Senator Collins Questions Expert on Opioid Crisis’ Effect on Rural Communities

During the hearing, Senator Collins discussed how Mainers who live in isolated communities, including many who work in Maine’s lobster industry, are at high risk of opioid addiction

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with hearing witness

Note to assignment and news directors: Click HERE for high-quality video of Senator Collins’ Q&A with hearing witness


Washington, D.C. – Today, the Senate Health Committee held a hearing titled, “The Opioid Crisis: An Examination of How We Got Here and How We Move Forward.”  The Committee heard from author and journalist Sam Quinones, who has studied the opioid problem extensively and wrote a book on the subject titled Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic.


During the hearing, U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Health Committee, discussed how rural communities are particularly susceptible to the opioid crisis due to high unemployment and isolation.  The problem is compounded for residents of rural areas due to the logistical challenges associated with locating and receiving treatment for addiction.  Senator Collins referenced a ten-part series the Portland Press Herald published last year that examined multiple facets of the opioid epidemic, including how it affects those who work in Maine’s lobster industry in remote coastal communities.


“I want to explore further with you the link between economic affliction and drug addiction,” Senator Collins told Mr. Quinones.  “You have said, ‘heroin is what you get when you destroy dreamland’ and ‘isolation is heroin’s natural habitat.’  In the State of Maine, the opioid crisis appears to have started decades ago in Washington County, which borders Canada, and is an economically disadvantaged county with very high rates of unemployment and a lot of isolated communities.  It then spread everywhere in Maine, including our most prosperous towns and cities.  In your investigation did you find that drug dealers tend to target communities that are economically devastated?”


“I think [drug dealers] are following the money,” Mr. Quinones replied.  “[The opioid crisis] began in areas that are economically devastated because pain treatment and resorting to doctors was part of how you navigate economic disaster…as time went on the pills became something to resort to for economic sustenance. You can get pills, you can get high on them, but you could also sell them, and people figured that out.”


Mr. Quinones noted that in recent years, the opioid crisis has spread to wealthy areas of the country as well.  He urged Congress to examine how we will treat pain in the future and to begin the conversation on root causes that harbor the epidemic, including social isolation. Last March, the Senate Aging Committee held a series of hearings under the leadership of Senator Collins, on social isolation and solutions to strengthen communities.


In addition to the response to the opioid epidemic from states and communities, today’s Health Committee hearing reviewed the effect of federal programs, policies, and funding on combatting the opioid abuse epidemic and how to improve efforts.


Witness testifying at today’s hearing:


  • Sam Quinones, journalist and author, Los Angeles, CA.  Click HERE to read his testimony.