In 1929, in the blue-collar city of Portsmouth, Ohio, a company built a swimming pool the size of a football field; named Dreamland, it became the vital center of the community. Now, addiction has devastated Portsmouth, as it has hundreds of small rural towns and suburbs across America - addiction like no other the country has ever faced. How that happened is the riveting story of Dreamland. With a great reporter's narrative skill and the storytelling ability of a novelist, acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones weaves together two classic tales of capitalism run amok whose unintentional collision has been catastrophic. The unfettered prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s reached its peak in Purdue Pharma's campaign to market OxyContin, its new, expensive - and extremely addictive - miracle painkiller. Meanwhile a massive influx of black tar heroin - cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico's west coast, independent of any drug cartel - assaulted small towns and midsized cities across the country, driven by a brilliant, almost unbeatable marketing and distribution system. Together these phenomena continue to lay waste to communities from Tennessee to Oregon, Indiana to New Mexico. Introducing a memorable cast of characters - pharma pioneers, young Mexican entrepreneurs, narcotics investigators, survivors, and parents - Quinones shows how these tales fit together. Dreamland is a revelatory account of the corrosive threat facing America and its heartland.
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In 1980, Portsmouth Ohio was selected as an All-American city, boasting a community center of parks and recreation facilities that radiated out from a football field-sized swimming pool called Dreamland. Quinones describes the town complex like a Rockwell mural, teenagers would ride the bus to town for a cherry Coke and fries, and spend the day around the pool choked with families. A timeline he includes with the book notes that that same year, across the map in California, the first Mexican immigrants crossed the border and set up heroin trafficking in the San Fernando Valley. Four years later, Purdue-Pharma released MS Contin.
In one of the most comprehensive, and important journalistic pieces on drugs that I've ever read, Quinones gives extensive details of how our country came under siege of a true epidemic, and exactly who made the devastation possible, how and why. Dreamland is unlike what you might expect from a book that chronicles the etiology of a drug epidemic; it is weirdly entertaining on an alarming level, a better word might be fascinating. Quinones writes like a novelist, telling a real-life Grimm's fairy tale, tracing the path of the black tar heroin invasion from the small Mexican farming town of Xalisco, and following the trail as it spread through the veins and arteries across America. The revelations of Big Pharma and the Reps that Quinones follows are beyond repulsive; the greed, duplicity, and disregard for lives is nothing less than murder and treason.
We all have some degree of involvement since addiction has jumped from the lower classes and come home to roost at all levels of the economic stratification -- a fact that makes this book all the more timely and important. "The new addicts are cheerleaders, football players, daughters of preachers, sons of cops and doctors...housewives, bankers, teachers." "Wounded soldiers return from Afghanistan hooked on pain pills and [die] in America." Quinones declares, "It''s a great day to be a heroin dealer in America." We are losing the war on drugs with an addiction rate that has skyrocketed over 1000% percent in less than 10 yrs.
Today, Dreamland no longer exists. By the early 90's, OxyContin (time released Oxycodone) was prescribed routinely for pain; the Xalisco "pizza-delivery-style" heroin market spread east, across the Mississippi. As of 2008, drug-overdose primarily from opiates, surpassed auto accidents as the leading cause of accidental death. With a phone call, a dose of black tar heroin from one of the Mexican Xalisco drug families can be delivered to your front door. Young Mexicans are eager to come to America and earn money with the dream of escaping poverty. Quinones talked with a few, and even followed some. They hope to return back across the border, impress a wife, buy a farm, a new jacked-up truck, some American style jeans... Customers die, but there is always a fresh new supply. A few quit the heroin, but none ever really make it out. Heroin becomes a part of the user, it's with them forever like they say, a sleeping monster -- as any parent, or loved one of an addict knows. You live with the addict, then you live with the fear of the return. Philip Seymour Hoffman had used heroin in his younger life. At the age of 46, he'd been sober 23 years -- before the day he was found dead from an apparent heroin overdose.
Structurally, there are some spots where information is repeated, almost like cut and paste sections, and that could be a spot for nit-picking for some. But, Quinones does a job that is praiseworthy. The format goes back and forth between a few of the Xalisco big dealers, the pharmaceutical companies and doctors wrongly prescribing opiates, addicts, and the efforts of the DEA and the FBI. I highly recommend the book. It's an alarm that will enrage you, scare you, and possible break your heart. ALSO: For a great quick look that will have you hooked (npi), go to a site (Goodreads) where you can click on a preview of the book. The preview contains: Maps of Mexico and the Xalisco farms; Maps of the Xalisco drug cells in the US; a Timeline of the development of heroin in America; a Preface about Portsmouth, Ohio and Dreamland; and a fascinating Introduction.