Vermont non-fiction writer, specializing in books and documentaries on science and mental health.

“An engrossing and highly readable account of our tangled relationship with a flower.”
— Sam Quinones
Author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic
"By unpacking the complex story of how this powerful drug has woven its way through human history and cultures, they give readers profound insight into what drives contemporary use.”
— Dr. Andrew Weil M.D.
Author of #1 New York Times Bestseller Spontaneous Healing
People have been using opium as a painkiller, abusing it as a drug, and transforming it into a weapon of war and commerce for thousands of years. Helen of Troy concocted an opium potion to help Greek warriors deal with PTSD. Profits from the opium trade helped fund The Boston Museum of Fine Arts and Massachusetts General Hospital. Sir William Osler, one of the founders of Johns Hopkins Hospital, called it, “Gods Own Medicine.” The CIA used heroin profits to provide weapons to tribes in Laos during the Vietnam War.


History tells us that we will never eliminate opioids—nor should we until we find better ways to manage extreme pain. We will never end addiction—but we can start treating it like the disease it is. We will never save every life. But let's show we have the wisdom, guts, humility, and compassion to save thousands of others. We hope Opium helps give readers a better understanding of what needs to be done, how, and why. 

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More Advance Praise:

“…An astonishing journey through time and space, revealing how racism and ethnic prejudice have distorted popular views of opium for centuries…A fascinating read with practical advice on how to get out of the mess we’re in.”

— Julie Holland, MD

Author of New York Times Bestseller Weekends at Bellevue

“This detailed history of opioid use—and failed policies to contain it—demonstrates convincingly that the best way to address today’s epidemic is to treat those who suffer from addiction with the same care and compassion we give to people with other chronic conditions. 

— Patrick J. Kennedy, Former U.S. Representative (D - RI).

Lead Sponsor of 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act 

“Wealthy patrons of the arts making fortunes off opioids? Blaming immigrants for a domestic drug crisis? Race-based enforcement? It was as true in the 19th and 20th centuries as it is today. Opium insists that we take an unstinting look at the relationship between people and opioids and dares us to make the hard decisions necessary to deal with the crisis.”

— Ken Burns, filmmaker 

“...the most important, provocative, and challenging book I’ve read in a long time….Makes timely and startling connections among painkillers, politics, finance, and society in clear, non-technical prose that kept me alternately riveted and amazed.”

— Laurence Bergreen, New York Times

Author of New York Times Bestseller Marco Polo and Over the Edge of the World


“In this lively, irreverent history we learn what Aristotle and William Burroughs, Helen of Troy and Billie Holiday, El Chapo and Thomas Jefferson had in common. They all either used or prescribed, cultivated, or profited from opium. The authors chronicle the quackery the drug has inspired, the colonial wars it caused, and the official follies that led to today’s crisis.”

— Geoffrey C. Ward

Author of New York Times Bestseller A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt

“Halpern and Blistein expertly weave together the many strands of opium’s history, from the poppy growers of Neolithic times to the politics of today’s opiate epidemic. By learning the whole story and discovering the many erroneous beliefs and misguided policies that have occurred along the way—the reader emerges with a far clearer picture of the problem and what perhaps we can do about it now.”

— Harrison G. Pope Jr., MD, professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School


“Thank God (or whatever higher power you desire) that Halpern and Blistein have done the historical work to demystify the use of opioids. Their research now allows us to focus on the issues that really matter like keeping users safe and ensuring that patients have access to these effective medications.”

— Carl L. Hart, professor of Psychology, Columbia University, author of High Price