Sam Quinones delves into designer drugs in ‘The Least of Us’

Sam Quinones had a busy morning. Fresh off of an appearance to promote his new book, ‘The Least of Us’, he spent his time poring over a report from the Centers for Disease Control on how the United States had surpassed 100,000 deaths per overdose in 12 months, the highest number ever recorded. . One of the main culprits? Synthetic opioids like fentanyl and psychostimulants like methamphetamine.

“The truth is, you don’t survive on the streets anymore,” Quinones says. “You could survive when heroin or cocaine was the drug, even when crack was the drugs, but that is no longer the case. The problem now is that the drugs that exist now are so potent and widespread that they almost anchor people to the streets the very moment they kill them.

The CDC report is indicative of the types of studies and statistics Quinones likes to delve into. It’s not light reading, but then again, neither is “The Least of Us,” a very detailed and often harrowing account of the Methamphetamine and Fentanyl epidemic in the United States But even if Quinones likes to talk about numbers , his journalistic heart is truly on the streets, speaking to people on the frontlines of what he describes as an “unprecedented crisis”.

“You have pretty much the same deals all over the country and increasingly those two deals are synthetic,” says Quinones, who found in his research that the same types of meth and fentanyl are found all over the United States. . be part of the mix. He disappears from the streets.

The subtitle of “The Least of Us,” recently released by Bloomsbury Publishing, says it all: “True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth.” It’s not a direct sequel to “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” Quinones’ 2015 bestseller that focused largely on pharmaceutical pain relievers, but the subject matter is tied to the fact that many People become addicted to prescription drugs like OxyContin and Oxycodone sometimes resorting to buying illegal narcotics like heroin, fentanyl and even methamphetamine.

“I felt it was urgent to continue this conversation that I started in ‘Dreamland,’ because it was clear to me that it was getting worse and worse,” Quinones said. “Furthermore, because the trafficking world had turned to synthetic drugs, they could now produce drugs in quantities only comparable to the amount of prescription painkillers unleashed on the country by Big Pharma and the doctors.”

Line between fear and optimism

Quinones has been around long enough to see how quickly and profoundly America’s relationship has changed when it comes to drugs, legal and illegal. Fresh out of UC Berkeley and after a stint at the Orange County Register, he moved to Mexico in the 90s to work as a freelance writer, an experience that ultimately helped prepare him for what he does today. today.

“It taught me long-form journalism,” Quinones recalls. “It also taught me that if you want to write about America, you have to know a lot about Mexico.”

This experience eventually brought him back to the United States and to write “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” a book that Quinones thought was going to fail miserably, but ended up becoming a best-seller. saddle. That the public has so widely consumed a book on such a serious subject speaks both to Quinones’ skills as a journalist and to the public’s concern about the epidemic.

“Dreamland” came out and all of a sudden you could feel a change, and it kept growing over the next few years. You could see more people coming out. More people on Facebook, more people giving speeches and talking to politicians about this stuff,” Quinones says. “That was a big thing, because you don’t get change without people being heard and from people who can tell that story better than anyone else; family members, parents, siblings.

Still, Quinones walks a fine line between fear and optimism in “The Least of Us.” The book’s chapters, while interconnected, see the author jump between locations such as Bakersfield, California and Chicago, Illinois; Hardin County, Ohio and Toluca, Mexico. He also visits the labs where they make these drugs, as well as those that study the neurochemistry behind addiction.

The most visceral chapters, however, are those where Quinones speaks directly with drug addicts, many of whom are homeless or homeless, and could provide San Diego readers with a window into how interconnected addiction is with issues such as homelessness. Quinones makes it clear in the book that cities cannot solve homelessness without addressing the readily available supply of illegal drugs.

“When I started, I didn’t understand the homelessness crisis, the mental health side of it, as it relates to crystal meth,” Quinones says. “I knew it was bad for the brain and had psychological effects, but not to the extent that my reporting ended up showing.”

The book ends on a slightly optimistic tone as Quinones travels to Kenton County, Kentucky, a dark red area of ​​a dark red state, but rethinking its approach to drug law enforcement. , homelessness and substance abuse. The author argues that other cities and towns, especially border and port cities like San Diego, need to start embracing the concept of “community repair,” even when it comes to law enforcement.

“Prison is something that needs to be rethought. And there has to be enough room and space and opportunity for people to start their recovery,” Quinones says, adding that people still need to be arrested, but not for the sole purpose of sending them to jail. “There must be programs in place in prison, because sometimes you can spend months in prison doing nothing. It is a horrible waste of opportunity socially, societally and individually. We have to deal with getting people off the streets and getting them into treatment. »

Quinones says the approach isn’t perfect and it will likely take years of experimentation before cities find an appropriate balance and the numbers start to come down. Until then, he says, the drugs will keep coming in and statistics like the CDC’s will keep climbing.

“We have to be in a position to push people or else they will die,” Quinones says. “And the statistics prove it.”

Warwick’s presents Sam Quinones

When: 4 p.m. Thursday

Or: Virtual event via Warwick’s

Tickets: To free

In line:

Combs is a freelance writer.

Alvin J. Chase