by Sam Quinones

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Adam Johnson

The son of Teddy Johnson, Adam is introduced in the first paragraph of the book. He is also the first character who is revealed as a victim of the opiate epidemic. Adam dies from an overdose of heroin—specifically, the semi-processed form that is known as black tar. Adam was twenty-three when he died, and he had been planning to major in history at Marshall University.

Robert C. Byrd

A member of the Democratic Party, Robert C. Byrd was a West Virginia senator from 1959 until 2010. The book mentions Byrd with reference to how Democrats have run the state over the years. Their policies, Quinones believes, resulted in a closure of businesses and the rise of poverty in the state.

Dr. David Procter

Dr. Procter operated a clinic in South Shore, Kentucky, which many believe was America's first "pill mill." He indiscriminately prescribed opiate-based painkillers for injuries and generalized pain, which led to addiction in many patients. In 2002, Dr. Procter was found guilty of drug trafficking and served an eleven-year prison sentence.

Arthur Sackler

Sackler is credited with having established the field of modern pharmaceutical advertising. The tactics he used to create a buzz for Pfizer's drug Terramycin®—and later Valium®, which was sold by Hoffman La-Roche—are still used to get medical practitioners interested in new drugs to prescribe their patients. Purdue employed similar strategies for selling OxyContin®. Famous museums, medical facilities, and universities have wings and galleries named after Sackler.


Born and brought up on a ranchero in Mexico, "Enrique" (a pseudonym) joined the drug-running business with his uncles in America at age fourteen. Enrique has seen poverty from close quarters and is bewildered by the harshness which life has dealt him. But once the drug money started coming in, Enrique quickly adjusted to the comforts of life in America. Enrique's story is symbolic of those of many young Mexicans who are driven to deal drugs. In 2000, Enrique was arrested, and he spent thirteen years in a US federal prison.

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