‘Dreamland’ author brings expertise on opioid crisis to Knoxville

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Sam Quinones, New York Times bestselling author of “Dreamland” spoke in Knoxville about solutions for the opioid crisis Wednesday. The event, hosted by the Trinity Health Foundation, Leadership Tennessee and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, drew hundreds of people who wanted to leave with possible solutions to the problem. 

In the crowd sat Tennessee 4th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Duane Slone, who says the opioid crisis became personal for him when he adopted an eight-year-old son with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“It changed my life,” he said.

His takeaway from Wednesday’s presentation was, “We’ve got ot break out of our silos. All of us have a little bit to offer. We’re all a small piece of the puzzle, but working together is how we’re going to solve this crisis.” 

Slone says before he was on the bench, he worked as drug prosecutor in the early 1990s. He says he didn’t understand addiction until many years later. 

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero said the opioid crisis “impacts our workforce, our schools, all facets of our community.”

She said city or county leaders can’t tackle the issue alone.

Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs agrees.

“There is no easy fix. It does take the entire community to work on this issue. That’s the only way we’re going to confront it,” he said. 

That was Quinones’ message Wednesday. Because opioid addiction, he said, creates isolation, he believes the best way forward is by the community coming together. He offered no specific solutions, but says there are perhaps many solutions and none of them are silver bullets.

“Just keep going. Don’t give up just because it doesn’t immediately resolve itself. it took 20 years or plus to get here,” he said. 

Much of his work focused on how the opioid crisis became such a problem. He explained in his lecture it began advancing in the 1990s, as a demand for instant gratification and a lower pain threshold developed. When timed-release oxycodone began getting pushing by thousands of pharmaceutical sales representatives, he says we started seeing more problems with dependency. 

Today, the issue goes beyond prescriptions.

He says heroin is seen as more potent and much cheaper for an addicted person. He also says today drug traffickers are far more sophisticated. He doesn’t advocate for removing the option altogether for people who legitimately need it.

“These are drugs that do have a valid role in medicine. I think people are realizing they don’t belong in every medicine cabinet in America,” he said. 

TBI Director David Rausch left the meeting thinking Tennessee can beat this crisis. “We’ve got to understand that compassion goes a long way and you have to treat the symptoms. That’s really, you’ve got to get to the root of it,” he said.

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