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Sam Quinones on ‘America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth’

Join award-winning journalist and author Sam Quinones in a webinar exploring the new reality of the nation’s addiction crisis and the most promising solutions emerging in communities. After appearing to level off, overdose deaths have skyrocketed by almost 30% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and by nearly 50% in some states.  So many people are dying — more than 90,000 in 2020 — that the Biden administration is embracing strategies such as distributing clean syringes, once considered taboo.

In his searing new book, Quinones uncovers why the drug crisis has become even worse. “The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth” reveals how the Mexican drug trafficking world capitalized on the addicted population created by the opioid epidemic to shift to fentanyl, a cheap, simple-to-make, and fatally powerful synthetic. At the same time, traffickers are flooding U.S. streets with a form of methamphetamine that is creating symptoms of schizophrenia and a surge in mental illness and homelessness. Quinones talks with Michelle Levander, director of the Center for Health Journalism, about how he reports on these overlapping threats and weaves together analysis of the drug trade, insights from neuroscience, and stories of the human toll to create a gripping narrative. With such massive supplies of drugs available at such low prices, he asks, does any addiction treatment stand much of a chance? Quinones also will share story ideas and tips for understanding and reporting on the changing addiction crisis in your community.


WHEN: Nov. 16, 2021, from 9-10 a.m. PT / 12-1 p.m. ET 

REGISTER: [Now closed -- view recording above]


Sam Quinones is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist and author. “The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth,” published in October, is his fourth book of narrative nonfiction. It follows his 2015 book “Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic,” which won a National Book Critics Circle award and was selected as one of the best books of the year by Amazon, Slate, the Daily Beast, Buzzfeed and newspapers around the country. In 2019, “Dreamland” was selected as one the Best 10 True-Crime Books of all time based on lists, surveys and ratings of more than 90 million Goodreads readers. A young adult version was released that year. His first two highly acclaimed books grew from his years living and working as a freelance writer in Mexico from 1994 to 2004. Quinones worked as a reporter at the Los Angeles Times for 10 years, covering immigration, drug trafficking, neighborhood stories and gangs. He has written for numerous publications, including The Atlantic, National Geographic, Pacific Standard Magazine, New York Times and Los Angeles Magazine.


This webinar is free and made possible by The Commonwealth Fund, the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation, and the California Endowment.

Suggested Reading: 

The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth,” by Sam Quinones (Bloomsbury, 2021)

‘I Don’t Even Know That I Would Call it Meth Anymore,’” by Sam Quinones, The Atlantic, November 2021

Overdose Deaths are so High That the Biden Team is Embracing Ideas Once Seen as Taboo,” by Brian Mann, All Things Considered, Oct. 27, 2021 

Commentary: Here’s How You Can Improve Reporting on Addiction,” by Jonathan JK Stoltman, 100 Days in Appalachia, Oct. 21, 2021. See also Reporting on Addiction for journalist resources.

DEA Issues Rare Alert as Streets Flooded by Fake Pills Laced With Fentanyl, Meth,” by Katie Adams, Beckers Hospital Review, Sept. 28, 2021 

Theyd battled addiction together. Then lockdowns became a recipe for death,” by Peter Jamison, Washington Post, July 29, 2021

Drug Overdose Deaths in 2020 Were Horrifying. We Need Radical Change in Order to Address the Crisis,” by Nora D. Volkow, Scientific American, Aug. 31, 2021

Disparities in Opioid Overdose Deaths Continue to Worsen for Black People, Study Suggests,” news release, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Sept. 9, 2021.

Has America Forgotten the Opioid Epidemic? by Candace Y.A. Montague, Center for Health Journalism, Dec. 22, 2020 


The USC Center for Health Journalism at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is seeking two Engagement Editors to serve as thought leaders in one of the most innovative and rewarding arenas in journalism today – “engaged reporting” that puts the community at the center of the reporting process. Learn more about the positions and apply to join our team.

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