Heroin Now a Public-Health Problem

Heroin and opiate use and abuse in America has dramatically increased over the past decade.  Between 2006 and 2013, federal records reveal that the number of first-time heroin users doubled from 90,000 to 169,000. Some of those users, no doubt, already are dead. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the rate of deadly heroin overdoses, the majority white Americans, nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2015.


One of the most disturbing elements of America’s history is that of racial segregation and discrimination. Even now in 2017 there are still disproportionate levels of arrests, convictions and incarcerations for Black Americans when it comes to drug laws. All in all, the history paints a picture of disparity between how drug abusers of different races have been treated. Black elected officials, clergy and leaders remain silent on the issue.


In the past, when users of the drugs were disproportionately Black, they faced severe punishments. A surge in heroin use among Blacks in the 1960s was blamed for a rise in violent crime, and provoked a harsh response from whites looking to destabilize Black life.. Black Americans were criminalized and offered no treatment. They were brutalized, thrown in jail and dehumanized.


The largely failed civil rights movement brought about some changes for African Americans and the late 70’s helped usher in a new age of addiction treatment for African Americans. This came in the form of methadone clinics springing up in many Black communities, with the aim of helping heroin addicts and reducing crime. Of course we now know that methadone is more addictive than heroin and is much more difficult to withdraw from.


The war on drugs and crack epidemic of the 1980s devastated communities of color. The legal and political responses to the crisis compounded the tragedy. It further helped to dismantle what was left of the Black family structure and escalated the Black male mass incarceration area


The federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act, passed in 1986, imposed mandatory-minimum sentences that were far harsher on users of crack cocaine than on those found with the drug in powdered form. The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced that disparity in sentencing from 100:1 to 18:1, but that remains a striking gap. Many experts, researchers and Black people with basic reasoning ability see, in the different responses to these drug epidemics, further proof of America’s racial divide. Even today, according to federal crime statistics, African Americans comprise 14 percent of regular drug users, but are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses.


Can anyone imagine the Congress and the White House of 1985 debating a “Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Act” for Black heroin users of the 60’s or crack users in the 80’s  instead the brutal mandatory-sentencing laws of those era’s sweeping toward passage in Congress in near-record time as it did recently? Of course not.  What accounts for the difference?  It’s certainly  not  because law makers and policies writers have become more thoughtful in 2017. It’s because more whites Americans are dying. Plain and simple.

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