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Why Many Black Americans Don't Care About the Opioid Crisis

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Black Americans and the Opioid Crisis

Drug abuse in America is nothing new, and the opioid crisis currently affecting millions of Americans didn't start in 2017. Its roots were established in the late 90s when pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to pain relievers such as heroin, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, codeine, and fully synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and methadone. Big pharma got it wrong, and healthcare providers began prescribing these powerful drugs with more regularly.

Opioids are a class of powerful drugs that interact with opioid receptors on the body's nerve cells and are primarily used for pain relief and anesthesia. Both natural and synthetic varieties are prescribed by physicians worldwide.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency and announced several strategies to combat the opioid crisis. This was largely due to the devastating effects of opioid use and misue around the U.S, and included increases in opioid-related overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of newborns experiencing withdrawal syndrome due to opioid use and misuse during pregnancy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1999 to 2016, more than 630,000 people died from a drug overdose. In 2016 alone, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioids and illegal opioids like heroin and manufactured fentanyl) was 5 times higher than in 1999.

While the opioid crisis has pushed up death rates among black, Hispanic, Native, and Asian Americans, the epidemic has disproportionately affected white Americans. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from opioid drug overdoses has increased 200% for white Americans. On average, white deaths are 9-times higher than those of black and Hispanic Americans.

Race and Hispanic Origin*20132014% Change from 2013 to 2014
White, non-Hispanic35,58137,9458.0% increase
Black, non-Hispanic3,9284,3238.2% increase
Number of U.S. drug overdose deaths involving opioids in 2013 and 2014.
Source: National Vital Statistics System, Mortality file.

In addition to creating a commission to confront the crisis, the Trump Administration wants to give $13 billion in funding to HHS over a two-year period to address the opioid epidemic--$3 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $10 billion in fiscal year 2019.

Most Americans agree that the opioid crisis desperately needs to be addressed. But many black Americans are wondering: "Where was federal government intervention and billions of U.S. dollars when inner city blacks were struggling with the crack/cocaine epidemic throughout the 80s and early 90s?

Drug-related crimes and overdose deaths in the 80s were primarily due to the proliferation of crack/cocaine abuse, and black men and women suffered the most. Blacks suffered, not because black people were more inclined to use illicit drugs or break the law. Rather, black communities suffered because they were specifically targeted by the federal government, who concocted a dual-purposed scheme to fund the Contra fighters through illicit drug sales, while simultaneously destroying black communities. The Contras were various right-wing rebel groups that opposed the socialist Sandinista Junta of National Reconstruction government in Nicaragua following the July 1979 overthrow of Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

It is widely known that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) facilitated and profited from the shipment of illegal drugs to the neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles by smuggling in illegal contraband from Central and South America and Mexico. Drugs were distributed and sold in communities populated by African-Americans; communities the U.S. government cared the least about. Profits from drug sales were used by the CIA to secretly supply weapons to the Contras, which allowed the U.S government to wage another proxy war against the communist Soviet Union.

Not only did the U.S. government find a way to arm the Contras, they found a method of injecting poison into neighborhoods that would subsequently devastate black families and further disparage black Americans. Destruction came in the form of drug addiction, overdose deaths, violent crimes, and the imprisonment of users and street dealers.

In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which established mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of having specific amounts of cocaine. However, convictions and sentences were more severe for inner city blacks who used crack cocaine, while powder cocaine was the drug of choice for middle and upper class white Americans.

Instead of funding drug rehabilitation programs, treatment centers, and counseling services in the 80s, the government instead chose to clamp down on the the distribution and consumption of crack cocaine. Minimum jail sentences, along with the health issues resulting from rampant drug use, systematically destroyed many black families across the U.S.

The government did take the time to launch a campaign aimed at preventing children from using drugs. Spearheaded by first lady Nancy Reagan, the "Just Say No" campaign consisted of television commercials, school speeches, and printed marketing material designed to steer kids away from drugs by refusing to use them. The campaign was disguised as an effort to show genuine concern about the drug epidemic, but ended up being ineffective and only functioned to mask the vile actions of the government.

Maybe if the CIA had not illegally smuggled drugs into black communities -- creating a crack cocaine epidemic that resulted in the deaths of thousands, the incarceration of thousands of black men, and the destruction of black families -- more African-Americans would be concerned about the opioid epidemic disproporationately destroying white middle class families.

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