The history of connecting races with certain sort of behavior is almost as old as mankind. However, the history of basing healthcare and criminal justice system in the United States according to race started at the beginning of the twentieth century. It came to pass when the European scientists managed to synthesize cocaine from Coca plant leaf, and the new elixir became a hit among the upper class.
However, when the American government started to debate on the law, which would regulate the trade of opium and Coca plant products, the South grew restless as they saw new competitors on the market. Soon the New York Times published an article titled "Negro cocaine "fiends" are a new Southern menace" which blamed African Americans for all sorts of crimes committed under the influence of cocaine. This and series of other propaganda maneuvers placed a stigma on African Americans that associated them with crime and narcotics up until these days.
Nomen est Omen
Few people know now, even fewer knew at the beginning of the twentieth century that crack is, in layman's terms, cocaine leftovers. Crack cocaine was marketed to the poor because it is a lot cheaper than cocaine but it is far more dangerous and addictive. Nevertheless, in those days people of color were noted as cocaine users that become aggressive under the influence. During the Vietnam War, cocaine trade was skyrocketing and by the beginning of the 80s, even more crack available for the racial minorities inhabited urban ghetto areas was on the streets.
Statistically, the poor neighborhood population was barely literal and even if there was one nearby, they would not know how to seek out a free addiction treatment. The emphasis is on the “free” because any other option would be expensive to those with a limited budget. Lack of money means that addicts needed a way to support their drug problem. This usually meant criminal behavior, which completes the circle of poverty, crime, and addiction. For now, the focus stays on racial minorities and their struggle with addiction in a system where "their kind" is marked as inherently prone to narcotics, crime, and poverty.
In a report conducted by Huffington Post, it is estimated that white Americans use more cocaine and have tried a wider array of narcotics than African and Latin Americans. However, the use of crack cocaine is far more frequent in poor urban areas. Human Rights Watch conducted a survey in 2009 and it clearly states that African Americans get arrested for possession of narcotics three times more often than white people. The Bureau of Justice indicates that in 2011 more than 45% of all prisoners arrested for narcotics were black. Prisons have free drug rehab facilities but with limited capacities for meaningful treatments.
Our generation likes to pride with activism, social liberties, and fights against racism. However, the change is yet to show its face as American healthcare and criminal justice system are still haunted by the ghosts of past. So what is the solution? According to some studies, racial minorities that attend government-funded free rehab centers are less likely to complete their program. The study results indicate that the reason behind such a situation lies in socioeconomic factors. A higher number of unemployed and nearly double the number of homeless people among African Americans on rehab make this conclusion logical. People with low income often neglect rehab in pursuit of an additional job, or simply find traveling to and attending addiction help centers expensive.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons is providing help with addiction problems to inmates for more than two decades. Nevertheless, some might argue that it is not good enough to treat people only when they get to jail because of their illness.
The circle of low incomes, crime, and drug addiction seem difficult to break which should put the entire society on their feet. Only with proper care for those most endangered it is possible to improve the health of minorities.
Addiction and race do not come naturally; these two categories standing together are a social construct. Low income and lesser quality of education, as well as the social environment, influence the fact that minorities are going to have more difficulties providing a decent treatment for themselves. The lack of effective free help for alcoholics and drug users deepens the void even further. Is it too late to break the circle or do we have the power to help those who cannot fend for themselves?
Header Image Credit: Boston University
About the Author
Thanush Poulsen is a lifestyle blogger living in Denmark. Various health issues are his primary focus. Thanush has been investigating the health problems of the modern society, with the close look at the addiction as one of the greatest threats.