Tragedy of the American Dreamland


Heroin is a drug epidemic that is hitting hard in America! This article is about Rod Dreher’s insight after reading a book titled, Dreamland, written by Sam Quinones.  The book is tells the story of how a small town in Mexico brought black tar heroin, cheapest and most addictive opiate, to people across the United States.

It’s the story of the contemporary heroin epidemic nationwide, especially in small cities and towns that had never known the presence of heroin until now. What it’s really about, though, is a culture that opened the door for this catastrophe, in complicated but all too familiar ways.

The suppliers are not, as you might have thought, ruthless members of Mexican drug gangs, but a sprawling network of farm boys from the tiny Mexican state of Nayarit — and specifically, from one town, Xalisco (pron. ha-LEES-co). They got tired of doing extremely hard work raising sugarcane, and being dirt poor and looked down on by Mexican society. Indians in the nearby mountains grew poppies. The townspeople learned how to process it into a thick, dark goo that looked like Tootsie Rolls. And through marketing and distribution genius, people in the town developed a system for getting this “black tar heroin” into parts of America that the conventional drug gangs had overlooked. They figured out how to tap family and friend networks from Xalisco, and mobile phone technology, to set up a hard-to-police system of reliable local dealers who distributed heroin like pizza.

And the Xalisco Boys tracked where prescription opiate use — OxyContin, mostly — was big, and moved into those markets. Oxy is expensive, but once people are hooked, they’ll do anything for the pill. Black tar heroin — chiva, they call it — gives the same kind of high as Oxy, only more intense, and at a much lower price. Every OxyContin addict was a potential chiva customer. And there were a lot of Oxy addicts.

According to the story Quinones tells, this was what doctors wanted to hear. They were eager to help suffering patients. Plus, Purdue Pharma, the drug company that invented OxyContin, pushed the stuff hard. It was supposed to be a painkiller limited to cancer patients, who were dealing with the most severe pain, but doctors, falsely thinking it was safe, began prescribing it for all kinds of pain, including much more minor issues. Health insurance companies preferred to reimburse for prescriptions, versus non-drug pain therapies, providing a greater incentive for doctors to rely on Oxy.

People quickly became hooked. OxyContin is a form of morphine, and therefore extremely addictive. Unscrupulous doctors set up so-called “pill mills,” which wrote Oxy prescriptions for anybody who wanted one. Soon, huge numbers of people were strung out on the stuff — poor and working-class people, but also middle-class and wealthy people. Anybody who had Oxy prescribed to them was at serious risk of addiction. Using Oxy was so pleasurable that when those pills became widely available, teenagers started taking them recreationally. When the pills ran out, or became too hard to get, or too expensive as one’s dependence built up, there were the Xalisco Boys with black tar heroin.

Healthcare standards were changing to give patients more autonomy. If a patient said he was in pain, the doctor was directed to trust him. Besides, if opiates really weren’t addictive to those in pain, why not prescribe? Result: “Worldwide morphine consumption began to climb, rising thirtyfold between 1980 and 2011.”

He quotes one former Mexican heroin dealer saying that when he arrived in the US, the older manager who introduced him to the business warned him not to think about what the drug was doing to other people’s children. If you do, he said, you will think about your own children, and you won’t be able to do this job. The drug dealers distanced themselves emotionally from the consequences of their labors, focusing instead on all the good things they could provide for their families back home in Xalisco, and the way that money elevated them from social outcasts to men of status. They refused to allow the human cost to American families and communities get to them. In time, even the people back home who knew better than to think that selling dope in America was respectable work came to ignore the moral implications, because it felt good to have money.

Reading Dreamland, you can see why unemployed former mill workers could fall into this kind of addiction, but it’s harder to see why the kids of the rich do. Quinones shows that the specific motivations may be different, but the basic motivation is the same: wanting relief from the perceived pain of living. For the middle class and the well-off, it’s a matter of boredom, of believing that life should be pleasurable all the time, and that instant gratification is their birthright as Americans.

Read more here.

Check out the book at your local library or you may order it from Amazon.  If you someone you really care about is suffering from addiction to heroin, please get them help!  Contact Bridgeway Behavioral Health at

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