Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
60 Minutes recently aired a report titled "Heroin in the Heartland" about the opiate epidemic in Ohio.* A long-time resident of Dayton and Columbus, it was an eye-opening report for me, and I wanted to know more. Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic, by Sam Quinones, is a well-researched, well-written, wide-ranging work of journalism about the opiate epidemic in the United States. Quinones tracks the black tar heroin trade from Xalisco, Mexico to communities all over the U.S., including Columbus and Portsmouth, Ohio. We hear the stories of dealers and doctors, addicts and law enforcement officers, parents and therapists. We see the human cost as teens and pain patients becoming addicted to Oxicontin after pharmaceutical salespeople sell doctors on the drug with the promise that its slow-release formula makes it hard to become addicted to. The evidence to back this claim? A letter to the editor--letter to the editor!--published in the New England Journal of Medicine and known as Porter and Jick. The letter highlights the findings of a single small study, but it was pitched as rigorous fact by pharmaceutical company Purdue as they marketed their opiate painkiller. Pain clinics that were nothing more than pill mills and a black market in prescription drugs followed, and when the price became too high, the black tar heroin was there to fulfill an economic need--cheap and high quality and as easy to get as ordering a pizza (as Quinones makes clear again and again). It's astounding the toll all of this has taken: ruined lives, impossible to kick addictions, and overdose deaths. Quinones covers all of this and more in a book that's important to read no matter how far removed from this problem you believe you are.
*Only after writing this review did I go to the author's blog, True Tales, and read his statements on the 60 Minutes piece and how he feels he should have received credit for his contribution to the story. He makes a strong argument and it's well worth checking out.
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Ray Stickle reads a lot and writes daily. For progress reports, updates on any upcoming releases, and the occasional thought or two, check here.