Alan Maimon on the origins of the opioid epidemic, lessons learned from Appalachia

The South has been hit hard over the last few decades by the opioid epidemic. 20 years ago, governments weren’t prepared. Police focused on shutting down marijuana growth, not the rapid spread of prescription drugs. Ground Zero for the spread of drugs like oxycontin may have been coal country in Eastern Kentucky. In his new book “Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning,” Alan Maimon chronicles the spread of the opioid epidemic, as well as environmental and economic disasters. The country seems obsessed with figuring out what Appalachia means for the rest of America. Maimon’s book may be the most authoritative examination of the subject out there.

Learn more at www.AlanMaimon.com.

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Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for length and clarity.

John Hammontree: This isn’t a uniquely Southern problem, this is an American one, but the South has been hit hard over the last couple of decades by the opioid epidemic. Some of us have lost loved ones. Many of us know somebody who was directly affected. And most of us live in communities that have struggled to respond to this crisis. 20 years ago, governments weren’t prepared. Police were still focused on shutting down the marijuana industry, not the rapid spread of prescription drugs. And ground zero for the spread of drugs like OxyContin may have been coal country in eastern Kentucky. Companies like Purdue Pharma marketed opioids as a wonder drug that could help coal miners and other laborers deal with the issues of chronic physical pain. This part of the country was already underserved by medical care, and things would only get worse. And Alan Maimon was on the ground reporting in Hazard, Kentucky in the early 2000s when he attended one of the first press conferences in the country about opioid abuse.

As a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, he chronicled a series of events that would shape the country, not just the region: environmental disasters unemployment, drug addiction, government corruption. Today on the Reckon Interview, Alan joins us to discuss his new book “Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning.” I just love that name. Alan offers a strong picture of a region that’s been the subject of countless books and thought pieces in recent years. Our country seems obsessed with figuring out what Appalachia might mean for the rest of America. And I think Allen’s book is maybe the best, most even-handed examination of the subject out there. And it also provides us with lessons of resiliency that we can apply in our own states. So let’s go ahead and get started on this week’s episode of The Reckon Interview. Alan Maimon, thanks for coming on the Reckon Interview.

Alan Maimon: Great to be with you, John. Thanks for having me.

John Hammontree: Your new book is out now. It is called “Twilight in Hazard: An Appalachian Reckoning.” And of course, I already love the name with with Reckon in the title. You lived in eastern Kentucky, the Appalachian region of Kentucky, for about five years starting in 2000. What drew you to that part of the country — you’re not from there originally — and what led you to write the book, you know, some 15 years later?

Alan Maimon: Prior to arriving in eastern Kentucky, as the eastern Kentucky reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper, I had been working as a journalist in Europe for several years, most recently as a news assistant in the Berlin, Germany bureau of The New York Times. And the time came when I felt like I wanted to return home. Of course, home by this point was a little bit of an abstract concept for me. And I kind of got the idea that it would be interesting to continue my career in a part of the United States that I had no previous knowledge of or experience with, and a place that would challenge me in the same way that working as a reporter in a foreign country had challenged me. As fate would have it right around the time I was formulating this idea, I saw an ad for an opening in the Hazard, Kentucky bureau of the Louisville Courier-Journal and I did a little research on this on this bureau. It turned out to be something of a legendary and sable bureau that had done a lot of great reporting for for many years about the coal industry in particular. And I thought you know what ,this is fits the bill, I’m going to apply for this job and ended up getting it and then arrived in Hazard Kentucky a few days before Christmas in the year 2000. Right, right around the time that hanging chads were being counted and tallied in Florida. And the question was, was being given to George W. Bush just to orientate listeners as to what was going on at that very moment. But yeah, from Christmas 2000 to the beginning of 2006, I was the Eastern Kentucky reporter for the Louisville paper covering approximately 25 or 30 counties throughout that region.

John Hammontree: I am guilty as a Southern journalist of sometimes giving grief to quote unquote, parachute reporters coming in from other parts of the country. And you address that in your book, you know, you kind of talk about when you first arrived in Hazzard people kind of looking at you warily and saying you know, do us right, you know, make sure that people get the story right. And you know, I do want to point out for our listeners, to me, there’s a difference between a New York Times reporter dropping in for a weekend of coverage versus you know, you being embedded in the community for years as a member of the Louisville Courier-Journal staff. What was it like when you first got to to Hazard and eastern Kentucky? You were covering a very wide range of territory there.

Alan Maimon: The learning curve was was steep. It took a lot of work to learn about the people and the places and and most importantly, the issues that were really starting to come to a head right around that time. I had been in eastern Kentucky literally three weeks when a press release came across my fax machine at my home office and Hazard announcing a major press conference the following day in Lexington, Kentucky. I went to Lexington the following day and that was, turned out to be the first major public announcement anywhere of this prescription drug that we have all come to know called Oxycontin. This was the first time that anybody had really heard about what this drug was doing to, especially communities in Eastern Kentucky. A lot was happening at that time. And that just made the learning curve that much steeper. There were some devastating environmental catastrophes that occurred right around the time that I arrived there, including a 350 million gallon slurp hole slurry spill in one of the counties that I covered that absolutely inundated a small town.

And as we sit here now in 2021, the lingering effects of that incident and others like it continue to impact water quality, just overall environmental, the environmental safety of the region. So it was, as I say in the book at times, whiplash inducing, because I was in a new place, trying to learn about the places and the people while at the same time just being confronted with incredibly heartbreaking and difficult stories to cover. And I wanted to try to cover those stories with the most nuance possible.

To answer your question about why I decided to write the book, one of the reasons was, as I also say, in the book, it’s difficult to tell the story have a place in 500 word chunks, or 1000 word chunks, I felt like there was a need to connect a lot of the dots, individual dots that I had placed on the map while I was there. I felt that for, just to put them all into a greater context, writing this book would help me do that. I think it’s also worth mentioning that I ended up marrying the daughter of a Harlan County coal miner. So my connection to the region has continued in the 15 years since I left. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that hardly a day has passed when they don’t think about the stories that I wrote back then and want to put them in the context of where we sit here in 2021.

John Hammontree: One of the things I love about your book, you know, I think sometimes in the cultural imagination of Americans who don’t live in that region, we tend to depict Appalachia as kind of The Land That Time Forgot, this past culture. But you point out that a lot of the problems that we are dealing with in America as a whole right now, you know, were kind of presaged in eastern Kentucky. I mean, the opioid crisis, as you talked about, environmental devastation, certainly, you know, job losses as the economy has evolved. Let’s start with the opioid crisis. You mentioned you know, a few days into the job getting the fax about OxyContin? What do we know about the origins of the opioid crisis in in Kentucky and kind of how it spread out from from Appalachia?

Alan Maimon: What we know now and what it took me, probably several years after I left to understand was that this epidemic was a product of extreme institutional neglect. It never should have happened. It’s an American tragedy. And it started in places like Eastern Kentucky, where over aggressive pharmaceutical companies came in and marketed their products to physicians in a highly questionable and unethical way. Yes, Eastern Kentucky is a place known for its literally back-breaking work. So a powerful painkiller certainly would have use in such an area. However, the way in which the drug was marketed — if you walked into a dentist’s office complaining about a toothache, you would likely be prescribed Oxycontin. So it was really a perfect storm of problems that resulted in a devastating epidemic. It starts with the pharmaceutical company that marketed the drug and almost viewed the area in Eastern Kentucky as expendable, that it just didn’t matter what this drug caused, the havoc that this drug caused. And then doctors over prescribing it, and in some cases criminally over-prescribing it, and it just created a an absolutely heartbreaking situation in an area that was already struggling. It just tore the social fabric apart that much more.

John Hammontree: And you know, what’s frustrating, is seeing so many people whose jobs it should have been to protect the community and all of a sudden they’re, you know, they’re getting deals working for Purdue Pharma, the pharmaceutical company that’s responsible for a lot of this, and suddenly, I’ve gone from calling it a menace to suddenly saying, Oh, well, no, it’s not actually that bad. And you point to the comparison between guns don’t kill people, people kill people. And so you know, blaming the public itself. Politics of Kentucky are interesting. That has been an area of fascination for a lot of the country in recent years. And you talk about Mitch McConnell, you know, one of the most powerful politicians in recent American history, at least. A chess master. And yet he hasn’t really done a whole lot for the people of Eastern Kentucky in terms of making their lives measurably better. You kind of hold his feet to the fire a little bit. What is it about Eastern Kentucky that’s their politics is so hard to unpack and understand? You know, voting for Hillary Clinton in mass one election cycle, and then overwhelmingly against her the next.

Alan Maimon: When I was in Eastern Kentucky during the 2004 presidential election, John Kerry versus George W. Bush — this was the last presidential election in which any southeastern Kentucky county, because I think it’s important to note that while I covered Eastern Kentucky as a whole, the bulk of my coverage were in these core coal counties of southeastern Kentucky — Harlan Perry, Pike, Floyd, counties like that. So what I saw was a real sea change in terms of an area that once adored John F. Kennedy, and loved Bill Clinton, especially when Bill Clinton came to Main Street in Hazard on July 4, 1999, to tout a new jobs package that never really materialized for the region. I think it’s also important to note that I was in Eastern Kentucky when September 11 happened. And I think what what we saw nationally certainly was playing out in Eastern Kentucky as the months and years passed after the terrorist attacks. There was sort of a cultural and religious component to politics that really amped up and I think all of this goes towards explaining why an area that traditionally was blue became what today is the reddest area in the entire country.

Another very important thing to note on that front is what the coal industry did in order to sway voters to vote, in most cases Republican. And that was this idea that there was a war on coal being waged by politicians like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, you’re either with us or you’re against us. Because coal is such an important part of identity, culture and heritage in that region that probably took an area that was moving red, slowly but surely, and made it deep, deep red, and what it is today.

John Hammontree: It feels like for at least the past few election cycles, Republican politicians have pledged that they’re going to bring back coal, which, you know, rarely happens hasn’t really happened. And then Democratic politicians pledged that they’re going to get rid of America’s dependence on coal. And yet the industry seems to be evolving that way, regardless of who’s in power. How aware I guess, are the people of Eastern Kentucky that, you know, this has become a political football more than actual campaign promise?

Alan Maimon: I think they’re becoming increasingly aware. I’ll say this, 15 years ago, there was a lot of lip service being paid to the need to diversify the economy in Eastern Kentucky to move it beyond its reliance on coal. It was a lot of lip service. Probably one of the worst things that happened while I was in Eastern Kentucky in some ways, was that coal experienced a mini boom, and made development leaders and people in general complacent about a future that they really needed to confront. Now, I would say there is acceptance that coal is not coming back. And fortunately, there are some very bright leaders, forward-thinking leaders in Eastern Kentucky now, who are trying to create a jigsaw puzzle of economic opportunities that can move the area beyond coal. Now, the prominence that coal will always play in terms of culture, identity and heritage will be there. And I think it’s important not to dismiss that or to bad mouth that, or to talk down about that. And I do feel that Hillary Clinton was in the wrong when she offered up a perfect soundbite for the Republican Party, namely, when she said, we’re going to put a lot of coal miners out of work. That’s tone deaf. That’s not going to get Eastern Kentucky where it needs to be. That’s not going to get the people on board with realizing that coal is not going to experience a resurgence. And that’s kind of where we are today. And that’s a really important thing that I think the book attempts to at least create conversation about is okay, ever since the first seam of coal was mined in 1900, in Eastern Kentucky, it’s been all about coal. A hundred and twenty years later, it’s pretty clear that it’s time to move on. Well, what happens next?

John Hammontree: Well, and you also make it clear that this has been an extractive business, not just in terms of extracting coal from the earth, but also you know, the, the labor and the livelihood of so many Kentuckians. And you point out this may be quote, unquote, the poorest region of the country, but that doesn’t mean that everybody’s there, everybody there is poor. There are people who make money off of coal, for instance. So it’s interesting, I guess, how complex this relationship with coal is for people in southeast Kentucky. One example that kind of stuck out to me is you talk about when you first moved there, you moved into this apartment complex that had been where, you know, a mountain top have been blasted off. And so it feels pretty easy to kind of sit back like armchair quarterback and say, Oh, well, you know, this type of mining is environmentally devastating. And it is. But it also seems to be a situation where it might be the only way that some communities in Eastern Kentucky can grow, specifically.

Alan Maimon: Coal has kept the lights on and coal has paid a decent wage, a much better wage than almost any other industry in that area. Coal has helped put food on the table. And so coal has been great in many ways for a lot of people, except for all the times it wasn’t. And that’s one of the reckonings in the book. My father in law in 2003, died. He was a miner. He died from black lung in 2003. And I saw him during his final days in a Lexington hospital. That hit home for me, the the human toll that coal mining takes, but he and so many other miners who I spoke to who are suffering from this disease, it astounded me to hear them say, Gosh, I wish I could get back down underground just one more time. That hit home for me just how deeply ingrained in the identity coal mining is. There is a lot of nuance to be taken from the history of coal in eastern Kentucky. At the end of the day, if you want to talk about the the human toll of coal mining, not just the the roofs that have collapsed, crushing miners, but also about the lasting health effects of coal mining. If you want to talk about the polluted streams, that is certainly a major legacy of coal mining. I did however, try to keep an open mind and an open ear to the folks who, for example, as you noted, said, Hey, you know, this hospital, this hospital in Hazard wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the mountaintop removal project that cleared the land. We don’t have enough flatland to build on unless we do mountaintop mining. Do I fully accept that? No. But I listened to it. And I understand it it and I understood it. And I think that I think it helped inform this book in many ways where I wasn’t trying to regurgitate one point of view or another point of view. I was really trying to bring everything to bear that I had heard and and digested. And ultimately, 15 years after I left, still think about

John Hammontree: Well you mentioned your father in law dying of black lung, and I believe your sister in law also has struggled with opioid addiction. You talk about that a little bit in the book. And so it’s clear that, you know, not only were you covering these issues, but you were certainly experiencing them firsthand. I’m looking at vaccination rates in America right now. And obviously, in the Deep South, they are lagging, and we’re experiencing a surge in Delta as a result. And it looks like from what I can tell, they’re similarly lagging in a part of the country that you covered. And yeah, maybe some of that is politics. But I also wonder if some of that is a result of the devastation of the opioid epidemic, and not being willing to trust pharmaceutical companies or doctors with with maybe some good reason, because they had been exploited by them and politicians who had supported them.

Alan Maimon: No, I think that’s an excellent point. I think the primary reason is this us versus them mentality that pervades everything in this country. But yeah, I think Big Pharma doesn’t have an exalted place in places like Eastern Kentucky, where the Oxycontin epidemic literally impacted every family in some way. So yeah, I think that, as we’re talking about vaccination rates, going a little bit beneath the surface to help explain why some areas might be wary of anything that big pharma puts forward is a worthy conversation topic. That’s not to say that I don’t wish those rates were higher. But I think that background is important.

John Hammontree: You know, this is a part of the country that for some reason, you know, similar to the Deep South, kind of lives in the cultural imagination in a very specific way. You know, I mentioned that it’s kind of the Land That Time Forgot, but it’s also the Beverly Hillbillies and Mountain Dew mouth and a lot of these things that have kind of been depicted in public culture. And then recently, you know, we’ve seen a glut of books from people like JD Vance of like, here’s how you understand the rest of America because of — well, he’s not really in Appalachia, he’s in Ohio — but because of Appalachians. Why do you think that is? Why is the rest of the country so interested in eastern Kentucky? 

Alan Maimon: Well we, as you know, we like to put people in in convenient little corners and pockets and you know, from Alabama, your Sweet Home Alabama, and your, I think you’ve noted on an earlier podcast, Forrest Gump is something that people associate with Alabama and of course, the Crimson Tide. What all of those have in common is they’re generally positive, right? Forrest Gump was a sweet simple man but everybody loves Forrest Gump. Sweet Home Alabama maybe has a little bit of a problematic backstory to it, but who doesn’t love that song? Crimson Tide? I don’t think I need to say anything about, just great football team. Okay. So you, so let’s now talk about the associations people have with Central Appalachia, Eastern Kentucky. You know, number one is is the movie Deliverance, which of course doesn’t take place in Eastern Kentucky, it takes place in Appalachian Georgia, but that is many people’s frame of reference for that for that area, is bad news awaits you if you venture off the beaten path. And God knows what will happen to you if you do that. So yeah, this sort of mythologized version of a place — but not just mythologized, because some some mythologies are quite positive. A very negative mythology surrounding Eastern Kentucky is something that I wanted to tackle in this book.

I don’t really like talking about other people’s works. But what I’ve been saying about Hillbilly Elegy is if you liked Hillbilly Elegy, then I think you should read Twilight In Hazard. And if you didn’t like Hillbilly Elegy, I think you should definitely read Twilight in Hazard. My prob— and I won’t, I’ll just say this — my main problem with books like Hillbilly Elegy, and I would also extend this to the coverage that Eastern Kentucky got in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in 2016,  is I don’t like closed narratives. I don’t like narratives that are presented and which basically say, this is the way things are, and that’s it. That’s what Hillbilly Elegy is, in my opinion, is a writer saying I’m going to present this area and then I’m going to tell you how I escaped. Which is problematic in and of itself, that the getting out shouldn’t be heralded as the great accomplishment. Some people want to stay and in fact, the real conversation we should be having is how can we make areas places that that young people do want to stay, and not how do people escape? So a closed narrative, just this nothing more to see here. Same thing with the 2016 election coverage, which in many cases was quite mean spirited. Eastern Kentucky was identified as Trump country, as an area of the country that went so heavy for Trump. So a lot of national reporters flocked to Eastern Kentucky in the days after the ’16 presidential election, and wrote stories that just were pokes in the eye, just writing about how terrible things were down there. And shame on you for voting for this person. That doesn’t get us anywhere either. So these, the both of those are examples in my mind of closed narratives. What I try to offer is an open narrative, where I don’t have all the answers, but I’m at least trying to present some questions that I think can help spark conversation about the future of that place.

John Hammontree: And I think it’s worth noting for our listeners that you did not leave Hazard by choice. You know that this is also a book that’s kind of about the newspaper industry. And in the first half of this century, we started seeing a lot of bureaus close, including Louisville Courier-Journal’s bureau in Hazard. What do we lose in local coverage when newspapers no longer staff full time reporters there?

Alan Maimon: When the Hazard bureau closed in early 2006, The New York Times did a story about the closure of the Bureau and of two other state bureaus in Kentucky. And in that article, the the then mayor of Hazard, compared the significance of the Courier-Journal to that of the Bible in terms of its importance to people in the region. While that may have been a little bit hyperbolic, I would agree with the overall sentiment, which is there’s just less accountability when there are fewer reporters covering an area. And it helped a lot, I think, to have a reporter there in Eastern Kentucky who was from, quote unquote, the big city paper who had a little bit of distance on the local scene. That’s not to say that there weren’t some really feisty and plucky local papers in Eastern Kentucky doing great things. But it was very sad when the Courier-Journal decided to shutter the Hazard bureau, which I mentioned earlier gained a reputation as being a very as being a legendary bureau that did some very important stories, especially with concern to coal mining. And yeah, it was a nationwide trend. Papers that used to have statewide presences cut back on that, choosing instead of focus on the suburbs surrounding an urban area. And I think that in the net some of that over the past 15 years has been just a less informed public.

John Hammontree: Seems like at least in states like Alabama and Georgia, I would imagine that it might be similar in Kentucky, that that vacuum has been filled by peoplewho might have nefarious interests, people who are trafficking in conspiracy theories and rumors and political attacks and things like that. I bet that at least some of our listeners are familiar with Harlan County, because of the TV show Justified. And you know, and we talked a little bit about how media certainly exaggerate things and get things wrong. But there are some moments in your book that feel like Elmore Leonard characters. You know, you’ve got the mayor, who when you first arrived to town, he brings you up to his house in a snowstorm. And then all of a sudden, you’re being guided back home by two police cars. You’ve got pill-dealing sheriffs and things like that. What are some of the more entertaining characters that you met there?

Alan Maimon: Well, the 2002 election was fortunately — and hopefully will remain — an aberration in terms of the violence that we saw in 2002 in eastern Kentucky. But it was a direct offshoot of the prescription pill epidemic that was happening at the time. There were two sheriffs races in two different counties in which, in one case, a sheriff’s candidate, and in another case, an incumbent Sheriff, were murdered. And the people behind the plot in each case, were vying for control of the drug trade in those counties. So yeah, some of the, you know, the fiction, you know, some of it read, like, read like fiction. And I was aware of that, even while I was writing it, that this was insane to be happening around local elections. I’ll say this — and I was recently in Harlan County a couple of weeks ago, and I still see an area that’s really, really struggling — and I saw needles on the sidewalk as I was walking my kids into town.

I also had the opportunity to go up into some of the furthest reaches of Harlan County, and I’ve got to meet with some family members of my wife who were just wonderful people. And I spoke to a woman who I’m going to say — I don’t have enough empirical evidence to say this, but I think I’m gonna say it anyway — I think she’s Harlan County’s biggest Jon Bon Jovi fan. She has a little shrine to Jon Bon Jovi in her cabin and was telling me about just how much she adored Jon Bon Jovi and his music. And it was touching because she became a huge fan of his right around the time of her mother’s death. And it helps. Her love of Bon Jovi and his music, it really helped her cope with with her mother’s passing. So it’s all of these human stories really helped give me perspective into what quite honestly, in my newspaper writing, was a dark world at that time, and certainly now to hopefully to a lesser extent. But bringing a three dimensional view of the area was perhaps the number one goal of this book. Let’s see this area in three dimensions and not in the two dimensions that we are used to seeing.

John Hammontree: How has the region changed, for the better, and also for the worse? You talked about seeing the the needles on the ground there, but are there ways that it has improved?

Alan Maimon: There are some good things happening, especially in what I would consider the unofficial capitals of southeastern Kentucky, Hazard and Pikeville, especially with regards to downtown revitalization and beautification. I think that’s a key piece to this overall puzzle of boosting up the local economies. So I’m seeing some people with some some forward thinking and good ideas about how to move past coal. That certainly is a heartening development. I also see I see young people who say, I want to stay, I want to stay here, and I want to find a reason to stay here. That also, I think, is just very important. It’s a natural human instinct, I think, to want to experience other places. And so there’s nothing wrong with leaving an area that you come from. But I think that that if you want to stay, that there should be the opportunities there for you to stay. I think local government is starting to clean up its act. Eastern Kentucky historically has been one of the leaders in the nation in public corruption indictments. We haven’t seen as many of those in recent years. And that’s a, that’s a vital, vital part of making this area thrive, is having honest and competent local government. I think state and federal government need to continue to do its part in order to help boost the region. And I certainly don’t want to overlook what the people, and the NGOs, the nonprofits can do for the area as well. It’s really a, it’s an all hands on deck exercise, and I think there’s an urgency to it, but also an excitement. While it’s daunting to try to completely reconfigure an area’s economy, it’s also an exciting opportunity. So I think there are a lot of people down there who are up, feel up for that challenge. And it’s exciting to see them go about trying to make things better, by and large, for an area that overall is still hurting in many ways.

John Hammontree: Coming up after the break, Alan Maimon shares lessons the rest of the country can learn from Eastern Kentucky. 

You write about a mental health crisis for the region, whether it’s because of the dwindling impact of coal or opioids, or some combination of everything. There is a struggle with depression and mental health in the region. Is the infrastructure being built to address that?

Alan Maimon: Well, there are certainly more drug treatment facilities there now than there were 15 years ago. That was one of the major problems that caused a problem to become an epidemic was there was nowhere in the area for people to go for treatment. So there are more drug treatment facilities around. I think that there is another issue here, though. And I want to say this, because I know that it’s always dangerous for people on from the outside to project an image upon a place. I saw, however, a report recently that said that when it comes to self reporting of mental health and physical health, that the people in Eastern Kentucky ranked last in their own self reporting of how they feel about things in general. So clearly, there is an issue there with mental and physical health. I write in the book about this phenomenon of bad nerves, which is just an informal way of talking about mental health. There are counties in Eastern Kentucky where one in every four people are on SSI — get supplemental Social Security as their primary source of income — and many of those people get it because of mental health issues. That’s not the problem. That’s certainly a symptom of a larger problem. But yes, that is that is something that is absolutely vital. In terms of the future of the area. We can’t, you know, we just can’t have such a large swath of the population feeling so crummy about themselves.

John Hammontree: What lessons did you learn while you were in eastern Kentucky? And then also what do you hope that the rest of the country learns about Eastern Kentucky from your book?

Alan Maimon: I’ve learned especially in recent weeks since the publication of the book about of how fiercely prideful people there are of the region. I’ve been gratified that I’ve gotten as much praise as I have for the book. But sometimes it’s the criticism that you learn from and can help trigger the conversations that you want to be having. So pride is certainly something that I’ve come to know very well.

John Hammontree: What kind of pushback did you get from people there? 

Alan Maimon: A little bit, I think, I think some people wish the book was called Dawn in Hazard, instead of Twilight in Hazard. And to their point that it didn’t have enough hope and redemption, I would say, I certainly wasn’t going to make it a completely bleak story. No, that is the kind of criticism that I would that I would certainly take to heart. Like, should there have been more hope and more redemption? I think I leave the door open to any number of different possibilities, including the title of the book, because as we know, twilight comes twice in a day, once before dusk and once before dawn. So I’ve heard things like that. But I’ve also heard out of hand criticisms that somebody who’s not from the area shouldn’t be writing about the area. And some of those criticisms, I think, have included sort of willful distortions of what I’ve written. Those are the criticisms that I don’t take as much to heart, that I’m very disappointed in but don’t take as much to heart. The criticisms that I take to heart are the ones that where people are really trying to do what I’m what I hope people will do both inside the region and outside the region is, which is read this book and let’s talk. Let’s just talk about what what’s going on and what could be.

John Hammontree: When you just kind of sit back and think of your time there, what’s the first memory that comes to mind?

Alan Maimon: I wish my last association with being there full time wasn’t packing up my stuff and leaving the house in Hazard and putting up my computer and other belongings in a in an SUV that I drove back to Louisville to return. I felt like I had a lot more to do in Eastern Kentucky, and so that was very disappointing. But reflecting back on on on those years. Like I said earlier, I think about the area every single day without exception, and those memories vary. Sometimes I think about sometimes I think about the coal miners who were taking their last breaths, but who were sure to tell me how much they loved coal mining and how they wish they could get back underground. And that and that was their biggest— if they could do one thing before they passed, that would be the thing that they would do. I think about driving around the area. I did a lot of driving through Eastern Kentucky. I think about some of the really beautiful places that I passed through while I was there. I was just messaging today with a woman in Clay County, Kentucky, who sent me some pictures of some barns and some swinging bridges. And I said thank you, that is exactly the image I have in my head of Clay County when I think about Clay County. So although I was covering some very dark and heartbreaking stories while I was there, yhe beauty of the area and the beauty of many of the people are certainly things that I think about now.

John Hammontree: Well Alan, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and I hope people go check out your book.

Alan Maimon: Thank you so much.

John Hammontree: And that’s the end of our show, folks. Thank you to Alan Maimon for sitting down with us. You can find his book at your local bookstore or at his website, AlanMaimon.com. If you or someone you know are struggling with opioid addiction, please contact the National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357. Has your community seen any success fighting the opioid epidemic? Let us know what you’ve seen work by finding me on Twitter at @JohnHammontree or leaving us a response along with a review on Apple Podcasts. 

The Reckon Report.
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