206 Bergen Avenue
Kearny, NJ 07032
25 East Front Street
Keyport, NJ 07735
Graves: Can our heroin vice become our virtue?
Sometimes it takes an outsider for us to see what’s right in front of our collective nose.
Sam Quinones, a California-based journalist and author of “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” that is set in large part right in our backyard, offered up a challenge to those attending a private event Monday at a treatment center in South Shore, Kentucky.
It is no longer news that our region is and has been ground zero for opioid addiction, which fueled the exploding heroin epidemic that now has metastasized into the daily overdose count.
But instead of wringing our hands, shaking our heads and wagging our fingers at the problem and its addicts, Quinones suggested this: What if powerbrokers, politicians and brainiacs right here get together to turn the vice into virtue. How about we become the epicenter of research into addiction and recovery.
“Your legacy is a wide swath of addiction. … These regions are no longer alone, but they are the places that have felt the effects most intensely,” Quinones told an overflow crowd at Recovery Works, across the Ohio River from Portsmouth, Ohio. “It’s for that reason, I believe that this place is where rebound and recovery might be most possible.
“Where a ring of negative might be turned into something positive. This is an area that could replace the narcotics farm as a center for addiction research.”
Quinones knows of what he speaks. The nonfiction “Dreamland,” deeply researched and reported, outlines two stories that collided in the 1990s to fuel the current heroin epidemic: the making, marketing and overprescribing of OxyContin as a miracle pain killer and the influx of black tar heroin into the U.S. by a new, enterprising band of Mexican dealers.
His challenge seems so obvious, doesn’t it?
He points to our universities and their medical schools – the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State University, West Virginia University. He points to our opioid incubator of thousands of addicts still beholden to the “slavemaster” of painkillers and more recently heroin. He points, as well, to the stable of recovering addicts finally, hopefully unshackled from the highly addictive and increasingly dangerous drugs.
Governors, legislators, doctors, educators and researchers across West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky should do exactly what the drug dealers and pharmaceutical pill peddlers did in Portsmouth and South Shore and the hills of West Virginia two decades ago: transform the area’s devastation and create a whole new business here.
One, too, that hosts an annual conference on the thorny issue of pain, pain management and treatment that doesn’t end with a high-school football star with a needle in his arm, strung out in an alley. Or the county morgue.
“Combining forces – six senators, three governors, college presidents and a whole bunch of representatives from the state and federal government – can lobby for grants for research into addiction recovery, brain research; can bring a lot of money to this region,” Quinones told the crowd in the center, which was once home to David Proctor, considered the architect of the pill mill. “It can also bring Ph.D.s and it can allow those folks who are in recovery some way to channel that intense energy that comes with recovery and the desire to do something productive and better that what they have been doing.”
But getting folks to work together may prove harder than getting addicts to beat addiction.
“This is a crucial moment, a crucial opportunity,” he said. “It just requires coming together, it requires that communal response.”
But if pharma and dope boys can create communities that kill, why can’t we create those that heal?