Heroin’s '60 Minutes' Of Fame

By Zachary Siegel 11/03/15

While many were pleased to see heroin spotlighted on the venerable news show, one journalist was pretty pissed.

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On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a segment called “Heroin in the Heartland.” A slew of white, upper-middle class young adults who got tangled up with heroin were the subjects, along with their parents, whom were mostly working professionals and could never in a million years have suspected their children were shooting up at school, in their bedrooms, cars; basically everywhere.

While mainstream media has had its eyes glued to the shifting landscape of heroin users, nothing feels more mainstream and middle-American than watching an episode of 60 Minutes on a Sunday night after watching football all day.

Rural and upper-class suburbs of Columbus, Ohio were the segment's backdrop, hence “Heroin in the Heartland.” Bill Whitaker, the 60 Minutes correspondent, posed the questions: how did heroin expand from the “inner-city” and seep into the vein of red-blooded Ohioans?

It’s simple economics, he said. “The dealers are going where the money is and they're cultivating a new set of consumers: high school students, college athletes, teachers and professionals.”

Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, said the current heroin trend “is the worst drug epidemic I’ve seen in my lifetime.” DeWine opines that heroin’s symbolism as a drug in itself has drastically changed. It used to be the drug of jazz musicians and post-Vietnam African-American men.

“There's no psychological barrier anymore that stops a young person or an older person from taking heroin,” he said. “Anybody watching today, this show—it could be your family. There's no typical person. It just has permeated every segment of society in Ohio.”

Independent journalist Sam Quinones reached this very same conclusion in his investigation into heroin’s presence in the heartland. His book, published last summer, was similarly titled, Dream Land: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. The Fix interviewed Quinones last June, where he detailed the nuts and bolts of his investigation for our readers.

The following day of the 60 Minutes broadcast, Quinones aired his frustration with the segment. “It saddened and appalled me to watch the show last night,” Quinones wrote.

Quinones says he and his publisher pitched 60 Minutes stories from his book, about Mexican drug traffickers and heroin in Ohio. “Over the span of several months and several phone calls, 60 Minutes decided against both ideas,” Quinones says.

60 Minutes did go to Ohio. Made it look as if they had figured out who to talk to, and what questions to ask, all on their own,” he said venting his frustration. “No mention of what led them there and what explained the whole story to them.”

Quinones posted an email he received from an ex-narcotics agent, calling the 60 Minutes segment the “CliffsNotes” version of his book.

The Fix reached out to CBS for comment, but did not receive any response.

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.