Buried in the rust belt of America is Portsmouth, Ohio: a small city that was once well-known for its productive manufacturing industry but has since emptied into a desolate shell, stricken by prescription-rooted opioid addiction. Instead of steel and shoe factories, the city has been dubbed “the pill mill” of America, writes acclaimed journalist Sam Quinones in his book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.
On November 7, Quinones will present a lecture at Cornell University about Dreamland and the stigma surrounding addiction, highlighting the severity of the crisis from local communities to international borders in an event sponsored by the Department of Policy Analysis and Management.
Traffickers sell and send huge quantities of unrefined heroin in a system that twistedly resembles pizza delivery in Nayarit, Mexico, according to the book description. These traffickers operate independently of cartels, but their cunning marketing tactics and methods for providing easy access to cheap black tar heroin have left cities across Mexico crippled with the same addiction crisis as the families of Portsmouth.
In 2015, Quinones published Dreamland to wide popularity. The nonfiction narrative received critical praise and various accolades, including a spot on the Amazon.com 2015 Best Books of the Year and coming in as a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, according to the book’s webpage.
Prof. Rosemary J. Avery, policy analysis and management, coordinated the event and invited Quinones to speak. According to Avery, who is the former chairperson of PAM, America’s opioid crisis is a highly relevant issue that students should take notice of, despite the stigma surrounding addiction.
“This is an epidemic in the U.S. right now and people are dying from it. It hits every family no matter what race, color, creed or demographic group,” she said in an interview with The Sun. “This is, to a large extent, a very pervasive problem that Sam is going to address for us.”
The opioid crisis is even prevalent in Ithaca — in fact, Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 previously wrote that 2017 was the “deadliest year for fatal overdoses on record” in Ithaca, The Sun previously reported.
Avery teaches PAM 2300: Introduction to Policy Analysis and is involved in research about how public markets are influenced by pharmaceutical companies’ marketing techniques. She described the opioid addiction as “a huge public policy issue.”
“How do we deal with it, you know? Is it passing legislation? Is it a control on the pharmaceutical companies? Is it a control for the doctors who write the scripts for these? We just don’t know,” she said. “I mean, it’s a flood of activity we don’t know how to stop right now. People are dying.”
Avery organizes a guest lecturer event every year and chooses different topics and speakers based on issues she feels are relevant. Last year, her event focused on price transparency in medical markets, which she described as a major issue of the time.
According to Avery, she chose Quinones to lecture this year because she felt Dreamland was accessible enough for all community members to understand the extent of the problem.
“I try to keep these events both community relevant as well as academically relevant, and [Quinones] sits that bandwidth very nicely,” she said.
Quinones is a freelance journalist with over 30 years of reporting experience, according to his website biography. He is widely recognized for his reporting on Mexico and Mexican-Americans, which began in 1994 when he moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico and began reporting for a local Mexico City newspaper. He eventually spent 10 years in Mexico following the country’s political evolution in addition to reporting on everything from soap operas to drug rehabilitation to small-town lynchings.
Following his career in Mexico, Quinones moved to Los Angeles and wrote for the Los Angeles Times for 10 more years before resigning in 2014. After leaving the Los Angeles Times, Quinones freelance wrote for various publications, including National Geographic and the New York Times.
Following Quinone’s lecture, Prof. Shannon Monnat, sociology, Syracuse University, will speak briefly and moderate a question and answer session with the audience.
Quinone’s lecture will take place from 7:30-9 p.m. on Wednesday, November 7 in Kennedy Hall. The event is open admission — tickets are not required.