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Publisher's Summary

From “one of the bravest, smartest writers about addiction anywhere” (Johann Hari, New York Times best-selling author) - the untold story of harm reduction, a surprisingly simple idea with enormous power.

Drug overdoses now kill more Americans annually than guns, cars, or breast cancer. But we have tried to solve this national crisis with policies that only made matters worse. In the name of “sending the right message", we have maximized the spread of infectious disease, torn families apart, incarcerated millions of mostly Black and Brown people - and utterly failed to either prevent addiction or make effective treatment for it widely available.

There is another way, one that is proven to work. However, it runs counter to much of the received wisdom of our criminal and medical industrial complexes. It is called harm reduction. Developed and championed by an outcast group of people who use drugs and by former users and public health geeks, harm reduction offers guidance on how to save lives and improve health. And it provides a way of understanding behavior and culture that has relevance far beyond drugs.

In a spellbinding narrative rooted in an urgent call to action, Undoing Drugs tells the story of how a small group of committed people changed the world, illuminating the power of a great idea. It illustrates how hard it can be to take on widely accepted conventional wisdom - and what is necessary to overcome this resistance. It is also about how personal, direct human connection and kindness can inspire profound transformation. Ultimately, Undoing Drugs offers a path forward - revolutionizing not only the treatment of addiction, but also our treatment of behavioral and societal issues.

©2021 Maia Szalavitz (P)2021 Hachette Go

Critic Reviews

“With characteristic flair Maia Szalavitz presents a vibrant personal account of recovery, a broadly researched history of how a fringe idea transformed into a powerful therapeutic and social movement, and a heartfelt, irrefutable call for a sane and humane approach to the devastation of substance addiction.” (Gabor Maté, MD, author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction)

“One of the most inspiring and remarkable stories you will ever read. Small groups of stigmatized people all over the world pioneered a totally new approach to drugs and addiction - and they saved millions of lives. Their incredible story has not been told - until now. If everyone in the US read this book, the drug war and so many drug myths would end tomorrow.” (Johann Hari, New York Times best-selling author of Chasing the Scream)

"Undoing Drugs is a well-researched, thoughtful history of our toxic, destructive, failed ‘war on drugs’ that clearly articulates the hopeful promise of harm reduction as a way forward. Maia Szalavitz’s ability to distill and clearly communicate the head-spinning complexities of addiction, policy, health care inequities, academia’s power struggles, the origins and evolution of ideas, practices and programs is hypnotic. This is a powerful, important book, and a compelling read for anyone, but it should be a required text for everyone in public health, social work, mental health, medicine and criminal justice.” (Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, best-selling coauthor of What Happened to You? with Oprah Winfrey and adjunct professor of psychiatry at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine)

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Wow! An amazing amount of harm reduction info!

I'm somebody who considers myself to be well-read and well-educated on this particular subject and even I was more than impressed with how well put together the research, anecdotes and author's well-informed opinions are in this book. this should be required reading for anybody who doesn't understand why we need to end the war on drugs and go in a different direction. Prohibition does not work and has never worked throughout the course of human history. this book clearly connect the dots as to not just why that is but how we can go about evolving into a better more caring Society that actually treats addiction as a health affliction rather than a character defect or criminal act. I could not have been more impressed!

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Genuinely Mind Blowing

I’ve worked in the addiction field for years. I thought I had thought of it all. But this really changed me on a fundamental level.