Recent events have once again awakened a nation to the systemic racism that is so prevalent in our society. The death of George Floyd was far from the beginning, and there are many examples of how race plays a part in how individuals are treated and the opportunities they receive. One of the prominent examples of this is illustrated when you consider access to substance abuse treatment in America.

The United States has been battling addiction for decades, and there have been many methods created to help individuals stop using drugs. While we are still looking for an answer that everyone can agree on, some demographics rarely get a chance at professional medical care for Substance Use Disorder. This is most evident when you look at African Americans.

First, it’s important to note that the black community does not abuse drugs at a higher rate than other demographics. White people currently have higher rates of addiction than blacks do and they are more likely to abuse drugs. Isn’t it strange that many people believe that black people use more drugs? Nobody says this, but the image is pushed. This is just one of the many examples of how racism is unwittingly present in our country.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, 88.7% of African Americans do not get the appropriate care they need for Substance Abuse Disorder. When we examine these factors, the striking discovery is that it is almost wholly socioeconomic. Black people are less able to afford private health insurance which has far better benefits for substance abuse treatment and other rehabilitation methods. They also leave treatment before completion, mostly due to issues with employment, housing, or finances.

On top of this, despite white people currently having higher rates of addiction, black youth are being arrested ten times more for drug crimes than whites. This statistic makes no sense unless we assume that police are targeting black youth specifically for drug arrests. Those doing the arresting may view their efforts as an attempt to help save the black youth from drug addiction. However, this number doesn’t convert when it comes to treatment, and it starts children down a path of being stuck in the legal system.

When George Floyd died, police were quick to point to his history of substance abuse, crime, and the report that he had drugs in his system as though it justified his being murdered.

This further illustrates the problem. The idea that a black person can be painted into a victim-proof box simply because society believes that they are more likely to be a drug addict or criminal is a serious issue. If we accept this, shouldn’t they be getting the most help with treatment?

The civil unrest in our country will continue until a measurable and sustainable change is achieved regarding how we treat the black community. Misconduct by law enforcement is just one symptom of this social disease that has plagued the United States for way too long. As we start taking steps forward, we need to ensure that all areas of inequality are handled so we can genuinely change the way our society conducts itself.

Joseph Kertis

Newport, OR