On Opium: Pain, Pleasure, and Matters of Substance will be published by Goose Lane Editions on September 7, 2021.
Its predecessor, a skinny, intense book about opioid painkillers and pain, was a Globe and Mail best 100 books of 2016. On Opium goes wider and deeper. From the publisher’s catalogue:
A groundbreaking meditation on pain, painkillers, and dependence from a prescription opioid user.
Her writing has been described as “measured,” “sensuous,” and “compelling.” In 2016, Carlyn Zwarenstein’s short narrative on pain made the Globe and Mail’s Top 100 Books. Now, she returns with a seductive dive into opioids and the nature of dependence.
North Americans are the world’s most prolific users of opioid painkillers. In On Opium, Zwarenstein describes her own use of opioid-inspired medicines to cope with a painful disease. Evoking both Thomas De Quincey and Frida Kahlo, she travels from the decadence of recreational drug use in past eras to the misery and privation of the overdose crisis today.
Speaking with users of prescribed morphine, illicit fentanyl, and smoked opium, Zwarenstein investigates uncomfortable questions about why people use substances and when substance use becomes addiction. And she exposes causes of drug-related harms: the debilitating effects of poverty, isolation, and trauma; the role of race, class, and gender in addressing pain; and a system of prohibition that has converted age-old medicines into taboo substances.
Through all of this, Zwarenstein finds hope. Drawing on solidarity between illicit drug users and people in pain; in a wise understanding of what humans need to be well; and in radical drug policies like legalization and safe supply, she lays out a vision of a world where suffering is no longer lauded, and opioids are no longer demonized.
About my first book, Opium Eater: The New Confessions (Nonvella, 2016):
“This book is so satisfying that at a slim 117 pages, you’ll be left wanting even more.” – Lauren Kirshner, Room Magazine
“An estimated 200,000 Canadians are addicted to legal opioid painkillers. Part memoir, part sociological study, Zwarenstein’s personal, easily digestible update to Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions takes us behind the headlines of overdose deaths to the myriad causes, which call for real political leadership. Urgent reading for an increasingly critical situation.”
– The Globe and Mail, 100 Best Books of 2016
Copies of Opium Eater: The New Confessions (Nonvella, 2016) are available by writing to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. The book has been taught on graduate and undergraduate university courses since 2017.
Media and reviews
- Jade Colbert’s review in the Globe & Mail
- Lauren Kirshner’s review in Room Magazine
- Tom Sandborn’s review in Columbia Journal
- Tungsten Hippo review
- Josh Eisen’s review in Canadian Dimension
- Interview with Koom Kansekam on openbook.ca
- An excerpt from Vice.com
- An excerpt that ran on thetyee.ca
- On Drugs CBC podcast looking at history of opioid use. Features a long interview & reading from Opium Eater
- Interview about harm reduction on People First Radio (2018)
Interview about pain and opioids on People First Radio (2017)
- Interview on Talk Recovery radio (2019) (I’m on at 10:00)
- “Is it time for a national strategy on opioids?” CBC radio segment