Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Travis Rieder

Travis Rieder, PhD, wants to help find a solution to America’s opioid crisis—and if that sounds a bit too lofty, he’d settle for making clear, incremental progress in a responsible, evidence-based way. A philosopher by training, bioethicist by profession, and communicator by passion, Rieder writes and speaks on a variety of ethical and policy issues raised by both prescription and illicit opioid use.

This wasn’t always his beat, though. Both in his doctoral training at Georgetown University, and as faculty at Johns Hopkins University’s Berman Institute of Bioethics, Rieder published widely on a variety of topics in philosophy and ethics. His interest in opioids came about suddenly, after a motorcycle accident, when he took too many pills for too long and suddenly found himself with a profound dependency. In the wake of that experience, he became driven to discover why medicine is so bad at dealing with prescription opioids, and how that problem is related to the broader drug overdose epidemic.

Rieder’s first article on the topic, in the journal Health Affairs, was one of the most-read essays in 2017 and was excerpted by the Washington Post. Since then, Rieder has co-authored a Special Publication of the National Academy of Medicine on physician responsibility for the opioid epidemic, written several essays for the popular media, and spoken widely on the topic to physicians, medical students, and the general public.

Rieder's new book is In Pain: A Bioethicist's Personal Struggle with Opioids.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m just finishing Judith Grisel’s beautifully-written Never Enough, in which she combines her own experience as someone in long-term recovery with her expertise as a neuroscientist. I have a bit of a complicated relationship with this book, as I worry a bit about some of her central ways of framing the discussion around addiction—in particular, with the way that tolerance and physiological dependence is sometimes framed as part of the problem of addiction (I go to great lengths in my own book to show how dependence and addiction can come apart from one another). However, Grisel is a compelling teacher, and I learned a lot from reading her book. Never Enough was a great read.

Related to one of my other major areas of interest, I’m also working my way through David Wallace-Wells’s The Uninhabitable Earth. So far, it feels mostly like a longer, more detailed version of his quite famous essay from New York Magazine, but that’s not a bad thing. It was a compelling and important essay, and the book is the same—perhaps even scarier, but we need to be scared. Anyone who doesn’t fully understand the stakes regarding climate change ought to read this book.

I just started Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness, which is a book-length argument for the claim that the white, working-class population in America is promoting, voting for, and helping to enact policies that are killing them (as in the case, for instance, of gun laws and access to health care). It’s a deeply-researched book that feels comfortable for someone like me, who is accustomed to reading academic literature; it may be a bit dense for the more casual reader. But the interviews and stories are fascinating, and Metzl is a wonderfully clear writer.

Lastly: I’ve been keeping Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime on my side table for months, reading a chapter here and there when I need an escape from the darkness I typically engage with. And boy does it work. Noah is a captivating storyteller, but what’s really impressive is the sophistication he exhibits when pulling themes from his stories together. It’s a remarkable achievement, and I feel like I’m being given insights and having secrets revealed to me every time I pick it up—all the while chuckling out loud. I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t benefit from reading this book.
Visit Travis Rieder's website.

--Marshal Zeringue