The drug crisis that has plagued the United States for many years reached a milestone during the pandemic. According to data released this week by the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdose in the year to April, an increase of nearly 30% from the previous year. This staggering number exceeds the combined number of traffic and gun deaths.
How did that happen? The Times interviewed Sam Quinones, who documented the drug trade in the 2015 book “Dream Land: The True Story of the American Opium Epidemic” and recently discussed the evolution of the epidemic in the United States. His new book “The least of us: the true story and hope of America in the age of fentanyl and methamphetamine.”
Quinones is a former Times reporter. For clarity, this interview has been edited.
Sam, this is the first time we have seen over 100,000 overdose deaths in a year. It is easy to imagine how the pandemic played a role in this surge—intensifying anxiety and depression and cutting off access to treatment. But there seems to be a paradox here: COVID-19 has exacerbated the crisis, but it has also been obscured by it.
Yes, I was completely discouraged by it. It wasn’t until February 2020 that people’s attention to the crisis really increased, and then all the focus shifted to the pandemic-I’m not wrong. The problem is that at this moment, Mexico’s trafficking world has achieved what no other trafficker in our country’s history has achieved: covering this country with the deadliest and most nerve-wracking drugs we have ever seen. It has been built for this for many years. It happened that we were quarantined the moment these drugs reached their peak.
You are talking about synthetic drugs, especially methamphetamine and fentanyl, which are 100 times more effective than morphine. How does the effectiveness of these drugs affect the evolving drug crisis?
These excess numbers are unprecedented, because the situation on the street is also the same. In the history of modern drug use—for example, before and after World War II—do you see that the world of drug smuggling requires mixing drugs to profit. Excluding crack, pentachlorophenol, cocaine-all this is ready for sale, right? Now, in order for the trafficking world to obtain the expected winning type of profit, it must mix these things together.
They are mixed with methamphetamine, mixed with cocaine, and now we are seeing reports of mixing with marijuana. Every salesperson knows that you are just adding fentanyl to your mix-whether you sell cocaine or methamphetamine, it doesn’t matter-soon, you will have a fentanyl addict, and he will add You buy.
We live in a very, very different world. The past few decades have changed: the 70s was depression; the 80s was fast-paced and stimulant; the 90s, well, you really don’t know. So now everything is at the same time-in catastrophic numbers.
Let me ask you this question, because when it comes to something so addictive, I often wonder about the cyclical relationship between supply and demand. As people become addicted, the synthetic properties of these products seem to ease the barriers to mass production.
right. You can make these all year round, provided you can use these chemicals. Those synthetic drugs don’t need a season: you don’t need four months to make 50 kilograms of methamphetamine, you need about a week. If you have chemicals, you can make that 50 kilograms over and over again.
With methamphetamine, it is no longer restricted by a precursor that is difficult to replicate. You can use many different chemical programs or hackers to create terrible quantities, right? You can do this, you can do that. Chemicals are different, but they are all readily available, they are all used in industry, and they are legal. Of course, most of them are very toxic-but there are also lye, cyanide, hydrochloric acid, and sulfuric acid. There are many ways to make these things.
As a result, methamphetamine prices in many regions have fallen by 80% or more. For example, in the Nashville area, methamphetamine is $12.50 per ounce. It is now $2.25.
Where is fentanyl?
First of all, the amount you need to make huge profits is actually relatively small. And it’s quite easy to make. But with fentanyl, there is another problem. At first, the Chinese company sent fentanyl directly by mail—you bought it on the dark web, and then they sent you a kilogram. However, it is extremely unlikely that we can reach the supply of fentanyl we are seeing now by mailing packages from China.
This amount is because it is now manufactured by Mexico Trafficking the World, unlimited chemicals from Mexico’s Pacific coast ports, and Gathering through border crossings Among the millions of cars and trucks traveling to and from the United States every year. The transfer is from China to Mexico, where there is a huge influx of chemicals.
Geographically, if that is the source of the product, where are they going?When we look at the overdose data for the past year, it seems to have touched almost every corner of the United States
Think about it: If you drive from coast to coast on a highway, you will find that American companies offer almost the same products across the country. No matter where you are, you can find Applebees, Cracker Barrel, the same Hampton Inns and Motel 6s, and Shell gas stations.
This is what the Mexican trafficking world has achieved through these two drugs-fentanyl and methamphetamine. You can buy them in Kentucky, you can buy them in Los Angeles, and you can buy them in Oregon. They have established a huge distribution network throughout the country. This is also unprecedented.
So, this is not a mom-and-pop shop, or even In-N-Out. Is it McDonald’s?
McDonald’s or Walmart, yes.
Can you talk about the demographics we see in overdose deaths? Many of us still believe that this crisis is mainly a rural white problem. But these numbers reflect a shift towards more diverse victims.
When I wrote “Land of Dreams,” non-white people were not involved. It is for this reason that it is very remarkable-as far as I know, we have never seen a purely ethnic drug scourge in our country, or certainly not on this scale. It is still mainly white. This seems very clear to me.
But in my report, “the least important of us” must be the first time that African Americans have been included. African Americans are dying of opioid overdose because African American dealers are thinking of the same thing as any other dealer: I can put fentanyl in my cocaine. If I do this, I will soon have a fentanyl user. In my book, I discuss this issue in depth. The chapter I wrote about this focused on the first African American to die in Akron, one of the first towns to see the arrival of fentanyl. Mikey Tanner spent 10 years fighting cocaine addiction, but after fentanyl entered the drug supply market, he only lived less than a month or two.
It was a few years ago-in the early days of fentanyl-but it heralded something bigger, that drug dealers in the African American community, like all other drug dealers in the United States, began to figure out if you were in anything Add fentanyl to your sales and you will get a much more loyal customer. Of course, the negative side is that you will occasionally get a corpse.
This is the most likely thing to happen Caricature of Venice Beach Early September, and it is likely to happen Michael K. Williams, A great actor from “The Wire”. People initially thought they had taken cocaine, and then they died of this stuff.
I am curious how you think the federal or state response needs to be changed based on these new data. For a long time, people have been hyping up to increase access to naloxone and promote its use. But what is your opinion on how to best solve this problem-hit or relax?
I dare not answer this question because I have to go on. Not because I have all the answers. But the idea of legalizing drugs-when these drugs are fentanyl and methamphetamine-seems to me to be a height of misguided compassion. This is not kindness and compassion, this is the death penalty, and it is really devastating.
The medicine has changed, but our thinking has not changed. The philosophy born in another drug era must be reassessed; it is reckless to think that law enforcement has no role in all this.
It’s time to understand: when you are addicted to fentanyl and synthetic methamphetamine on the street, you are not ready for treatment. You will never be ready for treatment until these drugs kill you. Ultimately, fentanyl will kill everyone who uses it.