The Face of Addiction by Joshua Lawson, a review

The Face of Addiction by Joshua Lawson, a review

As the old year turns into the next the desire to turn away from stories related to any kind of epidemic is strong. A sad reality, nonetheless, is that the Covid19 pandemic remains with us with a discouraging intensity. Even more distressing is the realization that long after the coronavirus pandemic has dissipated another epidemic will continue to rage with voracious energy.

There has been plenty of reporting to suggest that the opioid drug epidemic has deepened during the last two years in part due to the attendant increase in both stress and isolation. Joshua Lawson in his book The Face of Addiction in the most helpful way imaginable, draws our attention back to the opioid epidemic, deepened by the current crisis, and sure to remain with us in the decades ahead.

It is important from the outset that what makes Lawson's book so powerful is that it is not a story about the mechanics of this epidemic. There are other fine works about the drug companies who promoted, profited from, and caused the opioid crisis (See "Empire of Pain" by Patrick Keefe for a disturbing reporting of this). Other works do a fine job of tracing the psychology of addiction and the function of the brain in response to opioids.  Lawson, a writer, community organizer, and pastor pens a work that tells the story of people.

Lawson tells the story of a handful of victims of the opioid crisis. The stories of these persons are diverse. Some come from troubled backgrounds and violent upbringings. Others are raised in connection with church and community, have college degrees and steady employment. The only common theme of all the stories Lawson shares, shared as direct narratives from the persons themselves, are the addictions to various opioid painkillers.

The great miracle of the book, which primarily takes the format of Lawson sharing the experiences of addicted persons in a first-person narrative chapter by chapter is that Lawson seldom if never permits the reader to make a judgement about the addicted persons whose lives are shared. Lawson communicates their stories in such a way that deny this. Even in cases where the law is broken, or social moirés are bent Lawson insists on portraying each of the persons as just that- persons- people of sacred worth and dignity. This approach caused me to feel as if I could not only imagine myself in the shoes of most of those addicted, but in some cases stirred up intense empathy with the suffering experienced.

Lawson does share a few facts and figures along the way, but the primary task throughout the book remains a dedicated, never voyeuristic look into the life of addicted persons in the Ohio River Valley. Lawson's final paragraph summarizes well his purpose in writing the book this way, "There's not a single person out there with a needle in their arm right now whose life doesn't matter. That man living in the abandoned house belongs in our community. The single mom who's fresh out of rehab trying to find a job deserves a second chance. Their lives are bursting with potential. We don't even know what treasures they possess. That's what my experience has taught me, and if it's your thing, this is also what the Gospel of Jesus Christ declares. So, deal with it and get on board (166)."

You should buy this book. You should read this book. You should let it become a doorway to love for others impacted by this epidemic and an avenue to action as well. The Face of Addiction is in many places not an easy ready, and is almost never lighthearted, but it is a read that will introduce you to people from whom you need to hear. These are people who are friends and neighbors. These are persons you really need to get to know. It will be worth the discomfort.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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