of $100,000 to help Appalachian communities affected by opioids (although the “grants” are really more like bribes to silence opponents). Van Zee initially thinks the money could do a lot of good, but Sister Beth talks him and the others out of accepting it, arguing that it’s never good to take “blood money.” Van Zee eventually sees Purdue Pharma executives put on trial for their role in creating the opioid crisis, but the sentences end up being relatively light, and the Sackler family avoids any serious consequences. Van Zee represents the persistence of activists in the early opioid crisis. It took outsiders like Van Zee to challenge accepted wisdom in the medical community about opioids, and while these outsiders were often frustrated and often fell short of their goals, they still played a key role in drawing greater attention to the issue.

Dr. Art Van Zee Quotes in Dopesick

The Dopesick quotes below are all either spoken by Dr. Art Van Zee or refer to Dr. Art Van Zee. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Back Bay Books edition of Dopesick published in 2018.
Chapter 2 Quotes

The doctors were witnessing the same thing that Lieutenant Stallard had seen a year earlier, in 1997, on the streets. “We had always had people using Lortabs and Percocets, but they were five- or ten-milligram pills you could take every day and still function. They didn’t have to have more,” Stallard said.

“The difference with OxyContin was it turned them into nonfunctioning people”

Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
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Dr. Art Van Zee Character Timeline in Dopesick

The timeline below shows where the character Dr. Art Van Zee appears in Dopesick. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
...very strong. Eventually, however, a couple more forceful voices will break through: the country doctor Art Van Zee and his colleague, the Catholic nun and drug counselor Sister Beth Davies. Despite being outsiders,... (full context)
Chapter 2
Cycles of History Theme Icon
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
...from a doctor based out of one of the smallest, poorest areas in the state: Dr. Art Van Zee . (full context)
Cycles of History Theme Icon
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
Van Zee is a Vanderbilt-educated doctor originally from Nevada who moved to tiny St. Charles, in Lee... (full context)
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
The Value of Science Theme Icon
Macy first learns about Van Zee from a 2003 book by Barry Meier called Pain Killer, which was one of the... (full context)
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Cycles of History Theme Icon
In the 1990s when OxyContin first arrives in Virginia, however, Van Zee is still confused about what’s happening. He calls Sue Cantrell with some concerns about what... (full context)
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
...early 2000s, Debbie Honaker is a 27-year-old woman who lives a couple counties east of Van Zee . She is prescribed OxyContin and Percocet after routine gall bladder surgery that continues to... (full context)
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
In the early days of the opioid epidemic, Van Zee watches as 24 percent of juniors at a local high school report having tried OxyContin,... (full context)
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
In the spring of 2000, before small-town newspapers were widely online, Van Zee doesn’t yet know that the opioid epidemic is also affecting other communities. He first gets... (full context)
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
Van Zee begins holding public meetings. At one, an undercover Purdue Pharma rep raises sharp objections. Sue... (full context)
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
At a meeting about crimes related to the opioid epidemic, Van Zee has a chance to speak with Haddox. Despite Van Zee’s concerns and accusations, Haddox defends... (full context)
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
By March 2001, Van Zee is frustrated that his letters are doing nothing while the harmful effects of OxyContin in... (full context)
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
...law enforcement. During a meeting where several locals discuss the issue as a coalition, many—including Van Zee and Sue Ella—are initially leaning toward accepting the money. But a five-foot-tall nun named Sister... (full context)
Chapter 3
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
...discovers that they’re from similar areas of Philadelphia. The two of them eventually align with Van Zee and Sister Beth after they read Barry Meier’s 2003 book Pain Killer. Nuss and Bisch... (full context)
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
The Value of Science Theme Icon
...OxyKills.com message board. Barbara Van Rooyan’s 24-year-old son Patrick is another victim. Van Rooyan asks Van Zee how OxyContin ever got approved for sale by the FDA. As it turns out, Van... (full context)
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
The Value of Science Theme Icon
Armed with this knowledge, in January 2002, Van Zee goes to testify before an FDA advisory committee. At the meeting, he is outnumbered 19-to-1... (full context)
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
...to know Barbara Van Rooyan whether they want to or not. She picks up where Van Zee left off, formally submitting a recall petition for OxyContin to the FDA in 2005. (full context)
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
The Value of Science Theme Icon
Brownlee (along with his office’s fraud investigator, Gregg Wood), keep in communication with Van Zee and RAPP about the latest OxyContin news. Wood in particular is passionate about collecting dirt... (full context)
Chapter 4
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
Van Zee can’t make the sentencing, but he sends detailed notes to Sister Beth. Van Rooyan will... (full context)
Chapter 9
Race, Healthcare, and Criminal Justice Theme Icon
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
...cheap, if you get rid of one dealer, more just show up, like Whack-A-Mole. Despite Van Zee ’s prediction that OxyContin would be recalled once rich kids in suburbs started dying, he... (full context)
Chapter 10
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
The Value of Science Theme Icon
Many in the medical community, including Art Van Zee , express frustration over anti-MAT skepticism, claiming that it prevents doctors from being able to... (full context)
Chapter 12
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Cycles of History Theme Icon
...she needed in life. Since 2009, she has been receiving treatment for her addiction from Van Zee . She is one of many who hold a cynical theory about that drug: that... (full context)
Chapter 13
Poverty as an Obstacle to Recovery  Theme Icon
Fighting the Medical Establishment Theme Icon
The Value of Science Theme Icon
Sister Beth and Art Van Zee find that in the Appalachian Bible Belt, it helps to blend MAT with twelve-step programs... (full context)