Author Sam Quinones will be the featured speaker at a Drug-Alcohol Coalition of Iredell event on February 5.


Sam Quinones has been on the front line of reporting on illicit drugs, from his decade as a reporter and writer in Mexico to his decade at the Los Angeles Times covering immigration, drug trafficking, neighborhood issues and gangs.

Noticing the black tar heroin flooding L.A. from the Xalisco, Mexico, region, Quinones started writing about the hell being unleashed on America.

In a 2010 piece, Quinones wrote, “Their success stems from a business model that combines discount pricing, aggressive marketing and customer convenience. Addicts phone in their orders, and drivers take the heroin to them. Crew bosses sometimes make follow-up calls to make sure addicts received good service.”

Quinones left the Times in 2014 to turn his full attention to the tide of prescription opioids unleashed in the U.S. in 1996 when Purdue Pharma introduced oxycontin, the supposedly non-addictive answer to all pain.

Quinones soon connected oxycontin to the influx of black tar heroin, realizing that as opioid prescriptions were restricted, a new niche of street opiate consumers emerged.

Oxycontin users began turning to the cheaper and readily available street heroin, delivered right to their doors.

In his book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” Quinones chronicles Purdue Pharma’s aggressive and deceptive marketing, which pressured doctors to prescribe the pills.

By 2004 opioid addiction and overdoses had increased with aggressive opioid prescribing.

The emergence of “pill mill” doctors, especially in small towns in the Appalachian region and the Midwest, increased the opioid plague.

Quinones immersed himself in this world of opiates, crisscrossing the country and interviewing addicts, families, public officials, doctors caught up in the Purdue Pharma’s marketing pressures, heroin dealers, addiction and recovery specialists, and scientific experts.

Quinones said he was struck by the silence surrounding addiction. Nobody wanted to talk about it, and he foresaw a narrow market for the book because of families’ embarrassment about the addiction that invaded their homes.

“To my enormous surprise, the book brought more attention. They came out of the shadows to tell their stories. I was blown away by the speaker requests,” he said.


As Quinones spoke in cities across America, he saw the opioid epidemic starting to shift around 2017, leading to his second book “The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth,” released in 2021.

A new and unmerciful opiate, fentanyl, was entering the scene, along with a new form of methamphetamine, P2P, which could be made in huge quantities using readily available legal chemicals, such as acetone, cyanide, lye, mercury, sulfuric and hydrochloric acid, nitrostyrene, and racing fuel.

Using the same supply chain developed for black tar heroin, suppliers saturated America with fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills and huge quantities of P2P. Unlike the “party” meth of the past, P2P can quickly induce severe schizophrenia, paranoia, and hallucinations.

“This has enormous consequences for every town in the country,” said Quinones. “Now two drugs, the stimulate P2P and the fentanyl depressant, were being marketed and sometimes mixed together nationwide.”

No longer were drug producers dependent on growing seasons and agriculture to create their poppy-based opiates. “Both were synthetic drugs made from readily available chemicals, made in China and shipped to Mexico, all year round and causing unparalleled addiction, death, and horrifying mental illness.”

Authorities are seizing millions of counterfeit fentanyl pills each month coming across the U.S. southern border in a seemingly never-ending supply.

“All of that is a function of how many people know how to make it, how easy it is to get the precursors to fentanyl, and how easy it is to change the precursors into fentanyl,” Quinones said.


Those involved in coaxing addicts into recovery have to shift their methods, in Quinones’ view. “The potency and the quantity of drugs now being seen nationwide call on us to change dramatically our route to addiction recovery. If you think that people need to be ‘ready’ before they go into treatment, they are going to die.”

“These drugs are so prevalent that it is almost impossible to develop readiness in the street.”

Quinones recalled an addiction counselor he met in December saying that “her clients were afraid of two things: fear of dying from fentanyl and fear of being away from fentanyl because the withdrawals are so terrifying.”

“We have to find ways of getting people off the street before meth drives them mad or they they die ‘from fentanyl. We need to rethink the ideas we’ve had regarding how we develop readiness.”

“In the past, a person would experience enough degradation to hit rock bottom and seek help. These drugs are so powerful that rock bottom IS death,” said Quinones.

Quinones advocates for using law enforcement and criminal justice levers to push people into treatment and away from high risk, crime-ridden areas.

“To do otherwise is to leave vulnerable prey on the street who will eventually die before they opt into treatment and stay.”

If they are offered voluntary treatment, most substance misusers will turn it down and protest they are fine, unable to understand the horrible situation they are in or the public health and safety hazards that street users present for the community at large.

“It’s not compassionate. It’s not helping people to do what they need to do to leave them on the street.”

Quinones believes the substance abusers need to be arrested, placed in jail and into the hands of the criminal justice system for a “blessed relief from drugs,” including a medically supervised detox process to lessen the brutal withdrawal symptoms from fentanyl.

Unfortunately, withdrawal from P2P meth, with its 98 percent pure potency as opposed to the previous ephedrine or pseudoephedrine-based meth at about 60 percent, takes months. Mental health issues must subside, if they are not irreversible, before the person is coherent and can work toward recovery.

P2P recovery requires a comprehensive approach with intensive support, including psychiatric and counseling treatment, and a strong sober community to maintain sobriety and avoid the social isolation associated with the drug-induced mental illness.

“People are out of their minds on P2P. Nobody is talking about this. Why? The effects cause the rapid onset of mental illness with lingering effects long after they stop.”

“Dealers no longer have to cut the meth because it is so plentiful, and if they do, customers will switch dealers. It’s going right into their brains, causing the rapid onset of schizophrenia, paranoia. It’s not the chemicals as much as the strength, I think, but research is needed on the effect of the chemicals in P2P too.”

Quinones said rethinking jail as a place of recovery and devising a continuum of care and supervision under a “drug court” for a minimum of two years is necessary to create conditions for recovery to be achievable.

“The new reality is calling us to understand that people will not develop readiness on the street in most cases. The beauty of jail is that they cannot leave.”


Parents need to be vigilant to help their children avoid the torture of street drugs and addiction. Quinones believes parents must demand aggressive law enforcement against dealers to reduce availability on the street.

In some states, distributing fentanyl is a only misdemeanor that does not even result in an arrest, even though “selling fentanyl is like firing a gun into a crowd — somebody is going to die or get hit.”

If a child is in addiction, Quinones said parents should be eager for the child to be arrested — if the area’s criminal justice system is recovery friendly — to force the child into treatment before he or she overdoses.

If drug sales are occurring at a location, Quinones urges the community to protest in front of it and alert law enforcement. Drying up access to supply is essential.

Parents should also keep their kids away from marijuana, which is much more potent, may be laced with fentanyl, and signals their entrance into a sordid world with connections to stronger drugs, he said.

To inoculate teens in a larger sense, Quinones urged parents “to make sure teens are actually working toward something that can be fulfilling in their lives. So often we seem to be willing to praise kids for almost nothing, which leads to problems later.”

“They become unwilling to work hard, unable to handle disappointment, unwilling to deal with challenges.”

Teens’ feelings of isolation are also problematic. “Communities need to create connections with others and work together daily toward those connections in small, even unnoticed ways.”

Quinones also urges high schools to incorporate neuroscience into health classes to teach teens how their brains work, about the prefrontal cortex and its connection to decision-making, and why they may behave in certain ways.

Using the now plentiful brain science, data, and brain images available, schools can give teens the tools to understand the effects any addictive substance, whether sugar, coffee, processed and fast food, video games, social media, gambling, alcohol, or drugs, has on their brains.

Quinones said American society offers a “toxic soup” of available addictive and brain-altering substances to its citizens. All these seeming “benefits” of an affluent society are now becoming negatives.

Ultimately, Quinones stresses that the antidote to seeking addictive pleasures is fulfillment and contentment.

“That cannot be stressed too much – getting fulfillment from the long-lasting, centering feeling of having achieved something through hard work, not just being given likes on Facebook. Working with other people to create and achieve something builds a feeling of accomplishment.”

“You cannot develop purpose in life without working hard at it and immersing yourself – then all of a sudden you begin to feel good as a person because you’re developing a talent.”

“Fulfillment has to be developed, as opposed to pleasure or happiness, which we have been sold to believe is a product you can buy.”


The 2024 “In The Know” Community Conversation About Youth Substance Misuse, presented by the Drug-Alcohol Coalition of Iredell (DACI), is on February 5 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Statesville Civic Center.

The free event features a morning keynote address by Quinones, along with three afternoon break-out sessions on a variety of topics, an expert panel Q & A, and multiple opportunities to visit local agency booths to access information from local prevention, treatment, and recovery experts.

Break out sessions include “An Intimate Conversation with Sam Quinones,” “Alcohol – The Silent Killer,” “Clearing the Vapor – Facts About Vaping,” “Hidden in Plain Sight teen bedroom,” “The Rundown – Prevention and Harm Reduction,” “In the Schools – Q & A,” “The Science of Addiction,” and “My Child is Using . . . Why and Now What?”

Lunch is provided. Printed tickets are not required.


Please register for this free community conversation about youth substance misuse on Eventbrite HERE or use the QR code below:


visit the DACI website at or contact Shane Nixon at