As Opioid Crisis Hits Home, Black Media Outlets Step Up to Get Word Out

The Opioid Crisis. Courtesy of

By the late 1970s, drug traffickers were shipping so much cocaine to the United States that the street price of the powdered stimulant dealers cooked to make crack – the smokable rock form of the stimulant –dropped by nearly 80 percent, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Some historians believe that new affordability of cocaine aided the flooding of crack or “rock” into cities and towns across the United States, particularly in African-American communities where the illicit trade of the drug contributed to sharp increases in gang-related violence and murders during that period.

By 1985, almost 6 million Americans admitted to using some form of cocaine, according to the DEA.

Then, in the 1980s,  President Ronald Reagan launched the government’s multi-pronged and widely criticized “War on Drugs” designed to toughen drug crime laws and aggressively pursue and incarcerate drug users and traffickers. Those policies led to the imprisonment of millions of African-Americans from the early 1980s until now.

By 2013, African-American men and women accounted for more than 50 percent of the total United States prison population.

Now, more than two decades after the height of the crack era, African-American neighborhoods in California and around the country are facing another haunting drug epidemic: The Opioid Crisis, stemming from untreated addictions to potent – and potentially dangerous –drugs like Codeine, Fentanyl, Methadone, Morphine and Oxycodone, among others.

Although the mainstream news media has largely framed the opioid crisis as a problem America’s majority-white rural and suburban communities are wrestling with, data shows that it is, in fact, becoming a problem in predominantly African-American neighborhoods across the country as well.

A public awareness campaign, dubbed “Choose Change California,” will employ a combination of advertising as well as news stories and profiles to inform Californians about opioid abuse in the state and direct people who are affected to locations where they can seek Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT).

“We can’t afford to go through another drug epidemic that kills our children, parents, brothers and sisters,” said Regina Wilson, Executive Director of California Black Media.

In 2018, more than 10 million Americans misused opioids, according the the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In California, there were 5.3 opioid-related deaths for every 100,000 people in 2017. Among African-American Californians, that number is about 1.4 for every 100,000, a high number based on the state’s Black population of nearly 6 percent.

And the death rate from overdoses of the synthetic opioid Fentanyl is rising fastest among African Americans.

In a statement shared with California Black Media, CDHCS says the media campaign began in April 2019 and includes digital, television, print, and billboard advertising and will continue through 2020.

On Oct. 12, 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 919 into law introduced by Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach.)

It mandates CDHCS to license all addiction treatment centers in the state and requires that they adopt the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s treatment criteria as an operating standard.


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