I recently finished an important book, written about the opioid epidemic and my hometown. Called “Dreamland” after the giant pool in Portsmouth, Ohio, where I was employed as a lifeguard, author Sam Quinones creates a map of the drug companies working to hook people on hard-core opiates, like Oxycontin, and the black tar heroin trade.
The legal drugs came out of a corrupt and cynical Big Pharma, with scant concern for the individuals hooked on opiates after accidents that led to disability coupled with psychological, debilitating trauma. The black tar heroin, however, almost exclusively came out of one small state on the west coast of Mexico – Nayarit.
Quinones profiles the restructuring of the drug trade to modern standards by the Nayarit narcotraficantes. Instead of planes flying low over the border, or mules hauling bales of marijuana, heroin, because of its high potency and low volume, would get shipped in packages through air mail, disguised in cakes as plastic Santas.
And the delivery boys? There were salaried, clean-cut, and driving Nissan Sentras. No guns, no violent drug houses, and the heroin itself, concealed in 1/10-gram amounts in balloon packages, stuck under their gums. If you needed a hit, you didn’t have to travel to the wrong side of the tracks. Instead, compassionate, clean-shaven delivery boys could be paged to your house, to give you a hit for $5 or $10. All you had to do was dilute and shoot.
They would even give you dope for free if you were out of money. Or, if you’d like, you could pay with tagged Walmart merchandise, stolen from the local store. The going rate was $.50 on the dollar. If there was any quibble about the value, folks would call Walmart for a price check. People did.
The young men would work for a certain number of months. If they were busted, they’d be deported. No guns, no dope, not much of a charge. If not, they would haul Levi jeans and cash home to establish themselves as “big men” in a poor, agricultural region known for growing sugar cane. The border? They could walk across. They didn’t want to stay.
Why am I telling you this summary of the book? It’s important for liberals to understand there is a connection between Mexico and the opioid epidemic. Conservatives are not making up the ravaging of communities in middle America. I have friends who have had addicted children. The opioid epidemic has taken its toll and part of the problem is the pioneers from Nayarit.
More importantly, I have a message for conservatives. What is happening at the border now, where we are separating children from their mothers from Guatemala and caging people in declared “dog pounds” in the middle of 100-degree heat has nothing to do with your pain. President Trump is playing on your fears of immigrants in the most cruelly exploitative manner and doing nothing to fix the deeper problems of trauma and economic disintegration that haunt the American heartland. That tax cut is going to the rich, folks. You are being played .
In the meantime, we are violating virtually every international convention about how to deal with refugees, allowing this cynical play to create concentration camps on our southern border.
With the shifting of the military into this crisis, we are also closing down any ability of the civilian press, or even Congress, to witness what will happen to these economic and political migrants.
The boys from Nayarit are bad hombres. But they’re dressed well, and they’ll keep coming. But we are undermining our core ethos as a nation with the crisis of refugee maltreatment on the border.
I came from Ground Zero of the opioid epidemic. I was a lifeguard at Dreamland. I’ve got a dog in this fight. We have to face the truth -- both sides.
Chuck Pezeshki is a professor in mechanical and materials engineering at Washington State University.