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Recovery Month – Everyone Deserves a Chance

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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

Recovery Month – Everyone Deserves a Chance

September 6, 2016 | Addiction | Comments
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Last night we took a friend out to dinner, celebrating 12 months of sobriety. He looks and feels great. Throughout Recovery Month, many of us will rightfully celebrate the triumphs and achievements of the millions of Americans who are in recovery. But, as we recognize those successes, we must also ensure people of color have the same opportunity to celebrate.

It starts in preschool, when black children are more frequently suspended or expelled than white kids. As teens, they have higher arrest rates for nonviolent offenses like drug possession and noncriminal misbehavior like truancy and curfew violations. If you’re white, these kinds of incidents might result in referral for treatment; minority teens more often end up with criminal sanctions.

The study published in the International Journal of Health Services outlining these shameful disparities for minority youth didn’t get much coverage in mainstream media. In contrast, it has been pretty impossible to miss stories about the opioid epidemic’s impact. From New York Magazine’s “The Death Rate for White Middle-Aged Americans Is Rising” to the New York Times’ “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs,” headlines and coverage have fueled public outrage and demand for legislative action – and Congress is rightly responding.

Thirty years ago, there was no wave of compassion for the victims of the crack epidemic. The face of addiction was not white and middle class. Addiction was a “black problem” and the nation managed it, not with a widespread call for access to treatment, but mass incarceration of young black men.

Too often, politics drive policy. It’s sometimes easier to go with what is on the front pages and not confront the painful truth of disparities in care. We liberally punish and sanction young black adults, but are stingy when it comes to treatment. By the age of 23, 49 percent of all black men have been arrested. But, the substance use counseling rate for black young adults is one-seventh that for whites and rates of mental health care visits are equally low. Young people at highest risk receive the least care.

As advocates and practitioners, we must ask ourselves the hard questions – what have we done to contribute to the problem? How can we begin to repair it?

What do you think?

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