We recently had the rare opportunity to host the two authors that have written books about the opioid and heroin epidemic clutching our state and our country.
Sam Quinones, author of “Dreamland” and John Temple, author of “American Pain,” joined us at West Virginia University for an energized discussion about the opioid and heroin problem in West Virginia and the country.
We talked about their books, and how we can best approach this issue.
Sam’s book, “Dreamland,” is about the collision between the approach of physicians to view pain as the fifth vital sign that needed to be addressed; the opioid “pill mill” economy of the country that was spearheaded by both pharma and by some unscrupulous folks; and a “pizza delivery-style” service-based approach of making and distributing black tar heroin from a small town in Mexico, Xalisco, Nayarit.
The overuse and prescribing of opioids like Oxycontin led to a group of people becoming addicted to these narcotics - which are expensive and require a doctor prescription to obtain.
Concurrently, residents of a small town in Mexico were producing cheap and pure black tar heroin that was being trafficked to the US.
The intersection between the number of addicted Americans, the lack of cheap and available opioids and the cheap and pure heroin created an epidemic.
At the center of the epidemic was Columbus and Portsmouth, Ohio, and Huntington, West Virginia.
The book got its name from a large pool in Portsmouth, Dreamland – a center of hope and community for the town.
Like the heroin epidemic, which destroyed lives, the town of Portsmouth ended up in ruin and Dreamland was plowed over and a mall constructed in its place.
John's book, “American Pain,” details the Florida pill mill business that was almost too crazy to be believed. In the span of a few years, the pain clinic business that became American Pain was responsible for prescribing millions and millions of opioids and clearing many millions of dollars, all in cash.
What is the root cause of this problem?
We could point to the poor economy, break down of the family, or lack of education.
Sam thinks the problem may be simpler and scarier. The problem may be the increasing isolation in our lives and the breakdown in the foundation of community.
This idea appeals to me on several levels.
One, we have become lost in our own lives and tune into our own channels – social media, pundits, internet channels. We live with earphones in our ears, looking constantly at our phones.
Alone, in a world of people.
Moreover, communities are changing as people move up in home size and location. There are no more generational communities, where people and their descendants live in place for long periods of time.
And this is in conflict with our evolutionary survival as a group - as a community.
Could the solution to this worsening problem be as simple as rediscovering community?
At the end of “Dreamland,” Sam reports that the town of Portsmouth is undergoing a rebirth.
Largely driven by the former addicts, they are creating a community.
And this community is healing the town and its people.
Maybe we can find our own “Dreamland” right here at home.