• Non-Fiction
  • American Cartel: Inside the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry

American Cartel: Inside the Battle to Bring Down the Opioid Industry

american cartel

“I was dreaming when I wrote this

So sue me if I go too fast

But life is just a party

And parties weren’t meant to last”

– Prince, who died at 57 from a fentanyl overdose.

“A federal judge on Wednesday ordered three of the nation’s largest pharmacy chains — CVS, Walgreens and Walmart — to pay $650.5 million to two Ohio counties, ruling that the companies must be held accountable for their part in fueling the opioid epidemic.

The decision is a companion piece to a November jury verdict that found the companies had continued to dispense mass quantities of prescription painkillers over the years while ignoring flagrant signs that the pills were being abused.

The ruling is the first by a federal judge that assigns a firm money figure against the pharmacy chains for their roles in the opioid crisis. Here, the judge, Dan A. Polster of United States District Court in northern Ohio, who has overseen more than 3,000 cases in the opioid litigation, ruled that the pharmacies bore responsibility for one-third of the amount that Ohio’s hard-hit Lake and Trumbull counties need to address the continuing damage wrought by the epidemic.”

– NY Times, “CVS, Walgreens and Walmart Must Pay $650.5 Million in Ohio Opioids Case” (8/17/2022)

Do you know anyone who is addicted to opioids? I do.

Between reading and reviewing books for young people, I occasionally read adult nonfiction. I don’t usually write about those books here. But in the case of AMERICAN CARTEL, I’m hoping that librarians adding it to their teen collections will enable young people to become educated on this topic, possibly helping themselves or a friend, sibling, cousin, or parent to understand the  epidemic of opioid addiction. It could well save a life.

AMERICAN CARTEL is an up-to-the-minute history of the opioid epidemic in America, by a pair of Pulitzer-winning Washington Post journalists. The authors are public figures, often featured on TV and in newspaper articles. For example, they were frequently quoted this week regarding the announcement of the Ohio decision. Judge Polster, quoted above, is an important character in this book.

It’s mind-boggling to think about the hundreds of millions of addictive opioid pills that were dumped into circulation by drug manufacturers, drug distributors, pill mills aka pain clinics, and the quack doctors who staffed them. Those pills have sown a lot of misery and death.

AMERICAN CARTEL is a gripping expose that reveals the dirty side of free enterprise in America. We see both commercial enterprises and physicians turning a blind eye to the addiction caused by these pills, because pushing them was so profitable. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Americans have been and still are living dead-end lives, overdosing, and dying.

“‘Eighty-one million pills distributed to a community of a hundred thousand people or less isn’t a substantial factor in the opioid epidemic. It will cause an opioid epidemic. I want to start with that premise,’ Paul told the judge.

– from attorney Paul Farrell’s closing statement in a trial chronicled by the authors.

The star good-guy in the story is Joe Rannazzisi, who was a previous chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Office of Diversion Control. He did such a great job that drug manufacturers, distributors, and sellers lobbied and donated to politicians in order to pressure them to change the laws and remove Joe’s enforcement tools. They actually exerted sufficient pressure to get Joe fired in 2015. Joe has spent much of the subsequent time testifying about the opioid epidemic.  (You can see him in the 2017 60 Minutes segment, “The Whistle Blower,” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hd-43K-rdQA)

There are many bad guys. They include well-known members of Congress bought by the drug companies; and former DEA executives and attorneys who have chosen to make a lot of money by leaving their government gigs, going to work for Big Pharma, and helping the manufacturers and distributors more effectively evade regulation and oversight. This industry-regulator-industry revolving door has been a target of good government reformers for decades, but has never been fixed. The result of failing to rein it in has been deadly.

AMERICAN CARTEL exposes the workings of industry and government and how they can operate to the detriment of Americans.  It’s fascinating, heartbreaking, and enlightening, a must-have for any high school library collection.

416 pages                                    978-1-5387-3720-0                Ages 15 and up

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

See more of his recommendations:  Richie's Picks <http://richiespicks.com/http://richiespicks.pbworks.com


The definitive investigation and exposé of how some of the nation's largest corporations created and fueled the opioid crisis—from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporters who first uncovered the dimensions of the deluge of pain pills that ravaged the country and the complicity of a near-omnipotent drug cartel. 

AMERICAN CARTEL is an unflinching and deeply documented dive into the culpability of the drug companies behind the staggering death toll of the opioid epidemic. It follows a small band of DEA agents led by Joseph Rannazzisi, a tough-talking New Yorker who had spent a storied thirty years bringing down bad guys; along with a band of lawyers, including West Virginia native Paul Farrell Jr., who fought to hold the drug industry to account in the face of the worst man-made drug epidemic in American history. It is the story of underdogs prevailing over corporate greed and political cowardice, persevering in the face of predicted failure, and how they found some semblance of justice for the families of the dead during the most complex civil litigation ever seen.

The investigators and lawyers discovered hundreds of thousands of confidential corporate emails and memos during courtroom combat with legions of white-shoe law firms defending the opioid industry. One breathtaking disclosure after another—from emails that mocked addicts to invoices chronicling the rise of pill mills—showed the indifference of big business to the epidemic’s toll. The narrative approach echoes such work as A Civil Action and The Insider, moving dramatically between corporate boardrooms, courthouses, lobbying firms, DEA field offices, and Capitol Hill while capturing the human toll of the epidemic on America’s streets.

AMERICAN CARTEL is the story of those who were on the front lines of the fight to stop the human carnage. Along the way, they suffer a string of defeats, some of their careers destroyed by the very same government officials who swore to uphold the law before they begin to prevail over some of the most powerful corporate and political influences in the nation.---from the publisher

Keywords: business, crime, criminal investigation, drugs, drug abuse, medical ethics, addiction, corporations, greed, 15 year old, 16 year old, 17 year old

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