By Wayne Gates
Fighting the drug problem was front and center in Brown County last week.
Journalist and author Sam Quinones, author of Dreamland, was in Mt. Orab to discuss how communities are still fighting the effects of drug addiction.
Quinones spoke at two separate events at The Venue on Lake Grant on Sept. 6, first meeting with local high school students and community leaders for lunch and then at a public event that evening.
Quinones began the day with a discussion with 36 high school students from around the county. He told them about why he wrote “Dreamland” and some of the things he discovered.
“This is a globalized world. You might think that you are far away from the problems of the world, but you are not. They are right next door. That’s why it’s important as young people for you to realize that we can’t be cut off from the world. The drug problem is proof of that,” he told the group.
He told them that the opiate problem was twofold, first created by the overprescribing of pain killers by doctors and then made much worse by a concentrated effort by drug dealers from Mexico to supply heroin to rural areas at a very cheap price.
Prior to speaking, Quinones sat with The Brown County Press to discuss the Dreamland, his reasons for writing it and how he thinks our society can begin to fix the problem.
“A big reason why the drug problem started and spread was because of the growing isolation in American culture. In many ways, we are isolated and cut off from one another. This epidemic is calling us to change how we live and examine things we take for granted.”
Quinones said that the solutions begin when people begin talking to each other.
“It’s when we come together as a community that we defeat a drug that thrives on isolation. Events like this, coming together and meeting each other, learning about each other, good things can happen. When people come together and start to understand each other, it becomes very powerful.”
The Quinones event was sponsored by the Brown County Educational Service Center, the Brown County Prosecutor’s Office and Drug Task Force and by the Brown County Board of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
BCMHAS Director Deanna Vietze echoed the thoughts of Quinones on the value of bringing facts to light.
“The more information you can have about a topic, the easier it is to make an informed decision. If we can understand how we got here, helpfully it will help us work together to find solutions to the problem,” she said.
Susie McFarland, Pre-K Supervisor for the Brown County Educational Service Center, agreed.
“We want people to understand the ‘why’. Why has the drug epidemic hit southwest Ohio so hard? I think we have to understand the why before we put a plan in place for moving forward.”
She then spoke about the high school students who were attending the event.
“These are all leaders from grades 9-12 in the Brown County schools. We hope to start a leadership program with them so they can go back and mentor and work with their peers on why the addiction problem is happening and what we can do to combat the problem,” McFarland said.
She added that she sees the effect of the opioid problem every day at work.
“In the last three years in the Pre-K program in Brown County, 20 percent of our student population have been placed in kinship care, meaning that they are being raised by someone other than their parents,” McFarland said.
Caitlyn Wills is an Eastern High School Sophomore who attended the program.
“I just want to learn the ins and outs of the book from the journalism perspective and bring it back to our community and see what we can do to try and solve the (drug) problem,” she said.
When asked what she wanted to share with her peers, Wills said she wanted them to understand how serious trying illegal drugs can be.
“I hope to share with them that drug addiction can start from using them one time. And if they happen to make that bad decision, they need to know that there are people in the community that can help them come back from it,” Wills said.
Mitch Sharp has been the director of Brown County Job and Family Services for nearly 40 years. He also sees the effects of the opioid problem on a daily basis.
“Right now we have about 95 children that we have custody of. Ten years ago, we may have had 25 to 30. The number of cases and investigations that we have, the number of clients that we have has almost tripled as opposed to a few years ago,” he said.
Brown County Prosecutor Zac Corbin echoed the theme of working together as a community to fight the drug problem.
“The greatest benefit that we can get from an event like this is raising awareness about the issue. Communities are coming together. Law enforcement, educators, health care providers, the church community and others are working together. When that happens, that’s when you start to make a difference,” Corbin said.
Quinones said that when he finished the book, making a difference was something he wasn’t sure was going to happen.
“I thought this book would come out and fail. When I was writing it, everybody wanted to hide the problem. Every family wanted to make sure that nobody knew,” he said.
But the reception the book received exceeded his every expectation.
“Since the book has come out, what has been amazing to me is to watch the awareness spread. People are coming out of the shadows. It’s put people who have addiction in their family in touch with other people that have good ideas about how to deal with it,” Quinones said.
The author also said that a society that is used to a quick fix still has a lot more work ahead of it.
“We’ve gotten used to the idea that we can snap our fingers and have a solution. The truth is that that doesn’t work. It took over twenty years to get into this and it’s going to take a while before we can get out,” he said.