The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic

I don’t write a lot of book reviews anymore. I still read a lot but I found that writing a review about a mediocre book is a waste of time…and I’ve read a lot of mediocre to above average books lately. And then I picked up Sam Quinones’ Dream Land: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. In the past few years I’ve gotten involved with our local Agency for Substance Abuse Policy and this year I was asked to become its chairman. One of the biggest problems our community faces is opiate addiction and frankly I didn’t know that much about it. So I decided to educate myself. Hence, enter Dream Land.

This is a must-read for every American who has been affected by opiate addiction. This is a must-read for every public servant who wishes to create and enforce policies to help stop this scourge and provide relief to those in the bondage of addiction.

Dream Land provides the narrative and historical background to why and how this perfect storm of circumstances in our country has created our opiate epidemic. To say it was eye-opening and soul-searing is putting it mildly. The book made me angry and gave me hope. It’s given me a new level of compassion for the addict without absolving them of all responsibility for getting healthy. I think you should read it.

Some excerpts:

A government survey found that the number of people who reported using heroin in the previous year rose from 373,000 in 2007 to 620,000 in 2011. Eighty percent of them had used a prescription painkiller first (192).


Matt’s death had led them there. The Schoonovers took it as a calling. They once thought addiction a moral failing, and now understood it as a physical affliction, a disease. They had thought rehabilitation would fix their son. Now they saw relapse was all but inevitable, and that something like two years of treatment and abstinence, followed by a lifetime of 12-step meetings, were needed for recovery.

After kicking opiates, “it takes two years for your dopamine receptors to start working naturally, ” Paul said. “Nobody told us that . We thought he was fixed because he was coming out of rehab. Kids aren’t fixed. It takes years of clean living to the point where they may–they may–have a chance (235).


Heroin is, I believe, the final expression of values we have fostered for thirty-five years. It turns every addict into narcissistic, self-absorbed, solitary hyper-consumers. A life that finds opiates turns away from family and community and devotes itself entirely to self-gratification by buying and consuming one product–the drug that makes being alone not just all right, but preferable.

I believe more strongly than ever that the antidote to heroin is community. If you want to keep kids off heroin, make sure people in your neighborhood do things together, in public, often. Break down those barriers that keep people isolated. The antidote to heroin may well be making your kids ride bikes outside, with their friends, and let them skin their knees (353).