People are dying. Spouses, friends, neighbors, parents and children are losing one another in a heinous fashion and at alarming rates. Nevertheless, when cries for compassion and intervention come from certain corners of the room, it becomes increasingly difficult to not roll eyes. Still, I beg that you would have mercy. The story of how we missed Becky’s candlelight vigil is a long one.
President Nixon’s “War on Drugs” of 1971, noted drug abuse as “public enemy number one.” The War was defined by harsh penalties and zero tolerance as it tore through low-income minority neighborhoods. Black families reeled and unraveled with the mysterious influx of crack-cocaine into our communities. Crime increased, homicide rates doubled, and plagued family members were ripped from homes with stiffer and longer sentences than their white counterparts. “Stop-and-frisk” assailed black men as officers swept our fathers and sons from the sidewalks to the prisons systems in record numbers under ‘reasonable suspicion’. In a consequently predictable fashion, for-profit prisons began winning government contracts and the mass incarceration business boomed.
Even today, the far-reaching consequences perpetuate their causes as boys from fatherless homes are almost four times more likely to be poor. They’re at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse and make up 71% of high school dropouts. Additionally, those who attempt re-entry in society face severely reduced employment opportunities (and associated healthcare benefits), lack of access to public housing and/or food assistance, little or no access to academic financial aid and the loss of their right to vote.
Fact: The War on Drugs was handcrafted for the criminalization of the black family and community. After almost 50 years, I think it’s safe to say it was a job well done.
Alas, we presently find the drug crisis has made its way from low-income minority neighborhoods to the suburbs. The condemnation that birthed zero tolerance and characterized black urban communities has been replaced with a new cry for the liberation of the afflicted.
Not so coincidentally, 90% of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade are white. A large portion of these afflicted suburbanites got their first fixes via their local doctors office. Many attribute the rise of the opioid crisis to the ongoing and increasing use of prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin. In short, the road to suburban decay looks a little like this on a map:
Soccer mom hurts her back-> Soccer Mom goes to doctor and is quickly prescribed strong pain relief meds-> Soccer mom LOVES pain relief (too much)-> Soccer mom goes overboard and can’t afford prescriptions anymore-> Soccer mom resorts to street drugs like heroin->Soccer mom now has a ‘disease’.
Well, truth be told suburban soccer mom is an American icon and so are her kids and family. Here we find the current US President Donald J. Trump. “We cannot allow this to continue. It is time to liberate our communities from this scourge of drug addiction” declares the President from the White House. *Collective black shrugs*
In the months and years following, news media overflows with heart-wrenching tales of neglected children, missing loved ones, heartbroken parents and even drug-riddled schools crying aloud for relief from this tragedy of historic proportions. Without hesitation, the masses gather and lobby to protect and nurture the affected. In many states, precincts have begun building safe spaces where soccer mom can not only get her fix without criminal consequences—but she can also receive:
- Hygienic space and sterile supplies
- Overdose treatment and prevention
- Rapid linkage to medication-assisted treatment, detox services and outpatient/inpatient treatment services
- Direct provision or linkage to basic medical treatment, wraparound social services and case management
- Syringe exchange services
- Sexual health resources and supplies
- Health education
- Peer support
- Post-consumption observation plan from a trained professional
Lets be candid. This list sounds like comedy to most people from minority communities whose experiences with addicts are usually associated with sidewalk body slam and handcuffs. It may even have a sting for your neighbor who has a handful of family in prison for selling marijuana, but who is also somehow simultaneously watching a cable tv show highlighting white males as they make millions in the newly legalized marijuana market.
Nevertheless, these disturbing contrasts are often met with a mere snicker of frustration and discouragement. Not hatefully. Not as glee at the hardship and suffering as a neighbor. Think of it as more of a sigh. Because seriously, we like Becky. And we actually do hope Becky comes home.. but most of us are still trying to catch our own breath and won’t have much left to blow out a candle.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.