REVIEW: Fentanyl, Inc. by Ben Westhoff

In brief: Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) are the newbies of the drug world. They are made in labs and then tweaked as they get banned to stay ahead of the pack.

The good: Covers all the perspectives from creation to end user.

The not-so-good: We don’t have the answers yet.

Why I chose it: Enjoy medical non-fiction, thanks to Scribe for the copy.

Year: 2019

Pages: 341

Publisher: Scribe Publications

Setting: Worldwide

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

It’s no secret that I really enjoy medical non-fiction, but I really loved Fentanyl, Inc. I thought the way it looked at every aspect of the novel psychoactive substance trade was unique. From chemists manipulating chemical structures of precursors to fentanyl before countries can ban them, to the dealers, end users and those who want to change the way addiction is treated, Westhoff details it all.

The book is very well researched, right down to the trip Westhoff makes to China to see an NPS lab in action. (He had to pose as a potential purchaser to do so, but it wasn’t as underhand as you might expect – the companies answered his questions on Skype, provided price lists and offered alternatives when the drugs were banned). The story is also told in a logical fashion, at first explaining what NPS are and their history (an intriguing tale of its own), talking to those using and suppling and then looking at those making the drugs possible. This is not a backyard setup, the creation of NPS is a big, relatively co-ordinated industry using laboratories around the world to make and stay ahead of the game. The book discusses NPS that you may have read about in the media, such as fentanyl (a potent opioid painkiller that some are using illicitly instead of heroin), ‘legal cannabis’ and ecstasy. Fentanyl, Inc. is certainly not a dry read, thanks to Westhoff’s engaging style that uses interviews and time spent with people in the field to show what is happening. He explains how many drugs are cut with others (often fentanyl, sometimes things more odd like worming treatments for dogs) and how users have no way of knowing what they are taking. Various organisations have tried to set up pill testing worldwide (including in Australia) so people can make an informed decision before they take an NPS. This has been met with resistance in multiple countries. Westhoff details all this, and gives examples of places where pill testing and supervised injection rooms are used with success.

The opioid epidemic is prevalent in a lot of minds and books like this demonstrate that there is a huge need out there for education, intervention and change. The problem is rampant and Westhoff explains this well, showing issues across many countries. He also devotes a significant amount of the book to describing interventions to treat addiction, offer alternative means to take illicit drugs more safely and discuss the future. This is all very interesting and it’s a pity that these things get mainly talked about in books rather than discussed in a more public arena. Still, this book is an eyeopener to anyone who reads it of just how coordinated and advanced the illicit drug trade is in aiming to get new highs to market at any cost. Save your money and don’t do drugs kids.

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Fentanyl, Inc. by Ben Westhoff

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  1. I had to re read a tiny section of your review to check what NPS was! I should imagine that this is an interesting read as it seems to cover Fentanyl from many points of view. Imagine consuming worming treatment for dogs, even unknowingly. I wonder if it worked for the humans!

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