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.
There is embarrassment: walking out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe; then there is Shame... "the quintessential human emotion," says psychologist Michael Lewis, Ph.D. Shame tells you there is something wrong with you; you are flawed before the view of a judgmental world; a failure. It erodes your self-esteem and confidence. Even Sarte wrote that shame is "the most dreaded emotional experience."
Ronson gives us a look at the growing phenomenon of humans wielding their autonomy via the internet and social media to take a giant step beyond bullying. Telling the stories of a few individuals involved in some public scandals, he shows the effects of public shaming on the individual victims, their families, even new professions that have sprung up to deal with these cyber bullies. The accounts of the victims are candid and discernible as they relate the sense of embarrassment, guilt, and isolation they felt with such manipulated public exposure. These were events that happened on a big scale. It's the little oopsie moments that we all mindlessly fall into that were most frightening. An iPhone shot just clowning around that goes viral and winds up on the boss's desk, a comment taken not quite but almost out of context...a celebrity choosing to go out in black face for Halloween. The impact of *harmless* actions poorly thought out, if at all. How close we've all come to being fodder for the cyber bully or Shamer, trolling around waiting for the kill.
Ronson is an author that connects to the reader by giving you good information that is also entertaining and relevant. He knows how to make those moments of shock hit, and how to engage personal inventory, "Am I a Psychopath, is my neighbor?" And he can be funny, writing about military psychics that stare down goats, or conspiracy theorists. There's not much humor here, but he sticks his point with the same liveliness. It's an eye-opening look that forces you to think. Is the world becoming more hostile, and what are the ramifications. I would have liked more conversation with the Shamers, but how likely are we to listen -- beyond such actions.
Remembering Ryan's Daughter standing before the townsfolk with her shorn hair, tarred and feathered, and Hester Prynn with her scarlet "A" embroidered on her wardrobe, or even the stockades in the town square -- shaming is not new. But Ronson paints it neon, helping us realize that we have never had such a capacity to destroy another person as we do now.