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Publisher's Summary

In 1929, in the blue-collar city of Portsmouth, Ohio, a company built a swimming pool the size of a football field; named Dreamland, it became the vital center of the community. Now, addiction has devastated Portsmouth, as it has hundreds of small rural towns and suburbs across America - addiction like no other the country has ever faced. How that happened is the riveting story of Dreamland. With a great reporter's narrative skill and the storytelling ability of a novelist, acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones weaves together two classic tales of capitalism run amok whose unintentional collision has been catastrophic. The unfettered prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s reached its peak in Purdue Pharma's campaign to market OxyContin, its new, expensive - and extremely addictive - miracle painkiller. Meanwhile a massive influx of black tar heroin - cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico's west coast, independent of any drug cartel - assaulted small towns and midsized cities across the country, driven by a brilliant, almost unbeatable marketing and distribution system. Together these phenomena continue to lay waste to communities from Tennessee to Oregon, Indiana to New Mexico. Introducing a memorable cast of characters - pharma pioneers, young Mexican entrepreneurs, narcotics investigators, survivors, and parents - Quinones shows how these tales fit together. Dreamland is a revelatory account of the corrosive threat facing America and its heartland.

©2015 Sam Quinones (P)2015 Audible Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award Winner, General Nonfiction

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    5 out of 5 stars
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The Truth Finally Told

Having known many addicts who have committed suicide or OD'd. I admire the author's research and learned so much about why the abuse is growing at an alarming rate.

I am so happy I read this book. it's a shame that so many people turn a blind eye to this epidemic.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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American Nightmare that is Necessary Reading


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.

99 of 106 people found this review helpful

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Big Pharma and Oyxcontin

What an eye opening book on the opioid epidemic in the United States.
Prescription pills and black tar heroin have taken too many ppl. Like tobacco and alcohol addiction, drugs are the same. Drugs must be decriminalized so we can save our youth. Too many are gone already. Drug addicts need up to 2yrs of rehabilitation.
Dreamland was a brilliant audible book.
Highly recommend.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Another vote for a Pulitzer

Because I have worked for years in the primary health care-behavioral health field, I am very aware of the devastation caused by opioids, in fact so aware that I put off reading this book because I expected it to just add to my emotional overload. Well, to some extent it did - mainly because it exposed how long the problem had been growing more or less unobserved and definitely un-dealt-with - but it was well worth any pain.

Although a bit repetitious in part, it is what I consider to be "perfect" journalism, perfect history, going down story tracks to a certain point, following another track, then another, then bringing them all together. What do Mexican farm kids, drug companies, Walmarts, well-meanng and not so well-meaning doctors have to do with the crisis - read and find out.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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A sad and tragic tale.

Hearing all the "players" in our country's opiate epidemic being woven together into a "Perfect Storm" was particularly interesting from the standpoint of being a Pharmacist, and someone who has seen how Heroin destroys a family by having an addicted brother who lost his son and drove our parents to their graves.  I can see how, when used appropriately, opiate analgesics have tremendous benefit, and I also abhor the effects of inappropriate use, and the beleaguering lies people will tell to get their hands on prescription pain killers illegitimately.  I've also had to witness the downfall of other health care professionals around me in a hospital setting... losing their livelihoods, their family, and even their lives, and been witness to the creative ways in which they would procure their chemical(s) of choice.

A certain amount of respect has to be paid to the Jalisco Boy's business model, and the ingenuity of these (I am assuming) uneducated laborers carving out an ingenious plan to make better lives for them and their families albeit at the expense of the glutinous, Verruca Salt mentality of the American society.  The author does a fabulous job of tying it all together, ending in the same place he began, and with new hope that we can learn from our mistakes and keep such chemical dependency from destroying the fabric of our societies, our citizens, in a long, but interesting listen.  Glad I stuck it out.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Enlightening and heartbreaking

It would be hard to say that I enjoyed this book, though I am glad that I read it. It offers a sobering account of the parallel rise of prescription pain medication and black tar heroine. I've known people who overdosed on pain pills and died. I know people who still struggle with their addictions. Dreamland gave me a framework for understanding how they became addicted, and the long and complex process they'll face trying to get clean. I recommend it to anyone who knows an addict, or to anyone who is an addict.

In terms of the quality of the audiobook, I thought the performance was very good. the narrator spoke clearly and it flowed well. It's high quality, both in terms of content and audio.

27 of 30 people found this review helpful

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Worthwhile read for anyone

I loved this book. It can be a bit scattered and repetitive, but overall it is phenomenal. I have already recommended it multiple times.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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A must read

There is an epidemic of narcotic abuse in this country. Dreamland tells the story of how this epidemic emerged. It follows an arc that begins with an enterprising region in Mexico that can produce heroin to the small towns across America that discovered a cheaper alternative to the prescribed narcotics like OxyContin. Narcotic abuse is rampant and prescribing habits may be contributing. Apart from the facts, this is a gripping the story.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Incredible

This is a jaw-dropping, shocking book. Incredibly well-written. Very haunting, yet so well written it grips you to continue on. I recommend it to everyone.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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So interesting......

I live in the area where this book is mentioned and it is very interesting to see that someone has finally seen what has gone on here for so many years.

Only bad thing about the reading is words are not pronounced the way we say them.


But overall very interesting book.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • IYER
  • 03-08-18

Drug gang as consumer focussed enterprise

There is a certain image of a drug dealer in most people’s minds. It is likely that of a scruffy African-American, selling crack on a shady side street of a large city. But while that is the popular image, there is another world, perhaps more insidious and yet lesser known – where the dealers carry no weapons, keep balloons of “stuff: in their mouth, and carry only as much heroin as they can without running the risk of being tried for drug dealing if caught. Oh, and they also offer bonus hits to long standing clients, free samples if you have suddenly stopped ordering your dope, and follow up with “sales calls” to check on the quality of stuff offered – customer servicing of a standard to make any consumer marketer proud.
It is this world of new wave dealers, unscrupulous pharma marketers and addiction that Sam Quinones explores in his well-researched “Dreamland”.

The Dreamland in the title was the name of a company built swimming pool in Portsmouth, Ohio, a typical company town in the industrial heartland of America. Until the Seventies and Eighties, this was the social center of the town. But as deindustrialization enveloped and turned the erstwhile industrial belt into a Rust Belt, the town now lies almost deserted with no jobs – a story seen in many towns across the region. “Dreamland” visits such towns and is the story of the drug epidemic that has swept in there as people battled joblessness, the loss of careers and indeed their futures.

The decline of America’s industrial heartland and rise of blue collar unemployment coincided unfortunately with the discovery of a time release opioid painkiller, OxyContin, by Purdue Pharma, which promised pain relief with just one tablet every 12 hours. The active ingredient, Oxycodone, is almost identical in its chemistry to heroin, with the same euphoric effect, the same brain damage and the same withdrawal symptoms. This combined with the growing belief among some physicians that every patient had the right to seek pain relief, something aggressively promoted behind the scenes by Purdue, which then had just the drug that was needed.
Since 1999, 200 thousand Americans have died from overdose related to OxyContin or other prescription opioids; 145 now die every day; by the time you have read this review another person would have died of opioid overdose. And 4 out of 5 addicts today are those who started with painkillers.

Of course, as demand for these drugs burgeoned, along with Purdue Pharma’s sales so did cheaper substitutes, in the form of cheap “black tar” heroin, supplied by Mexican groups based mainly out of the states of Xalisco and Nayarit. This forms a particularly intriguing sub plot, of the afore-mentioned dealers who behaved like small-franchise business owners rather than a dreaded gang criminals. The book follows and juxtaposes the parallel paths of legal and illegal drugs, both prescription opiates and black tar heroin.

The two have combined to create a silent crisis which, owing to its location away from the spotlights of the coastal metropolises, has long hidden under the collective consciousness – an epidemic affecting the unemployed, the disabled, and particularly the young (some of the saddest stories are those of young men, usually white and middle class, who were prescribed the drug as a result of college sport injuries, and who then were hooked – until they suddenly died, even as their parents hid from society the truth of their children’s’ addiction, saying they dies of heart attack or some other disease)

As Quinones investigates, other sad but fascinating vignettes emerge – pill mills where doctors run practices almost entirely based on prescriptions of OxyContin; a sub-economy among addicts based on OxyContin pills as barter or a substitute for money; and stories of Mexicans doing 2 to 3 month stints in the drug pushing business until they were caught and deported, their close knit lives in their home towns, and their fascination with the Levi’s 501.

“Dreamland” is both an enlightening and a deeply disturbing study of the health and social crisis caused by deindustrialization, unscrupulous corporate marketing, unethical medical practices, and dismayingly efficient supply chain management and customer servicing by criminals.
The only grouse with the author would be that while he is rightly appalled and castigates the prescription opioid trade, he is far less trenchant and almost sympathetic to the Mexicans supplying the alternative heroin and their methods.

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  • Iceberg slim
  • 01-31-18

First class.

Amazing, frightening and pathologically researched book. With some mind bending statistics. The poppy rules the world!

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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Ceo
  • 12-24-17

Great material but overlong.

Great insight into the opioid crisis, but for me could be told in half the time. If you don't need the minute detail, go for an abridged version if available.

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  • steve lucy
  • 12-14-17

An education

A truly worthwhile listen that would truly benefit many teenagers - the various strands running through the book are all worthwhile and I am motivated to learn more about the Opioid epidemic searing the US.

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  • Frank
  • 12-30-15

''page turner''

What made the experience of listening to Dreamland the most enjoyable?

Found this after it was listed as Slate's #1 book of 2015. It really is excellent, a total page turner (however that applies to audio) - I've listened to 6 hours in the past day. This is well worth getting.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful