The Black Community and Addiction – Celebrating Black History Month

Since Black History Month was first observed in 1970, it has honored the contributions and sacrifices the Black community has made to help shape our nation. It serves as an opportunity to celebrate the rich cultural heritage, adversities, and triumphs that are an undeniable part of our country’s history. During this month, The Next Door wants to take time to emphasize the importance of Black History Month as well as take a closer look at how the Black community is impacted by addiction.

When looking inside the addiction treatment space, there are a multitude of disparities when it comes to substance abuse patterns, medication recommendations, and other treatment related decisions that are often linked to race. In 2016, according to the NSDUH, 20.4% of African Americans aged 18 years and older in the United States reported using illicit drugs in the past year. “This was higher than the national average of 18.2%” (Kaliszewski, 2020).

However, research also indicates that Black people are less likely to have alcohol use disorders. “Alcohol use disorders are less common among African Americans (4.5%) than the rest of the population (5.4%)” (Kaliszewski, 2020).  In the end, drug and alcohol use in the Black community show statistical differences from the rest of the population and often tell a different story than what stereotypes suggest. Knowing substance abuse history, current trends, and reliable data over this topic can help inform treatment centers on best practices when serving the Black community.

Even medications being prescribed to individuals struggling with substance abuse are sometimes influenced by race and insurance coverage. In 2002, the approval of buprenorphine marked a milestone in the recovery community. Buprenorphine made a powerful and relatively safe partial agonist treatment available for the first time in doctor’s offices. However, a retrospective cohort study, published in 2016 examined patients receiving buprenorphine and found that minority patients were much less likely than whites to be retained in treatment for at least 1 year (Volkow, 2019). While the type of medication should be determined by the severity and other characteristics of an individual’s opioid use disorder, a study found that demographics were more often the determining factor.

While these relationships have been heavily researched, discussed, and remedies have been happening with time, that is not what I want to focus on. Instead, I would like to ponder what would happen for our clients when staff, of all races, unite in an intentional effort to lead with love. Imagine what that would look like on a personal level for our clients while they are receiving treatment. It is my hope that every treatment center makes an intentional choice to work side by side each other to ensure quality care for every client.

While institutions and policies have “red tape” and “hoops” to jump through to ensure there is equality for all potential clients – our hearts do not have the same obstacles. Unity does not come easy, unfortunately. It is easy, and sometimes even tempting, to find differences amongst ourselves and others to avoid addressing the reality that we too are one or two decisions away from being in the same situation our clients currently are. But when we can see our similarities, rather than our differences, we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of another person. The simple ability to empathize may just be what we need to create genuine unity.

In Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King reminds his listeners to remain in the “majestic heights” of nonviolent resistance and to not see their white allies as enemies. To bring true justice about, King says, Americans of all races will need to unite and remain true to the values of nonviolent solidarity. In celebration of Black History Month, I want to echo King’s sentiments to encourage everyone who works in the addiction space to fight the battle of equality together. This is the only way we will be able to keep our clients as our primary focus.

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