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Racism isn’t “saving” black people from the opioid crisis. It is only ensuring that the chronically ill black kids receive the worst pain management possible.

The current opioid epidemic is being called many things on the internet and in the media. The term that stands out is “the gentler war on drugs.” The name stems from the “war on drugs” of the 80s and 90s which saw the criminalization of crack addiction and the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of people addicted to or selling the drug.   Today’s opiate addiction wave is happening outside the urban communities, originating in doctor’s offices, and inundating the suburbs with heroin and opioid-based pills that carry an addiction that is much worse than crack to overcome. The fact that it’s even called an epidemic is problematic. The opioid addiction situation has led to several programs to benefit addicts, such as needle exchanges, Naloxone-carrying first-responders, and programs where addicts can come to the police station with the drugs and leave in a car ride to rehab—no criminal charges filed. The gentler drug war is not, however, benefiting everyone. According to Dr. Elissa Miller, Director of Palliative Care at Nemours Hospital in Delaware, the new restrictions on opioid prescriptions don’t involve criminal charges, but they do end up criminalizing the children who need the medication the most—young sickle cell patients in chronic pain. She says that these are the kids from families who are already wary of the medical establishment and are already struggling to maintain the outpatient care for the sick child in the family. The restrictions that Dr. Miller is forced to perform now drive a deeper wedge between her and her patients, while also making yet another barrier to care that the families must overcome in order to find care for the sick child. It’s no secret that black children are already the group of patients who receive the least pain management, according to articles like Rachel Rabkin Peachman’s “Why aren’t We Managing Children’s Pain?” which looks at the many ways kids are under-prescribed opioid painkillers when those are the very pain relief the child needs. Peachman says,” data shows that adults with the same underlying condition will get two to three times as many pain medication doses as children.” The inequality in pain management is worse with younger patients.
Related: Stop Stigmatizing How We Recover From Drug Addiction

White people are capitalizing off of a plant that led to thousands of Black people getting incarcerated and essentially shutting us out of the legal cannabis market.

In 1992, Tupac famously said “instead of war on poverty, they got a war on drugs so the police can bother me.” The effects of the War on Drugs are still active and visible 25 years after the rapper called attention to this already decades old problem. Black people are nearly four times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite marijuana usage being the same between the two groups. In 2015, African-Americans made up 30 percent of the population of Oakland,California but 77 percent of cannabis arrests, compared to 4 percent for whites.   Like many of the public policies in the U.S., the policies around the prohibition of marijuana was racialized and relied on racist propaganda instead of factual, scientific research. Before Richard Nixon, the man known for inciting the War on Drugs, there was Harry J. Anslinger, the director of the Bureau of Narcotics (known today at the Drug Enforcement Agency). Anslinger’s message to America was clear — weed is evil and it makes Blacks and Latinos “forget their place in society.” Anslinger was even quoted saying “Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.” Like many white men throughout history, Anslinger used the hypothetical sexual assault of white women to convince the country that marijuana was a dangerous drug. Today, those same white women are benefitting heartily from the legal cannabis market. This week, Fast Company profiled Karson Humiston, a 24-year-old white woman who created a job-listing website for cannabis-related jobs. Black and Brown people have experience growing and distributing marijuana in the underground market. We have also suffered the most from unfair laws and enforcement, but we remain overlooked for the same jobs that appear on Humiston’s website.

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