We’ve heard a lot about the opiate/opiod crisis. “Dreamland” takes readers on a journey of how this crisis began and what factors contributed to this health emergency. Sam Quinones takes a journalistic approach to exploring the roots of the crisis. He begins in a Mexican state, Xalisco. In there state there’s not many job opportunities outside of farming/ranching. At the same time, there’s a very competitive socio-economic culture where everyone is trying to beat the Jones’s next door. Some have immigrated to the U.S., particularly southern California. To try and improve their lot in life and increased their family’s standing, some of the young men have gone to work with their relatives in California. Many of them discovered that these relatives were doing well because they began working in the drug trade. Now, before you think this is a plank in Trump’s anti-Mexican agenda, Quinones contextualizes this by explaining that these immigrants from Xalisco are a small subset of immigrants and that they do not represent all Mexican immigrants. Back to Xalisco. The Xalisco drug trade became highly successful due to avoiding the Colombian cocaine and other large-scale drug syndicates. Instead they focused on selling black tar heroin in the suburbs of many large cities ranging from Portland to Columbus, Ohio.
The introduction of black tar heroin in the suburbs coincided with the over-prescribing of opiates in many areas of the country. Unfortunately, these two drugs coincided in many suburban areas creating and sustaining increasingly high levels of addiction. Part of the problem is most of the hardest hit communities have lost a lot of their social programs because of the job loss due to jobs being shipped overseas. So not only are there a lot of addicts, but there’s no social programs to help support addiction recovery. On top of this, there was no support from state and federal governments. People weren’t willing to help addicts. They were (and still are) stigmatized.
One of the moving parts of the book is the personal stories of families who have lost loved ones to addiction. So many families have been ravaged by opiate addiction. Because so many people have been affected it has started getting the attention of local and federal representatives. One of the saddest elements of this story is that it wasn’t until many White communities were affected that real change began to happen. During the crack crisis of the 80’s, which tended to affect Urban Black communities, instead of helping community services to help addicts recover, addicts were jailed. It’s as if the U.S. thought it would jail it’s way out of the crack crisis. With the opiate crisis people are wanting more compassionate approaches to fighting the crisis. Hopefully we will learn our lesson from the past.
One of the things I didn’t like about this book is that it dragged on too long. There came a point at the end where it seemed Quinones wasn’t sure how to end the book. He also kept repeating the phrase, “they sold black tar heroin like pizza.” It was repeated so often it almost became a trigger. All in all I think this is a good read for those who aren’t familiar with how this crisis came about and what some are doing to stem the tide of addiction.