I recently ran across an article, and a comic describing an experiment that redefines how we think about addiction. The basic gist is that it isn’t a personal flaw, that addiction is more about environment than anything else. It was really eye-opening and I invite you to check it out.
But it got me thinking…
(TRIGGER WARNING: drugs, addiction, incarceration)
I fucking hate addiction. I hate that I’ve watched my brother come within inches of drinking himself to death. I hate that my friend is in rehab, that he can’t stop shooting heroin. I hate watching my friends talk about their friends that have died, that have OD’d. I hate seeing people spiral into that dark place where I can’t reach them anymore. I hate that it’s such a part of my life, that it’s such a part of my friends’ lives.
But how does my experience, and their experiences compare with others? I’m white, middle-class, from one of the wealthiest counties in Maryland. I recently moved to Baltimore, and I live in one of the white neighborhoods (yes, Baltimore is still segregated). My friends might be getting addicted, but they’re not getting arrested, they’re white. Peoples’ experiences with addiction and law enforcement are dependent on their race.
Statistically, white people don’t get arrested for possession of Marijuana. Black people do. The sentencing disparities between crack and cocaine are still horrifying. There are far more black people in prison than white people.
America is built on centuries of white supremacy and racism. The War on Drugs is just one manifestation.
I don’t want the solution to be putting more white people in jail. I don’t want the solution to be incarceration equality. I don’t want anyone to be in jail. I want addiction to be less of a problem. I want people to have resources to get help. In 2001 Portugal decriminalized drugs, and invested in treatment, rather than incarceration. It worked. They decided drug addiction was a health problem, not a crime. Addiction rates have been cut in half.
And every time I think about that I cry. There are whole communities decimated by drug use, and instead of getting help, they get police surveillance and harassment. America is taking people who are sick, and putting them in cages.
Something has to change. We need a society that encourages health, that allows people to be economically stable and fulfilled. That gives people hope, and the opportunity to live a life without addiction.