One of the morning keynote speakers at the Search for Meaning Conference was Sam Quinones, a journalist and author of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.
Dreamland tells of the rise of the prescription drug epidemic, starting with OxyContin, that has lead to an unprecedented increase in heroin use in particular in our suburbs among white, middle and upper middle class young people.
I was particularly interested in this book and talk. When I wrote my young adult novel, Weaving Magic, I wanted to explore what happened to a teen addict who was trying to stay sober.
I’d had a lot of personal experience with sober teen alcoholics from my own years as a teen and twenty-something, but right away I knew my main character, Christopher, was addicted to drugs, not alcohol. At the time I wrote the story, I was volunteering in the poetry workshop at the juvenile detention center and more and more I was seeing teens hooked on prescription drugs. They may have gotten them from friends who had wisdom teeth pulled, or maybe needed the drug for an athletic injury, but had quickly become hooked.
One of the things Quinones talked about was how the epidemic has hit our suburban communities. At a time when teens have had more than enough, from large homes to large cars, we have isolated ourselves in those suburban communities by driving into our driveways at home, going into the garage and into our large media rooms and bedrooms. We are more connected by technology yet more disconnected from the people around us. The neighbors next door to us.
Quinones mentions how you can drive down suburban streets and not see one child playing outside or riding a bike.
The book is not an easy read as it asks us to look at those things we want to pretend do not exist in the safety of our middle and upper middle class suburbs. And yet, when I look around my own community, the rise of tent cities filled with addicts in our greenbelts is hard to deny and with it has also come an increase in crime in a community which called itself a “safe bedroom community.”
An article just this week published in the Everett Herald talks about the rise in heroin use and there is a public meeting in Mulkiteo on March 15 at 6 p.m.
There are no easy answers, but Quinones says the first begins with walking outside and getting to know your neighbors and the children who live on your street. It begins by rebuilding our communities. And the other night, on an unusually sunny early spring evening, I was happy to see a game of pick-up basketball with four teens going on at the top of my driveway where a basketball hoop has been set up while further up the street, a group of elementary school children rode bikes and tossed a ball back and forth.
You can find a great NPR interview with Quinones here.