Dispelling Racial and Socioeconomic Myths About Drug Users
As a parent who fosters open communication in your home, it may be easy to assume that your child is unlikely to get him or herself involved in drugs. You had the talk with your kids and they assured you that they aren’t using and have no interest in using drugs. If your son is on the football team and it looks promising he will get a scholarship to a top ten school, you might be inclined to dismiss the idea that he is using drugs. If your daughter is on the honor roll and shows aptitude for science and wants to pursue a degree in microbiology, you also probably don’t entertain the thought that she could be susceptible to drugs. If your family is in a certain income bracket and socializes with like-minded people, coupled with what we often think we know about who is using drugs, it is easy to see how you might feel safe. And besides, in general, drug usage is more prevalent among impoverished Blacks than upper middle class Whites, isn’t it?
Assumptions Can Be Dangerous
There is a popular misconception that drug use and abuse is more prevalent among African American youth than Caucasians in the same age group. It is almost easy to see how these stereotypes are perpetuated – almost. For drug based offenses, figures vary depending on the state, but minorities are between 66 and 89% more likely to be imprisoned for drug usage and sales than Whites. There are many factors that go into these figures. Access to high priced defense attorneys requires money that a Black family living on meager means simply won’t have. Many argue the justice system in general is more lenient toward Caucasians than it is toward minorities. Whatever the reasons, conviction rates being what they are, people often draw conclusions about certain demographics of people that don’t tell the full story.
And the court system isn’t the only culprit in all of this. The media play up these figures. Nothing confirms people’s stereotypes better than the six o’clock news reporting that yet another Black kid from the projects was arrested for selling drugs. And for every five news segments that show images of African Americans hand-cuffed against a cop car for "selling dope," will be a lone story about the raiding of a meth lab run by a bunch of White kids in the sticks of Kansas. As a result, parents often conclude that Blacks are far more likely to use drugs than are Whites.
Some Facts That May Surprise You
According to a survey conducted by the National Institutes of Drug Abuse, 15.4% of high school seniors admit to using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. Ten percent of twelfth graders say they have used Vicodin. 4.7% claim to have used Oxycontin. Use of Ecstasy has increased significantly in grades ten through twelve over the last five years.
Respondents to this survey were all upper middle class White teenagers. These high school students reported that in nearly all instances (with the exception of Ecstasy), they procured the prescription drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets or at pharm parties. Citing boredom and looking for some excitement, Caucasian kids will turn to drugs that get them high and give them a sense of euphoria.
In published 2009 findings by the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, they reported the following among youths aged 18 to 25:
- 39% of Whites and 34% of Blacks admitted to experimenting with drugs within the last year
- 23% vs. 21% of Whites reported being regular users of drugs
You may look at these figures and not see a huge difference, and conclude there is no disparity. However, what these figures don’t illustrate is that Whites outnumber Blacks in the United States. To put it into numerical terms, the percentages above would be expressed this way:
- 5 million White 18 to 25 year olds vs. 1 million Black 18 to 25 year olds admit to both experimenting and/or regularly using illicit drugs.
Of course these figures tell another story about the penal system in America. If the majority of people in jail for drug offenses are Black, when in reality, Whites outnumber Black users 5 to 1, clearly there is some lopsided "justice" at play. However, closer to home, what does this mean for you?
These figures might be pretty shocking to many families who felt pretty secure that their kids don’t use drugs. However, one has to ask oneself, who are these 5 million kids? They are kids just like your budding footballer and your prodigy science major. The purpose of this article is not to say, "shame on you for buying into a myth!" Quite the contrary, the point is to have your eyes wide open. Bringing this back to your family, if you feel one talk with your kids was enough, it isn’t. It is the sort of dialogue that has to happen regularly. It has to literally be drilled into their heads how dangerous drugs are and the consequences of their use – arrests, overdose, death, expulsion from school, and not getting into that top ten school.
It is never to late to start that conversation and keep it going.