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Killing Season: A Paramedic's Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Opioid Epidemic



 A devastating, empathetic look at the opioid epidemic in the United States, through the eyes of a paramedic on the front lines.


[I] set my cardiac monitor down by the young man's head. He is lifeless, his face white with a blue tinge. I apply the defibrillator pads to his hairless chest... A week from today, after the young man's brain shows no signs of electrical activity, the medical staff will take the breathing tube out, and with his family gathered by his side, he will pass away at the age of twenty-three.


When Peter Canning started work as a paramedic on the streets of Hartford, Connecticut, twenty-five years ago, he believed drug users were victims only of their own character flaws. Although he took care of them, he did not care for them. But as the overdoses escalated, Canning began asking his patients how they had gotten started on their perilous journeys. And while no two tales were the same, their heartrending similarities changed Canning's view and moved him to educate himself about the science of addiction. Armed with that understanding, he began his fight against the stigmatization of users.


In Killing Season, we ride along with Canning through the streets of Hartford as he tells stories of opioid overdose from a street-level vantage point. A first responder to hundreds of overdoses throughout the rise of America's epidemic, Canning has seen the impact of prescription painkillers, heroin, and the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl firsthand. Bringing us into the room (or the car, or the portable toilet) with the victims of this epidemic, Canning explains how he came to favor harm reduction, which advocates for needle exchange, community naloxone, and safe-injection sites.


Through the rapid-fire nature of one paramedic's view of addiction and overdose, readers will come to understand more than just the science and misguided policies behind the opioid epidemic. They'll also share in Canning's developing empathy. Stripping away the stigma of addiction through stories that are hard-hitting, poignant, sad, confessional, funny, and overall, human, Killing Season will change minds about the epidemic, help obliterate stigma, and save lives.



"Full of engaging stories. Only someone on the front lines of the crisis, like an EMT, could describe overdose situations and the people who have overdoses with such color."

— Barbara Andraka-Christou, University of Central Florida, author of The Opioid Fix: America's Addiction Crisis and the Solution They Don't Want You to Have

"With crisp and propulsive storytelling, Peter Canning chronicles his evolution as a paramedic during the most lethal drug crisis in history. As a rookie, Canning initially regards opioid users as 'scumbags' but eventually finds empathy for the victims of this man-made epidemic. To understand the street-level toll of this disaster, read Killing Season."

— John Temple, author of American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America's Deadliest Drug Epidemic

"From his ambulance Peter takes us through decades of overdose. Through his eyes we see a failed drug war, the effects of an overprescribing nation, and his own personal growth. He gives names and faces to the invisible masses while reminding us we are only a prescription away ourselves. A must read."

— Van Asher, Harm Reduction Coordinator, Cylar House, Housing Works

"Killing Season is a penetrating and gritty work about tragic death, one paramedic's struggle to help, and the heartbreaking plague of opioids in America. Peter Canning's compassionate and important testimony dissects the anatomy of an epidemic and provides valuable insights and prescriptions for fighting it. Everyone should read this book!"

— Kevin Grange, author of Lights and Sirens: The Education of a Paramedic

"Killing Season is engaging and informative. Peter Canning lets us see what he has seen and learn what he has learned. The lessons are hard, but worth sticking around for."

— Anna Lembke, MD, author of Drug Dealer, MD: How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked, and Why It's So Hard to Stop