The United States of Addiction: Reckoning with Opioids in "The Land of 10,000 Rehabs"

Lecture Series Description: Despite intense media coverage, federal legislation, and increasing harm reduction efforts, the opioid epidemic continues to ravage families and communities nationwide. Although historically this is not the first time that national attention has been focused on opium, heroin, and other narcotics, this epidemic has been the most destructive in terms of loss of life. The skyrocketing opioid overdose deaths that began in the late 1990s with prescription pain pills, increased heroin use, and now, illicitly manufactured fentanyl has led to the deaths of well over half a million Americans since 1999. This program series examines the history of the epidemic; how it has or hasn’t changed drug treatment and medication protocols; how stigma kills; and how the non-judgmental approach of harm reduction might help to end it.

Lecture Series Information: Wednesdays, 10:00-11:45 a.m., starting October 13, 2021, O'Shaughnessy Educational Center Auditorium, University of St. Thomas St. Paul Campus and simulcast online via Zoom.

Lecture Series Educator: Amy C. Sullivan, PhD, teaches women’s history, children’s history, and the history of medicine at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. Her research, writing, and digital projects center life stories that are rooted in social change, community, and healing through oral history, public history, and digital archives. Her book, Opioid Reckoning: Love, Loss, and Redemption in the Rehab State (University of Minnesota Press, 2021) uses dozens of oral history interviews she conducted to explore the complexity of America’s opioid epidemic through the lives of people grappling with the reverberating effects of stigma, treatment, and recovery. Professor Sullivan grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and now lives in Minneapolis with her family.

Fee for the series: $45.00 per person (if you wish to register for the remaining sessions of this program, please email the Selim Center:

Link to campus map: St. Paul Campus Map (82020)

Detailed Lecture Series Syllabus:

October 13

Is addiction a disease or a social problem?

  • The history of the current opioid epidemic from big pharma to heroin
  • The history of abstinence-based drug treatment models vs. the medical model


October 20

How does stigma—social and systemic—perpetuate addiction and prevent recovery?

  • Features personal oral histories from the Minnesota Opioid Project

October 27

What we have we learned from the opioid epidemic?

  • The war on drugs is a war on people who are suffering with addiction
  • Could harm reduction principles and practices end the epidemic?