Side Effects Are Minimal by Laura Essay Review

An ambitious Philadelphia attorney, haunted by her sister’s opioid-related death, represents a prominent family bent on revenge in a lawsuit over the opioid overdose death of their daughter. Her quest for justice gets complicated when powerful people who will stop at nothing to conceal the truth sabotage her at every turn.

Side Effects Are Minimal by Laura Essay is a crash course in the genesis of the opioid crisis where a multi-system failure–aggressive and deceptive marketing practices by pharmaceutical companies, inadequate government regulation, and over-prescribing of a class of highly addictive drugs by medical professionals–produced hundreds of thousands of annual deaths from opioid overdoses.

When Emma Satori, the teenage daughter of one of Philadelphia’s most prominent families, dies of a prescription opioid overdose, her grieving parents place the blame squarely at the feet of the drug maker, Novo Analgesic Systems, Inc., one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the nation. They retain the prestigious Philadelphia law firm Blackman & Bradford to sue and exact revenge for their daughter’s death.

The senior partners of the firm assign the case to their ambitious, high-powered attorney and new partner Claire Hewitt. For Hewitt, Clifford and Margo Satori vs. Novo Analgesic Systems, Inc. is a case that could make or break her career. Something more than ambition and the desire to get justice for Emma motivates Hewitt. Her own sister, Molly, an elite gymnast, also died of an opioid overdose after her doctors prescribed them for management after she suffered a serious gymnastic accident. But the personal connection has a downside for Claire. For decades, even though only a teenager when her sister died, she has blamed herself for her sister’s death. She had seen evidence Molly was abusing the prescribed drug to deal with chronic pain, but had done nothing about it. The case becomes a constant reminder of her sister’s death and the guilt she bears.

The book unfolds from two primary perspectives. First, that of Claire Hewitt and her firm, primarily her assistant, attorney Alec Marshall, as they prepare for and prosecute the case. Also, from the perspective of the opposing attorney defending the pharmaceutical company and other key Novo Analgesic System’s staff doing their best to sabotage Claire’s efforts by erecting obstacles aimed at derailing the trial and protecting the company from a massive civil judgement.

Dr. Phil Wescott, head of the Novo Analgesic Systems research laboratory, is one villain of the story. Wescott pioneered the use of opioids for chronic pain after developing drugs he claimed were safe and nonaddictive and established himself as a prominent expert on opioid use. The egomaniacal Wescott has a god complex believing his pharmacological knowledge exceeds that of mere mortals and that he merits special recognition and respect not enjoyed by others. He regards the research laboratory as her personal fiefdom and all the research his personal property which he jealously guards. His ego motivates him to rush opioid pharmaceuticals to market without adequate testing and to mislead the FDA to gain approval to market the drugs. Sorry, not sorry. The unbidden image of Wescott that came to mind while reading the book was Dr. Anthony Fauci, who in real life shares the novel character’s same characteristics and personality. But the super villain of the story is Novo Analgesic System’s in-house counsel, Dana Massetti.

Massetti is an unethical and corrupt lawyer who stops at nothing to derail the lawsuit against her company, mostly to conceal her culpability in pushing opioids to generate profits while knowing Wescott vastly overstates his claims the drugs he develops are safe and effective with minimal danger of addiction. Massetti proves willing to do whatever it takes, even commit crimes, to prevent her company from being found civilly liable.

The author devotes more than the first two-thirds of the book to the trial preparation part of the case, particularly to Claire and Alec’s efforts to gather the evidence needed to win the lawsuit. For me, the story dragged a little by the time that part ended. To be fair, there were interesting scenes sprinkled in, but the pace definitely picks up in the last third of the book once the trial begins and Massetti resorts to even more sinister efforts to prevent Claire from winning the lawsuit against her company. Claire’s masterful examination of Dr. Wescott and Dana Massetti on the witness stand was my favorite part of the book.

Side Effects Are Minimal as a legal thriller isn’t as readable as Grisham, but it covers an important topic, is illuminating, and finishes strong.

She Writes Press is the publisher of Side Effects Are Minimal, which comes available on July 9, 2024. The book is available for preordering. I received the advance digital copy of the book from the publisher used for this review, which represents my honest opinions.

Book rating: ★★★★

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