What Made Her Addiction Public Enemy Number One?


Drug addiction was originally the responsibility of local and state public health agencies to address.

That is, until the 1960s and 70s, when politicians and the media worked together to carry out a sinister campaign.

First, politicians like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan campaigned using racist promises to get “tough on crime.”

The media ran with a dangerous narrative, wrongly depicting drug addiction as a moral failing responsible for inner city crime sprees (specifically in Black neighborhoods) rather than a medical condition suffered equally among the races.

The hysteria created leverage for the government to wage the infamous “War on Drugs.”

Scholar Michelle Alexander states that “Until 1988, one year of imprisonment had been the maximum for possession of any amount of any drug.”

But during the War on Drugs, prison populations swelled as police targeted predominantly-Black neighborhoods for their possession of certain classes of drugs (such as crack cocaine) while leaving white suburban neighborhoods abusing the same drug (powder cocaine) untouched.

As a result of politicians making power plays for votes, Black victims of addiction continue to die from incarceration as well as a lack of access to information, treatment, and empathy.

Their racist actions ultimately hindered efforts to solve the true causes of addiction. Research funding was instead given to law enforcement, rewarded for locking up as many Black people as possible.

Along with Wendy Williams, 9.1 percent of Black Americans today are in need of treatment for drug abuse. With a government like this, though, will our health ever matter more than a vote?

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