8News Exclusive: Nationally renown author addresses opioid epidemic

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News sat down with nationally renown author and reporter Sam Quinones during a brief visit to VCU as a keynote speaker with expertise on how to respond to the opioid epidemic.

He explained how he got involved in the issue in the first place.

“I came across, a town in Mexico, small town, where everybody had trafficked heroin like pizza,” said critically-acclaimed author Quinones.

Quinones says he had been living in Mexico for ten years. He was working on a story for the L.A. Times about a unique model being used by dealers to sell heroin.

“You would call an operator, operator would dispatch a dealer to you, and you’d buy the dope from them,” said Quinones.

It’s a model he says traffickers used in states across the U.S., but while working on the story, he noticed the heroin business started to boom for no apparent reason.

“I began to realize that heroin traffickers all of a sudden were doing great business and I could not explain why that was,” said Quinones.  

So he followed the drugs to places like Vermont and Alabama, places he never expected to see a heroin problem. That’s when he says he made the connection.

“I was blown away, this is enormous,” said Quinones.

He says heroin had exploded just as America was becoming addicted to pain pills.

“There was almost like a formula, wherever you would have large amounts of pill addiction, pain pill addiction, eventually you would have heroin,” said Quinones.

So he began to research and found pain specialists and pharmaceutical companies faced a problem. Doctors were wary of pain medications and their potentially addictive properties.

“How do we convince them that that’s not true?” Quinones asked.  

He says they started to cite a landmark study showing pain meds were not addictive and it caught on. It was cited hundreds of times by researchers and doctors. That study was actually a small paragraph published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1980. The entry noted that of the nearly 12,000 patients in the hospital database, only four had become addicted to pain meds.

“I couldn’t believe that,” said Quinones.  

It led Quinones to write a book, “Dreamland: The true tale of America’s opiate epidemic.” He now speaks to colleges and universities across the country. He says he has a new concern.

“Fentanyl is easy to make, it’s extraordinarily profitable, it’s frighteningly profitable,” said Quinones.  

And he says it’s extremely deadly.

“The death rate is just skyrocketing now,” said Quinones.  

Quinones says there is no one-size-fits-all solution. He says it will take people not used to working on problems like this, including PTAs, coaches, churches, and chambers of commerce to ultimately solve the issue.

“It’s when you bring all the resources, and all the energies, and all the expertise together that you begin to forge a way forward,” said Quinones.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

Click here to download the new-and-improved 8News App

Never miss another Facebook post from 8News

Find 8News on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; send your news tips to iReport8@wric.com.