By Anthony Harris and Reverend Mario Rodriguez
All around our state and across our country, families are being destroyed by opioid addiction. This cruel, crushing and deadly disease knows no barriers. Man-made fences, state borders or social constructs of class, gender or yes, even race, cannot and will not stop it. If you line up the faces of all those affected by opioid addiction, you will see the representation of everyone who makes up our country. Addiction does not discriminate.
Sadly, this reality doesn’t seem to be accepted by everyone.
Recently, it emerged that Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, Democratic candidate for governor, classified opioids as a “white person’s drug.” (Las Vegas Review Journal, 3/31/18). That view is not only critically out-of-touch; it is dismissive of the tens of thousands of families in minority communities who have battled opioid addiction or lost someone to the disease.
The reality is that the opioid epidemic is affecting our communities at a higher and higher rate. The Centers for Disease Control reported that opioid-involved drug deaths are increasing most drastically among black communities — rising 56 percent between 2015 and 2016. Among Hispanics, opioid related deaths rose nearly 33 percent, while among Asians and Pacific Islanders it rose by 36 percent. That compares to a 26 percent increase among whites in the same time period (Center for Disease Control, 3/30/18).
Here in Nevada, opioid related deaths among blacks and Hispanics made up 15 percent of all deaths in 2016, according to the Kaiser Foundation. That’s up from 2010 (Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation). Based on national trends, it is likely that number will rise once 2017 statistics are released. And remember, these statistics are based on just opioid-related deaths — they do not include overall statistics of individuals suffering from other addictions.
But even if we rely on statistics that include the full scale of the crisis, a simple number on a page will not do justice to the pain of the epidemic. To understand that, you need to hear the personal stories. Reach out to anyone in our community, and they likely have a personal story to tell. Whether they know someone who has lost a loved one, know someone struggling with addiction, or are going through loss or battling addiction themselves, they will have a story. To our communities the opioid problem isn’t one isolated to white people – it’s one that hits home and hits hard.
Any failure to recognize the struggle of minority communities isn’t just dismissive of the challenge our communities face, it exacerbates a larger issue — that by ignoring the spread of this opioid problem, minority communities will be ignored when it comes to implementing solutions like treatment, prevention and education. By classifying the problem as exclusive to one group, you deflect attention from communities who may need the help just as much as white communities. If people try to sweep the problems that our black and Hispanic communities are facing under the rug, they will only make them worse.
Tragically, the opioid epidemic is not showing any signs of slowing, and a holistic, inclusive approach is needed to combat it. We need leaders who recognize the full scale of an issue, without drawing invisible barriers to define where a problem begins and ends. Racism, subconscious or otherwise, has dictated care and treatment in this state and country for too long. We cannot allow anything to stand that aggravates this vicious cycle when it comes to battling opioid abuse and addiction. To overcome this epidemic, we need to come together, speak the same language and defeat this problem.\
Disclosure: Chris Giunchigliani has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.
Anthony Harris is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Alcohol & Drug Counselor in the State of Nevada. He can be reached at [email protected].
Rev. Mario Rodriguez is the Senior Pastor at C3 Church Las Vegas one of the largest Hispanic churches in the State of Nevada. He can be reach at (702) 242-5980 or [email protected]