Last week, the New York Times published an article highlighting figures that show more women under age 30, and in particular White middle income women from middle America, are single mothers. Some critics, like Katie Roiphe of Slate, were swift to condemn the story as looking down on single motherhood.
Interesting: when the face of single motherhood isn’t as brown as so many people assume new allies emerge out of the woodwork?
You can apply the same argument when mulling recent slams on Whitney Houston.
A Los Angeles radio station recently suspended two of its shock jocks for calling the late singer a “crack ho” on air. But, no one should be surprised that epithets like these are preserved for Black female celebrities with a drug abuse past. Rarely, if ever, has anyone been caught making similar utterances when discussing Lindsey Lohan, Robert Downey Jr., Amy Winehouse, Charlie Sheen, Courtney Love, Fergie, Drew Barrymore, Ozzy Osbourne or a slew of White celebrities with a past of substance abuse. Aren’t they a “crack ho” too?
The point is folks are comfortable associating certain vices with people of color.
I can’t help but think back to a 2010 Office for Drug Control policy report which showed an increase of drug use among Latino and Black girls, but conveniently excluded drugs abused by affluent White kids (such as crystal meth), further perpetuating a cultural stereotype that drug abuse is an exclusively Black and brown problem.
Meanwhile, a February 2012 Florida survey by its State Department of Children and Families showed White kids did more drugs than minorities in that state, specifically: “White students also reported higher usage of synthetic marijuana, LSD, PCP or hallucinogenic mushrooms, cocaine or crack, depressants, prescription pain pills”. That same report noted that “6.2 percent of White students reported selling drugs compared to 5.0 percent of African American students. Though 5.5 percent of African American students said they had been arrested, compared to just 3.3 percent of White students.”
Again: perception. People come up with excuses to defend others’ drug use, but ours is part of our makeup and should be expected … and vilified.
Now we are faced with the curious circumstances surrounding Whitney Houston’s death. Although the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office is yet to release a final toxicology report to confirm whether prescription drugs were in Houston’s body at the time of death, several reports indicate bottles of Xanax and other addictive prescription pain relievers in her hotel room on the day she died.
If true, this unfortunate incident should cause a shift to focus on non-traditional drugs.
When people think of drugs, they traditionally think of common street drugs like methamphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and even alcohol, but usually overlook prescription drugs, which include opiates, benzodiazapines, tranquilizers and others. They include narcotic painkillers like OxyContin or Vicodin, sedatives and tranquilizers like Xanax or Valium, and stimulants like Dexedrine, Adderall or Ritalin. All very addictive.
Few people know that prescription drugs are the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 20 percent of people in the United States have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons.
A National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that approximately 6 million persons 12 and older used psychotherapeutic drugs for non-medical purposes in 2004, which represents 2.5 percent of the U.S. population. In 2000, about 43 percent of hospital emergency admissions for drug overdoses (nearly 500,000 people) happened because of misused prescription drugs. The problem is prevalent among teens as well.
The number of teens and young adults (ages 12 to 25) who were new abusers of prescription painkillers grew from 400,000 in the mid-’80s to 2 million in 2000, according to a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Often times, the affluent, middle income women and college students are among the most prevalent abusers of prescription drugs.
A 2009 news report expressed surprise that well-to-do housewives and college students were the leading abusers of prescription drugs. It quoted Fresno County Coroner Dr. David Hadden who noted that “the ‘it’ pills are hyrdrocodone, which include vicodin and norco, morphine, and now the most popular pain pill of choice… Oxycontin.”
Because of the demand, the black market sale of these pills is expensive. On the street, one pill costs about $40 to $50.
The issue is certainly not new. A 1973 study in the Journal of Drug Education spoke about middle-class housewives shopping for physicians who would prescribe drugs.
Today, the NIH notes that access is even easier, pointing out, among other factors “… aggressive marketing by the pharmaceutical industry, the proliferation of illegal Internet pharmacies that dispense these medications without proper prescriptions and surveillance; and a greater social acceptability for medicating a growing number of conditions.”
Some states, like New Jersey, are cracking down by launching investigations and surveillance efforts to root out the prescription pill black market trade. The federal government continues to conduct research studies. Meanwhile, the problem seems to be worsening.
It all leaves on to wonder whether enough is being done. Obviously, it’s never enough when people think that only Black people are abusing. I did my own personal investigation after delivering each of my children via C-section and caring for my husband when he recovered from knee surgery. We found it very hard to get pain medicines dispensed to us at pharmacies in the predominantly Black Maryland county we live in: Prince George’s. However, we encounter little to no problem when we go one jurisdiction over to our predominantly White sister Montgomery County.
Clearly, there is a misperception that prescription abuse may be more prevalent in our county. All while thousands – and maybe millions – of White women in affluent suburbs may be going to town.
After Heath Ledger, Ana Nicole Smith and now possibly Whitney Houston may have met their ultimate demise at their own hands from misuse of prescription medication, one would think these high profile deaths would be sufficient for government initiatives to combat the problem.
So long as drug abuse and other perceived pathologies are viewed as Black problems, movement to action may not come fast enough. The disparity in treatment and language is proof positive.