Drug Survey Reinforces Stereotypes, Misses Opportunity for Broader Empathy

Drug Survey Reinforces Stereotypes, Misses Opportunity for Broader Empathy


“Minority teens using drugs at higher rates.”

That is the headline of a press release from the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) about its findings from a survey of 67,500 youngsters between ages 12 to 25.  The study showed an increase in drug use among African American girls and Hispanic boys between 2008 and 2009, a rise of 3% in those two populations.

Upon further inquiry, one quickly discovers that this particular study does not capture the entire picture of drug use among America’s minority teen populations. There is more to the story than what is presented in this headline.

Notably, it seems that this study, in its very design, suffers a cultural bias.  For example, the survey did not include crystal methamphetamine, which recently has been the drug of choice among wealthier white kids, taking over the now passé ecstasy drug.   The drug used among black girls, Hispanic boys and all children is marijuana, a less harmful drug than “meth,” yet still a very dangerous one, due in part to the fact it is a “gateway” drug to others.

The marijuana/meth distinction underscores a 2006 Monitoring the Future study, which concluded that minority teens have substantially lower usage rates for most illicit drugs when compared to white students.  Also, the underlining data for this survey also demonstrates that African American youth’s 20.4% alcohol use rate is the second lowest abuse rate in the country, as opposed to White youth who register the highest alcohol abuse rate at 30.4%.

Unfortunately, what grim headlines like this one do, besides share information, is reinforce negative stereotypes about minority populations. Thereby created the unintended effect of causing many to dismiss issues such as these as “a black or Hispanic” problem.  Culturally biased research creates a missed opportunity to more broadly capture the attention of the American population and instruct them on ways to fix or prevent the problems being addressed for the betterment of all society.

We are already facing a dilemma with rampant “scapegoatism” these days.  More and more, people are shifting the blame for some of the problems the nation is facing onto Muslims, immigrants, minority homebuyers and other vulnerable populations. These groups are already thought of by some as the breeders of a host of pathologies and societal ills.

During a call with the media announcing the study results, representatives from ONDCP shared what that office is and has been doing to respond to the ongoing problem of youth drug abuse. Most of it is promising and optimistic.  For example, the Obama administration through the ONDCP is coordinating a government-wide overall approach to dealing with drug abuse. It has organized a repository of information through a project called the National Drug Control Strategy that empowers local governments and other government agencies as they deal with parents and youth within their respective communities across the country.

The office is requesting an increase in funding to over $203 million dollars to support drug prevention and over $136 million for programs that treat substance abuse addiction.  It is also revamping its media campaign to include adjustments that account for cultural nuances unique to black and Hispanic households —  the AntiDrug Campaign and the Above the Influence Campaign.  Given the outcome of the survey, the office will be targeting and tailoring its efforts to reach the particular population and accommodate for cultural differences in ways the parents talk to their kids about drugs and how the youth respond and receive the anti-drug messages.

ONDCP acknowledged that while African Americans traditionally do a better job than other race groups in trying to protect their children from outside influences, they do not instruct their children well enough about the dangers of drugs, an ONDCP spokesperson said.  She also said the office is accommodating this nuance.  Further, ONDCP is in the process of researching and aggregating data around other aspects of the drug use which, when presented, would tell the entire story about how all races and ethnicities are faring.

Hopefully, when that data is finalized, aggregated and ready to be presented to policy makers, community groups, local governments, the media and other stakeholders, it tells the whole story and does so in a way that would invoke more broad empathy and interest from all.

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Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt represents small, women, and minority owned business and technology companies at The Ghatt Law Group LLC, the nations’ first communications law firm owned by women and minorities. She's won landmark cases on behalf of her clients which include national civil rights and public interest organizations. In addition to actively authoring several blogs, being a radio show host and sitting on the boards of three non-profits, she is a tech junkie who has been developing online web content since the very early years of the Internet, 1991 to be precise! Follow her on Twitter at @Jenebaspeaks, on her blog, Jenebaspeaks, which covers the intersection of politics and technology or on her Politics of Raising Children blog at The Washington Times Communities section. The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and have complete editorial independence from any Politic365 partners, sponsors, or advertisers. For additional information about Politic365, please visit http://politic365.com/about/.