Drug Overdoses for Young Whites an Epidemic: Police Chief’s Solution

Maureen MurdockAddiction, Criminal Justice System13 Comments

young woman contemplating syringe

The mortality rates for heart disease, HIV and cancer have decreased for young whites aged 25-34 while drug related deaths due to both oxycontin and heroin have skyrocketed. At the same time, the death rate for young blacks due to overdoses is falling.

Young whites death rates for overdoses for both illegal and prescription drugs are the highest since the Vietnam War of the mid-1960s. In 2014, the overdose death rate for whites ages 25-34 was 5 times its level in 1999 and the rate for 35-44 year old whites tripled during that same period.

Why? Researchers speculate that young uneducated whites are isolated and have been left out of the economy. The death rate for those without a high school diploma rose by 23% compared with only 4% for those with a college degree or more. It’s easy for them to get cheap heroin and prescription narcotic drugs.

There is an ironic result of racial stereotyping that is contributing to the fact that blacks have been spared the worst of the narcotic epidemic. According to Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the chief medical officer for Phoenix House Foundation, a national drug and alcohol treatment company, studies show that doctors are much more hesitant to prescribe painkillers to minority patients, worried that they might sell them on the street. That combined with the fact that there are fewer cases of AIDs in the black community.

Anne Case, a Princeton economist published a paper showing drug overdose death rates for middle-aged whites rising in contrast to those in every other rich country in the world while at the same time, deaths from traditional killers for which treatment has improved over the past decade—heart disease, HIV and cancer—went down. Drug abuse is now part of the American political discourse as never before.

Eileen Crimmins, a professor at the University of Southern California attributes the increase in drug deaths to social factors. Poverty and stress are risk factors for misuse of prescription narcotics. “For too many, and especially for too many women, they are not in stable relationships, they don’t have jobs, they have children they can’t feed and clothe, and they have no support network. There are people whose lives are so hard they break.” What to do?

Leonard Campanello, the police chief of Gloucester, Mass is doing something unique to combat drug overdoses. He has offered heroin users an alternative to prison. Last year he posted on Facebook : “Any addict who walks into the police station with the remainder of their drug equipment (needles, etc.) or drugs and asks for help will NOT be charged.” Instead he sends them for treatment immediately. His post was viewed by 2.4 million people.

56 police departments in 17 states have followed his lead to address the epidemic of drug overdoses which has killed 47,055 people in 2014 throughout the country. That is more than those who died in car accidents, homicides or suicides. Gloucester, which does not provide treatment per se, has developed a nationwide network of centers willing to provide beds and take referrals by the police, regardless of whether the person has insurance. The idea that addiction should be treated as a health issue instead of a crime has gained support throughout the political sector as heroin has spread from inner cities to the nation’s suburbs, rural outposts and the white middle class.

Ressource: Rehab 4 Alcoholism offers free support and help to people who suffer with alcohol and drug addiction. Rehab 4 Addiction offers free telephone assistance and also maintains useful resources and guides on its website. Website: http://www.rehab4alcoholism.com/

13 Comments on “Drug Overdoses for Young Whites an Epidemic: Police Chief’s Solution”

  1. Amazing possible solution around continued abuse, information about alternatives, and the overcrowding of jails: a further causation of abuse through a crowd of connection and the push by an overburdened public defender toward early, unconsidered plea, leaving the already marginalized another compromise of self. The negative: another way to criminalize more people, as these individuals, if not in the system already will now undoubtedly be, even minus the usual catch and release system which expands a roster of names. Those that consider the criminal justice system a last ditch cry for help because the community has failed them, have now put a bullseye on their back, diverting it from the real criminal down the block. I reduction in arrests does not mean a reduction in serious crime. Definitely a step in the right direction regarding the education of those who police however.

    Great piece Maureen

    1. Thanks for our thoughts, Brendan. I agree that we don’t know what will happen for those who, as you say, end up with a bullseye on their backs within the criminal justice system. Let’s hope it turns out that there will be more education for police dealing with substance abuse leading to more treatment and fewer arrests.

  2. This problem has, indeed, been gaining attention in the news. Thanks for your own incisive commentary, Maureen. One point I heard from an African American reporter was that the high rate of mortality and social impacts from such narcotic use among African Americans got relatively little attention compared to this blast about white deaths. Regardless, once again, the need for public funding to deal with what become public impacts is crucial. I just heard a report on NPR about the use of heroin “safe rooms” in Boston to prevent accidental overdose. It’s good to try to be innovative in dealing with such problems.

  3. Thanks for highlighting this issue and the solution some police departments are adopting. There is momentum in the country to decriminalize drug use, but we really need our politicians to follow through on their promises to fund the treatment alternatives, not just talk about the cost savings to the penal system from reducing the number of people in prisons by letting the addicts out. Keep up the good work.

  4. Great piece mom – I will use some of this in my Human Biology class when I get to the drug section – so amazing (and sad) to hear that over 47K overdosed in 2014!! Thanks for posting.

  5. Thank you Maureen for providing the statistics and profiles on drug addiction increasing epidemic in the United States, as well as spotlighting the povetization of single mothers of Euro-Caucasian heritage have fallen through the seams of American society, marginalized, invisible and struggling in alterity. Many exist in laterite without succumbing to heroine, but too often need prescription medication to soften the chaos of psychological anxiety and day-to-day survival. Euro-Caucasion women in the U.S. comprise an increasingly invisible minority, who rarely can find assistance or emotional support even within their family, due to the color of their skin.

    The policy rehab program adopted in Mass. and other states is a critical solutional structure for addressing numerous socio-economic problems in the U.S. stemming from Povety, genderism, racism, and corporate welfare, a crime of wealth transfer that eliminates education and job opportunities.

    As always, thank you for your research, insight, and blog sharing. — J

    1. J, thanks for highlighting the fact that white Euro-Caucasion women in the US are an invisible minority and you’re right that there’s increased prejudice about them because of the color of their skin.

  6. Maureen, thank you for your ongoing important work in this area. It is heartening to hear that some police districts are using a more humane approach than just incarceration, and I agree with Marti Glenn that we need to be paying more attention to the social issues you mention that underly this epidemic. Proud to call myself your friend.

    1. Thanks, Hendrika, for reading and commenting. I’m grateful for the heightened awareness in the national media about these issues as well. I hope the tide is changing!

  7. Yes, Marti, this focus on treatment rather than incarceration would certainly change our criminal justice system. Resources could be used for healing the causes that underlie addiction rather than punishment. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  8. Amazing!! We’ve been talking about this in 2 of my classes. Thank you, Maureen!!

    Sent from my iPhone


  9. Maureen, once again, you are highlighting an important issue. I love that some police districts are allowing people to “turn themselves in” without punishment and offering real help. It is also time to look at the underlying issues relating to addiction, which you mention here. I would like to see this program implemented in every state! Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.