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Review: Carlyn Zwarenstein's Opium Eater achieves that rare thing – a dispassionate account informed by deeply personal experience

Opium Eater: The New Confessions
Carlyn Zwarenstein

Earlier this year, Prince died of accidental overdose on fentanyl, a prescription opioid pain reliever. His death was only the latest high-profile case in the far-reaching issue – some have called it a crisis – of opioid use and abuse in North America. Canadians and Americans are the greatest consumers of legal opioid painkillers. Like Thomas De Quincey before her, Carlyn Zwarenstein didn't start taking opioids for their recreational side effects. She took what her doctor prescribed to treat her severe, chronic, debilitating pain from spinal arthritis. In her Confessions – a 21st-century update on De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1821) – Zwarenstein achieves that rare thing: a dispassionate account informed by deeply personal experience. Readers will benefit from this measured look at the causes of our increased dependence, which doubles as a critical memoir on the relationship between opioids, creativity, and pain. This is the sixth book from Vancouver-based Nonvella, which publishes novella-length works of non-fiction readable in one sitting.

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