‘Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America’

Fall may be barely be hanging on when you look at the official seasonal calendar, but look around — it’s cold weather and snow all around this holiday season. It’s definitely time to set aside the lighter reading fare and get serious.

Hardly anything could be more serious than Beth Macy’s “Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America.” While many excellent books and articles have been written about America’s opioid epidemic, Macy’s shines in describing the national problem in intimate terms, through the lives of those affected in her region of the country — Appalachia, and Roanoke, Virginia.

The big trouble pretty much began with the development of Oxycontin by Purdue Pharmaceuticals, a drug marketed as having less than a 1-percent likelihood of causing addiction. Things got monstrously out of hand when drug company reps pushed these pills in a singularly depressed part of the country where injuries involving chronic pain were common, where unemployment and depression were high, and where unscrupulous doctors looking to make a fast buck (or a fast million bucks) overprescribed these painkillers to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pills being dumped in towns the size of Payson.

When Purdue executives were finally indicted on the low-level charge of “misbranding,” they put safety measures in place to deter drug users’ ability to melt down the drug into lethal doses — and pushed the already desperately addicted into heroin use.

Macy’s account is clear-eyed and grippingly readable: She describes victims and their families with great compassion and sorrow; shares stories of remarkable heroes in the fight against the crisis (Dr. Art Van Zee and Sister Beth Davies), and of the pushers and dealers who keep it going.

Macy also shares the methods that work best to wean people off addictive drugs — much more effective and cheaper than incarceration. All in all, a deeply important and eminently readable account of one of the great scourges of our time.

‘61 Hours’

OK, one last bit of escape fiction. In Lee Child’s “61 Hours,” the redoubtable Jack Reacher is at it again, this time in the frigid wilds of South Dakota.

Having hitched a ride on a senior tour bus on its way to Mount Rushmore, Reacher is trapped by a blizzard in the small town of Bolton when the bus skids off the road. Lucky for the small town of Bolton, whose citizens live in uneasy proximity to a biker commune from whence meth seems to flow, though no one knows how since there is no apparent lab for its manufacture, nor any incoming traffic carrying ingredients.

Execution-style murders follow for reasons unclear to anyone in the town, though a pint-sized drug kingpin a thousand-plus miles away knows exactly what’s going on.

One of Reacher’s most breathless (and certainly coldest) adventures, “61 Hours” is almost painfully suspenseful and leads the reader and Reacher carefully along to its explosive (in more ways than one) conclusion.