Five years ago, white families called for a ‘gentler war on drugs.’ Did we get one?
Drug war arrests have remained a key priority among law enforcement, explicitly targeting Black, Latinx and Indigenous people along with non-citizens.2 Nov 2020
Today marks five years since the New York Times published its front-page article proclaiming “In heroin crisis, white families seek a gentler war on drugs.” Many things have changed since then, but the drug war rages on. Overdose deaths hit record highs in 2019, and estimates suggest that 2020 may be the worst year yet due to physical isolation, lack of access to treatment and harm reduction, and the disrupted drug supply caused by the pandemic.
Did the white families highlighted in the latest opioid overdose crisis get the gentler war they asked for five years ago? Depends on who you ask. But for Black and Latinx families, the answer, marked by arrests and police violence, is a resounding no.
Before media narratives such as this framed the drug overdose crisis as a white crisis, overdose deaths for Black and Latinx people were already rising. National opioid overdose rates among Black and Latinx communities began to steeply increase in 2012 and 2013, and it worsened from 2014–2017, with the Black death rate increasing by 230% and Latinx death rate increasing by 170%. During the same time period, fentanyl-involved overdose deaths increased by 174% among Black people and 40% of all Latinx overdose deaths involved fentanyl in 2017. Cocaine- and methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths have also dramatically increased among Black and Latinx communities, many of which also involved opioids. But despite the devastation that the overdose crisis has caused in communities of color, these stories have rarely made national headlines.
Instead, drug war arrests have remained a key priority among law enforcement, explicitly targeting Black, Latinx and Indigenous people along with non-citizens. Drug offenses are the leading cause of arrest in the United States, remaining largely unchanged between 2010 and 2019. Black people — who are 13% of the U.S. population — make up 26% of all people arrested for drug offenses, despite the fact that people of all races use and sell drugs at similar rates.Share this on: