Politics play a critical role in how medical patients are treated. Cultural norms and the politics that implement those norms determine even what is considered a treatable medical condition in the first place.
Nowhere has the politics of medicine been more evident over the last century than in the treatment of pain, as is made starkly clear in award-winning investigative reporter Barry Meier's compelling expose of the high-powered narcotic OxyContin, "Pain Killer: A Wonder Drug's Trail of Addiction and Death," where a legitimate breakthrough in the treatment of chronic severe pain is mingled with multi-billion dollar corporate greed, scientific wishful thinking, regulatory myopia and tragically ruined lives.
The brand name "OxyContin" — a long-acting form of the opium-derived painkiller oxycodone, manufactured by family-owned Connecticut drug company Purdue Pharma — might sound familiar to even the casual observer. It has been splashed across the media over the last few years, including Meier's Pulitzer Prize-nominated series of articles for the NY Times that serve as the foundation of this book. In addition, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh recently publicly admitted to being addicted to the drug, rock singer and actress Courtney Love was treated for an "Oxy" overdose, and the teenage son of Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne was treated for dependency.
Meier deftly weaves together the stories of a rural Virginia high-school cheerleader who becomes addicted to crushing and snorting (the method addicts and abusers developed to circumvent the patented time-release action of the pills for a quick, powerful high) OxyContin, which earned the street nickname "hillbilly heroin" for its popularity and availability in Appalachia during an epidemic outbreak in the late- '90s and early-'00s, her distraught, uncertain mother, a heroic small-town doctor who learns of the drug's potential for calamity on the frontlines, the DEA official who takes on Purdue, and the immensely wealthy Sackler family that quietly pulls the strings behind Purdue and affiliated companies.