Thought Leaders

It’s our pleasure to introduce you to the following “Thought Leaders” whose tireless work is making a real day-to-day difference in the national effort to combat the opioid and substance use epidemics.

Voices Of Authority Amidst A National Crisis

Greg Williams

Health Policy Advocate and Documentary Filmmaker

In recovery himself since age 17, Greg Williams created the independent documentaryThe Anonymous People” to expose the deeply entrenched social stigma afflicting the 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction. The shame surrounding addiction, he believes, is not unlike what those with breast cancer and HIV/AIDS once suffered in silence. Williams dispels long-standing clichés through the courageous testimony of those in his film, including former NBA star Chris Herren, award-winning actress Kristen Johnston (3rd Rock From the Sun), Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner, best-selling author William Cope Moyers, and former congressmen Patrick Kennedy. Williams is today credited by many for helping launch a nationwide discussion of public policy and a shift from punishment, shame, and incarceration to effective treatment and lasting recovery solutions.

For a glimpse at Greg’s groundbreaking work, click the blue button below.

Movie Trailer


“The system is broken. It’s failing our communities. It’s failing our families and we have stood idly aside and allowed people to shame individuals for a broken system.”

“We have an issue that impacts 23 million Americans who are still suffering. There are another 23 million in recovery so if you include family members we have roughly 100 million people who are directly impacted by this issue and we don’t talk about it. So it’s time. It’s time we talk. It’s time we demand more.”

“We have a long road ahead to erode decades of problematic approaches to addiction. But we have hope and our stories hold all the power we need to make sure future generations have a much better system in place.”

Beth Macy

Award-Winning Author of Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America

Based in Roanoke, Virginia, Beth has won more than a dozen national awards, including a Nieman Fellowship for Journalism at Harvard. Her New York Times Bestseller, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America, has been awarded many prizes including the Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Best Southern Books of 2018, the LA Times Book Prize for Science and Technology Winner, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine Annual Media Award Winner. If you’re wondering, as the Dopesick book cover puts it, “How America embraced a medical culture where overtreatment of painkillers became the norm,” you will find the answers here. Other books recommended by Beth Macy include Pain Killer by Barry Meier, Dreamland by Sam Quinones, Drug Dealer, MD by Anna Lembke, and Big Fix by Helton Mitchell.

To learn more about Macy’s background, motivation, and lessons learned, click the button below.

Beth Macy


“Opioids are now on pace to kill as many Americans in a decade as HIV/AIDS has since it began.”

“The legal and medical structures meant to combat America’s heroin epidemic were woefully disconnected, often at odds with one another, and full of unintended consequences.”

“Across the nation, police chiefs and sheriffs were beginning to lament, ‘We can’t arrest our way out of this epidemic.’ That sentiment illuminated the folly of the decades long War On Drugs, in which drug users were arrested four times more often than those who sell the drugs.”

Al Cross 

Director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Cross helps rural news media define the public agenda in their communities and report on broader issues that have local impact but few local sources. The institute he helped organize has academic partners at 28 universities in 18 states. He became its director in 2004 after more than 26 years as a reporter at The Courier-Journal. His awards include the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame (2010), the Media Awards of the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation (2006), the James Madison First Amendment Award of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at UK (2015), and a share of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize won by The Courier-Journal’s staff for coverage of the nation’s deadliest bus and drunk-driving crash.

To learn more about Al Cross and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, click the button below.

Al Cross


“Injecting compassion for those dealing with addiction into the criminal justice system has helped moderate the damage done, and it has helped some overcome their addictions and turn their lives around. But we’re still using the wrong tool to fix the problem.”

“Kentucky has a criminal justice system built to deal with crime, which is instead being used to deal with a health problem — addiction. Law enforcement has proven about as effective against drug addiction as doctors would be at stopping crime.”

“Community newspapers need to step up to bring awareness to the problems, not sweep them under the rug.”

John Tilley

Former Chairman of the National Association of State Legislature’s Criminal Law and Justice Committee

Former Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Secretary as well as legislator, prosecutor, attorney, and television journalist, Tilley is nationally recognized for his work in criminal justice reform and drug control policy. He served five terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives and chaired the House Judiciary Committee where he co-chaired several joint bipartisan House/Senate task forces on criminal justice. He sponsored key pieces of legislation including the landmark criminal justice reform bill House Bill 463 which triggered a national model for change. Tilley also led efforts to combat synthetic and prescription drugs. He has traveled internationally to speak on criminal justice reform and drug control policy and has received numerous awards and national recognition.

John Tulley’s Twitter account is rich with information and valuable links. Check it out by clicking the button below.

John Tilley


“Supply will always meet demand. There’s a line waiting to be the next drug dealer.”

“We have decimated our country by criminalizing drug use.”

“We’ve got to stop using the criminal justice hammer on what’s really a disease. It’s high time we quit tweaking and begin with a new model using all the best practices.”

Terry DeMio

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

On the Cincinnati Enquirer’s opioid beat for five years now, DeMio teamed with Enquirer colleagues to produce a 20-page special report featuring stories and photo spreads of local heroin users, parents, outreach coordinators, and methadone clinics. Titled Seven Days of Heroin,” the project involved over 60 reporters, photographers and videographers who went into local communities to chronicle an ordinary week in an extraordinary time. Their comprehensive look at the many faces and facilities which appear beneath the banner of the “heroin epidemic” won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting.

To read the Pulitzer-winning report, “Seven Days Of Heroin,” click the button below.

Seven Days Of Heroin Report


“The best way it has been put to me, I think, is that their brain has been hijacked. They are just compelled to seek this medication, or what they believe to be a medication, for withdrawals.”

“The improvements we are seeing are that we have more accessibility to evidence-based treatment. So we are seeing people getting that kind of treatment more routinely, now.”

“No treatment is for everyone. We still have a long way to go. There are more solutions needed before this becomes anything less than an epidemic.”

Eric Eyre

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

Eyre won a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for revealing shocking opioid distribution patterns in West Virginia even as he continued as a beat reporter covering local news for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “We thought we were just going to be here for a year, but this paper has a history of crusading investigative reporting, strong local journalism,” says Eyre. “Our late publisher Ned Chilton coined this phrase called ‘Sustained Outrage’ and that’s sort of hammering away at an injustice until it’s righted.”

To read an interview with Eric, click the button below.

Eric Eyre


“What we had was the total volume of hydrocodone and OxyContin or oxycodone pills that were shipped to West Virginia over a six-year period. And when we totaled it up, there were upwards of 780 million hydrocodone and oxycodone pills. That’s about 433 pills per person. And what was even more striking was the number of pills that went to Southern West Virginia. You had really small counties in Southern West Virginia, which is our coal region, that had five, six times more pills than a county that was eight times larger in northern West Virginia.”

Sharon Burton

Ground-Breaking Journalist and Publisher

Editor and Publisher of the Adair County Community Voice Newspaper in Columbia, Kentucky, Burton has weathered severe criticism for reporting on a problem many preferred to be left in the dark. But in the top left corner of the editorial page above her name as publisher is the sentence “Truth will prevail” followed by Luke 12:2: “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed; neither hid that shall not be known.” Today a national leader in substance-abuse coverage among small newspapers, the Community Voice and its publisher-editor remain steadfast. “I love these farm people,” she says. “I love my hometown.” And of her dedication to truth-telling? “I grew up on Woodward and Bernstein’s thinking that we should hold government accountable. We should cheerlead the good and point out the bad.”

To read an interview with Burton, click the button below.

Sharon Burton


“The cost of addiction runs high. It has affected every family and every aspect of our community.”

“For people who are thinking, ‘Hey, you are writing a bunch of negative stuff about our town,’ I say it is because we love our town.”

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”