In This Episode
DeRay, Myles, and Kaya cover the underreported news of the week— including unexploded bombs on Hawaiian lands, US army bases named after Confederate traitors, and a Strange Loop broadway play review. DeRay interviews Sam Quinones about his newest book The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, this is DeRay. And welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode it’s me, Kaya and Myles talking about the news that you don’t know from the past week. The news with regard to race, justice and equity that went underreported or stories that you just didn’t hear about but should know about. And then I sit down with Sam Quinones to talk about his new book, The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the time of Fentanyl and Meth. I learned so much. I’m familiar with some of his work, but this interview really taught me so much more than I knew before. My advice for this week is to go to the movies or like watch a movie with a friend. There’s so many good documentaries out, I’ve seen so many great things. And uh the coolest part about it is I’ve been able to see it with friends. Also, I’ve been obsessed with young adult fiction. I’ll have some book recommendations next week, uh but my advice is to also read some young adult fiction. You always get the lesson.
Myles Johnson: So today’s news for me is actually not news. It is um just a reflection on me going to um a couple of plays. I saw The Collaboration, which was all about Andy Warhol and Basquiat and their collaboration. And that was cool and interesting and, you know, filled with lies and things historically that didn’t happen. But I thought that was interesting. And the second um play that we saw the following day was A Strange Loop. Strange Loop is really interesting uh to me because I was kind of like hearing so much stuff about it. I was hear, I was hearing um, you should go see it. This should be this will be really interesting to you. And I saw it and I was like, why would this be interesting to me? So Strange Loop is written by Michael R. Jackson. It is about a fat Black queer um well just like a fat Black gay man uh who is writing a play and or excuse me, writing a musical. And this is meta confrontation with his own like inner demons and inner thoughts and and complexities and and and what’s halting him from writing this musical, which I can see how that would be appealing to me. But, you know, this is maybe the fourth, fifth time I’ve been sitting in a theater and felt uh assaulted, felt like I was seeing things that were that were never meant for me to see, never meant for me to to to to to be there. And I didn’t know it. Um. The only way I can truly make a metaphor out of it is is if you go to a theater thinking you’re going to see um I don’t know Little Richard or Billie Holiday. And you went there thinking you’re going to see Little Richard and little and Billie Holiday, but then you see a white person in blackface saying horrendous things to you, and now all of a sudden you’re assaulted in a way that you were not prepared for. And that’s what I found with A Strange Loop. I really felt like I was watching a film where the mother was depicted by a seemingly cis man with no makeup on, and she was eating fried chicken and listen I’m not a comedic prude. I am not somebody who, I love provocative content. I love uh comedy and and um art that is provocative. And I think that Black people need that. I think sometimes we can have to be so excellent and so um and so square sometimes that that’s the only that that we don’t get to be provocative and and and transgressive and subversive. But I didn’t find it to be any of those things. I found it just to be minstrelsy. And I guess why I thought this was the news was because sometimes around what we’re about to go into January and February, we end up in the news cycle talking about award shows and talking about who’s nominated for this and what happened at that end and who’s going to who’s got snubbed for this and that. And, you know, this is a Tony Award winning um play. This is a play that is ex– is extremely decorated. Um. I want to say got a Pulitzer? Like it’s it’s extremely decorated. And I looked at it and I said, this is also why we can’t hold the standards of white institutions and what they think are is excellence or why popularity or how much um money it’s able to generate. Like that cannot be what we measure excellence on because this is award winning, block blustering minstrelsy. And I don’t know what’s happening in the theater community. And this is me on the outside. This is me as somebody who maybe a little bit before the pandemic. Once I got to New York, I was in the financial space [?] even C theater. So, I don’t know, if maybe because I’m not steeped in it. And I come from a Black neighborhood and I have a Black feminist background, but I have never I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And I think that if more of these works that I’ve been seeing that are so antiquated and and and and so offensive, I think that if I saw more of those things or excuse me, if the public saw more of those things, there would be some really interesting conversations happening, I think, because it’s happening in a in a more insular in a insular community. A lot of these conversations are not are not happening. Again I think that because I share a similar identity, even though I do not identify as a man, but like I share, I identify as somebody identifying as a Black, uh queer fat person in the world. People thought I would like it. And the the thing the thing is, I don’t like seeing, you know. Black women mocked. I don’t like seeing stereotypes of fried chicken on the on the theater stage in order to express some type of irony that will hopefully make um white people chuckle. Because, look, we can do dry humor, too. Like, I don’t like the idea of seeing um somebody dressed and mocking, you know, Zora Neale Hurston and humping the floor. I don’t I don’t I don’t I don’t like seeing any of those things. It wasn’t interesting to me. And I think more than anything, it was it was done for no point. I really felt the I left the play. I was like, well, it’s it would be different if I if I was offended or if something provocative happened and it moved me to a thought or it moved me somewhere, but they just didn’t move me somewhere. But maybe like my partner suggested, maybe it moved a white audience member somewhere. Maybe this was uh elementary at best, minstrelsy at worst for me, but it was educational and and provocative for somebody else who doesn’t have my experience. But I would really love to see the day where, like Toni Morrison has said, like I’ve said, like Bell Hooks has said, I would love to see the day where Black people specifically now I’m talking about these Black queer uh playwrights would write for a gaze that is theirs, write for them at 16, 17, 18. Write for them. Write for what they need. Do not write with this perpetual white gaze in your head. You know, no matter if that is a white male authority, that that’s more like Hemingway or if it’s like the place that you’re quote unquote, ”inner white girl” either one of those things is not a good place to create work from and it ends up being just to me so so dangerous and so and just and just a mocking of all the work that we’ve done and again I think there’s so many ways to be provocative and to be funny and to bring levity to the Black experience and be ironic. And I think that, again, we shouldn’t have to create these Selma historical dramas in order to get awards or in order to um be seen as great. But I also think that we should be mindful of what we’re spewing out and and and make sure maybe we work through some stuff before we stage it. Because after that show, I felt like I was drenched in the venom of somebody else’s unworked through emotional, racial, anti-Black, anti fat trauma. And. That’s. That’s not progressive. That’s not subversive. That’s just actually making sure that exactly what the theater originally was created for stays, stays where it is, when that’s making somebody like me feel terribly uncomfortable and making somebody else feel who who is closer to white feel um accepted and entertained. That is that is what theater was originally made for. And there was nothing sub– there’s nothing subversive about what I was seeing there. So, yeah, that’s my news for today. That’s what I wanted to talk about. Uh. It’s, you know, I would never say not to go see something. I think that everybody should go see. I think everybody should see things that people think are good and bad. And I think we should all be talking about it. And I think that no matter what, it helps stretch the consciousness of a person by viewing things that they both love and both abhor. So I would never say not to see it, but I will say be prepared for what you’re going to see. And I really can’t wait until I go to the theater and see works by these Black queer people and see something that leaves me feeling warm or it leaves me feeling, leaves me feeling pushed, leaves me feeling expanded and not something that I feel like is talking right past my shoulder to the white person behind me hoping that they now understand the struggles. You know, no. Talk to me. And, you know, that’s that’s that that’s what I wanted to bring this week and bring to you all to discuss and to chew on.
DeRay Mckesson: So my news is about Hawaii. There’s so much about native Hawaii. About Hawaii that I literally just didn’t know and still don’t know. And I’m learning. But this was about unexploded bombs. So part of the government’s commitment to native Hawaiians is to give back the land. And that is a big deal because as you can imagine, with colonialism and what we did to just push out Indigenous people across this country, we owe Indigenous communities so much more than they’ve gotten. And what is interesting is that there are large parts of Hawaii. Uh. This there’s one large part, particularly that was used after World War Two broke out called the Waikoloa region. And it was used for live fire exercises where the Marines trained in battle like conditions with artillery shells, rockets, grenades, tank rounds and a whole lot of other stuff. Officials estimated that about 10% of the munitions they used, like their grenades and bombs and stuff, didn’t actually detonate during the trainings. So before leaving in 1946, the military conducted a cleanup. The problem was that the cleanup didn’t catch everything. So in 1954, two people were killed and three people were injured when a shell exploded. In 1983, two more people were injured when an old shell exploded. And it led people to say like, hey, okay, we didn’t get up all the shells and all the munitions that were put down after World War Two. The Department of Hawaiian Homelands manages about 12,000 acres within this zone. That’s a part of the land trust. And it was set up in 1921 by Congress to help people make sure they get their land. And the state took it over in 1959. And under the program, anybody who’s at least 50% Native Hawaiian is entitled to lease land for $1 a year and either build or buy a home on it. And over the years, a lot of people did in the Waikoloa region. The problem, though, is that somebody applied for a loan in 2014. And it was denied because the loaner was like, hey, this land isn’t yet free of munitions. And that prompted this huge push where HUD no longer gave government backed mortgages to get property on the land, effectively freezing anybody out from building until the until the munitions have been cleared. But here’s the catch. The munitions haven’t been cleared. So the Army Corps of Engineers has been working for a long time to try and clear as many munitions as they can. And they’ve already conceded that it will be impossible to clear it all because of the high iron in the ground in um in Hawaii and also the terrain. But to get it down to like a negligible level. But they just haven’t actually been able to do it. So there are hundreds of people who are ready to build, ready to buy, ready to use the land, native Hawaiians, but they literally can’t because uh it’s not cleared of munitions. And I just had no I really didn’t know I didn’t know anything about this. I didn’t know that the government committed to give the land back. I didn’t know that we were putting bombs in the ground and not knowing where we put them uh in Hawaii. Like, that’s sort of wild. And as you can imagine, there are some people that can pay the price themselves. So there are people who have gotten their the article details this one person paid $25,000 to sweep his mother’s land so that he could get a loan to replace her home. So people are able to do it outside of the Army Corps of Engineers. But the government, in giving the land back, was supposed to make sure the land was inhabitable and has not actually done that. And this just like reminded me that it is not enough to make the commitment to give land back. It’s not enough to try and correct the wrong on the surface, you actually have to like follow all the way through. And what the article highlights is just the sheer challenge of making sure uh that the land is actually safe for people to live on. And I wanted to bring it here because I don’t know if you knew anything about this, but I didn’t know anything about this. Uh. And it was published in ProPublica, and I thought it was a fascinating story. So here we go.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the People is coming.
Kaya Henderson: My news this week delves into how American history has been interpreted in the naming of military bases. So a little history to get us started. After the Civil War, Confederate generals were pariahs. They were seen as traitors. And many were indicted and tried for treason. But in 1868, then-President Andrew Johnson granted full pardon and amnesty for the offense of treason against the United States. And many of these generals began to be celebrated by Southerners who were holding on to the idea of the lost cause. In 1917, the Army went on ahead and did an even crazier thing. They created a specific policy that says that bases that house Southerners should be named for Confederate commanders. Nine of them still stand today and will shortly be renamed. The current defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin, the third, ordered the changes to be implemented after a congressional commission recommended a list of distinguished heroes for the new base names. Thankfully, the changes will be effectuated by the end of 2023. How does this feel for Black service members? Well Black service members make up about 17% of all active duty military personnel. And Timothy Berry, who’s a West Point graduate and was an Army captain with the 101st Airborne Division, summed it up best. He says generations of Black service members signed up for military service to defend the values of their country, only to be assigned to bases named after people who represent its grimmest hour. Can you imagine serving your country on a base that is named for somebody who actively worked to to protect and defend slavery? This renaming is long overdue. In fact, it’s had consensus for a while from former senior military officials of all races, congressional leaders and others. Um. Despite the fact that President Trump said he would block any bases from being renamed, thankfully he’s gone and so that is no longer the case. The list of new potential names is said to embody the best of the United States Army and the best of America. And it includes African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, women and civilians who supported the Army. I brought this to the pod this week because everywhere we talk about microaggressions as people of color, um everywhere. We’re fighting on every front. There are still more than 1500 streets and schools and other uh markers within the armed services system that are named for Confederate generals and for Confederate uh people. And, you know, we are excited and delighted that these um spaces will be renamed for people who are much more appropriate. Um. But we still we’re still fighting. We’re still fighting on every front. Thankfully, since the murder of George Floyd, we’ve had a higher level of awareness about these things. But I wanted to bring this to the pod because lots of people don’t know that this thing is about to happen. And um I, I hope you take a look. If you click on the news link, you’ll see the biographies of the people who have served and who will now be honored. And these are the heroes that America deserves to have carrying names on their bases.
DeRay Mckesson, narrating: Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
DeRay Mckesson: This week, we welcome award winning author and journalist Sam Quinones to chat about his new book, The Least of Us: True Tales of American Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth. Sam Quinones traveled from Mexico to main streets across the U.S. to talk about the dark realities of America’s opiate epidemic. It was an incredible book. I learned so much. There was so much we couldn’t talk about because we just didn’t have time. But great book. You must read it. Sam, thanks so much for joining us today on Pod Save the People.
Sam Quinones: Uh. Great to be with you, DeRay. I appreciate the uh the interest. Thanks for taking the time.
DeRay Mckesson: So both my parents were addicted to drugs. My father raised us. My mother left when I was three. I have always been close to the topic of addiction, but in reading your book, realized there were so many things I just didn’t know I like ah we don’t have enough time to cover all the million stories and questions I’m like ahh, but listeners know that this is one of the few things that I think should be required reading for anybody who cares about um addiction and certainly opioids. So I’ll start there, but I will ask you, how did you get to that? Like what? What made you start caring about not only addiction, but what’s so beautiful about the book is that it really is like a it’s like a history of how we got here. What got you to that?
Sam Quinones: Well, I would say that the first thing was I lived in Mexico for ten years. I came back to the United States in 2004 to work for the L.A. Times. And and there I began to realize that we were seeing an enormous uptick in heroin seizures and use. And I could not understand why that was. And I came upon the story actually in a in a in my first book on this topic, Dreamland, um about these guys who sold heroin very much like pizza. They’re from this one town in Mexico. And that was right in my my wheelhouse. I had spent a ton of time writing about Mexican villages, where immigration was a big deal, drug trafficking and all that was a um also a big deal. And so I began to write about these guys from this one little town. And along the way, I began to realize that the reason they had this new burgeoning heroin market was because of a much, much bigger story that I was oblivious to because I’d lived in Mexico during all these years. And that was the the revolution in opioid and pain management, the opioid revolution and pain management, where doctors were convinced and and pushed and badgered to prescribe opioid painkillers for almost any kind of pain and endless refills. And a lot of people got addicted who had not been before creating a brand new market. And then the heroin traffickers from Mexico get involved. And then um I finished that book. And um that book created, I believe, quite a lot of awareness about this issue nationwide, which up to that point was really um muted. Um. And um and so I began to speak around the country. And as I did that, I watched the story change like in real time over the next several years. And it went from being a doctors and pharma company, which was all of the story in Dreamland to the story in the Least of Us, which is all about um Mexican traffickers uh switching from plant based drugs to synthetics and all the changes that that means for drug profits and smuggling and manufacturing and use and addiction and treatment, etc.. It was a remarkable thing to understand taking place and watch as I as I traveled the country talking about what was increasingly being becoming an old story. Um. And by the time uh COVID came around, it was really the story was really um Fentanyl and Methamphetamine, two drugs that you make without any plants involved. And that’s where the drug trafficking world is in Mexico right now. I don’t believe they’ll be changing because it’s so profitable and so um easy for them to to produce drugs in that way. That is a very quick uh thumb, you know, thumbnail sketch of how I got into all this. But it really starts because I lived in Mexico for so many years.
DeRay Mckesson: Now let’s zoom all the way out. And people heard about the opioid crisis, people heard about uh OxyContin. It would be, I think, something that a lot of people heard about that crisis. But how would you define like what is what are opioids like how would you answer that question?
Sam Quinones: Sure. These are a class of drugs that hit what are known as the opioid receptors in our brain. They they act on those on those receptors. Those receptors govern pain. They gover– uh govern um uh breathing respiratory system, and they govern the bowels. And um and it’s the pain aspect of that that’s really the important one. Opioids um are, while most of them are derived from opium, they come from the opium poppy. But there are now synthetic opioids that are made only from chemicals, and fentanyl is the most prominent one that also hit those receptors and affect those receptors. Fentanyl, by the way. It is a fantastic drug. It’s a magnificent drug in the surgical setting. I’ve had it many, many, many people have had it. It’s been a workhorse drug for 50, 60 years in surgery. Um. And and and it it does so because it’s such a good pain reliever. It keeps it keeps you from feeling pain and then it takes you right out of of of of anesthesia once the surgery is done. It’s also extraordinarily potent. And all of this makes it very, very damaging when used by the the underworld. But opioids as a class are those that affect the parts of our brain that are known as opioid receptors, and they govern. They tell us when we have pain, they tell us to breathe. They tell us when to use the bathroom, basically, too. Um. So all of these drugs are are as a class known as known as opioids.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, one of the things I didn’t know until reading your book was about the, oh, what’s the word for it. The derivatives of Fentanyl? You called it something else though there’s like another word for it.
Sam Quinones: Yeah, analogs.
DeRay Mckesson: Analogs ah! The analogs of Fentanyl. And I–
Sam Quinones: Yeah.
DeRay Mckesson: –Just didn’t realize it. Like, I knew Fentanyl was more powerful than morphine. But as you take us through the like fentanyl two, fentanyl three, fentanyl four like the chapters of the book when you talk about these even more intense versions of Fentanyl like how, how did you come across that? Is that is that really still a challenge in communities?
Sam Quinones: Yes, I would say it can be. Um. I would say fentanyl analogs were the guy who invented fentanyl was a profound, very, very bright chemist, one of the great scientific minds of the 20th century, Paul Janssen, when he invented fentanyl. He knew enough about chemistry to know that all real chemists had to do was manipulate the molecule a little bit, something that I cannot explain to you as a layman. But he understood to be the case, and when you did these little manipulations, you would come up with other forms of fentanyl that were just like cousins, chemical cousins, you might say, that are similar, but not the same. And as time went on, there they uh it became clear to him that they were even more potent than than Fentanyl. So Acetylfentanyl was like 15 times more powerful than Fentanyl itself. For example, there’s dozens there’s probably hundreds of these, in fact. And the most the most bizarre one, I guess you could say, is Carfentanil, which is actually not there’s no human use for it. It’s actually a sedative for rhinoceroses and elephants. And it’s something like 10,000 times more potent than morphine or something like that. It’s just a remarkable thing. It’s it’s so potent that you actually need, I think, need a microscope to understand how much would actually uh kill you. Um. But all of these become possible, productive products. Once the trafficking world in Mexico and elsewhere in the world um emp– begin to employ chemists who know what they’re doing and know what they’re reading when they’re reading the chemical literature in a way that I do not. Again, I’m a layman and all this. But but they begin to start making this stuff. And um I would say, though, that and and so you begin to see these analogs creeping into communities all across America. Acetylfentanyl, Furanylfentanyl, Cyclopropylfentanyl. I mean, it goes on and on and on. There are many, many of these. Parafluorofentanyl is another one uh more recently um but the Mexican world, I think mostly they don’t really care about this. What they really care about now is just making straight up fentanyl. It’s easier to make. They know how to make it and it won’t kill as many people. And and it’s dirt, dirt cheap uh uh to make. And so I would say that for a while, the analogs, fentanyl analogs were a big deal and you found them popping up all over. Um. And I think that’s really kind of dropped off now that the Mexicans are kind of taken over have taken over the market.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, let’s go back to a topic that a lot of people have heard about, myself included. I will admit that I didn’t really understand it until I read your book. And that’s about uh OxyContin.
Sam Quinones: Right.
DeRay Mckesson: I didn’t know that the Sackler family of Purdue had innovated uh pharmaceutical um marketing had no clue. And I also didn’t know that OxyContin was such a wild, that that was essentially the majority. I knew it was the majority, but I didn’t realize it was like almost 90% of the revenue. I had no I had no clue. Can you talk about what it was like to research that part of it? And how do you think they have how are they still a company like I mean, like you [laughter] detail so incredibly how they manipulated people. I didn’t know, you know, in my mind, the pharmaceutical, um the reps they sent like knew something about drugs. You’re like, these people were like athletes and random people just pushing drugs on doctors. And then the story of the doctor who gets hooked and becomes a pizza delivery guy, I’m like, oh, my goodness.
Sam Quinones: Yeah. Well, you know, um OxyContin was really not a new drug. It was a new way of administering an old drug. The old drug is oxycodone, which is an opioid. It was invented in like around World War One, lot of years ago, and they developed this method for leaking it into your system, a continuous um time release system, and that’s why they call it OxyContin, oxycodone, continuous basically.
DeRay Mckesson: Mmm.
Sam Quinones: And it would have been my, my contention is I think that we would be erecting statues in the honor of the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma had they only decided to market this in a more judicious way, only to cancer patients, maybe some chronic pain patients, end of life care? Sure. Post-surgery, yes. And instead they decided to market it as the cure all to almost every pain you might have. And and um and and and and without any risk of addicting the, you know, the patient and and this were an aggressive marketing. So they developed a variety of marketing techniques. That were used before to non for non-addictive almost over-the-counter drugs you know constantly badgering the doctors, going to taking the doc– bringing lunch not for the just for the doctor but to the whole doctor’s whole office. So once you have the the nurses and the staff on your side uh that doctors is putty in your hands and they learn that real quick. And the the amount of of visits, the numbers of visits that that a Purdue um uh Pharma, which is the Sacklers company, have subjected doctors to. It’s just remarkable. This was all happening at a time when when there was this movement to say we need to use more of these drugs. We this can eradicate pain. There was almost this religious mission to eradicate pain in America using this one tool that doctors were up to that point very, very reluctant to use because they knew that these drugs were highly, highly addictive. And now the the science now said supposedly, according to that’s a pure nonsense. But the they said the science now show that this was non-addictive when used used to treat pain. And that’s Purdue Pharma pushed this idea very, very aggressively. Again, had they marketed this to just a certain percentage of the of the of the health consumers in America, you know, end of life care, that kind of thing, post-surgical care, whatever we’d be, I believe, right because it’s a fantastic drug when used properly. The problem was it’s not for everybody. It’s not for all these different situations. And it really led us to heroin because it had no it took people’s tolerances up to very high levels. In order to leak oxycodone into your system all day long, those pills had to come with a lot of oxycodone in it, and there was no abuse deterrent. There was nothing to keep you from abusing it. So people’s tolerance went went way high. Doctors began to cut them off and think, oh, my God, what the hell have I done? We’ve we’ve we’ve screwed you know, we screwed this person up. Oh, my God. Stop giving them any of that. People lost their insurance, people lost their doctors. Doctors didn’t want to do it after a bit, and they had to go to the street. On the street. The pills were by now sold on the black market. Dollar a milligram. You can’t afford dollar a milligram if you’re doing 200 milligrams a day. And so that’s when people begin to switch to heroin. And heroin and oxycodone are very, very similar. They’re all opioids. Remember, they all have the similar effects. They’re all pain management, can be used for pain management, um but they are very, very addictive. And so what you began to see is Oxycodone, taking OxyContin, rather, taking people up to very high levels of addiction, of tolerance, of dependance, and then being cut off. And then those same folks happen to go to the street and the street they can’t afford the pills on the street and switching to heroin. And so oxycodone was really the bridge that brought people to heroin. And after a while, of course, people were shooting up. And at that point, you know, they’re they’re fully they’re they’re lives are fully falling apart.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, how have they evaded? You know, you talk about some of the you talk about one of the settlements. You talk about some of the practices that they said that they had changed. And then you sort of say not as much changed as people wanted. Is that still the case since the book came out? Has something changed, do you think? Is it on the horizon?
Sam Quinones: I think that that with um with uh the Sackler family, um you know, I’m not a they have filed for bankruptcy. They have filed for complete reorganization of their of their company. I’m in no way an expert on bankruptcy laws in America, that’s for sure. But. But in order to um avoid criminal prosecution, which is what a lot of people would like to see. They have put up a lot of money. $6 billion dollars is what I remember last figure um accord– that may have changed recently, but I don’t I don’t think so. And so what there with the idea being we will put up $6 billion dollars, we’ll reorganize the company. We will be fully out of this company. No Sacklers will be involved. We’ll never get involved in the pharmaceutical industry again. All that kind of stuff is stipulated. And and meanwhile, we’ll put up $6 billion dollars, which will be paid to uh cities, counties, tribes, um to deal with um issues related to addiction to opioids. Um. And and and that’s kind of where they are. Bankruptcy laws allow that to happen, um say that you can put up money, a lot of money, and then you will avoid criminal prosecution. Um. Again, that’s a very controversial thing. You can talk to lots of families who’ve been affected by this and they are just outraged at that the Sacklers will be able to move on from all this, but that’s kind of where where the whole thing stands um now that now now that a number of years have passed, I was surprised to see all this because when I was writing Dreamland, I mean, there was no. You know, I had no feeling that these guys would ever be held account held to account for any of this. They’re just too powerful. The plaintiffs were people who by then were fully on the street, fully addicted. And they they had horrible life histories. They had ripped off their kids, their grandmothers. They’d been in and out of jail. I mean, there were no way they were going to make a good plaintiff. And and so I just thought to myself, this company is going to skate. And then the book comes out and pretty soon awareness grows and on and on and on it goes. And pretty soon you’ve got, you’ve got this um uh all these lawsuits. When I filed my manuscript for Dreamland. There were three lawsuits against these companies. And now after after a couple of years after the book came out, I think there were 2600. You know, everybody began to say, hey, we’re all of us are bearing this enormous weight. Every county, every tribe, every town in America seemed to be bearing this enormous weight from this problem. And and finally, people were saying, hey, well, maybe these drug companies ought to be paying some of this.
DeRay Mckesson: Now there are a lot of little nuggets in the book that I like weren’t your big points, but that stuck with me like I didn’t realize it wasn’t just doctors, it was dentists. I learned that.
Sam Quinones: Sure.
DeRay Mckesson: I didn’t realize.
Sam Quinones: A lot of dentists.
DeRay Mckesson: You said it. I’m like, I’m you know, I almost broke the book. I’m like, I can’t highlight enough I’m like ahhh! [laughter] This is crazy. Uh. The magic bullet? Didn’t know that the magic bullet was like the [?]–
Sam Quinones: That’s why you. That’s why you first begin to see the first Fentanyl that comes over is a fascinating story, man. I was, like, totally enthralled with it almost. The the first fentanyl that starts coming over into the United States in about 2013,’14, ’15 is all from China and it’s heading to peo– they’re they’re advertising on the Web. You can buy our our fentanyl and we’ll send and so all these dealers viewing fentanyl as their new lottery ticket, say, oh I’m going to buy a pound of of fentanyl from this guy on the Web. And they’ll they were sending it through the mail, like little manila envelopes and stuff like that, with a kilo, with a pound of fentanyl or a quarter pound of fentanyl, whatever it was. But the problem was with fentanyl, it’s so potent that you got to um mix it with something else. You can’t it’s so potent that just a small a few grains of the stuff will ki– will make you high and another couple of grams will kill you. And so but you can’t sell little grains, almost looks like salt on the street. And so you have to mix it with something else. And so it was the first time that really that on the street, street dealers saw that their own profit was mixed with was was connected to their ability to mix a very, very potent drug with something that, you know, some lactose or something that filler of some kind. And and the problem was then that a lot of them didn’t have a clue what they were doing. And the myth arose on the street, particularly in places like Ohio, Kentucky. I heard it also in Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada, various places like that, where you begin to see people hearing, believing the idea that the best way to mix your fentanyl was with a magic bullet blender of the kind that you can buy like in target for like I think back then it was like $29.95, right? It was on infomercials. And I want to say this uh DeRay. I own a magic bullet blender. It’s a fantastic uh tool. You know, I make you make smoothies with it, uh salsa. You know, you could do all kinds of things with that little machine and it’s great, um but it’s a really, really bad instrument with which to mix Fentanyl because it uses a blade. And these are powders. Powders don’t mix with blades. You got to shake them. That’s how you that’s how you mix powder. People weren’t getting this and what the result was all this fentanyl was coming out onto the street. Some of it had some of what was called Fentanyl had nothing in it. It was so poorly mixed. Some of it had nothing in it. Other had enough to kill three people, you know.
DeRay Mckesson: Gotcha.
Sam Quinones: And so you begin to see these like really bad mixes of Fentanyl and 50, 75 overdoses, like in a weekend, and paramedics going crazy trying to keep up with it all. And that was the early days of of Fentanyl. The Mexicans took it over. And that really has and then solved those issues by by mixing it better. But but the early days, uh you the magic bullet blender and other types of mixers, like coffee grinders, stuff like that, were, were the reason why the mixes were so bad and people were overdosing such numbers.
DeRay Mckesson: And what um, what do we do? What did you find out? Like, is there a fix? Is it a I don’t know. Like, how do you know you talk about some things, right? You write about um uh the case that got China to stop importing–
Sam Quinones: Right.
DeRay Mckesson: –It to the United States, even though that guy seems to not have been held accountable. But like–
Sam Quinones: No.
DeRay Mckesson: What’s the fix?
Sam Quinones: No, I don’t think I think it’s it’s I don’t think I don’t ever talk about the fix. I think. And I think that’s you know, there is not one solution. There are many, many solutions. There’s no there’s no solution. There’s many solutions. And they all need to be kind of employed together. You know, um one of, I I believe that um there’s there’s a wide latitude now for using uh we’re seeing new experiments in in jail. Now jail for years has been this place kind of an extension of the throw away the key the best manifestation of the throw away the key idea uh in American law enforcement was the jail where you just go and you vegetate. And that’s the best you could say about it. People would go and they have their lives destroyed in jail. But what you’re finding now is that you’re finding people who are seeing that jail can actually be a lifesaver. And that people are now using jail as places to begin recovery and transforming jails. So you’re no longer just sitting around watching Judge Judy, you are now involved in everything that you would be involved in, had you not were you in a regular rehab clinic on the outside. Except for that um, the problem with regular rehabs on the outside is that the drugs that are out there now don’t allow for people to really go into them and stay. I mean, there’s so, so mind controlling the fentanyl and methamphetamine today are just so potent and powerful. So there’s these jail– I’m very interested, by the way, in getting out to the city of Columbus. Columbus is about to open what I think might be the most revolutionary jail in America in about a month. I think in Jan– Actually, in January is when I think they told me they were opening it. It’s a radical departure from everything we’ve ever known about jail. And so what it allows, though, is for us to or what hopefully it will allow the city of Columbus to do is take people off the street where they can’t leave because it’s jail. But on the other hand, they’re not sitting around just just festering and decaying. They are spending time in in um classes. There’s going to be high school classes. There can be college classes, GED classes. I think there’s going to be time– uh places for uh prayer, meditation. There’s going to be workout rooms. There’s going to be um oh, there’s a whole bunch of things that I think are going to make there’s there’s supervised detox, because when you come in off the street, you’re going to withdrawl and and they’re going to take you in kind of they have supervised medical, medically supervised detox and withdrawal maintenance so that they can watch you. So it will not be too devastating to your to your body and your mind. Um. All of this. There’s a whole lot more. And I can’t wait to go see it honestly, because I think it. But I think the the drugs on the street now fentanyl and meth, are so potent, so prevalent, so much of it is everywhere. Baltimore is went from being a heroin town for decades to now a Fentanyl town. And the truth about fentanyl is nobody survives on on the street. There’s no such thing as a long term fentanyl user, I’m sure. And in Baltimore and other towns that I know, um people survive for a lot, a lot of years on heroin on the street. But that’s not the case with Fentanyl, everybody is going to die. So the idea is if every– we need to get those folks off the street. Up to now, we really have not a good place to put them. And my feeling is this this movement to rethink completely top to bottom, rethink jail. So it’s nothing like what we’ve known as the throw away the key kind of depot, in a sense, um is really one of the ways we begin to to work on this. However, there that’s not the only by any means the only thing and I really do believe that that that in the counties that I wrote about in the Least of Us, where they’re doing these works on this work on jail, what they’ve also understood is that we need to develop what’s best called, I guess, recovery ready communities, communities where there’s all these services around so that so that people in recovery from addiction have a better chance at success, helping get their driver’s license back, pay their fines for um probation or child custody or all that kind of stuff. Get clothes, get, get jobs, get, get, get housing. And the counties where this is working, um that continuum of care on the outside is so important. So it’s not just one thing. It is many things a kind of an orchestrated in concert kind of idea that begin by thinking, rethinking a lot of what we’ve had, uh what we’ve done with regard to addiction up to now.
DeRay Mckesson: Boom. And I’m hopeful that we can figure out how to build supports and resources for people that don’t require jail. You know, like we should do these things in community. Um.
Sam Quinones: Yes.
DeRay Mckesson: How can people stay in touch with you? Like, how do people make sure they know the next thing you write, articles you write–
Sam Quinones: Sure.
DeRay Mckesson: –is there a website. Is it Twitter? What is it?
Sam Quinones: Yeah. Oh, I’m on. Oh man. If you’re a writer these days, you got to be on all that stuff. I guess um uh my website is SamQuinones.com, S-A-M Q-U-I-N-O-N-E-S.com. I’m on Facebook at @SamQuinonesjournalist, on Instagram @samquinones_author. Twitter @samquinones7 I mean it goes on and on. All my books are available on uh Amazon um and all the other uh online places, wherever you’d buy books, audible e-book, etc. Paperback, it just came out in pap– Least of Us just came out in paperback. Um. I too, by the way, am am hopeful that we can begin to understand that what is necessary in, the jail is only the first place, that really what is necessary is an entirely new approach to, first of all, addiction recovery on the outside, but then also um a community development as well. And so many places in the country, part of the problems that accompany a drug addiction are dead end jobs or jobs that pay nothing, you know, uh uh an education background that’s really not appropriate for the global economy, all these kinds of things. These are parts of developing, in my opinion, the prevention aspect to to drug addiction that are that are, I believe, just absolutely essential. But I, I also want to stress, as I did before, that this is not one thing. There’s there’s this whole community approach to it that I believe is is an essential thing to do. And really, um without that, um uh we’re spinning our wheels a bit.
DeRay Mckesson: Now, the last two questions I ask everybody, the first is uh, what is a piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the year that stuck with you?
Sam Quinones: Um. Yes. As a journalist, the make your, make your career about not writing about what you know, but writing about what you don’t know but you’re going to find out all about. To me, that is that is the most important thing. I mean, I think so many times we kind of stick with what we know and don’t move beyond that in life but certainly as journalists and I believe that that’s an essential thing to always be learning, always be trying to find out, always be immersing um yourself in this, in this kind of stuff and and and and learning where other all the time. And that’s what makes, first of all, for a happy life and also makes for um healthy, uh intellectually um honest journalism, seems to me.
DeRay Mckesson: And then the last question is, what do you say to people who have done all the things they read your book, grabbed my book, protested, testified, went to the meetings, and they’re like, the world hasn’t changed to get better. What do you say to those people that are [indistinct]?
Sam Quinones: And I would say that that social change comes in the smallest increments. It really does. That’s like a recovering addict struggling with addiction. Right. Working on it day by day by day. And I would say that little by little, just the change the best change the most healthy change that does not is not accompanied, in my opinion, by overwhelming unintended consequences that we we we regret later. It comes in the smallest increments by building alliances and on in the smallest ways at on your street, at your school, at the park, nearby, uh wherever you uh uh go to worship, um etc., etc.. I mean, to me, it’s, it’s the small stuff that gets things moving forward and begins to develop the synergies with other people who are of like mind and people and other people who are not of like mind but nevertheless can see what you’re doing and see that maybe that might uh they might be in favor of that as well uh at some point that you begin to develop those synergies in the smallest way.
DeRay Mckesson: Well, we consider you a friend of the pod and can’t wait to have you back.
Sam Quinones: Oh, man. Any time. [music break]
DeRay Mckesson: Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts, whether it’s Apple Podcasts or somewhere else. And we will see you next week. Pod Save The People was a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by AJ Moultrié and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Executive produced by me and special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Myles Johnson.