April 26 – SOUTH BEND – In partnership with Oaklawn and St. Joseph’s County Library author Sam Quinones will talk about his journey chronicling the rise of drug use in the United States, from the silent epidemic of opioids to the rise of fentanyl and other substances and how this progression is impacting social systems.
“We have to understand that our way of dealing with mental illness in this country has been an abject failure,” Quinones said. “You see people who have gone from mental institutions that weren’t great to now because there’s nothing else, tent camps or living on the street or under an overpass, which would seem be worse than a mental institution. … A lot of the tented camps that we see across the country, I think, are a reflection of this psychosis that meth drives people into. There’s always been a connection. C it’s just that the last few years have made that connection more clear and irrefutable than ever before and because of that it shows us that we’ve treated the themes as separate things when in fact very often they are intertwined .”
An LA Times reporter, Quinones lived in Mexico for 10 years and said he was oblivious to new drugs like oxycontin, heroin and other opioids upon returning to the United States.
“I was like, ‘Why would we use heroin again? What’s the point?'” he said. “I came to understand that the reason was that it was one of the symptoms of the opioid epidemic. A lot of people were now addicted to prescription painkillers and then they switched to very cheap heroin and very powerful when they couldn’t find their pills. That’s really what made me do it.
The experience led him to take time off from his usual journalistic job to develop his first book, dealing with the opioid epidemic.
“I saw that this story was more than could be told in a newspaper, that it was huge, that it was national, and so it was something that I really had to devote more time to,” said he declared.
Before he finished it, his publishers requested another book, this time on methamphetamine and fentanyl. “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic”, was released in 2015.
“It’s only been nine years, but it was almost another century in terms of awareness of this issue,” Quinones said. “Everywhere I went, people weren’t talking about it, especially families with drug-addicted loved ones. … No one wanted to talk about it. Everyone wanted to hide it. Everyone was mortified by what had happened. past. Across the country, there was this huge silence. It meant no one really knew what to do when a loved one was addicted and it meant the message didn’t get out, and it meant the politicians didn’t. weren’t aware. All kinds of things were born out of that silence.”
After his first book came out, he started seeing people “come out of the shadows”.
“There were probably hundreds of thousands of people who had been affected by this and yet they were all in the shadows, silent, crying to sleep at night, terrified that someone might find out how their child or father really is. dead, not like a heart attack but like a needle in his arm.”
Quinones said when people come out of the shadows, politicians take notice, devoting entire budgets to drug addiction.
“When I filed the manuscript for my book in 2014, there were three lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. In two or three years, there were 2,600.”
With no known history, family or personal ties to drug addiction, Quinones said his penchant for understanding drug addiction propelled him into a career as a speaker.
“My personal experience was of having experienced silence while trying to write this book initially and then finally having it,” he said, “and then when the book came out , this growing national awareness of it all.”
When he started getting invitations to come speak, Quinones said he was just thrilled with the opportunity. Over time, invitations arrived almost daily.
“One day I had nine,” he said.
“The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth” was released in November 2021.
“Along the way, I started to realize that it had to be more than just ‘It’s the cops’ job,'” he said. “No, no, no. Everyone needs to be involved. … It became clear to me that the more people on board, the stronger the community response would be and the more effective the community response would be.”
“The more groups involved, the better,” he continued. “It’s very different from the drug problems of the past and I think the drug problems of the past could have used that approach.”
He explained that the law enforcement approach to addiction does not work.
“Law enforcement absolutely has a vital role, there’s no doubt about it, but there needs to be more than that. Clergy, chambers of commerce, service clubs, parent-teacher associations, neighborhood groups are important, libraries are very important, all of these people are part of our collaborative battle against addiction, and so every time I speak somewhere, I do my best to see what other elements, groups, can bring together to be a part of me being in town. … We really need everyone on this.”
Now, Quinones travels the country speaking to community groups about the impacts of drug use and addiction across all sectors.
“It’s about raising awareness in the community,” he said. “That’s the point, and the more awareness there is, the less silence there is.”
Quinones, a 35-year veteran journalist on immigration, gangs, drug trafficking and the border, will speak at the Community Learning Center, 305 S. Michigan St., South Bend, from 6-7:30 p.m. May and from 8-11:30 a.m. and 1-4:30 p.m. on May 5 at Sammlung Platz, 758 N. Tomahawk Trail, Nappanee, for a professional training seminar. There is a $75 fee for the Nappanee Seminar.
For more information, visit www.oaklawn.org/events.
Dani Messick is the education and entertainment reporter for The Goshen News. She can be reached at email@example.com or 574-538-2065.