Not long ago, in eastern Tennessee, I had the chance to record a conversation with Isabel Workman.
Isabel is an elementary school teacher who, along with her husband, adopted two children born to different mothers, but both dependent on opiates.
She and I had a poignant chat about one of the most lacerating byproducts of the opiate-addiction epidemic in America: the rise in infants born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, essentially in withdrawals from drugs, these days mostly from narcotics.
That in turn has overwhelmed the foster-children agencies. Many are being raised by their grandparents, while others are being adopted by couples like Isabel and her husband. Without these folks, the country would be in even more serious trouble.
All across America this is increasing, but Eastern Tennessee is one place where it’s felt with special intensity.
Our conversation lasts slightly less than 25 minutes (piano by my daughter).
A couple weeks ago I was in the Midwest, speaking about Dreamland.
I decided to add a couple days to the trip to spend more time in places where I was visiting than I’ve done in the past.
First stop was Whitehall, a town of about 18,000, next to the airport in Columbus, Ohio.
I got there a little early because I wanted to see a new idea the town had instituted.
Whitehall Fire Department has established its firehouse as a Safe Station – meaning that addicts can come by, no questions asked, and will be shuttled to treatment. This has been tried by police departments elsewhere, but in Whitehall they decided on the fire department, believing that most folks would be more at ease there than showing up to talk to police.
The idea had been in place about six weeks and 54 people had made use of it. Whitehall being part of the Columbus metro area, the vast majority of Safe Station drop-ins are not from the town.
One fellow who dropped by was Matt, who grew up in a fairly difficult family but in a middle-class town nearby. He played football, baseball, basketball in high school. In his town, sports were it, he said. Young men got their identity from their participation, or stardom, in sports.
Readers of Dreamland may feel where this is going.
These next several weeks I’ll be traveling to many parts of the country for speaking engagements about Dreamland: Dallas/Fort Worth, Huntington WV, Indianapolis (twice), Logan, OH, Salt Lake, and South Shore KY, among other places (full list below).
These follow many events over the last year. I can’t wait!
It’s been wonderful, after spending so long writing about a fairly depressing topic, to see communities like Scott County IN and Marysville OH plan to use Dreamland to begin discussions/alliances focused on combating the problem of opiate addiction, now nationwide.
I’m a storyteller not a policymaker nor an advocate, but I do feel overwhelmed at times at the intensity of the response and so honored that these towns would invite me to visit them to talk about this.
I want to say thank you to the hundreds of folks I’ve already met while signing books at numerous events – half of whom have stories so powerful that they might have ended up in Dreamland had I met them while I was writing. It’s become one of the joys of touring, meeting folks like this, going to places like these.
I note, too, that many of these place are not towns on a typical book tour. But this is not a typical book nor, I suppose, a typical time.
I love that I’ve been able to visit Peoria IL (home of Caterpillar) and Chillicothe OH (Go Cavaliers!), but it also shows you where the problems with opiate addiction are now in our country.
Anyway, here’s the full lineup:
Sept 19: Scott County, IN (Various events, including Austin High School Auditorium, 7-9pm)
Sept 20: Van Wert, OH
Sept 21: Marion, OH (Palace Pavilion, 3:30-5pm)
Sept 22: Dallas/Fort Worth, TX, Hurst Conference Center, (When the Prescription Becomesthe Problem: A community response to the Opiate Epidemic)
Sept 29: Salt Lake City, UT, Sheraton Hotel (Beyond the Needle and the Damage Done: A law enforcement and health care response to the opioid epidemic)
Oct 1: Huntington WV, Ohio River Book Festival, (12:45-2pm)
Oct 3: South Shore, KY (Recovery Works)
Oct 4: Zanesville, OH (and environs, various events)
Oct 5: Columbus, OH (North Broadway United Methodist Church)
Oct 6: Indianapolis, IN (Indiana Hospital Association)
Oct 6: Logan, OH (Hocking Middle School)
Oct 12: Marysville, OH
Oct 13: Indianapolis, IN (Indiana Attorney General’s Conference, Indiana Convention Center – Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force, public invited)
Oct 14: Des Moines, IA (Iowa Medical Examiners Convention)
Oct 24: Hillsdale MI (Hillsdale College, various events)