An obsessive true crime investigation of a bizarre and unlikely perpetrator, who’s serving the opioid epidemic’s longest term for illegal prescriptions — four life sentences
Written in the tradition of I'll Be Gone in the Dark and True Crime Addict, combining Dopesick's heart rending portrayal of the epidemic's victims with Empire of Pain's examination of its perpetrators
This haunting and propulsive debut follows a journalist’s years-long investigation into his father's old classmate: former high school valedictorian Paul Volkman, who once seemed destined for greatness after earning his MD and his PhD from the prestigious University of Chicago, but is now serving four consecutive life sentences at a federal prison in Arizona.
Volkman was the central figure in a massive “pill mill” scheme in southern Ohio. His pain clinics accepted only cash, employed armed guards, and dispensed a torrent of opioid painkillers and other controlled substances. For nearly three years, Volkman remained in business despite raids by law enforcement and complaints from patients’ family members. Prosecutors would ultimately link him to the overdose deaths of 13 patients, though investigators explored his ties to at least 20 other deaths.
This groundbreaking book is based on 12 years of correspondence and interviews with Volkman. Eil also traveled to 19 states, interviewed more than 150 people, and filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Drug Enforcement Administration that led to the release of nearly 20,000 pages of trial evidence.
The American opioid epidemic is, like this book, a true crime story. Through this one doctor’s story, an era of unfathomable tragedy is brought down to a tangible, and devastating, human scale.
About the Author
Philip Eil is an award-winning freelance journalist based in his hometown, Providence, Rhode Island. He is the former news editor of the alt-weekly newspaper, The Providence Phoenix. Since the paper’s close in 2014, he has contributed to The Atlantic, Men’s Health, the Boston Globe, Huffington Post, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among other outlets. He has also taught writing and journalism classes at Brown University, Columbia University’s School of the Arts, and the Rhode Island School of Design. He holds an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from the Columbia University School of the Arts. This is his first book.
“After discovering his father’s one-degree-of-separation from Dr, Paul Volkman — the infamous ‘Pill Mill Killer’ sentenced to four consecutive life terms for his leading role in the country’s deadly opioid epidemic — journalist Phil Eil plunged into an investigation of the sensational case. The result is this eye-opening, immensely readable work of first-person reportage. Told at a galloping pace, his book not only takes the reader inside the seamy but highly lucrative world of cash-on-the-barrelhead painkiller prescribers but explores the mindset of a once-promising physician who — even while persuading himself that he was relieving his patients of suffering — turned himself into a dispenser of death.” --Harold Schechter, author of The Serial Killer Files "Prescription for Pain offers an intimate exploration into the life and mindset of one of the nation’s most prolific opioid prescribers. Like a painkiller-epidemic version of Walter White, a long list of resentments drives Dr. Paul Volkman, including beefs with his family, former bosses, malpractice lawyers, and his more-accomplished med-school classmates. Employing crisp and bracing language, author Philip Eil’s book draws upon voluminous research and years of interviews and correspondence with Volkman and many others. Eil bends over backward to give Volkman his say, but the resulting portrait is no less damning for it." -- John Temple, author ofAmerican Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America's Deadliest Drug Epidemic "Eil's impeccable investigative skills and unshakeable integrity anchor the reader through this haunting account of a seminal pill mill case. Subtle and immersive, Prescription for Pain does not shy away from the disintegration of Dr. Volkman's humanity; nevertheless, Eil succeeds in capturing the flickers of life, love, and hope left in Volkman's wake." --Charlotte Bismuth, author of Bad Medicine: Catching New York's Deadliest Pill Pusher.
“A feat of reporting and empathy, Eil unravels a mystery: how did a once-promising physician end up a convicted killer? Prescription for Pain is the best of what true crime can be: attempting to understand violence while centering victims and impact. Comprehensive and impressively researched, Prescription for Pain untangles with a fine-tooth comb the devastation that descended upon Portsmouth, Ohio at the hands of Dr. Volkman. A profound achievement and important contribution to the literature of the opioid epidemic.” --Elizabeth Greenwood, author of Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud
“Prescription for Pain is true crime at its finest: a genre-expanding, ethical, and rigorous examination of criminality and unintended murder which enlarges our understanding of American despair. This deeply-researched narrative transforms the sprawling story of one corrupt and delusional doctor into a compelling read that grapples with issues of the limits of medical responsibility, the duty of care, and the ‘problem from hell’ that is drug addiction. Resisting the urge to diagnose or categorize Paul Volkman as just another narcissist or sociopath, Eil instead allows Volkman himself to show the reader who he really is: a dangerous and extremely powerful man who defies easy description.” --Jean Murley, author of The Rise of True Crime: 20th-Century Murder and American Popular Culture