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Drug Dealer, MD

How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked, and Why It’s So Hard to Stop

Three out of four people addicted to heroin probably started on a prescription opioid, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the United States alone, 16,000 people die each year as a result of prescription opioid overdose. But perhaps the most frightening aspect of the prescription drug epidemic is that it’s built on well-meaning doctors treating patients with real problems.

In Drug Dealer, MD, Dr. Anna Lembke uncovers the unseen forces driving opioid addiction nationwide. Combining case studies from her own practice with vital statistics drawn from public policy, cultural anthropology, and neuroscience, she explores the complex relationship between doctors and patients, the science of addiction, and the barriers to successfully addressing drug dependence and addiction. Even when addiction is recognized by doctors and their patients, she argues, many doctors don’t know how to treat it, connections to treatment are lacking, and insurance companies won’t pay for rehab.

Full of extensive interviews—with health care providers, pharmacists, social workers, hospital administrators, insurance company executives, journalists, economists, advocates, and patients and their families—Drug Dealer, MD, is for anyone whose life has been touched in some way by addiction to prescription drugs. Dr. Lembke gives voice to the millions of Americans struggling with prescription drugs while singling out the real culprits behind the rise in opioid addiction: cultural narratives that promote pills as quick fixes, pharmaceutical corporations in cahoots with organized medicine, and a new medical bureaucracy focused on the bottom line that favors pills, procedures, and patient satisfaction over wellness. Dr. Lembke concludes that the prescription drug epidemic is a symptom of a faltering health care system, the solution for which lies in rethinking how health care is delivered.

About the Author

Anna Lembke, MD, is the chief of addiction medicine and an assistant professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.


"A thought-provoking study that all healthcare professionals and patients should read."

- Library Journal

"... a story with mythic resonance."

- Times Higher Education

""... excellent... It’s a short book, concisely written, giving plenty of examples of patients’ stories while at the same time showing trends in policy and national practice.""

- Metapsychology

"Drug Dealer, MD offers a fresh, comprehensive perspective on addiction and prescription drugs. The patient narratives provide compassionate, albeit sometimes extreme, examples of how the medical field has failed patients, while the data provide the facts needed to prove that this truly is a system failure rather than any one person’s fault. This thought-provoking book should be a must-read for medical trainees, providers, and health policy leaders working at the forefront of addressing the prescription drug epidemic."

- Health Affairs


"A unique and appealing look at the prescription opioid epidemic. Lembke's broad contextual discussion of the changing history of organized medicine's approach to pain is fascinating."

- G. Caleb Alexander, MD, MS, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness

"Lembke's novel viewpoint, brilliant synthesis of information, and use of patient stories bring the text to life."

- Marcus A. Bachhuber, MD, MSPH, Albert Einstein College of Medicine / Montefiore Medical Center

"Dr. Lembke is a fearless, authentic voice on the over-prescription of addictive painkillers and its terrible public health consequences.  Drug Dealer, MD brings together her experience as a physician and her wisdom as a public policy analyst to create a must-read book for anyone who is grappling with America's ongoing opioid addiction and overdose crisis."

- Keith Humphreys, Stanford University

"Anna Lembke sheds light on the rise of prescription drug addiction in the USA, fuelled in part by the actions of doctors and the structure of the US healthcare system."

- London School of Economics Review of Books

"... The book is written in a clear, easy-to-read style with lay readers in mind."

- Pharmaceutical Journal

"... once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down."

- Drug Dealer, MD

"... the most important medical book of the decade."

- Abigail Zuger - Undark

"As far as I am concerned, "Drug Dealer, M.D.," in less than 200 unassuming, readable, and carefully referenced pages, may be the most important medical book of the decade for finally getting the story of this epidemic exactly right... every doctor and concerned citizen can take a first step in the right direction by reading Anna Lembke’s book."

- Johns Hopkins University Press

"A phenomenal read."

- Chris Hayes - MSNBC All in with Chris Hayes

"... substantial and satisfying... a lucid and fluid distillation of how large pharmaceutical companies capitalized on and shaped an era in which ‘doctors are expected not just to lessen pain, but to eliminate it altogether’ and ‘changing brain chemistry’ has become "the new way to normalize differences.""


"... excellent..."

- Threepenny Review
Johns Hopkins University Press
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