Recently, driven largely by opioid-related deaths—predominantly of our white sisters and brothers—President Donald Trump proclaimed that the opioid problem was now a national emergency. He vowed to “spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis” because “it is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had.”
This is false. Beginning in the late 1960s, the heroin crisis played out in a similar fashion, except that the face of the heroin addict then in the media was black, destitute and engaged in repetitive petty crimes to feed his or her habit. One solution was to lock up users, especially after passage of New York State's infamous Rockefeller drug laws in 1973. By the early 2000s more than 90 percent of those convicted under those laws were black or Latino, far out of proportion to the fraction of users they represented.