On Opium

Pain, Pleasure, and Matters of Substance

Narrated by Christine Horne
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Amazon Buy on BN.com Buy on Bookshop.org
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add kindle@netgalley.com as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 30 Mar 2022 | Archive Date 08 May 2022

Talking about this book? Use #OnOpium #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


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.

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...

Available Editions

EDITION Audiobook
ISBN 9781773058801
DURATION 15 Hours, 13 Minutes

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (AUDIO)

Average rating from 8 members

Featured Reviews

Thank you to NetGalley and Goose Lane Editions for granting me free access to the audiobook recording of On Opium: Pain, Pleasure, and Other Matters of Substance by Carlyn Zwarenstein in exchange for an honest review. Wow. What an extensive look at the opioid epidemic that has plagued North America for the past thirty years. The careful analysis of the opioid crisis from a harm-reduction perspective paired with the narrative of Carlyn's own experience with opioid use made this book both strikingly intellectual and incredibly empathetic. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about the opioid crisis, but has never been challenged to see the nuances of drug use and addiction. Carlyn bravely fights for justice for those who are most marginalized in the drug using community and poignantly outlines the necessity of harm reduction health care.

Was this review helpful?

Opioid use is an epidemic in North America, killing thousands of people each year, with millions more using them on a regular basis. A user of prescribed opioids to deal with a chronic condition, Carlyn Zwarenstein is able to write from a position of authority due to her first hand experience. She does not limit the book to her own experiences, though. She reaches out to many other opioid experts and users to add their experiences to the book as well. Some use street drugs daily; some are leading recovery sessions at local centers, and some are doctors who provide legal prescriptions to their patients. These stories are all interwoven with history on opioids, a look into why people use them, the effects on users and those around them, an analysis into how the crisis rose to the level where it is today, and what could be done to ameliorate the crisis.

The threads of this book were beautifully woven together to provide a book that is both informative and compelling. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about opioids, our current crisis, and where we go from here. Christine Horne did a wonderful job narrating the audiobook.

Many thanks to NetGalley for providing me an audio ARC of this book.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: