Drugs and Stereotypes
Who is addicted to what? This is a question asked not only on a micro-, person-to-person level, but also of our society. What is it that makes certain drugs attractive, and others less attractive? (Hint: cost plays a role is nearly every transaction between users and dealers.)
Some drugs grew in popularity because they were cheap, while others grew in popularity not because they were easy to access, but because they were more expensive, and the user has expensive tastes. Whatever the reason for an individual’s attraction to a specific drug, it is clear that certain drugs are more frequently used among some demographics over others, leading to drug user stereotypes. There is one assumed picture of what the face of addiction looks like when it comes to crack cocaine and sizurp, but someone might imagine a different face when it comes to prescription drugs and synthetic opioids.
Stereotypes about who uses which drugs can affect public perceptions of large groups of people. This is a normal happening, given the media-dependent society in which we live, but this also dangerous: most people don’t bother following up on things they hear or perceive, so when it is assumed that one group of people is using a substance, that has the power to affect how people in the community vote, and whether or not someone is able to get access to treatment. The various stereotypes of who uses what generally have sources that may have once reflected a truth, but persist to this day due to lack of public interest in factual information concerning drugs.
In the case of opiate addiction, there is an interesting note: according to Vox, doctors are far less likely to prescribe opioid pain relievers to their non-white patients. This, in turn, granted easier access for White Americans to use and abuse opioids, resulting in a crisis that persists to this day.
Crack Cocaine: Poor, Black, and Homeless
It’s impossible to talk about the contemporary history of New York City without mentioning the crack epidemic that ripped through the Black communities in the 1970s and 1980s. During that time, hundreds of Black people, mostly men, were arrested and sent to jail. During their time off of the streets, some were able to get clean and sober, but many detainees received very poor treatment for their difficulties with the highly-addictive drug, and ended up right back in jail for the same problem of using crack.
Crack is an opioid, and a stimulant, so with increased energy and agitation, domestic violence and assault also became a problem. This, of course, impacted families’ spending power, and without the additional care of a second parent, childcare and schooling became more complicated for working-class Black women and children. While it is true that, today, you are likely to find a user of crack is Black, it is just as likely that the user is White – and that the White user is using crack cocaine, and powder cocaine, something that Black Americans very rarely use. The difference can also be seen in the punishment: powder cocaine typically carries a lighter sentence than using crack.
Meth: Middle-Class White Male
Though the sweeping majority of meth users are White, there is no socio-economic or geographic limitation on who is using the drug. The more frequent the use, the closer to working class the user seems to be. In high-paced, high-pressure cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, meth use among the upper echelon is occasionally restricted for medicinal purposes – a cheap, powerful Red Bull. Managing the end of the high, though, can bring challenges to even the most motivated people. It is, however, poorer and rural White areas, like much of West Virginia, that experience the highest number of overdose deaths due to meth.
Opioids: Poor Black Men and Women
Modern television shows, to their credit, do a small service to the public – many people appreciate the depiction of drug-related violence, including murder and kidnapping. But who uses and abuses opioids? Actually, it’s poor rural White people. In 2015, a county in West Virginia had the greatest number of drug-related deaths, mostly by overdose, compared to any other county or parish in the United States. The State of West Virginia is over 90% White, and it is unusual for anyone in the state to live above the federal poverty level. Because of the rampant poverty and opioid addiction, West Virginia is an excellent example of the face of addiction in the midst of a crisis. West Virginia is also a great example of how stereotypes can hurt people outside of the stereotyped group – in the country in West Virginia, there were thousands of opportunities to assist that were missed.
XTC: Middle-Class Young White People
One of the feared ‘designer drugs,’ XTC is the street name for MDMA, a synthetic chemical created originally for therapeutic purposes. Before proper studies could confirm the drug’s therapeutic usefulness, it was banned by the US Federal Government. Nevertheless, XTC persisted on club scenes, making its way all over. Today, though White people make the largest group of users, XTC itself is used broadly across many demographics. Ever-diversifying club scenes and the Age of Festival have made XTC more and more popular. The generally-pleasant effects of the drug, and lower risk of violent behavior compared to other popular drugs also appeals to a wider audience.
Despite the incorrectness of some of the stereotypes concerning who’s using which drugs, it is always important to remember that the least-likely groups to be affected by certain drugs can still be vulnerable. This is understandable – whether or not you’re genetically disposed to addiction or not, someone around you, or close to you can develop an addiction to drugs. There is no hard, fast way of preventing addiction in any group, but the option to recover is always a call away.