By Maia Szalavitz for VICE. A jug of used needles that will be exchanged for new ones in Camden, New Jersey. AP Photo/Mel Evans
For months, news outlets across America have been hyping the heroin “epidemic.” It’s now a white problem, the headlines scream, and consequently, the articles imply, we need a kinder, gentler approach.
If that sounds like a reductive (and maybe even racist) way to describe the situation, consider this passage from an October New York Times story:
When the nation’s long-running war against drugs was defined by the crack epidemic and based in poor, predominantly black urban areas, the public response was defined by zero tolerance and stiff prison sentences. But today’s heroin crisis is different. While heroin use has climbed among all demographic groups, it has skyrocketed among whites; nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.
And the growing army of families of those lost to heroin—many of them in the suburbs and small towns—are now using their influence, anger and grief to cushion the country’s approach to drugs, from altering the language around addiction to prodding government to treat it not as a crime, but as a disease