On May 8th, the Newark Think Tank on Poverty, in collaboration with Newark High School, hosted an evening speech given by Sam Quinones, journalist and author of the nonfiction book Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic. The book, which takes its title from the name of a summer gathering center in Portsmouth, Ohio, tells the story of the opioid epidemic's beginnings in the Rust Belt.
Purdue Pharma, a multinational drug company owned by the Sackler family, funded a massive marketing team to sell OxyContin across the country. Loose regulations allowed doctors to easily prescribe what has become known as "Oxy" on the black market, and because of its addictive nature, "pain" clinics became a moneymaking enterprise.
A portion of the book details one such clinic in Portsmouth, Ohio, which developed into a gathering center for people addicted to their product, all year round. "By the late 1990s a critical mass was acheived and for about a decade the value of most goods in Portsmouth, and many services, was measured in pills," writes Quinones in Dreamland (page 212).
Another center of Quinones' narrative is Enrique, a young man from an impoverished village in Mexico, who leaves for the United States when a relative offers him a lucrative job selling black tar heroin. As Purdue increases the market, Enrique and his relatives take advantage of the increased demand for opioids, earning a small fortune through the process. Eventually, the law catches up with him, and he relays his story to Quinones while incarcerated.
Quinones' speech that evening touched mostly on the cultural. "Isolation is heroin's habitat," he believes, and that is dangerous to unleash on a society of people isolated from one another. In order to end the epidemic, people will have to revive a sense of "community" and belonging in their areas. This is inline with what we believe on the economic side, that with a safe and permanent home and neighborhood, a job that provides a living wage, or doctors that will always be there, people will be less inclined to isolate for the purposes of using drugs.
Bethany Bruner of the Newark Advocate wrote up a great summary of Quinones' speech during his appearance at the Newark Rotary meeting in the afternoon.
The Newark Think Tank on Poverty will be hosting a follow-up Addiction and Recovery Town Hall meeting, again in collaboration with Newark High School. You can view more details here and RSVP on Facebook.
Continue scrolling to see pictures taken from the event.