Skip to Main Content

"Dreamland" Author Sam Quinones

Bill speaks with journalist Sam Quinones, author of "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic". Part of KET's Inside Opioid Addiction Initiative funded in part by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.
Season 11 Episode 20 Length 29:31 Premiere: 05/29/16

“Dreamland” Author Traces the Roots of an Epidemic

In 2009 journalist and author Sam Quinones had an appendectomy. During his hospital stay, he says he received two pills a day of a medication he had not heard of before, a painkiller called Vicodin. He says the drug worked well for the acute pain he experienced right after his surgery, but he didn’t understand why he was discharged with 60 additional Vicodin pills to take home.

Looking back on it, Quinones says he’s amazed at how casually his doctors prescribed such a large quantity of a highly addictive drug that he didn’t really need. He says the hospital staff didn’t even explain to him the nature of the narcotic or the problems it could cause.

“It was like sending me home, I think now, with a loaded gun,” Quinones says.

The rise of prescription opioid abuse is the focus of Quinones’ latest book, “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.” The former Los Angeles Times reporter appeared on KET’s One to One to discuss the drug crisis and efforts to address the problem.

Quoinones traces the roots of the current epidemic of addiction to societal changes, consumer demands, pharmaceutical marketing, and how health care providers approach pain.

“This is the first drug scourge we’ve seen in post-World War II America that started outside of the mafia and the underworld but instead by doctors,” Quinones says.

Opioid-based medicines like Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin can play a vital role in countering acute pain or pain associated with cancer or palliative care. But Quinones contends that medical professionals have relied too much on prescription painkillers to treat pain caused by a range of problems from surgeries and sports injuries to tooth extractions and car accidents.

The problem gets exacerbated when doctors include so many doses in any one prescription, which Quinones says increases the opportunities for the patient to become addicted or for the excess pills to wind up on the black market. He argues that doctors need to take the time to figure out what approach will work best for each particular patient.

In addition, Quinones says drug manufacturers have not been held accountable for downplaying the addictive properties of the narcotic painkillers they produce.

“I think what we all need to understand is that pharmaceutical [companies] are not selling wellness, they’re selling pills,” Quinones says. “They want people to buy pills.”

He says some drugs work well as intended, while other drugs are solutions looking for a problem to address. Quinones adds that it’s irresponsible for companies to describe opioid-based drugs as non-addictive.

Quinones also blames patients who want a quick fix for their health concerns.

“We as American health consumers wanted simplicity, we wanted the easy solution,” Quinones says. “The real solution is taking better care of our bodies, exercising more, quitting smoking, finding radically new ways of eating [by] cutting out the junk food and the processed food.”

A Loss of Community
Quinones named his book for an old swimming pool in Portsmouth, Ohio, a steel and manufacturing community situated at the confluence of the Scotio and Ohio rivers. Built in 1929, the Dreamland pool was the size of a football field, and became a social hub that served generations of families in the blue-collar town.

But as industrial jobs slowly drained from the area, Portsmouth fell on hard times and so did the swimming pool. When Dreamland closed in 1993, Quinones says the heart of the community was destroyed.

As unemployment continued to rise in southeastern Ohio, something else started to increase: prescriptions for pain medicines. Doctors willing to dispense narcotics even for non-legitimate purposes popped up to supply the growing demand. In time, Portsmouth would have more so-called “pill mill” clinics per capita that any city in the country, Quinones told NPR. Those facilities would serve as training grounds for doctors who wanted to start lucrative prescription operations in depressed areas of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

While unemployment and the loss of a popular swimming pool helped launch Portsmouth into its addiction crisis, Quinones says other cities around the country have suffered their own breakdowns in community life.

“When you lose that, you lose your societal immune system [and] you become very vulnerable to viruses like opiate addiction,” Quinones says.

As people addicted to pain pills found they wanted a cheaper but more potent high, Quinones says they turned to a ready supply of heroin flowing into the United States from Mexico. He says heroin symbolizes the final break with community because it’s a drug that isolates its users from the social connections that humans need to properly function in society.

Rethinking Treatment for Addicts
As the opiate epidemic has grown over the last 15 to 20 years, so has the number of people who are killed by drug overdoses. In 2014 alone, some 28,000 Americans died from opioid-related overdoses.

Quinones says he’s finally seeing a shift in the crisis. He says doctors are starting to reassess how they treat pain and prescribe narcotics; parents who have lost children to an overdose are going public with their stories and lobbying for more treatment resources; and policymakers are beginning to embrace medically assisted therapies as a viable treatment instead of relying just on abstinence-based programs.

“Anytime you say there’s only one solution to a very complicated problem, you are really painting yourself into a very difficult corner,” Quinones says.

He says the epidemic has also forced officials to rethink how to improve access to treatment. He points to a program at the Kenton County (Ky.) Detention Center that provides addicted inmates with cognitive-behavioral therapy, intensive counseling, and monthly injections of a narcotic blocking drug called Vivitrol. When they are released from jail, those individuals are directed to outpatient care clinics in northern Kentucky and other services for those in recovery. Quinones says since there’s a widespread shortage of beds in private treatment facilities, jails may be a logical place to provide addicts with the counseling and medically assisted treatment they need to kick their habit.

foundation_logo2013This KET production is part of the Inside Opioid Addiction initiative, funded in part by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Sponsored by:

Season 11 Episodes

Mitch McConnell on Politics

S11 E49 Length 28:04 Premiere Date 12/19/16

Speaker-Elect Jeff Hoover

S11 E48 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 12/19/16

Kentucky Harm Reduction Coalition

S11 E46 Length 28:21 Premiere Date 12/18/16

Former Congressman Barney Frank

S11 E45 Length 28:36 Premiere Date 12/11/16

Kentucky Youth Advocates

S11 E44 Length 29:02 Premiere Date 11/20/16

Ramez Naam and Seth Siegel

S11 E43 Length 27:31 Premiere Date 11/13/16

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle

S11 E42 Length 27:35 Premiere Date 11/06/16

Kentucky Book Fair Preview

S11 E41 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 10/30/16

U.S. Sen Rand Paul

S11 E40 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 10/23/16

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray

S11 E39 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 10/16/16

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr

S11 E38 Length 28:00 Premiere Date 10/09/16

Nancy Jo Kemper

S11 E37 Length 27:46 Premiere Date 10/02/16

Gary Gregg; Daniel Hayes

S11 E36 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 09/25/16

Adam Edelen and Matt Jones

S11 E35 Length 27:51 Premiere Date 09/17/16

Ky. Labor Secretary Derrick Ramsey

S11 E34 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 09/11/16

Stephen Pruitt on Education Policy

S11 E32 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 08/28/16

Work Ready Skills Initiative

S11 E31 Length 27:52 Premiere Date 08/21/16

Mary Matalin and James Carville

S11 E30 Length 27:18 Premiere Date 08/14/16

BBC Anchor Katty Kay

S11 E29 Length 29:02 Premiere Date 08/07/16

Fancy Farm 2016 Preview

S11 E28 Length 28:36 Premiere Date 07/31/16

Kentucky's Open Records Law

S11 E27 Length 27:51 Premiere Date 07/24/16

Kentucky's Medicaid Waiver

S11 E26 Length 28:16 Premiere Date 07/17/16

The Future of Agribusiness

S11 E25 Length 27:32 Premiere Date 07/09/16

Sen. Mitch McConnell's Memoir

S11 E24 Length 29:46 Premiere Date 07/03/16

Oral Health Integration

S11 E23 Length 28:42 Premiere Date 06/19/16

Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak

S11 E22 Length 28:26 Premiere Date 06/12/16

Pearse Lyons and Family

S11 E21 Length 28:51 Premiere Date 06/05/16

"Dreamland" Author Sam Quinones

S11 E20 Length 29:31 Premiere Date 05/29/16

Rethinking Pain Treatment

S11 E19 Length 27:11 Premiere Date 05/22/16

Drug Czar Michael Botticelli

S11 E18 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 05/15/16

Drug Addiction and the Brain

S11 E17 Length 27:41 Premiere Date 05/08/16

Kentucky's Opioid Abuse Epidemic

S11 E16 Length 29:01 Premiere Date 05/01/16

David Adkisson and Jason Bailey

S11 E15 Length 28:16 Premiere Date 04/24/16

Ben Chandler on Baseball and Family

S11 E14 Length 27:47 Premiere Date 04/17/16

Highlights from the Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit

S11 E13 Length 29:06 Premiere Date 04/10/16

Allison Ball and Ryan Quarles

S11 E12 Length 28:16 Premiere Date 04/02/16

Author Fenton Johnson

S11 E11 Length 27:31 Premiere Date 03/27/16

Rep. Sannie Overly

S11 E9 Length 28:06 Premiere Date 02/28/16

Kentucky's Republican Presidential Caucus

S11 E8 Length 27:51 Premiere Date 02/21/16

Education Secretary Hal Heiner

S11 E7 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 02/14/16

Presidential Politics in Kentucky

S11 E6 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 02/07/16

Gov. Bevin on Budget Proposals

S11 E5 Length 27:31 Premiere Date 01/29/16

Postsecondary Education Funding

S11 E4 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 01/24/16

House Speaker Greg Stumbo

S11 E3 Length 28:01 Premiere Date 01/17/16

Mitch McConnell on 2016

S11 E2 Length 28:31 Premiere Date 01/10/16

Senate President Robert Stivers

S11 E1 Length 28:02 Premiere Date 01/03/16

See All Episodes

caret down

TV Schedules


No upcoming airdates


No recent airdates

Explore KET