Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, talked about the opioid crisis in a packed room in Walter Rotunda on Wednesday afternoon. 

Quinones wrote Dreamland after spending 10 years in Mexico as a journalist and covering the crime beat in Stockton, California. 

After becoming curious as to why black tar heroin caused 12 deaths in six months during 2007 in Huntington, West Virginia, Quinones dug into the drug trade in the midwest. He discovered the black tar heroin came from one small town, Jalisco, Mexico, and was being distributed to dealers in Columbus. 

Quinones centered his research around Portsmouth, Ohio, about 85 miles from Athens, where, Quinones said the heroin epidemic was a devastating issue. As Portsmouth’s economy dipped and social centers, such as the public pool called “Dreamland,” were abandoned, pain became the navigating force behind social and economic interactions. 

The opioid epidemic in America exists because of the creation and widespread distribution of OxyContin as a treatment for chronic pain, Quinones said. 

“Everybody in the town could pay for things they needed using pills,” Quinones said. “It was called the ‘OxyContin economy.’” 

Pill mills became common as pain began to be treated as a serious symptom of illness, he said. Doctors were not seen as people who were there to identify the cause of pain, but rather “mechanics who were supposed to fix the problem,” Quinones said.

As patients became addicted to OxyContin, prescriptions began to run out and insurance refused to approve more. Black tar heroin was less expensive and more potent, Quinones said, than what had been on the market previously. Therefore, pain patients found themselves turning to illegal methods to relieve their pain, he said. 

“This was happening nationwide,” Quinones said. “It was the families who had done the best who were now suffering.”

Quinones said, the opioid epidemic is not only due to a need for physical pain relief — emotional pain is to be blamed as well. 

“The common denominator is not is not economics,” Quinones said. “This is a story about isolation versus community.”

Quinones said he thinks a strong community is the solution to the opioid epidemic. 

“It’s easy to think of it as one person’s problem, when addiction is really everyone’s problem,” said Molly Riffon,a graduate student studying physical therapy, said. 

Opioid addiction is a hard subject for family and friends of those addicted to open up about, Quinones said, when beginning a dialogue about treatment methods for both pain and addiction, the subject becomes less taboo.

“I’m inspired by the work he’s done to find an alternate to the pain clinics,” Leda McDaniel, a graduate student studying physical therapy, said. “He’s developing a community, rather than just treating (the problem) with isolation.”


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