Ben Westhoff

Journalist

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“This is an exceptionally useful and well-timed book. I hope anyone concerned about this era’s new addiction epidemic will read it and put its messages to use. Ben Westhoff very skilfully combines pharmacology, politics, law enforcement, and gripping international intrigue in his account of America’s number-one public health problem. I hope Fentanyl, Inc. is widely read and influential.” -James Fallows

"In Fentanyl Inc., Ben Westhoff lays bare the twisted history that led to opioids wreaking havoc on twenty first century America. If you want to understand the bloody cycle of addiction and death gripping the nation, you need to read this book." -Ioan Grillo, bestselling author of El Narco and Gangster Warlords 

Must read.” -Pacific Standard

Westhoff is a skilled and empathetic biographer, and this gift serves the composite of the dealers, users and bereaved of Fentanyl, Inc.,” -Kelsey Ronan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"So many substance abuse books are a mix of hysterical in tone and a disappointing ‘paint by numbers’ in their execution, but this one really stands out for its research, journalism, and overall analysis…Definitely recommended, this will be making my year-end ‘best of’ list for non-fiction.” -Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

“Compelling…Fascinating… [Westhoff] seamlessly blends past and present in his profiles of Belgian chemist Paul Janssen, who was responsible for fentanyl's initial development in 1959; police officers; politicians; LSD drug kingpins, and St. Louis street dealers. . . . Drawing material from official reports, drug databases, scores of interviews, and years of personal research, Westhoff presents an unflinching, illuminating portrait of a festering crisis involving a drug industry that thrives as effectively as it kills. Highly sobering, exemplary reportage delivered through richly detailed scenarios and diversified perspectives.” Kirkus (Starred Review)

Fentanyl, Inc.: How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic releases September 3, 2019 in the US (Grove Atlantic), and in October, 2019 in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand (Scribe).

Fentanyl, one of a crop of new drugs called novel psychoactive substances (NPS), now kills more Americans annually than any drug in history, as well as growing numbers in Canada, Europe, the UK, Australia, and beyond. The result of four years of investigation, Fentanyl, Inc. is the compelling story of the drugs’ origins in legitimate laboratories, their hijacking by rogue chemists and rapid spread around the globe, the black markets in which they are sold and consumed, and efforts to crack down on or contain the damage caused by this illicit and often lethal industry.

NPS are synthetic, and intended to mimic the effects of traditional drugs. They are made in laboratories and often sold over the Dark Web using Bitcoin, in anonymous transactions where the drugs are delivered right to the customer’s door. The bulk are made in China, and for the book Westhoff was the first journalist to infiltrate a fentanyl lab there. In two Chinese cities, pretending to be a buyer, he visited drug operations making and selling fentanyls and NPS for export, visiting Breaking Bad-style labs and vast floors of young salespeople.

Westhoff also traces the drugs back to their source: almost all were developed as pharmaceuticals, before rogue chemists hijacked the chemical formulas and began producing them illicitly. Fentanyl, Inc. includes the stories of scientists such as Paul Janssen, who invented fentanyl as a prescription painkiller, sold his company to Johnson & Johnson, and died a hero, not knowing his drug would become the scourge it is today.

The opioid crisis began in the 1990s with prescription pills like OxyContin. When patients got addicted, they turned to heroin, which has a similar effect. Now, fentanyl has emerged as the newest, deadliest option. It resembles heroin, except it’s made in a lab and is 50 times stronger. Just as fentanyl is replacing heroin, other NPS are replacing traditional drugs like marijuana, cocaine, LSD, and ecstasy. In the process, NPS are upending the drug-enforcement landscape with ever-changing formulas that stay two steps ahead of the law. Westhoff explores this shadowy world at each step of the drug-distribution ladder, culminating with his revelation that the Chinese government is subsidizing this illicit industry, which is killing tens of thousands annually.

Fentanyl, Inc. also chronicles addicted users and dealers around the globe, families of victims, law-enforcement officers, and underground harm-reduction organizers — presenting a shocking and riveting full anatomy of a crisis we are just beginning to understand, and the unsung heroes who are emerging to fight it around the globe.

Publicity: John Mark Boling <JMBoling@groveatlantic.com>

Foreign Rights: Amy Hundley <ahundley@groveatlantic.com>

 

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