Bias and Addiction



Opioids vs. Pot, Crack, and Meth

In recent decades, Missouri has been a hotspot in the U.S. for production of methamphetamines (meth). Throughout the nation, meth addiction has been a serious drug problem. Lawmakers have done little to fund legislation help meth addicts kick their addiction. In recent years, opioid addiction has accelerated and supplanted meth as the leading drug problem in Missouri.

In stark contrast to the approach to meth abuse as well as marijuana and cocaine use, opioid addicts are being treated with compassion. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have united to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which accommodates treatment for people addicted to opioids, while meth addicts, for instance, are more likely to see the inside of a jail cell than a treatment and recovery center. If that premise is true, is it safe to say that even when it comes to drug addiction, class and race determine incarceration vs. treatment and compassion?

  • NOTE: Missouri drug laws are currently somewhat indiscriminate, in that abuse of controlled substances such as meth, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana can lead to lengthy jail sentences and large fines, even for a first offense. Penalties are much greater when there are related charges of distribution of a controlled substance or possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. CARA, being federal law, makes changes related to opioid drug abuse.


Marijuana
Thousands of jails and prisons in the U.S. are overcrowded with drug offenders, many of them jailed for marijuana-related charges. According to U.S. News, marijuana arrests recently increased. In 2015, one person was arrested on charges associated with pot every 45 seconds. This study showed that about 90 percent of those arrests were for possession alone.

Research overwhelmingly shows that the black community is disproportionately arrested and/or jailed in connection with marijuana. Meanwhile, recreational use of marijuana has been decriminalized in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington; and advocates say at least 11 more states are getting close to doing the same. In addition, medical marijuana use is legal in 24 states. Vice News reported in a 2015 interview, President Barack Obama said the cost of incarceration is a huge motivation for the shift among the states to decriminalize cannabis. Providing assistance to offenders was not the apparent impetus for change.

Meth
Meth has been a focus of concern among lawmakers, but the efforts have involved making it harder for meth producers to access pseudoephedrine (PSE), which is a primary ingredient in sinus and allergy medications as well as methamphetamine. The Missouri legislature gave serious consideration to making PSE a prescriptiononly drug throughout the state, but the cost to consumers was considered far too high. In addition, Mexico was identified as the primary source of PSE. According to sources with the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association, several southeastern Missouri cities and counties actually did require prescriptions to obtain PSE, but the residents in the area simply went to Illinois to obtain their medication or meth supplies. Illinois lawmakers changed their laws, to address the situation, halting the influx of Missourians purchasing the over-the-counter drugs.

According to law enforcement agencies in Missouri, 2,006 meth labs were discovered in Missouri in 2012. As of September 2015, only 403 were discovered across the state. Aggressive efforts to shut down meth labs are credited with the decline in production of the drug.

Meth users were initially mostly male, blue-collar workers in rural, Midwestern areas. There was more diversity among users as abuse spread to the East Coast. Widespread meth abuse has also been common among unemployed adults in their 20s and 30s, but Caucasians have abused meth in far more numbers than any other race. As far as lawmakers taking aggressive action to help meth users recover or avoid addiction, it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps because meth is a drug typically abused in rural areas by blue-collar workers and the unemployed, meth users have been prosecuted but not placated. A parent whose painful reality is watching meth ravage their child would probably agree.

Crack Cocaine
Cocaine use has long been a drug problem across the U.S., and it has been somewhat stable since 2009, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The age group with the highest rate of current cocaine use is adults from 18 to 25 years old, and a large number of users are minors. Approximately 1.5 million children 12 and older were current cocaine users, according to a 2014 study by NSDUH.

The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization that focuses on the U.S. criminal justice system, points out that crack cocaine was differentiated from powder cocaine back in the 1980s by the federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act. As a result, crack users are more harshly punished than users of powder cocaine. This is still true today. The difference between the two forms of cocaine? Bottom line, crack is a street-corner drug used predominantly in the inner city, associated with violence and illicit drugs. White cocaine is much more expensive and a drug of choice among the wealthy.

All of the Above versus Opioids
For about the past 20 years, there has been a steady increase in prescription opioid addictions. Opioids are painkillers. Examples of prescription opioids include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine, and methadone. More than 165,000 people died from overdoses of prescription opioids from 1999 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When opioid prescriptions for the more affluent suburbanite is no longer available or becomes too expensive, in droves they turn to less expensive illegal opioids, including heroin – one of the least expensive street drug.

Linda Rosenberg is president of the National Council for Behavioral Health, and she points out that CARA helps to expand treatment of opioid addiction. The measures which have been taken help to change the definition of opioid addiction to a health problem instead of a crime. This is a huge contrast to the war on drugs that has been at the forefront for decades. As outlined by DrugPolicy.org, the following are a few things CARA accomplishes:

  • Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction has been expanded.

  • Diversion programs direct people who encounter law enforcement in connection with low-level opioid drug law violations to evidence-based treatment rather than the criminal justice system.

  • On an expanded basis, first responders and community members can administer naloxone to a person experiencing an opioid overdose.

These efforts are receiving massive funding, according to Grant Smith, with Drug Policy Alliance.

There are many different issues related to this story that could be cause for outrage, such as the fact that countless physicians are bought and sold by pharmaceutical companies, increasing the number of opioid prescriptions that are written.

In theory, CARA offers a positive framework to help opioid users overcome their addiction and find a path to recovery. That is a good thing. The disconnect comes from a lack of parity, compassion and outreach for other drug addicts – like meth and crack users. Their road to recovery is sometimes muddied with yet another obstacle that may be even harder to overcome than their addiction – it’s called felony conviction. In contrast, the justice system is less likely to be as harsh to an opioid addict. Again, one can only wonder if this is so because they are more likely to be suburban and more well off than meth and crack addicts who live in rural communities and the inner cities.

About the Writer

Stephanie McHugh

Contributing Writer

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