This paper compares and contrasts the “crack epidemic vs. the “opioid epidemic and how our country is still impacted by the war on drugs. The similarities between the two epidemics are that families are impacted by these substances. People who are addicted to drugs will put the substance ahead of anything that is meaningful to them. The only thing that matters to them is how to get that next one. People who are addicted to drugs need help. Also, the fatalities of the substances are alarming, in particular people who are addicted to opioids. 90 Americans die every day because of opioids. The differences of the two substances could be controversial as many view it is a black vs. white issue. It seems that people who are addicted to opioids are given plenty of avenues to get their life back on track compared to people in the grips of the “crack” epidemic. People were given harsh sentences, violence ensued throughout communities, and instead of treatment they were more likely to end up incarcerated. It seems we learned our from our mistakes and people who are addicted have a much greater opportunity to get help in order to combat their addiction.
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As a country we have always be tough on drug use, stemming from the 1960s war on drugs. The war on drugs is a huge failure with devasting consequences. It led to mass incarceration as they sky rocketed as a result, corruption, and systemic human rights abuse across the world. It negatively affected the lives of millions of people. Federal agencies increased their presence and mandatory sentencing was established for drug offenders, however, drug offenders did not stop using drugs. Federal funding projects for drug prevention programs took place. And Nancy Reagan’s “Just say No” campaign and Dare Programs were established. After years of trying to reduce and stop drug use, we shifted towards a more sensible drug policy.
During the 1980s, a more profitable drug came into existence. This was known as crack. It is a party version of the drug cocaine. It increased riots and violence throughout our country. According to the Journal of American History, “From 1982 to 1985 the number of minorities in California prisons increased 400%.” According to Dunlap, Golub, and Johnson (2006), “For many, continual crack use became an obsession that dominated their lives. Many crack users organized their lives around their drug habits and their extended binges. Dedicated crack users sold drugs, committed various hustles, and stole from family members to support their habits. Crack markets emerged in the inner city to serve users 24/7” (p. 115). In addition, this is similar to the “opioid” epidemic because like any drug, the drug comes first above anything else that may be of importance. Furthermore, this epidemic is the deadliest drug crisis in American history, which kills about 90 Americans every day! It is almost equivalent to the same number of car crashes. The truly sad thing about the crack and opioid epidemic is the devastation it has caused communities regardless of race. Consequently, the crack epidemic caused almost immediate devastation to the individual, his or her community. Keller (2017) states that, “According to new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, for the first time, the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths among non-Hispanic white Americans is comparable to the rate of cocaine-related overdose deaths among African Americans” (n.p.). As a result, blacks were more disproportionately affected, and crime was more rampant almost from the get-go. Similarly, the opioid epidemic, which in many ways is causing just as much devastation regardless of whether the individual is locked up or not. Families and communities behind locked doors are dealing with these substances that may not lead to immediate crime but gradually destroys everything in its path. Another similarity between the “crack” epidemic and the “opioid” epidemic is According to the Associated Press (2017), “The good news, though, is that drug epidemics do fade considerably — usually because reduced supply and demand eventually diminish the number of new addictions, experts say. And that history offers some hope for the future” (n.p.).
In addition, the “opioid” epidemic started in the 1990s with over prescription of opioid painkillers like, Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet. America is facing an epidemic of addiction like heroin and prescription painkillers. With many, what started as pills, ultimately became a heroin addiction. It starts, it can get out of hand fast. These pills are getting used or falling into the hands of others. From those who are already addicted or bored teenagers. The question has to become less what did we do wrong and more what do we do now. According to Cohen (2015), “Between 2006 and 2013, federal records reveal that the number of first-time heroin users doubled from 90,000 to 169,000. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced last month that the rate of deadly heroin overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013” (n.p.). These drugs are still the most efficient to treat certain types of pain and many patients need them. We can’t get rid of them, but we have to be much more careful about how they’re prescribed. But we cannot just work to prevent future addicts, we are going to need to do more to help the millions that already exist. Therefore, we need to put more investment in treatment programs.
On the other hand, a difference between the “crack” epidemic and the “opioid” epidemic is that hundreds of thousands of African-Americans across the country ended up with prison records because of minor drug violations. According to Glanton (2017), “In 1986, Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act establishing, for the first time, mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of having specific amounts of cocaine. The sentences, however, were much tougher for crack cocaine than powder cocaine cases — which disproportionately affected African-Americans (n.p.).” Conversely, people who are addicted to opioids, seem to be given an opportunity with the emphasis placed on treatment rather than to incarcerate. According to Peterson and Armour (2017), “Research has shown that minorities are now more likely to be in prison and to serve longer sentences than white offenders for comparable crimes. Many lawmakers say it is time for the sentencing guidelines established during the crack epidemic to be further revised. Congress has already made clear that targeting opioid addiction is one of its top priorities. In February, lawmakers passed a two-year budget deal that set aside $6 billion over two years for opioid and mental-health issues” (n.p.).
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Officials thought they could arrest their way out of the crack cocaine crisis and it would go away. According to Lopez (2017), “As crack addiction strangled black communities in particular, policymakers didn’t reach to more treatment to deal with the problem; instead, the response to the crack epidemic was built almost entirely around the criminal justice system” (n.p.). These excessive punishments put a generation of Black men and women behind bars, destroying families and devastating urban communities and in reality, accelerating the poverty and crime the laws were meant to combat. However, the opioid epidemic has inspired a different response. According to Lopez (2017), “the media coverage of the epidemic is much more sympathetic of people struggling with drug addiction. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s leading President Donald Trump’s opioid commission, in 2015 gave a passionate speech urging Americans to treat addiction as a medical issue, drawing from a friend’s story to argue that “we need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them. We need to give them the tools they need to recover, because every life is precious” (n.p.). Disproportionately, this wasn’t the case for crack addicts. They were viewed as people who were dispensable. The crack epidemic and opioid epidemic was viewed as black vs. white. It shouldn’t matter, because addiction is addiction. Addicts need help to try and combat their disease not to be incarcerated.
Like many drug addicts, most of them care about the drug over anything. Whether it be their families, children, jobs, the drug will always come first, and it will be the top priority. Crack was cheaper and easier to access than traditional cocaine. It took lower income areas by storm, it turned communities into warzones, and it became a national crisis. In 1986, Reagan signed The Anti- Drug Abuse Act which pushed harsher sentences on crack than cocaine use. This led to a debate that the law was unfairly targeting minorities and lower income neighborhoods. Families were broken, and violence erupted. According to Stetzer (2017), “Americans were consumed with disgust and fear of the drug rather than concern for the people who had become ensnared by it. Terrified by the drug’s potential destruction, Americans were bent on stomping it out; unfortunately, this morphed into stomping out those gripped by addiction or those who made their livelihoods selling drugs. Instead of getting rid of a drug, we tried to get rid of people” (n.p.). In 2010, Obama put an end to Reagan’s Anti-Drug Abuse Act and passed The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010. Many feel it was too little too late, it was a step toward correcting a racial divided prison system. Stetzer (2017) continues by articulating, “In our rush to protect our communities, our families and our values, we sought to put distance between “us” and “them.” The crisis in the 1980s was the same as one today that screams one message: People who are addicted to drugs need help. That help must come from a solution-driven government, and it must come from compassion-driven churches and other faith communities” (n.p.). Addiction is a health crisis because it affects people of all backgrounds. We can treat it as such.
- Associated Press. (2017). Opioid epidemic shares chilling similarities with the past. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/opioid-epidemic-shares-chilling-similarities-with-the-past/ on October 17, 2018
- Cohen, A. (2015). How White Users Made Heroin a Public-Health Problem. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/08/crack-heroin-and-race/401015/ on October 18, 2018.
- Dunlap, E., Golub, A., & Johnson, B. D. (2006). The Severely-Distressed African American Family in the Crack Era: Empowerment is not Enough. Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare, 33(1), 115–139.
- Glanton, D. (2017). Race, the crack epidemic and the effect on today’s opioid crisis. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/glanton/ct-opioid-epidemic-dahleen-glanton-met-20170815-column.html on October 18. 2018
- Keller, J. (2017). A Tale of Two Drug Wars. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/social-justice/a-tale-of-two-drug-wars on October 18, 2018
- Lopez, G. (2017). The deadliness of the opioid epidemic has roots in America’s failed response to crack. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/10/2/16328342/opioid-epidemic-racism-addiction on October 18, 2018
- Peterson, K & Armour, S. (2017). Opioid vs. Crack: Congress Reconsiders Its Approach to Drug Epidemic. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/opioid-v-crack-congress-reconsiders-its-approach-to-drug-epidemic-1525518000 on October 17, 2018
- Stetzer, E. (2017). Lock them up:’ My double standard in responding to the crack crisis vs. the opioid epidemic. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/10/26/lock-them-up-my-double-standard-in-responding-to-the-crack-crisis-vs-the-opioid-epidemic/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d5003e4a9e5c on October 17, 2018
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