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The Opiate Crisis Vs The Crack Epidemic

January 4, 2018

Keywords defined:
Crisis: A crucial or unstable time or state of affairs, especially one with distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.
Epidemic: Affecting a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community or region at the same time.
Systematic: Presented or formulated as a coherent body of ideas or principles; methodical in procedure or plan.
Racism: Racial prejudice or discrimination.

[ I ]

Some believe that the the misuse of opioid pain medication is labeled a “crisis” which focuses on rehabilitation rather than incarceration, because it apparently commences in “middle-American white neighborhoods.” They compare the treatment of this outbreak to the crack-cocaine “epidemic” that began to permeate “poor black neighborhoods” and led to tough penalties and incarceration rather than treatment for mostly black men and women. I have heard the term “systematic racism” used to describe the disparity in the ways these two unfortunate circumstances are dealt with in the American judicial system, and at a cursory glance, it is a good argument. After a more profound and investigative look, I cannot connect these tragedies of death and incarceration solely to skin color, or more specifically systematic racism but more exactly to the color of money. The crack epidemic and the opioid crisis have both proven lucrative to business and to the government (taxes), and furthermore, both black and white smoke crack just as both black and white use and abuse opioids.

[ II ]

Cocaine was legal for “social use” and medicinal purposes until approximately one year after the commencement of the prohibition of alcohol. Cocaine was available over the counter at the pharmacy, as well as the soda fountains, and it was common for blue collar/working class whites to gather at the fountains in the evening to drink their cocaine-laced pops and socialize in public places. Cocaine was considered a “sophisticated drug,” and blacks were eventually banned from using it under the allegations that it made them crazed, causing them to rape white women and burglarize farms. At about the same time that Protestants, mostly women, were pressing the nation for the prohibition of alcohol, there was also pressure from the public to make cocaine illegal for all peoples and all uses. The main concerns of the mothers, who started these movements and protests, was the well being of their children and protecting them from those who were under the influence of these disinhibitors, as well as a stringent adherence to their religious beliefs.

Just as making alcohol an illicit drug did not deter people from using it, similar laws against cocaine had no effect; in fact, making alcohol illegal only caused a boost in crimes such as smuggling, tax evasion, and murder. Making cocaine illegal had similar effects. In the the 1980’s, a new drug called crack was created by cutting cocaine with baking soda and cooking it in a beaker to “rock it up.” Crack rock was much cheaper than cocaine, which was often referred to as “the rich man’s drug,” and went for as low as five dollars a hit. Crack became very popular in black communities, although there were also many whites who began using this drug. The 1980’s were the beginning of the “crack epidemic” and a recrudescence of crime sprees similar to those that occurred after the prohibition of alcohol. The D.C. area became notorious for harboring very territorial, violent, and murderous drug gangs who killed informants and even police, who tried to stop their business.

Very tough laws were passed against the possession, use, and sale of crack, and a small amount—a much smaller amount than cocaine—could land a person in prison for as long as ten years; in fact, the toughest drug laws have to do with the distribution and use of crack cocaine. Despite the “Reagan administration’s” feeble efforts to inform the public of the crack epidemic and divert some punitive measures to rehabilitation measures, very little was done for offenders of crack laws but to lock them up. Due to the popularity of crack cocaine in the black communities, the majority of people being incarcerated for breaking these laws were black.

[ III ]

Today, the drug that is permeating our communities and making a comeback from the 1970’s is opiates, but in the form of prescription pain pills such as hydrocodone, oxycontin, and codeine. The abuse and misuse of these medications is indeed a crisis as large as, if not larger than, the crack epidemic, so why aren’t there tougher penalties for possession and use? First and foremost, most of the people using these opiates are prescribed them. They are delivered from huge and powerful corporations like McKesson to doctors who sometimes either overprescribe or miss-prescribe these medications. There are laws against possessing medications outside of their original bottle or possessing medications that are not prescribed to the individual, but they are not nearly as harsh as the laws for possessing crack, because the medications themselves are not illicit drugs, the misuse of them is what’s against the law.

Opioids have flooded the streets not through some dealer cooking it up in a rundown house, but through a much larger and more powerful dealer, an industry and institution: manufacturers, like McKesson. The obvious route to stemming the tide of these opiates are to penalize the industries that are over shipping them to doctors, who in turn overprescribe the drug for profit. The problem is that these companies are billion dollar industries that can afford to pay a team of well-trained lawyers for defense, who will plead some clerical error for shipping massive amounts of medications to doctors, who could never realistically prescribe such as excessive amount ethically. Furthermore, these billion dollar industries can afford to drag a proceeding out for years and cost the government millions of dollars prosecuting, not to mention the fact that the government could lose the case and set a precedent in favor of these companies for future cases. As a result, the government receives tax payments from these industries and fines them one hundred and fifty million dollars.

Companies, like McKesson, remind me of al Capone during the prohibition years: Untouchable; good at manipulating circumstances and covering up the truth, teams of lawyers, and more money than God. Stiffening penalties for unauthorized possession of medication would do absolutely nothing to stem the tide of opiates into our communities, because the people giving it to us are in positions of authority, and ultimately, are protected by the government who refuses to prosecute them.

[ IV ]

The problems we face with opioids are similar to the problems we face with alcohol and cigarettes. They are not illegal to use and very easy to obtain, and making these thing illegal would not stop anyone from using therm. They are products of huge industries that have the money and power to get away with abusing society by marketing to younger users and giving out prescriptions at a price. Crack cocaine on the other hand has always been illegal and is peddled by street dealers, not industries. The government makes no profit from crack through taxes and can only fine its users and sellers by locking them up, furthermore, although it costs taxpayers about $50,000 to house a single prisoner, the federal government gives money to the department of corrections for offering certain programs such as education and substance abuse treatment. Whether these treatments are sufficient or worth the money is another story.

It’s not “Systematic racism” that causes these crises to be treated differently, it’s “systematic money making.” It is far less about black and white than it is green. Our government, an industry of its own, is afraid to lose the fight against manufacturers of opioids and has found a way to make more money off of them instead.

FOOTNOTE: The views in this article are mine and are mostly opinion, although my opinions are based off the interpretations of facts the I have gathered through reading and watching informational programs on the subject of opioids, prohibition, and cocaine. I would be interested in hearing alternate theories or similar views from others. Below is a poem I recently posted and am reposting for the benefit of this article.

False Prophets for Profit
Sean Michael, November 2017

World leaders or false prophets?
Hands in your pockets
Nothing will ever change
Until it threatens their profits—

Three hundred plus murders
But that’s not what ended prohibition
Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929
Still they wouldn’t listen—

The stock market crashes (uh-oh)
Greedy souls quickly consume greenback rations
Preparing for economic downsizing
We need more products to tax—

The people want their moonshine
They drink it and go blind
Stomachs are pumped and some die
Bet the good stuff’ll fetch us a pretty dime—

Stubborn politicians add amendments to the Constitution
Just as long as it suits them
And never to remove them
Reluctant to admit that they were wrong—

But they aren’t the only ones who try to string us along
Last week I heard this ridiculous song
“I could make a million sayin’ nothin’,” the rapper bragged
It was true and it made me sad—

The preacher man comes on television
And tells us how doomed we are
Dial the number on the screen to make your contribution
And he’ll drive off in his new car—

False prophets want your hard-earned cash
And they’ll tell you anything to get it
The truth is in the fashions and the trends
Spend Spend Spend—

You don’t have to be a lamb of society’s skullduggery
Forget your own wants and needs
Silver-tonged prophets will arrive in the masses
But who will you believe?


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