As the opioid crisis continues to ravage neighborhoods and communities throughout the nation, city and state governments have set aside billions of dollars to help affected individuals seek the treatment they need. Their efforts have, undoubtedly, been laudable.
However, for much of American history, drug addiction has not been treated as an illness that must be medically treated. Instead, it has always been a mistake or error that must be punished. So, what changed? Why are governments throughout the country choosing to send opioid addicts to rehab instead of prison?
According to Dr. Allison Lynch, the director of addiction medicine at the University of Iowa, the key difference may lie in the racial makeup of the communities that have been impacted by the opioid crisis.
In an interview with Yahoo Finance, Dr. Lynch noted that now that "there are more white people who have drug addictions, we’re getting more money and more attention paid to drug addiction treatment. Before it was often viewed as a problem in urban communities, which is group-speak for minority populations. I can’t think of anything in our country that isn’t influenced by our culture of racism, and substance use treatment definitely has been influenced by that, absolutely."
A brief look at the statistics indicates that Dr. Lynch's thoughts about racial disparities in drug treatment and punishment may be correct. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 11.8 percent of white adults admitted to recently using illicit drugs. In black adults, this figure was 13.7 percent.
Given that these figures are quite similar, you might expect that the drug-related arrest rate for black adults should be comparable to that of white adults. According to the National Research Council, however, "drug-related arrest rates for blacks have been three to four times higher than those for whites."
Will the United States continue to operate a two-tiered drug addiction system, with medical treatment for some and jail cells for others? Only time will tell.
At Shapiro Zwanetz & Lake, we have been helping Maryland residents fight back against their drug charges for years. If you are in trouble with the law and need out experienced attorneys to defend you, please give us a call at (410) 927-5137 to set up a free consultation.