A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that Whites, not Blacks or Hispanics, are most likely to abuse “hard drugs” (cocaine, PCP, hallucinogens, and opiates).
The study examined a random sample of over 1,800 individuals processed at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center in Chicago. The researchers then tracked these delinquents into adulthood and conducted follow-up interviews over a period of 12 years. The final interviews occurred in 2011.
Linda Teplin, senior author on the study and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said:
“Those findings are striking, considering the widely accepted stereotype of African Americans as the most prevalent abusers of hard drugs.”
“Our findings add to the growing debate on how the ‘war on drugs’ has affected African Americans. We found that African Americans are less likely than other racial/ethnic groups to abuse hard drugs. Yet, African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated for drug crimes.”
While prior studies have found that Blacks are more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses, they also found that they constitute a slight majority of all substance use disorders. But Teplin and her team found that drug addiction is actually higher for Whites than for other racial groups – at least among the juvenile and young adult population examined in the study.
Drug-related criminal offenses have caused America’s prison population to skyrocket. Between 1990 and 2009, the number of individuals incarcerated in federal prisons for drug offenses exploded, rising over 212 percent. Over the same period, state prisons also experienced a massive surge in drug-related convictions, increasing the population of individuals imprisoned for drug offenses by 63 percent.
This longstanding war on drugs has been especially devastating for minority communities. According to U.S. Department of Justice estimates, for males born in 2001:
• One in three Blacks will be incarcerated
• One in six Hispanics will be incarcerated
• One in 17 Whites will be incarcerated
A 2009 report from the Justice Policy Institute found:
“…Police often target the same neighborhoods to make drug arrests, which can increase the disproportionate incarceration of people of color.”
And according to a 2014 report from the National Research Council:
“In recent years, drug-related arrest rates for blacks have been three to four times higher than those for whites.”
But incarceration is only the beginning. When they’re released, former convicts (of all races) are denied the right to vote and are often unable to find gainful employment due to their criminal record. They’re also ineligible for public housing, student loans, welfare, or food stamps.
The study recommends sending nonviolent drug abusers to treatment centers rather than prisons, and increasing access to rehabilitation services for those who are already in prison.
“Substance abuse is among the most serious health problems in the United States. Illicit drug use and excessive alcohol consumption cost $193 billion and $223.5 billion per year, respectively, which includes costs associated with disruptions in work, increased health problems, and crime. Services to treat substance abuse—during incarceration and after release—would reach a sizeable proportion of people in need, and address health disparities in a highly vulnerable population.”
Featured image via DrugAbuse.com.