Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

Fentanyl, Inc.

How Rogue Chemists Are Creating the Deadliest Wave of the Opioid Epidemic

by Ben Westhoff

A remarkable four-year investigation into the dangerous world of synthetic drugs—from black market drug factories in China to users and dealers on the streets of the U.S. to harm reduction activists in Europe—which reveals for the first time the next wave of the opioid epidemic

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 352
  • Publication Date September 03, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2743-3
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publication Date September 03, 2019
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4795-0
  • US List Price $27.00

About the Book

A deeply human story, Fentanyl, Inc. is the first deep-dive investigation of a hazardous and illicit industry that has created a worldwide epidemic, ravaging communities and overwhelming and confounding government agencies that are challenged to combat it. “A whole new crop of chemicals is radically changing the recreational drug landscape,” writes Ben Westhoff. “These are known as Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and they include replacements for known drugs like heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, and marijuana. They are synthetic, made in a laboratory, and are much more potent than traditional drugs”—and all-too-often tragically lethal.

Drugs like fentanyl, K2, and Spice—and those with arcane acronyms like 25i-NBOMe— were all originally conceived in legitimate laboratories for proper scientific and medicinal purposes. Their formulas were then hijacked and manufactured by rogue chemists, largely in China, who change their molecular structures to stay ahead of the law, making the drugs’ effects impossible to predict. Westhoff has infiltrated this shadowy world. He tracks down the little-known scientists who invented these drugs and inadvertently killed thousands, as well as a mysterious drug baron who turned the law upside down in his home country of New Zealand. Westhoff visits the shady factories in China from which these drugs emanate, providing startling and original reporting on how China’s vast chemical industry operates, and how the Chinese government subsidizes it. Poignantly, he chronicles the lives of addicted users and dealers, families of victims, law enforcement officers, and underground drug awareness organizers in the U.S. and Europe. Together they represent the shocking and riveting full anatomy of a calamity we are just beginning to understand. From its depths, as Westhoff relates, are emerging new strategies that may provide essential long-term solutions to the drug crisis that has affected so many.


“The author seamlessly blends past and present in his profiles of Belgian chemist Paul Janssen, who was responsible for fentanyl’s initial development in 1959; police officers; politicians; LSD drug kingpins; and St. Louis street dealers . . . Perhaps most compelling is Westhoff’s undercover infiltration of several rogue Chinese drug operations . . . Drawing material from official reports, drug databases, scores of interviews, and years of personal research, Westhoff presents an unflinching, illuminating portrait of a festering crisis involving a drug industry that thrives as effectively as it kills. Highly sobering, exemplary reportage delivered through richly detailed scenarios and diversified perspectives.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Westhoff explores the many-tentacled world of illicit opioids, from the streets of East St. Louis to Chinese pharmaceutical companies, from music festivals deep in the Michigan woods to sanctioned ‘shooting up rooms’ in Barcelona, in this frank, insightful, and occasionally searing exposé . . . Offers a truly multifaceted view of the landscape of fentanyl use and abuse. The disparate narrative strands he weaves together—including tragic stories of drug users, straightforward analysis of the history of opioid use, tension-filled episodes of drug runs and supplier meet-ups, and the humane and hopeful work of the ‘harm reduction’ movement—all come together to provide a more complex understanding of the rise of, and response to, the opioid epidemic. Westhoff’s well-reported and researched work will likely open eyes, slow knee-jerk responses, and start much needed conversations.”—Publishers Weekly

“So many substance abuse books are a mix of hysterical in tone and a disappointing ‘paint by numbers’ in their execution, but [Fentanyl, Inc.] really stands out for its research, journalism, and overall analysis . . . It is also a great book on China, and how China and the Chinese chemicals industry works, backed up by extensive original investigation . . . Definitely recommended.”—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

“In Fentanyl, Inc., Ben Westhoff lays bare the twisted history that led to opioids wreaking havoc on twenty-first century America. If you want to understand the bloody cycle of addiction and death gripping the nation, you need to read this book.”—Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco and Gangster Warlords

“This is an exceptionally useful and well-timed book. I hope anyone concerned about this era’s new addiction epidemic will read it and put its messages to use. Ben Westhoff very skillfully combines pharmacology, politics, law enforcement, and gripping international intrigue in his account of America’s number-one public health problem. I hope Fentanyl, Inc. is widely read and influential.”—James Fallows, author of China Airborne

“Through his courageous reporting Ben Westhoff takes us to the heart of the problem. In Fentanyl Inc., he shines a light on the human wreckage and damage caused by the most powerful and dangerous of the opioids, fentanyl, and its derivatives. He shows us how addiction, mislabeling, purposefully or mistakenly mixed drugs lead to tragic ends. The drug is often created out of factories operating with the permission of the Chinese government. To solve this epidemic, we must understand it. Make no mistake; the fentanyl problem is a global issue. Fentanyl Inc., is a must-read, pulling the curtain back and showing us how this human tragedy occurs and how insidious and addictive a drug can be.”Katherine Tobin, Ph.D., Former Member of the U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission

“A necessary and sobering look at the opioid crisis and how it is not as simple as it appears on the surface. Well-researched and user-friendly for all readers. An important book.”—Debra Ginsberg, Bay Books (Coronado, CA)

Praise for Original Gangstas

“This may be the best book ever written about the hip hop world.”—S. Leigh Savidge, co-writer and Oscar nominee, Straight Outta Compton

“[Adds] fresh detail to the oft-told stories . . . [A] history that won’t settle for easy heroes or villains.”Rolling Stone

“An impressive and exhaustive look inside the real world of the pioneering group that brought gangsta rap to the masses.”People

“A provocative, multifaceted portrait of essential rap pioneers . . . As raw, authoritative, and unflinching as the music Westhoff’s narrative chronicles.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“An unforgettable history of the last time music was ever really dangerous.”―Stephen Witt, author of How Music Got Free

Praise for Dirty South

Dirty South is a must-read for anybody interested in hip-hop’s ever-growing role in America’s cultural consciousness.”Forbes

“Packed with lively reporting and colorful social history . . . Doesn’t shy away from the bigger questions. Westhoff grapples with Southern rap’s troubling racial politics and takes on the critics.”Rolling Stone

“Even if you only barely recognize the names in the full title . . . you can still understand and enjoy Ben Westhoff’s new book.”Seattle Times

“A fascinating exploration of the musical and personal terrain of what has come to be known as the Southern sound of rap.”Publishers Weekly

“Westhoff offers an excellent introduction to hip-hop in the South that will be informative and enjoyable for both newbies and those familiar with Southern hip-hop . . . A great introduction to Southern hip-hop, and a fun book for those familiar with the genre and its artists.”Library Journal

Author Tour Dates



St. Louis, MO

1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd.

7:00 PM


Washington, DC

70 District Square, SW

7:00 PM


New York, NY

131 West 33rd Street



Brookline, MA

with photographer John Happel
279 Harvard St

7:00 PM


Los Angeles, CA

With Deb Krakow of UCLA Medical School
126 N. Larchmont Blvd.

7:00 PM


Santa Monica, CA

With Ross Gardiner of the LA Nightlife Alliance
601 Santa Monica Blvd

7:00 PM


Boulder, CO

1107 Pearl Street

7:30 PM


Denver, CO

With Mitchell Gomez of DanceSafe
1628 16th Street Mall

7:00 PM


Nashville, TN