After reading last week’s news from the U.S. Department of Justice on the Mexican drug ring known as MS-13, it just felt like another column was about to begin.

As we reported, new indictments returned charges against 23 individuals alleged to be members and associates of the Ohio clique of MS-13 in a racketeering conspiracy, which includes five murders as well as attempted murder, extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking, assault, obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, weapons offenses and immigration-related violations.

Some have suggested that MS-13 has had ties in Pike County. Perhaps. Some also have suggested that an election year would be an opportune time to solve the Pike County massacre. Perhaps.

This brings us to Sam Quinones’ 2015 nonfiction book “Dream Land” – courtesy of my friend and HCP columnist Jim Thompson.

“Dream Land” begins in southern Ohio. To be more precise, it begins in Portsmouth with a Page 1 preface: “In 1929, three decades into what were the great years for the blue-collar town of Portsmouth, on the Ohio River, a private swimming pool opened, and they called it Dreamland.”

As Portsmouth and other Ohio River communities were being flooded by high waters this past week, Quinones’ book deals with another kind of flooding: Flooding the drug markets with a deadly combination of legally prescribed drugs like OxyContin and cheap black-tar heroin from Mexico.

“Dream Land” opens with a reference to happy summer days spent at the Dreamland pool – which was described as the size of a football field – and at the A&W Root Beer stand across the street.

From its opening in 1929 until 1961, the pool was segregated. But in 1961, a young black named Eugene McKinley drowned while swimming in the Scioto River. As Quinones wrote: “The Portsmouth NAACP pushed back, held a wade-in, and quietly, they integrated the pool.”

The author’s reporting on Portsmouth, with references to Marting’s Department Store downtown to Morgan Brothers Jewelry to Smith’s Drugstore, brought back memories of traveling to Portsmouth for back-to-school shopping in the 1970s to working there for two years in the 1990s. With a population of roughly 42,000 in 1980, Portsmouth was named an All-American City.

Many things changed, of course.

“Two Portsmouths exist today,” Quinones said. “One is a town of abandoned buildings at the edge of the Ohio River. The other resides in the memories of thousands in the town’s diaspora who grew up during its better years and return to Portsmouth rarely, if at all. When you ask them what the town was back then, it was Dreamland.”

From Portsmouth, the author takes the reader to Ohio’s first and current capitals, Chillicothe and Columbus, respectively, to Xalisco, Nayarit, Mexico and through the sordid dealings of supposedly professional pharmaceutical sales reps on commissions, obliging script-writing doctors, salaried drug-dealers (yes, “salaried” drug dealers), FBI investigations and back to Portsmouth.

Former Scioto County Coroner and current 90th House District Rep. Terry Johnson spoke to Quinones. “Johnson had spent most of a decade raising hell about the mounting corpses from pill overdoses in and around Portsmouth – to no avail,” Quinones wrote.

“Johnson had watched a generation walk U.S. Highway 52 like zombies and get themselves declared simple to go on SSI and get the Medicaid card. He’d seen family members grow addicted, and he had rethought every stereotype he had about addicts. Doctors had failed people, he thought.”

After taking office in 2011, Rep. Johnson and Rep. Dave Burke, a pharmacist, introduced Ohio House Bill 93. The bill defined and regulated pain clinics. It actually made it illegal for a convicted felon to run a pain clinic. The bill passed unanimously. If there’s a positive for Ohio in “Dreamland,” it probably starts with House Bill 93 and Rep. Terry Johnson, who will be term-limited out of the Ohio House at the end of this year.

Johnson also deserves credit for proving that a Republican can be elected to the Ohio House of Representatives from Vern Riffe territory. I’m hopeful that Adams County Commissioner Brian Baldridge can continue the trend.

If you are interested in an eye-opening perspective on the ongoing heroin/opiate problems and their related costs to taxpayers, read “Dream Land” by Sam Quinones. It is a sobering report on our society.

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• On a different note, Mark Twain liked to say that he did his best to live a good and honest life so God would not make him a newspaper editor. I apply that same rule of life in not being a professional politician.

One occupation is – at times – as unpleasant as the other. But I’ll take the private-sector fourth estate over the public-sector first estate. Granted, the pay is much better in the latter than the former. But we in the former are not beholden to any entangling alliances.

When there’s a serious problem in the private sector, immediate action is taken. For instance, if a delivery van has a flat tire, you change the tire and continue the route. The decision is made by one person – without a staff meeting or conference call to “corporate.”

When there’s a serious problem in the public sector, you gather as many people as possible in order to spread the blame – should any decision, once made – later prove incorrect.

Former Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Rod Chu used to say this about bureaucratic meetings: “(These) meetings are a place for everyone to sit in a room and admire a problem.”

I agree.

I haven’t been to a corporate board meeting since the summer of 2009 – when I was trying to figure out just whom really was the smartest person in the room. (I sure know who it wasn’t.)

Now, consider the much-publicized and highly-hyped Rocky Fork Lake grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation division of some $843,498 that was announced on Oct. 5, 2016 by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.

Last week, I knowingly wasted a few minutes and wrote to Andera Pinkney-Hawkins of the DOJ’s Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation as follows: “The Highland County Press is seeking comment on allegations by the Highland County Board of Commissioners at their Feb. 21, 2018 meeting that the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation division of the U.S. Department of Justice is delaying the implementation of an $843,498 DOJ grant for Highland County that was announced on Oct. 5, 2016 by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.

“It is the stated opinion of Highland County Commission President Shane Wilkin that the delay by the DOJ ‘has caused irreparable harm’ to the Rocky Fork Lake State Park region of Highland County.

“Mr. Wilkin further stated that county calls to the offices of Sen. Rob Portman and Second District Congressman Brad Wenstrup have been to no avail. If you could address these concerns and perhaps offer a reasonable solution, it would be greatly appreciated.”

Not surprisingly, we’re still waiting for answers from Washington.

And that’s the ironic part. The last time I checked, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions from Alabama (Roll Tide) was the head of the DOJ as the Trump-appointed attorney general. And the last time I checked, Sen. Portman said this about his former Senate Republican colleague less than a year ago: “Jeff Sessions is a friend, former colleague and an honorable person. He is a man of deep conviction and principle who believes in the rule of law. We may not agree on every policy issue, but I believe he always has the best interests of our country at heart.”

And then, earlier today, we get this from Sessions: “Joined by my old friend Mike DeWine of Ohio,” Sessions said the Justice Department will target manufacturers and distributors of opioids who have contributed to the epidemic sweeping Ohio and other states.

Well, isn’t that special?

Meanwhile, a considerable portion of the $843,498 (almost $843,500) grant from Sessions’ DOJ that was announced by Portman in 2016 for Highland County remained – as of the most recent county commissioners’ meeting – in doubt. Why? What is or was the problem, and why won’t anyone from Washington to Columbus answer a simple question?

I’ve received 11 “news” releases from Portman’s office since asking about the RFL grant on Feb. 23. But not an answer on the local grant. Look, you guys in the Grand Old Party are in charge. Act like it.

I guess we should just forget about those – thus far – fruitless press conferences about Rocky Fork Lake improvements and idle chatter about transparency in government.

Moreover, we’re still waiting for answers from the county on exactly how much its former clerk allegedly charged on the county credit card and over what period of time.

Silence is golden when it’s politically expedient.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press, Highland County's only locally owned and operated newspaper.

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