Travis Rieder, PhD, is a research scholar and director of the Master of Bioethics degree program at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. He has published on a wide variety of topics in various academic journals, including Health Affairs and the American Journal of Bioethics, and his work has appeared in such publications as The Guardian and The Washington Post and on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
In his newly released memoir, In Pain: A Bioethicist’s Personal Struggle with Opioids, Rieder recounts his terrifying journey down the rabbit hole of opioid dependence which began with a motorcycle accident in 2015. Nearly losing his foot in the accident, Rieder endured half a dozen surgeries during which the drugs he received were both miraculous and essential to his recovery. But his most profound suffering came several months later when he went into acute opioid withdrawal while following his physician’s orders. Over the course of four excruciating weeks, Rieder learned what it means to be “dope sick”—to suffer the physical and mental agony caused by opioid dependence. Clueless how to manage his opioid taper, Travis’s doctors suggested he go back on the drugs and try again later. Yet returning to pills out of fear of withdrawal is one route to full-blown addiction. Instead, Rieder continued the painful process of weaning himself.
Rieder’s experience exposes a dark secret of American pain management: a healthcare system so conflicted about opioids, and so inept at managing them, that the crisis currently facing us is both unsurprising and inevitable. As he recounts his story, Rieder provides a fascinating look at the history of these drugs first invented in the 1800s, changing attitudes about pain management over the following decades, and the implementation of the pain scale at the beginning of the twenty-first century. He explores both the science of addiction and the systemic and cultural barriers we must overcome if we are to address the problem effectively in the contemporary American healthcare system.
In Pain is not only a gripping personal account of dependence, but a groundbreaking exploration of the intractable causes of America’s opioid problem and their implications for resolving the crisis. Rieder makes clear that the opioid crisis exists against a backdrop of real, debilitating pain—and that anyone can fall victim to this epidemic.
A riveting speaker for universities, hospitals, health care systems and corporate healthcare conferences, Rieder’s message is a rallying call for reform in both government and medicine and a timely personal narrative that reflects a nation reckoning with the opioid epidemic.
Praise for In Pain
“Travis Rieder’s gripping In Pain illuminates just how unprepared doctors are to treat pain while offering a multi-faceted examination of the raw sadness, fatalism and misery experienced by opioid users who unwittingly find themselves “dopesick,” or in painful withdrawal. This book will engender empathy not just for patients like Rieder, who find themselves trapped in a byzantine system that too often abandons them, but also for the 2.6 million Americans suffering from opioid use disorder. In Pain is a call for nuance and understanding, full of clear-eyed suggestions for doctors struggling to weigh the risks of addiction with treating pain, as well as a guidebook for any one of us who might yet end up in their care.”
--Beth Macy, author of Dopesick
“With this smart, riveting, real-life account, the author proves himself a convincing and effective advocate for opioid use reform. A harrowing cautionary narrative that speaks to patients and physicians alike on the ugly reality of the enduring opioid epidemic.”