In 2013, I worked as a counselor in a residential dual recovery program for substance abuse and mental illness in Frederick. I remember heroin being steadily on the rise. So much so, that police officers were responding to calls more frequently — sometimes my coworkers and I made the call. Drug use was so ravenous in the city; users were shooting up anywhere. During one of their visits, a police officer told me how many needles were found on the playgrounds throughout the county.
Today, Frederick prosecutor Charlie Smith proposed a drug overdose law that punishes drug dealers for giving lethal dosages during sales. This is in response to the outcry of heroin overdoses across the county.
Frederick County’s top prosecutor lauded a proposal that could impose harsher penalties on drug dealers who supply a fatal dose.
Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday promised legislation allowing sentences of up to 30 years for sales of opioids or synthetic opioids resulting in a lethal overdose in Maryland. The proposal includes an exemption for addicts who sell the drugs to support their habit.
“We think that’s a good thing,” Frederick County State’s Attorney Charlie Smith said. “I think drug dealers are going to be a little less likely to deal something they don’t know the content of.”¹
This is so odd to me. Though it is quite convenient that this law be introduced during the All-American heroin epidemic meaning, white boys and girls are actually dying in record numbers from overdosing, (there’s even an entire page dedicated to it on the Frederick News-Post’s website: Heroin’s Toll), I have to ask:
Where was this law when minority children were addicted to crack? Or dippers? Where were these safe spaces we speak of?
Black kids were jailed instead of rehabilitated. They were punished — left to fend for themselves in a whirlwind of addiction that consumed their lives — many to this day. Some who I know. On a national scale, both the addicted and their predators were taken away together, the 2-for-1 deal. Now look how the message has changed now that the victim has as well. It’s okay to do drugs, just make sure the dealers scale it right.
Alternatively, there has been much progress in the understanding and removal of stigma around addiction over the past decade, for which I am grateful and amazed, as a former employee working in the substance abuse field.
And still, I’m hesitant. Because let’s be clear:
Nearly 90 percent of those who tried heroin for the first time in the last decade were white.
According to the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet and the Sentencing Project:
* About 14 million whites and 2.6 million African Americans report using an illicit drug.
* Five times as many whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.
* African Americans represent 12 percent of the total population of drug users, but 38 percent of those arrested for drug offenses, and 59 percent of those in state prison for a drug offense.
* African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months), according to the Sentencing Project.
Can you see why I’m a tad skeptical of these new laws? African-American communities were the target of the stop and frisk and three strike laws that devastated us and stunted our progress — from which we are still combating today. It can be deduced that now that middle-class white families are experiencing the ravaging trauma of addiction, there’s an urgency, a rush for a solution — something my community was denied. It was almost as if…our lives didn’t matter, don’t you think?
Read the article in its entirety on the Frederick News Post website here.
Loos, Kelsi. “Frederick County prosecutor welcomes proposed drug overdose law.” The Frederick News-Post. The Frederick News-Post, 26 Jan. 2017. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.
Panuskampanuska, Mallory. “Seminar shines light on heroin, opioid use and addiction.” The Frederick News-Post. The Frederick News-Post, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 12 Mar. 2017.
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