Dreamland is one of those books I’ve heard about often enough that I thought it might be a little too ‘poppy’ / popular to actually be very good. This was sort of how I felt about Together when I eventually read it.
But I am pretty deeply interested in opiate addiction – I know many people quite well who have struggled with it with varying degrees of success, and I think the problem of addiction and our desire to purchase our way out of the pain and suffering in life has mirrors in many other domains beyond literal opiates.
This book turned out to be way better than anticipated. I always love a good indictment of corporate greed and corruption that sells out the general public for the sake of private profits – and Dreamland does not disappoint in its teardown of Purdue Pharma and American medicine.
What I didn’t expect in this book was the story about the corporate tactics of Mexican cartels selling black tar heroine, competing on price, convenience, customer experience, using customer acquisition and retention strategies and grassroots marketing and expansion, a model case study that might come straight from the pages of the Harvard Business Review.
A few of my favorite bits…
Stone marveled at their system’s sophistication. Dispatchers sent pages to drivers that baffled investigators. Something like 181230 would show up, for example. Later, informants taught the investigators that the first number was a north–south street, many of which are numbered in Portland; the second number was a code drivers memorized for a major east–west street: 1 was Burnside, 2 was Halsey, and so on; the third number was code for the number of blocks away; the last number was either 0 or 5: north or south, respectively. So 181230 told the runner to meet the addict three blocks north of the intersection of 181st Street and Halsey.
Sources revealed why dealers didn’t step on the heroin. “It’s because they’re salaried,” Stone said. “The runners are up here, nephews of the regional sales manager, and just coming to do a job, paid five hundred dollars a week. They didn’t care what the potency was; they made the salary no matter how much they sold.”
Salaried employees were unheard-of in the drug business.
“We realized this is corporate,” Stone said. “These are company cars, company apartments, company phones. And it all gets handed to the next guy when they move on.”
In Portland alone by then, nine cells were delivering heroin, each with at least three cars and drivers rotating in and out of each of them. Stone had been to Mexico for work and vacation, but hadn’t heard of Nayarit. Sources told him the runners were all from a small collection of villages that weren’t on most maps: Testerazo, Pantanal, Aquiles Serdán, Emiliano Zapata, and the town Xalisco. The same last names kept popping up, too: Tejeda, Sánchez, Cienfuegos, Diaz, Lerma, Bernal, and others.
Get Dreamland, by Sam Quinones.