Gangsters in lab coats. They teamed up to kill us. All for profit and pesos.
Listen as Sam Quinones, one of America’s greatest writers, who dove deep into the underworld of Oxycontin, pill mills, Mexican Heroin gangs and what could only be called the American pharmaceutical/political party cartel. All of whom conspired to enslave the American people with cheap and completely legal dope.
They got rich, We got funerals.
“It’s easy to moralize about a dope addict,” says Quinones. That is until you realize the scope of play to entice a people into a lucrative addiction.
Answers? They can’t be found without first an understanding and underpinning of how the unwinding came to be.
Part 1: Oxycontin and Heroin.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Hey, Jesus hippy. Look at my billboard, bro. Pretty nice. No bullshit. News hour.com. I made it available. The fuck. YouTube with the YouTube
Speaker 2 (00:13):
Sticker up there. Facebook,
Speaker 1 (00:14):
Zuckerberg’s, motherfucker Shadowman and me. I’m a shadowman him.
Speaker 2 (00:20):
Get up there, Jesus. And paint over that shit.
Speaker 1 (00:28):
Hey man, you missed the spot Little the left. No little the right. Get it all done. Motherfuckers
Speaker 2 (00:39):
Didn’t pay Hisc cent shadow ban me.
Speaker 1 (00:43):
No, no, no, no. Don’t fuck with Reddit.
Speaker 2 (00:46):
I like Reddit.
Speaker 3 (00:49):
Speaker 4 (00:50):
Downtown Detroit. It’s
Speaker 5 (01:19):
Just a breaking the double bullshit. Dobo
Speaker 2 (01:23):
Bullshit. How you like that, Karen?
Speaker 6 (01:27):
Nice. I like that. Charlie, congratulations. You’ve made
Speaker 3 (01:30):
Speaker 2 (01:31):
And Zuckerberg in Google
Speaker 6 (01:34):
Speaker 2 (01:35):
Somebody put em on my billboard, man. Oh, buddy. You want to see that? You want to see that billboard? It’s coming into the city of Detroit via Corktown near the bridge. So you can go look at my billboard. And by the way, Reddit forever, do you know when we painted over Google that day, that very day, the stock took a shit down 5% Shadow Band Me, man. Now
Speaker 7 (01:59):
Hopefully they get the message.
Speaker 2 (02:01):
So anyway Karen, today, yes, as you know, and just let everybody know I’m really excited about our guests. Yeah, Sam Quinones, I’ve been wanting to get ’em on for Jesus couple hundred shows. Now the My Estimation, the best non-fiction author, one of the best in the history of the United States. Now I’m talking Mark Twain. I’m talking Joan Didion, I’m talking Truman Capote. I mean, the guy spectacularly wrote two books, one’s called Dreamland. It’s like how did Oxycontin and Heroin swamp the United States? This thing is not only just so brilliantly researched, it’s just so beautifully written. I mean, I’m jealous of it.
Speaker 7 (02:55):
You have been telling me about Sam in Dreamland in particular for a long, long, so that is no
Speaker 2 (03:00):
Bullshit. And you are reading the book. Yeah, and I recommend I, I’m swear to you, I went to reread it again this weekend and the last person I gave it to hasn’t given it back. One of those,
Speaker 7 (03:11):
Huh? Slow reader. Well, I
Speaker 8 (03:12):
Ordered both of his books, so I’m going to
Speaker 2 (03:14):
Check them out. There you go. See Sam, look. There you go, man. I told you there’s some sales. And last year he, well, I guess 2021 the least of us, which is the follow up. Now watch this, everybody,
Oxycontin opioids start killing us. Then black tar heroin from Mexico shows up from there. Sam picks up with fentanyl and super meth. And if you want to know where all the homeless came from, it’s not like we went broke or they came out of the woods. This super pharma, this synthetic drugs that this country’s hooked on, that’s the consequence. So if you think it’s th oneism, let ’em die. That’s on you, man. I don’t even care if you’re listening or not. This is probably the biggest public health issue today, yesterday and way on into the future. Now, before we bring Sam on, I just want to let you know little word from our underwriters, XG service group specializing in voiceover, internet phone service, security cameras, hidden cameras, access control, wifi design and installation drive through camera systems and ordering boards, construction cameras, railroad cameras. They do it all. They do it for everybody. The government fast food.
Speaker 7 (04:39):
I was talking to Bernie the other day, security too. They’ll do security cameras and he got really excited about all the different kinds of security cameras they have and you want to spy on people.
Speaker 2 (04:49):
Did he talk to you, to your eyes glazed over?
Speaker 7 (04:53):
Maybe I was interested
Speaker 2 (04:55):
Because he’s all into this,
Speaker 7 (04:56):
Right? Yeah, he’s a good dude too.
Speaker 2 (04:58):
He wired this up. He wired Drews up. So he called us on Matt Savitz at 7 3 4 2 4 5 4100. Oh, they do racetracks too. They do everything. Yeah.
Speaker 7 (05:10):
Give ’em a shot.
Speaker 2 (05:11):
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Speaker 9 (06:15):
With everything decided, change to go. Ready, set, go. Red, go.
Speaker 10 (06:22):
Detroit might not make it to the championships, but you can have a little bit of Detroit at your next championship party. American Coney Island, 12 dogs with all of fiction air mail special right to your door that includes Alaska in Hawaii, american coney island.com, the first, the best and better than all the rest. And naked. Why? Either.
Speaker 9 (06:51):
Yeah, baby, I’m going Vegas. They got a store there too. Yeah,
Speaker 2 (07:07):
That never gets old Red. And you did a good job there, bruh. Thank
Speaker 9 (07:10):
Speaker 2 (07:12):
Sam. Sam Quinones with us, author of Dreamland and the least among us. Great to have you on, brother.
Speaker 11 (07:20):
Wonderful to be here. Thank you so much, Charlie. Really appreciate it.
Speaker 2 (07:24):
You’re laughing because you’ve never been on a podcast like this. It’s a good podcast.
Speaker 11 (07:28):
No, I you’re, you’re a hundred percent correct on that one. I would say, yeah
Speaker 2 (07:31):
Man, you’re going to knock him, bro. Thank you. It’s an honor to have you here. I don’t say that often.
Speaker 11 (07:38):
Oh, honors mine. My friend honors mine. Really? Thank you very, very much,
Speaker 2 (07:41):
Man. Look, okay. I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Everybody. Please, when you’re driving in your car, whatever you’re doing, this is the explanation about what’s happened to us and why, Sam, I’ve been thinking about it. I guess I want to do it this way. I want to do it in a personal way. The scope of the drug scourge and I want to make it personal. My sister Nicole, God rest her soul, her baby daddy, I guess basically my brother-in-law, Mark Yates, he, he’s gone. He got caught up in the Oxy late nineties, really took over his life. He ends up moving in his parents’ basement in Livonia, Michigan, retired auto workers a dark room, and he starts to lose the lightning fall apart, trying to get off it, hitting the methadone clinics. And my dear suite niece, his daughter Ashley Yates, dies in that room with him with a needle in her arm, the black tar Mexican heroin.
In 2008, later, mark ends up succumbing to the abuse of the opioids, raved about ’em, great shit till they weren’t. And then you fast forward and that’s not fast forward. That was a lot of pain that went in there. It’s people meaningful to me. Then my dear brother, he’s my brother-in-law, but he’s my brother and I love him very much. His name’s Pete Kuni. And he liked to do cocaine. He didn’t smoke cocaine, he didn’t shoot cocaine like a lot of us, so many of us. He snort some cocaine once in a while and he had fentanyl in it and he died in a house in Detroit and they took him to the morgue where he is sat for a week because nobody called us. We went looking for him. His wallet was in his pocket. Nobody gave a fuck. That’s a murder. Sam, fentanyl, somebody sold you something laced with fentanyl.
That’s the way it is now. His case, molders. I told my wife I was going to speak of him tonight and she became enraged. She’s so sad, the least of us. You understand? And they still have his phone, they still have his clothes. I know the commander of that unit and nothing. And so brother, through that prism, I would like to begin how all this happens to us. And I want to start in 1980 and there is a letter to the editor in New England Journal of Medicine. I dug it up. Can you from there, Sam, in this next hour bring us to where we are today and what we’re going to do. What does this four sentence letter to the editor mean?
Speaker 11 (10:47):
Well, that letter was written, it’s known as famously now or as the Porter JK letter. The letter was really written by Herschel J, the doctor who at the time, 1979. This came out in January of 1980. So 1979, he is running a big database of hospital records. And in that he’s got a computer guy and through the computer guy, he asks these questions of these hospital records normally about drugs used in hospital. He told me one day it occurred to him, I think it was reading a newspaper article who thought how many people in these hospital records were provided with opioids, with opiates of some kind narcotics and how many of those people were then addicted to became addicted to those things. And it turns out that the first number was of 300,000 records, something like 12,000 were given opiates while in hospital for their treatment, pain treatment.
And four of them got addicted. So he thought this was interesting, and he writes a letter to the editor, and that was all he said he ever intended from this letter, which just to say fyi, it was published in a version in an addition of New England Journal of Medicine way at the back of the book with all the letters to the editor. And on that it said we saw this number, 300,000 records. We saw almost 12,000 people were given these drugs and only four got addicted. Now, there’s some caveats to that because what he was seeing was an entirely different situation from what would later transpire 30 years into the future. And that is that in hospitals, there was not a very, very aggressive use of opioids that you were never allowed to take them home with you if you were going to be given them in a hospital.
You had to have doctors sign for them. It was a much more rigid supervision of how they were used. And of course, he was right when you supervised supply and reduce supply, which is essentially what was the case in these hospitals at the time. The number of people who are going to get addicted are very, very small. He writes this up and he sends into New England Journal of Medicine and due course, they publish it in January of 1980 way at the back of the book. But they leave out a crucial piece of information in that headline you just showed addiction rare in patients treated with narcotics, they leave out while in hospital <laugh>, right? That’s what it should have said. But anyway, so this would seem like a nothing kind of publication a letter to the editor, which has how he took it, he forgot all about it.
Years later though, pain specialists now looking for new ways of treating pain and believing that narcotic pain killers provided the pathway forward, the solution, the solution really for pain patients, a better way of treating pain. Because the truth was we didn’t do a very good job of treating pain. So they were right to look for new ways of treating it, but they were kind of on a messianic kind of a mission to eradicate pain. And they thought that opioids were the answer except for the doctors. Their theory was that doctors just were too afraid to use them. So they were looking for data or proof that these pills were now would and would not be addictive to people who were in pain, patients who were in pain. And they come upon this letter, don’t really know how, but they began to quote this letter as if it were gospel, as if it were a study, as if it were, and in time as the kind of a game of telephone ensues over the next 10 years in which people begin to mention it.
And virtually nobody gets addicted because of course, if there’s only four people getting addicted to out of 11,000, then really caring. And so this becomes kind of the scientific proof for what becomes a massive push first on the part of pain specialists. But then they were very quickly joined by pharmaceutical companies who make those very same pain medicines, Vicodin, Percocet, et cetera, et cetera, many others. And later Oxycontin put out by Purdue, their companies begin to use that letter as scientific proof. And it goes from being quoted as a study, which it never was to I mean, I’m sorry, a report which it never was then a landmark report, then a study. Then finally in 2001 Time magazine called it a landmark study that does much to change what we know about pain, blah, blah, blah. It was just this transformation of this really nothing letter, the author who of which had forgotten all about it and meant it really meant nothing.
Although he was correct in what he was saying, that if you really, really control supply, the number of people who are going to get addicted is very, very low. That’s what he was saying. It got extrapolated and taken out of context and provided a major source of scientific data or scientific substantiation for the idea that we know science now knew that pain medicines, narcotic painkillers were virtually non-addicted when used to treat pain. And that is really, it’s a bizarre episode in American science, but that is really kind of what helped pave the way for this revolution in pain opioid revolution in pain management that began to take hold in the mid nineties and then really stretched into the next 15 and 20 years. And really the truth is we’re kind of still in the middle of it.
Speaker 2 (16:39):
And how does it become ubiquitous? Where does it become ubiquitous and who’s the one that made it ubiquitous?
Speaker 11 (16:48):
Well, I think doctors, first of all are looking for some way of treating pain because it’s very difficult to treat. It takes a lot of time. You’re getting managed care now, which reduces the amount of time many doctors now have with their patients. They don’t have time, they have 15 minutes per patient or something like that. They don’t have time to, and pain patients take up a lot of time. And so they’re looking for pain manage. Meanwhile, Americans are looking to doctors to cure me. Docs save me doctor, give me the miracle cure. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are seeing, well, hell, we make these pills. We we’re going to market these two, not just normally in the past, these drugs were used right after surgery, right after you’ve just been cut open, which is exactly where it should be, or at end of life terminal cancer ca care.
Now they’re seeing, wow, those are minor markets. We’re now looking for general generalized pain, chronic pain, and all of a sudden they see enormous market moving opening up to them like the Shangri Eye almost. And so you get all of these forces, pressures on doctors to begin to prescribe these pills aggressively and for things that they never would’ve prescribed them for before and for to allow people to take them home in enormous numbers. And crucially two in all this, you begin to see refills. Refills are a huge part of this, and people get one bottle, but then they get three or four or four or five, six more over the next several months. All they got to do is go into the dock and say, doc, I still got the pain and all. And the doctors very often would just kind of give ’em more refills.
So you begin to see in 1996, prescribing take off, taking off an airplane, leaving the tarmac, it just like that. It just goes up and up and up and up. And it really covers the country. This is a crucial thing. It’s not geographically isolated to eventually to just economically devastated areas. It’s also well off suburbs, it’s in Orange County, California, it’s in Russ, be in Appalachia. It’s all over the country because the doctors who are pressured or eagerly embraced or for whatever reason begin to prescribe this way, they’re all across the country as well. So you see an enormous supply. And of course then the science proves the science that they’re quoting proves to be incorrect. And many, many people do get addicted because it doesn’t take into account people’s backgrounds. Some people can be given these pills with no problem, other people not. But you really have to examine the background of people and instead it’s just like one pill for every single human being, no matter the background, no matter the situation, no matter the pain or no matter the medical history.
Speaker 2 (19:47):
So Purdue Pharma, the Sackler family, they get their patent in 1996. Is that for Oxycontin itself or is it for the coating on the pill that
Speaker 11 (20:03):
It’s really for? The Oxycontin is really just a pill containing an older opioid narcotic painkiller called oxycodone. Their new innovation is, as you say, is to code it with a time release formula. They’d already put out a pill like this. In fact, it had been very helpful to medicine and it was for morphine sulfate coded in this time release formula that Purdue had invented, and it was marketed only to terminal cancer patients, and it was a wonderful, wonderful drug. And in fact, had they done that with Oxycontin, we’d be erecting statues to these guys. But instead what they saw was forget the terminal cancer patients. Well, we want them, but we can see now that there’s this enormous new market of just generalized pain patients all across the country. And we know that we can see, we can start with certain doctors who are already prescribing a lot and they have data about this.
And a lot of those doctors happen to be in Appalachia or in rust belt areas impoverished areas. And they began to really first begin all kinds of very aggressive marketing. And this is also crucial to this story. They’re hiring huge numbers of pharmaceutical salespeople now, before the salesmen, they’re almost all men were former doctors or pharmacists. They knew what they were talking about. They were great sources of information for doctors. And doctors prized ’em as such. And the salesman prized that relationship because they lived in the area where they sold. They had been there for years and years and years. They weren’t going anywhere. But beginning in the mid 1990s, at the same time, you begin to see this tr revolution in sale, in drug force, in drug company sales force. And pretty soon all those old guys are showing the door. All these new people are brought in.
A lot of them are women, all of them are handsome or most of them are handsome and they’re right out of college. They don’t know anything about drugs, they don’t know anything about medicine. They don’t know what they’re selling, but they do know how to sell it. They’re salespeople and they begin a brand new day in pharmaceutical sales in America with aggressive marketing gifts, constantly relentless visits to doctors. And the one thing that they knew how to do more than anything, and that was they understood the importance of food eating together, that we have human beings. We have always known that the way to bring ourselves together is to eat together. When they figured that out and they begin to bring food to the doctor’s office, enough food for the staff, even more than the staff can eat because they know the staff isn’t paid that well.
And so they can take that food home to their family. And once you have the staff in your hand, a doctor is putty in your hand. It’s easy manipulation. And you begin to see this beginning in the mid 1990s, we go from 38,000 drug sales rep, drug company sales reps and 95 to, I think it’s 102,000 in 2002 or three in those yours. I was just an explosion of these guys. And they’re like, locust, they won’t stop coming and they don’t live in the neighborhood in the area, or they’re not going to stay long in the area. And so they don’t really have that deep need for roots and credibility that the former sales reps did. But this was also part of it. The key people in inventing and rethinking pharmaceutical sales were the people that Purdue Pharma, their great innovation really was to say, we are going to market it a narcotic as if it was over the counter medicine. And then other companies watch this and say, okay, we’re going to do that. Yeah, we’re going to follow.
Speaker 2 (23:48):
And they knew it was addictive.
Speaker 11 (23:51):
Of course, it’s an opio. Yes, everybody know knows it’s addictive, but the sales brochures would always say virtually non-addictive because they were using, at the footnote, you would say, you would see the Herschel Porter and JK is one of those officially called Porter and jic. It’s really just called the, it’s really just a Herschel J letter, but Porter and, and they quote and New England Journal of Medicine. Oh my God. Well, everybody knows that’s kind of the bible of medical research. And so everybody kind of goes, yeah, oh, well, if it must be no one, no one has the time to dig through to find of an old version of the 1980 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. Everyone’s just believing the pain specialists who are in now being funded by pharmaceutical companies that everybody’s just kind of in this little bubble saying, yeah, what we’re doing is it’ll help.
Millions of people will eradicate pain and all this kind of stuff. It’s an amazing parable or I mean, it’s just an amazing story to me about how you manipulate science unquote and come to what is an enormous financial benefit to the companies of which are not very many that were making these medicines principally. Of course Purdue, Purdue Pharma, because Purdue, Purdue Pharma also was not a diversified drug company. It had only one really, it had only one drug, 90% for the rest of its effect of life. Until recently that company made 90% of its profits from selling oxycont. It did not sell a lot of other drugs. And in fact, later on there were lots of data showing that they were thinking of diversifying into very different areas of medical, of drugs and so on. And they never did because they were as strung out on the money, on the dope money.
Speaker 2 (25:48):
And they’re allowed to get, they’re a cartel. They are a cartel, a legal cartel.
Speaker 11 (25:52):
They were a remarkable story of a company that nobody knew. I mean, this is not a big company.
Speaker 2 (26:00):
Well, let know their sins. Let me, the strength and the beauty of your writing is the scenery in the places you go. So pill mills show up. It’s not just everybody wanted to get rich on this. So you come to the ground zero Portmouth, Ohio, which I might add is the original home of the Detroit Lions. Portmouth was rocking right in the twenties. I mean a big industrial town at empties out. There’s nothing there. I’m in Detroit, big industrial town at empties out. There’s not much here. What did you see in Portsmouth, which basically is writ large what you see in America,
Speaker 11 (26:41):
Right? Portsmouth. Portsmouth is a beautiful town. It’s a wonderful town. I’ve been there many times and I love the people there. It went through hell though. And Portsmouth was a big time industrial town. It had steel mills, it had a number of shoe factories. It had a variety of other factories. It had a large, I don’t want to call it middle class because it was more working class, but everybody was employed. It had a large population, 50,000 people, and it had a very vibrant downtown business sector, main street and all that. And it was a really a town where everybody kind of hung together. Everybody was working and that kind of thing. And then Rust Belt phenomenon sets in Detroit see, sees that of course, but certainly it happens elsewhere in Portsmouth is one place Steel factory closes. Fact, the shoe factories close the downtown the people begin to leave, half the population leaves and my main street Empt empties out and they really lose that essential element of community that is the major bull work against drug abuse and drug problems.
And they become very vulnerable. They stripped of all that community feel. Everybody kind of goes indoors. The the name of my book, dreamland is taken from a swimming pool that was this town center for decades in that town where everybody grew up in Dreamland. That’s the name of the pool. Dreamland, the gorgeous thing about the grounds were about a size of a football field. And everybody went, that’s where you grew up. That’s where parents watched you even if you weren’t their kid. And everybody kind of grew up in that. And then along with the Rust Belt phenomenon, the pool closed too and was transformed into a very depressing strip mall that’s in Portsmouth. Now. What they lost was that essential element, keeping them together. And so isolation creeps in. There’s no place to see other people had been the case with Dreamland. Everybody. The only place you see everybody now is at Walmart where all the downtown stores have been sucked up and regurgitated all that they sell sold was regurgitated onto the floor of Walmart.
Portsmouth becomes, I went to Portsmouth thinking I’d spend a couple of days there and coup maybe five or six days, and then it ended up being six visits each for about a week or so, something like that. And I went there because Portsmouth is where effectively the pill mill business model is invented. That then with the prescribing of these pain pills becomes a business model that people in replicate in many other parts of the country, Florida, all over the Midwest, et cetera. A pill is essentially a pain clinic. Now, pain clinics are not pill mills by definition. A pill mill is a pain de clinic where no pain is really diagnosed and no pain is ever attempted to be treated. A script
Speaker 2 (29:41):
Speaker 11 (29:43):
It’s exactly where you’re going. You’re standing in line sometimes for hours to get your prescription from a legitimate quote doc who gives you then a prescription for pills that could be men long. And then you go find, it’s up to you to find a pharmacy that’ll fill that prescription. But you
Speaker 2 (30:04):
Hours. So the hours, there were like hundreds of people lining the sidewalk waiting for this
Speaker 11 (30:12):
Different track pod, different
Speaker 2 (30:15):
That come from all over the country to get a script that would be rebuilded, refill and reframe.
Speaker 11 (30:21):
There was a guy in Portsmouth who invented that business model essentially David Proctor. I call him Liberace in the book kind of because he is a very flamboyant guy, drove a Porsche for jackets and all that in Portsmouth, Ohio. Wild guy. He started kind of stumbled into this idea that I could just simply sell. His corruption was like gradual over years. He wasn’t corrupt initially. He just kind of gradually coasted into corruption and began to essentially sell prescriptions to people, many of whom he had known for as from chil from childhood. They were kids he’d treated when he was, or maybe sometimes even give help birth to. And he becomes this center, this vector of prescriptions for the area. But oh, what he also does, he was known as the Roy Crock. That was it, the Ray Crock, one of the guy, the McDonald’s guy, right, of Mill Mills, because he has an accident in 98 after his business model’s already established because Oxycontin is out there.
When Oxycontin comes here, that’s becomes the big motivator for this thing. And he becomes this employer of quack doctors to take his place after his auto accident. He can’t exactly run the clinic himself, but he can’t hire doctor. He begins to hire these quack doctors who come from all over with substance abuse problems themselves. A lot of them, some of them to their credit said, I’m not want any part of this. I’m leaving. But a good number of them stayed, and some of them all went out on their own to form their own pill, clinic pill mills. And this is when 98, 99, 2000, then the pill mill idea then spreads down to Florida, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando basis, places like that. And by then in the mid two thousands, and by then the idea is common, almost common knowledge. But I went to Portsmouth because I wanted to see the place where the pill mill was invented.
In the end, I began to find, I saw as Portsmouth as a place where recovery was possible, or maybe we could talk about that later. But that’s why I went there in the first place was to see the place where the pill mill had been effectively invented by this one guy who I tried to interview. He did not. He was in prison. He did a number of years in prison. He said no while he was in prison. And then when he gets out, he’s Canadian, they deported him to Toronto. And he wrote to me, and I said, well, of course I’d like to talk to you. And he says, well, of course I would like money for this. And I said, well, yeah, I don’t pay for interviews. And that was the last I heard from him. He died a year later.
Speaker 2 (32:58):
So I know my friends want to get something again, but I want to get to the next step. We can go on for hours, man. Sure. This is Sam Quinone is the author of Dreamland and the least of us talking about how synthetics are the drug. Now, it ain’t plants, it ain’t coca leaves, it ain’t marijuana, it ain’t opium, it’s synthetic chemicals. But everybody found out that coating didn’t work. The Sacklers coating, you just ground the shit up, you snorted it, you got high, you addicted people, right? Started going to methadone clinics like my brother-in-law, mark, and something new pops up, another business model shows up, which is the Mexicans with their black tar heroin starting to pass that out at the methadone clinic. If you could go into the next one, the drug that claim my niece’s life.
Speaker 11 (34:02):
Exactly. That story grew from my years in Mexico. I lived 10 years in Mexico. My first two books were about Mexico. And that really was how I got into this story because I didn’t know anything about this stuff. Oxycontin port thing. I wanted to write about heroin traffickers. That’s what I, and I was at the LA Times and I spoke with the DEA supervisor who told me, we are seeing staggering quantity seizures of heroin. All of a sudden I’m like, well, why would that be? And I began to investigate why that was. And I came upon this village in Mexico that was a stand-in and not the only trafficker as a black tar heroin, but they were very important in oil explain. And this one village in Mexico, all these guys had migrated in the United States mostly first to San Fernando Valley and Calf and LA where they developed a business model for selling retail, heroin, retail.
Now, most Mexican traffickers do not want to sell retail. They didn’t want to sell wholesale less risk. But these guys are all about retail and the profit that retail could generate, and they’d be developed a system like pizza delivery. So you would call a number, you’re an addict. You call a number that circulates around. Everyone’s got the number, and you make your order. And they say, okay, burger King at this address in 20 minutes. And you go and you wait for the driver. They have a whole bunch of drivers driving around their mouse filled with little 10th of Agram doses of black tar heroine wrapped in little balloons, the big bottle of water right next to us. And cops stop them. They swig it all down and no guns. They do not play with guns. They know they’re only going to be deported if they get caught with a gun.
They’re going to be doing 10 years in prison. So no guns. And this is the business model, and it becomes extraordinarily effective and it becomes very expansionary because these guys are all from the same village or nearby villages. Everybody knows, even competitors. Everybody knows where each mother’s mother, each other’s mom lives or dad lives. So you are not going to be shooting it out for territory among these guys. They are not going to be killing each other because it’ll have repercussions back home very, very quickly. A lot of times they’re related, they’re cousins or brothers-in-law, whatever, this system, because they can’t kill each other. This system C expands because they’re looking for new territory to avoid competition. So they expand. First. It’s in the West, salt Lake, Denver, Reno, Portland, Albuquerque, Phoenix, et cetera, et a bunch of other towns. And then in 19 98, 1 guy in particular guy interviewed at great length who was actually a Mexican American guy, but who had hooked up with these guys in prison and now was almost like an adopted son of the village back home.
He takes his heroin based on a tip. He takes his black tar. Heroin, as he knows is very good because he is a long time a user himself. And he goes east of the Mississippi River to Columbus, Ohio, where a guy has told him, man, there’s no dope like this at all in Columbus. You will make a killing. And sure enough, he shows up and very quickly he’s like selling more and he can possibly, and he’s got a couple of drivers from the village, and they’re all, they spend. The first year he told me, just selling gangbusters, just incredible. And yeah, there you go. The map right there. And so in that happens though, just as Oxycontin and this opioid revolution in pain management is taking hold in American medicine. He figures this out. He doesn’t have a clue what Oxycontin is, right? He’s from California.
There’s no Oxycontin out there yet. He go, he’s selling heroin to an addict in Wheeling, West Virginia, who was a woman who is longtime heroin addict. Yes, she has a house and a new car, and he is never known a heroin addict to have a house from a new car. So he sits to and said, I go and she wants to treat him for his heroin. She gives him a bottle of Oxycon. He looks at this, he tells me, yeah, look, I looked at this bottle. I said, oxycont, what the hell is, I’m not trading my good dope for this bottle of pills. And she sits ’em down and tells him what’s what? She said, no, this is a new thing. I’m making trip. I’m taking, I’m collecting all the Oxycontin from seniors here in Wheeling. I’m going up to the haulers in the mountains and selling to all the hillbillies up there. And man, I’m making triple, and that’s how I afford my car and my house and my habit at the same. And the light goes on. And he goes, Bing. And he begins to realize that there is this new marketing of these pills and that if he’s just follows the pills, he will have a bigger market for his black tar than anybody ever imagined.
Speaker 2 (38:47):
Because these are all, all basically morphine based. What is Oxycontin? What is heroin? What is Percocet? They’re
Speaker 11 (38:56):
All derived eventually up the chain from the opium poppy. Yes. And then of course, they’re changed molecularly sometime or combined with other things. But basically they, they’re all, yeah, they’re all opiates. They’re all opiates. And they have the same effect on the brain as heroin does. And that’s what we’re finding out by 19, 19 98, that people get really strung out on this stuff, and all of a sudden he brings his black tar heroin, which is more potent and cheaper. Now, in the tic world, that means better, right? That’s fantastic. Let me get more of that. I want to make something clear though that sometimes is misunderstood. These guys are not the only dealers of black tar heroin. In fact, later on, other people get involved that are much bigger producers of this stuff. What is important about these guys from this little town Lesco in the state of Nari, it’s a small state in Mexico so small that 10 years in Mexico, I lived in Mexico.
I never went to nari. I only went there to when I got involved in this story. They are important to this story, not because they’re the only ones. It’s because they are the first ones with a system in place to both recognize and then systematically exploit the coming market for heroin. That widespread prescribing of opioid painkillers want unregulated, unbridled prescribing of opioid painkillers represents that. They see what’s coming. And mainly it’s this one guy first sees it’s coming, and then everybody else was like, damn. And from there, they begin to branch out for Columbus. Pretty soon, all these guys, his two drivers go home for the Fiesta in August, which is when they have their annual fiesta in this town. And they’re talking, everybody learns about Columbus, and pretty soon all these crews are piling into Columbus. Well, from there, they begin to look for new towns because again, they can’t kill each other.
They’re competing. They can’t kill each other. So Nashville, Lexington, Colom Cincinnati Indianapolis, Charlotte, and several towns in South Carolina, on and on that you see this wild expansion as, and this is at a time and these areas where people really, the pain pills are really hitting hard. And so they see this amazing market that nothing on the west coast could match until later. And so is, that’s kind of the Lesco story is of this small town very, I’m off the size of Portsmouth that had this outsized role in this whole problem that we are now facing. I want to say again though, that there are many other people who got involved in smuggling black tar heroin after a while. And it wasn’t just them, but they were the first.
Speaker 2 (41:39):
How many people, and I’m going to make room for my friends colleagues, before we get to the next wave of synthetic death, how many people from Oxycontin and Black Tar Heroin lost their lives, let’s say up to 2006? That’s why I want to make a break here
Speaker 11 (42:02):
2006, it’s hard. I don’t have the figures in front of me. You’re talking about Dr. Steady, steady increases every year,
Speaker 2 (42:11):
Hundreds of thousands.
Speaker 11 (42:12):
And you’re talking about early on though it’s not what it would later become. It’s 20, 30,000, I think, something like that. Then it gets up to 40, then to 50. And by the mid two thousands, I think it’s up to about 50 or 60, I mean 2000 like 15, right in there. You’re talking 50,000, 70,000. Eventually. It was always, but here’s the other problem that I found as a reporter. That’s the number that was reported. The problem is that what this problem unveiled was that we had a real serious problem with our medical examiner system. So many of these deaths were happening in small counties, and so many of these counties didn’t have medical examiners that really had the budget or the wherewithal or the knowledge of how to deal with heroin or overdose deaths and that kind of thing. They didn’t have the money frequently to do toxicology reports.
And often, and I’ll say often, but there were cases certainly in these small towns where the cause of death, if you put a heroin overdose or something like that, you could get visited by that family because everybody knew each other. It was small town America. And so the numbers I found were dramatically underreported maybe 30% lower than what they actually were. I think they’re closer to what they should be now. But for a lot of years, this was a real problem. I almost got my first story for the LA Times shot down because I couldn’t really show that the numbers were as bad as people were saying because so many counties, they just didn’t know how to count this stuff because they’d never dealt with them before.
Speaker 10 (43:54):
Yes. Sam, I wanted to ask you, go back to something earlier. You were speaking on the Sacra family and the pharmaceutical, just to give a people an ideal of how much money was made during this period, this opioid explosion. What is the Sacra family? What was they worth valued at after this explosion? And the prophets came back from this?
Speaker 11 (44:15):
I believe that is what happened was that Forbes, which does these kind of lists of wealthy people and wealthy families, listed them as, I believe, oh Lord, I’m going to mess this up, but definitely one of the wealthiest, suddenly one of the wealthiest families in America. They were always wealthy, but this was a whole other level of wealth. I believe it was 14. Their net worth was 14 billion. But the interesting thing is that I think began to happen is that as the years passed, as I said earlier, you can see this, if you read reports using internal based on internal emails and communications within the Purdue company and the Sackler family, you could see that they were, no amount of money was enough. They would get from Purdue Pharma, they were the owners of Purdue Pharma. Eight Sackler members sat on the board of Purdue Pharma.
They effectively ran that company, even though they’re boards of directors. They effectively were the CEOs, and they kept demanding more and more and more. And so I remember reading in 2010, this Purdue Pharma kick gave, I mean sent the fac, Sackler Families 800. This was a Pinnacle 889 million in one year. That’s how much money. And all of this, virtually all this was from Oxycontin, okay? Very little is from anything else. And still, there’s these emails that are just incredible about the members of the Sackler family upset, upset because they didn’t make certain sales goals, or maybe we should try something new because we’re just not hitting the goal. And I’m like, you just made 800, almost a billion from the Purdue Pharma. And what ends up happening too is Purdue has to put up so much money to the Sacklers that normally that they don’t invest in research and development.
Most drug companies put aside a significant amount, 25%, maybe 15, 25% of their income, their revenue towards research and development to find other pills, other products, whatever it happens to be. It’s a common thing in the pharmaceutical. These guys do not all that money goes to the Sacklers, and yet they’re still upset. There’s some dramatic stuff. If I, I’d read the criminal complaint, brought by the Massachusetts, Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, 277 pages of internal based entirely on internal communications that they subpoenaed. It is an amazing thing to read and to feel how upset these guys were that they simply, 889 million was somehow not enough. But again, feel, felt very much to me like the way an Aded feels about as dope. Nothing is ever enough. No, no quantity is ever enough.
Speaker 2 (47:19):
Okay, guess what, Sam? Here’s what I’m going to, I’m going to just, this is so deep. I could go all night. Here’s what I’m do. It’s an hour program. I’m now making an executive decision. You are now teaching me how to do the new tv. What? I’m going to do that now. We’re at about 2006. What happened? People are dying. This is a legal mob. They’ve got friends in Washington. This is at a time when NAFTA is happening in globalization, when the roundabout Washington’s for sale. That’s the nineties. And you see what Big Pharma’s doing. So I want to thank everybody for listening. We’re going to pause, end the program. I’m going to freshen my beer. We’re going to come back and we’re going to pre-tape part two. Would you mind staying with us for another hour to talk fentanyl
Speaker 11 (48:21):
And happy to do it.
Speaker 2 (48:22):
Speaker 11 (48:25):
Happy to do it. Thank you. Yes. No problem at all. Get your beer. I’m going to go change shirts as if there’s a entirely different program. Nice. And maybe put some moose in my hair. He’s a pro, and we’ll come back and do the whole thing.
Speaker 2 (48:39):
Okay, great. Let’s see you in 10. Thank you, everybody. That’s Sam Quinones. That part was the book Dreamland. And I’m telling you, that was the scientific professorial explanation, what happened to us. But that book is Dynamo. I mean, it’s like a detective novel. It’s so good. All right, Sam Quinones, we’ll be back. Thanks everybody.