“I can’t imagine another disease on the planet where if somebody didn’t get better, everybody in their life would abandon them,” said Chris Schaffner, director of a harm-reduction program in Peoria, Illinois. And yet, that’s the attitude many of us have toward people with addictions, thanks to America’s long-standing war on drugs mentality. After tackling the origins of the opioid crisis in Dopesick, along with its devastating effects on families near her adopted hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, Beth Macy continues this essential conversation in Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis. Her fourth book zeroes in on why this crisis continues and how things can change, and the facts she presents will enlighten you and likely change your opinions on many important overdose-related issues.
Once again, Macy’s up close and personal reporting is riveting as she weaves together multiple storylines. She profiles numerous front-line heroes like Tim Nolan, who, after his full-time job is done, works as a traveling nurse practitioner in North Carolina, delivering harm-reduction supplies out of his Prius. Nolan works alongside the Reverend Michelle Mathis, co-founder of Olive Branch Ministries, which offers addiction triage, counseling, food and hygiene supplies in 10 western North Carolina counties. “I’m like the grandma that does syringe exchange and delivers biscuits,” Mathis said. In West Virginia, there’s 30-year-old Lill Prosperino, who puts their 4’10”, 125-pound frame to work helping about 800 people who use drugs. These activists share many admirable qualities, including the ability to greet substance users with “unconditional positive regard,” as one mental health counselor advises.
Macy also follows the diverse, dedicated group that brought the OxyContin-pushing Sackler family to court, including the renowned photographer Nan Goldin, who staged a series of “die-ins” and other protests at museums around the world to pressure them into removing the Sackler name from their halls and galleries. Commenting on Goldin’s success, Macy writes, “That it had taken a famous artist, of all people, to finally get under the Sacklers’ skin said as much about what captures Americans’ attention as it does about corporate influence-peddling.”
The genius of Macy’s writing is that she makes readers care, on every page, as she bears witness. This is heartfelt, informed writing at its best, and always personal. With Dopesick and now Raising Lazarus, Macy is a social historian and change-maker at the top of her game.