Taking a look at demographics, apparently 90 percent of first time heroin users in the past decade have been white. There’s been a shift. The context of the urban crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s, the gang violence that accompanied it, and a strict “War on Drugs” zero tolerance mentality that locked up addicts for lengthy prison sentences isn’t applicable to the opioid and heroin epidemic of today. Why? Because what we have now aren’t outcast sketchy street junkies mugging bystanders and holding up convenience stores. It’s troubled white kids swiping cash from their parents and stealing the TV out of the living room.
As the shift develops the perception and stigma that addicts are dangerous criminals is changing to fit the disease model. Addicts are sick people trying to get well. As certain as this enlightenment is in fact a positive thing which will move the country in the correct direction towards a more effective solution to the drug problem, is it happening for right and just and P.C. reasons? While the poor and the homeless in the inner cities needed to go to jail, upper and middle class sons and daughters get to go to rehab.
The fact is all addicts whatever race, creed or color are people who need help. Today’s heroin epidemic has been referred to as the worst drug overdose epidemic in United States history. Since the year 2000 annual deaths related to heroin have quadrupled. Fortunately, the new compassionate emphatic perspective pushes for treatment rather than incarceration. This is a giant step in the right direction.
“This new turn to a more compassionate view is welcome,” attests Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, a racial issues specialist at U.C.L.A and Columbia law schools. African Americans addressing the addiction issue are supportive of the new understanding, but the fact that cries for a more sympathetic approach during the crack epidemic were ignored carries an air of frustration and injustice. While expert, Kimberle Williams Crenshaw sees the shift of perspective as a positive movement, she adds, “One cannot help notice that had this compassion existed for African Americans caught up in addiction and the behaviors it produces, the devastating impact of mass incarceration upon entire communities would never have happened.”