Showing 1 - 5 of 5 annotations in the genre "Longform journalism"

Summary:

Beth Macy has been a newspaper reporter in the Roanoke, Virginia area for three decades. In this book, she provides extensive reporting on the opioid crisis, how it developed and wreaked havoc in Appalachia, and how it grew into a national crisis across the United States.  

“Dopesick” is the colloquial term people who are addicted and addiction medicine specialists use to describe the constellation of wrenching and violent symptoms opioid withdrawal causes. As one of Macy’s subjects describes it:

You’re throwing up.You have diarrhea. You ache so bad and you’re so irritable that you can’t stand to be touched. Your legs shake so bad you can’t sleep. You’re as ill as one hornet could ever be. And believe me, you’ll do anything to make the pain go away.” (p. 41)
As a result, not long after a person is addicted to opioids, drug seeking behaviors are not motivated by the urge for the next and best high, but instead are driven “to avoid dopesickness at any cost” (p. 9). 

Macy divides her reporting into three major parts: 1) the ways Purdue Pharma fueled the explosion of opioid addiction beginning with the introduction of its product Oxycontin in 1996; 2) the ways in which people get addicted to opioids and how they get their supplies; and 3) the ways the U.S. health care system, criminal justice system, Congress, state legislatures, and regulatory agencies have failed in preventing and fixing the addiction crisis. 
 

As a journalist, Macy weaves the stories of individuals into the larger story of the opioid addiction crisis: people who became addicted to opioids and the effect it had on their families, and the stories of health care professionals who pulled alarms about the rapidly rising rate of opioid addiction and tried as best they could to treat addicted patients and protect the public. We read about the Purdue Pharma executives who were blamed and prosecuted for the marketing campaigns that turned localized opioid addiction patterns into a national opioid addiction epidemic. And we read about individual sheriffs, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and community activists who were trying to stem the tide of addition and death. These stories intersect throughout the book.

Embedded among the individual story lines are digressions Macy uses to elaborate on certain aspects of the opioid addiction crisis. She provides historical perspectives on drug addiction, and how this crisis differs from those of the past. She puts an emphasis on how trends in medical practice to liberalize the use of opioids in the management of all types of pain—minor and major, acute and chronic—converged with Purdue Pharma marketing campaigns for its proprietary opioid products. She cites statistics to show how fast the epidemic was worsening, how widely it was spreading across the United States, and how deadly it had become with mortality rates exceeding those of AIDs mortality at its peak. Other digressions cover how illicit opioid supply chains are created and maintained, and how different levels of governments reacted to the crisis. 

View full annotation

Summary:

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway examine the successful efforts of a few scientists to jam the spokes in the wheel of science, delaying needed mitigations (e.g., regulations) to protect individuals, vulnerable populations, nations, and the earth.

The authors chose the well-known and controversial debates around second hand tobacco smoke, acid rain, the strategic defense initiative, the ozone hole, global warming, and the pesticide DDT as the substrate for their investigation. Each issue involves a large accumulation of evidence of the dangers it presents to humans. And each provoked skepticism and opposition from related industries, contrarian scientists, and anti-regulation politicians and institutes. Industry opposes regulations that could threaten their businesses. Free market ideologists do not want regulations that could threaten capitalism and accelerate a slide into socialism. 

Faced with mounting scientific evidence and general agreement amongst credible researchers, those whose interests were threatened needed a strategy to win that didn’t rely on scientific evidence. The tobacco industry led the way by hiring “a public relations firm to challenge the scientific evidence that smoking could kill you,” (p. 15) and to ensure that “scientific doubts must remain.” (p. 16) The authors drew from publicly available documents to best convey this idea:

‘Doubt is our product,’ ran the infamous memo written by one tobacco industry executive in 1969, ‘since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public.’ (p. 34)

The industry realized, however, that renowned scientists would be needed “to merchandize doubt,” (p. 33) and so they recruited some. First among them was Frederick Seitz. He was a physicist who had been involved in the atomic bomb program during World War II and later in Cold War weapons programs. He knew next to nothing about the science showing the harm of tobacco smoke. However, his time as president of the National Academy of Sciences and as president of Rockefeller University accorded him credibility on all matters of science, at least to constituencies outside of science. His attacks on the science showing the harms of tobacco smoke had a lot to do with the decades it took before governments and the public took meaningful actions.

This became the approach opponents took against of science-based initiatives they wanted to scuttle. Seitz was recruited for other campaigns, but so were other physicists with similar backgrounds to form what Oreskes and Conway call a “small network of doubt mongers.” (p. 213) They make a point that this network only threw darts—poisonous darts—at the science they targeted and never once contributed their own original research to support their opposition to any scientific findings or consensus.

Oreskes and Conway tie the motives of these scientists primarily to their fierce devotion to liberty, which then meant fighting Communism and any other forms of socialism. They suggest that some degree of curmudgeonry and contrarianism is involved as well, but they focus more on political ideologies as the primary drivers for these people:

they were working to ‘secure the blessings of liberty’…if science was being used against those blessings—in ways that challenged the freedom of free enterprise—then they would fight it as they would fight any enemy. For indeed, science was starting to show that certain kinds of liberties are not sustainable—like the liberty to pollute.” (p. 238-239)

The authors hold the news media responsible for much of what the doubt mongers accomplished, specifically faulting them for applying the “fairness doctrine”—each side of an argument will get equal time—to the point of absurdity.

it especially does not make sense to dismiss the consensus of experts if the dissenter is superannuated, disgruntled, a habitual contrarian, or in the pay of a group with an obvious ideological agenda or vested political or economic interest. Or in some cases, all of the above. (p. 272-273)

The news media, they assert, are the gatekeepers and should be able to distinguish charlatans and snake oil salesmen from legitimate scientists. In this role, they failed as far at the authors are concerned. There can be no network of doubt mongers without a news media that either can’t or won’t call them out.

In contrast, the authors give the scientists who didn’t call out the doubt mongers a more forgiving critique. For the most part, they say, scientists facing a fight will retreat to their labs and concentrate on their work—they’re discovers, not fighters. On them, “intimidation works.” (p. 265)

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Perkins, Sam

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Longform journalism

Summary:

Olivia Laing, a British novelist and writer on cultural and social issues, tackles the phenomenon of loneliness as a pervasive condition that is both a symptom and a cause of malaise, dysphoria and depression. The book is thoroughly referenced and has an extensive, useful bibliography. Laing begins by describing her own loneliness when she moved to New York City. Somewhat reclusive by nature, she spent hours in her apartment, connected to  the outside world through social media, email and Skype. This leads her to examine the nature of loneliness, its causes and impact on the individual. She then turns to the lives and works of artists who specifically dealt with their own loneliness -- as inspiration, subject matter and personal burden: Edward Hopper; Andy Warhol and his assailant Valerie Solanas; the artist and AIDS activist, David Wojnarowicz; outsider artist, Henry Darger; singers Klaus Nomi and Billie Holliday; tech entrepreneur, Josh Harris, and painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Laing weaves in pertinent research (Klein, Harlow, Bowlby, Ainsworth, Weiss, Turkel) and expertly ties their findings to her subjects’ creative lives. Her section on Josh Harris’ radical social media experiments is a pertinent reminder of technology’s role in fostering loneliness. A recurrent theme is that social isolation “leads to a decline in social sophistication which itself leads to further episodes of rejection.” Among the results, she says, are that lonely people are more susceptible to sickness and more likely to die before their time.  


View full annotation

Summary:

The title of this book, “An American Sickness,” refers to the author’s view that the costs people who require health care must bear in the U.S. causes its own sickness. The author, Elisabeth Rosenthal, is a physician-turned-journalist so her use of a medical metaphor to explain the harms health care costs are causing people comes naturally to her. The sickness metaphor forms the structure for the entire book, and in particular the way a physician approaches a patient with a health problem to diagnose and treat. Thus, the introduction to the book is the “chief complaint,” Part I is the “history of present illness and review of systems,” and Part II is “diagnosis and treatment.”  

The chief complaint is: “hugely expensive medical care that doesn’t reliably deliver quality results.” (p. 4) This complaint is also relatively acute given that the financial toxicity health care causes has become so extreme over just the 25-year period starting in the early 1990s. This was the time it took in Rosenthal’s view for American medicine to transform from a “caring endeavor to the most profitable industry in the United States.” (p. 4)  

The source of this complaint cannot be located in one segment of society or in one part of health care in the U.S. It’s diffuse. Therefore, Rosenthal exams several components of American health care to isolate specific causes for the financial toxicity people are experiencing—her review of systems. She exams 11 particular components, with each one comprising a separate chapter as follows: insurance; hospitals; physicians; pharmaceuticals; medical devices; testing and ancillary services; contractors; research; conglomerates; health care as businesses; and the Affordable Care Act.  

Part II on diagnosis and treatment takes the form of a how-to book, as the book’s subtitle announces. Rosenthal is speaking to health care consumers—i.e., all of us—and commanding our attention: “The American healthcare system is rigged against you. It’s a crapshoot and from day to day, no one knows if it will work well to address a particular ailment.” (p. 241) After a chapter on the consequences of being complacent with our personal health care utilization and costs, Rosenthal provides advice in subsequent chapters on these topics: doctor’s bills; hospital bills; insurance costs; drug and medical device costs; bills for tests and ancillary services; and managing all this in a digital age.  

The book is replete with case studies. The writing is geared toward health care consumers who have no expertise in any aspect of health care—it is Rosenthal the health care journalist writing, not Rosenthal the physician and health policy expert. 

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Bruell, Lucy

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Longform journalism

Summary:

Emergency Doctor is a riveting, informative account of the workings of the Emergency Department at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, the oldest public hospital in the country.  On any given day, tourists, residents, the wealthy and those who live in shelters come to the Emergency Department, some with life threatening injuries and others who need little more than a hot meal and a shower.  No one is turned away.  

Published in 1987, the book was written by a former editor at Reader’s Digest in cooperation with Dr. Lewis Goldfrank, the former Director of Emergency Services and a leading toxicologist.  Goldfrank’s personal story of his path to emergency medicine and his experience in creating the Emergency Department out of what was once known as the Emergency Room frame the narrative, but the main focus is on the day to day activities of the patients and staff in the Emergency Department.  Because Bellevue is NYC’s main trauma center, the book is rich with stories of trauma including construction accidents, cardiac arrests, fires and suicide attempts among others.  Even the title chapters-- "A Question of Poison," "An Alkaloid Plague," "The Case of the Crazed Executives," for example—convey the urgency and medical detective work needed for each person who comes through the triage area. 
“We don’t know if a patient is alive or dead when we first see him,” Dr. Goldfrank says.  “And we’re never sure what we’re going to find, or what kind of emergency medicine we may be called upon to practice—surgery, neurology, pediatrics, psychiatry, cardiology, obstetrics. (p118)   Accident victims are stabilized in the trauma area and rushed to the operating room. People with cancer, or TB, children who have been abused, broken bones, suicide attempts, accidental or intentional poisoning and overdoses—all must be evaluated and decisions made whether they should be admitted to a medical floor, the operating room or perhaps kept for observation.

Beyond medical expertise, however, working in the Emergency Department requires a large dose of compassion to cope with the needs of patients who rely on the Emergency Department for basic care for their chronic conditions such as asthma,  and social services because they lack a place to live or have no means of support.   Perhaps they need to detox from alcohol or have mental health issues.  “Emergency medicine demands the most intense involvement personally and intellectually,” observes Dr. Stephen Waxman. “Every area of clinical medicine is practiced, every emotion is taxed.”  (p 119)      



View full annotation