With the heroin epidemic gripping the nation, addiction is getting an unprecedented amount of coverage in the media lately but there’s something about the coverage that’s starting to bother me and others have noticed it as well.
What I can’t help but notice is that until the heroin crisis started to affect young, white upper- and middle-class kids in the suburbs no one really paid attention or cared. Please understand that I am not discounting the affect that heroin has had on these kids and their families; in many cases lives have been lost and families have been devastated and I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone. I know about losing a loved one to addiction having lost my brother to alcoholism several years ago, and it’s a pain I still deal with to this day.
But what can’t be denied is that people of color and low income white people having been dealing with addiction and death from heroin and a host of other substances for many years. The most attention they’ve received is from the police, judges and lawyers as they are ushered in and out of courts and the prison system. If they are fortunate enough to get to and stay in recovery, they now have a felony on their record that makes it damn near impossible for them to find a decent job or a place to live.
Acknowledge the Differences
When I see coverage of the heroin epidemic, whether it’s local or national, overwhelmingly the people featured in the stories are white, come from “good” homes, and are presented in a very positive and sympathetic way. Contrast that with people of color who, if their stories are even told, are presented as coming from “broken” or “dysfunctional” homes and usually have some prior contact with the criminal justice system so we shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening to them. While there is some truth to both scenarios, it is the generalization that both scenarios are completely true which causes my concern. Once again this is where I believe stigma and to some degree an evidence of bias come into play, and that can be a very dangerous thing.
As we all know, the stigma surrounding addiction keeps millions of people from seeking the help they and their families so desperately need. So when people are brave enough to come forward and share their stories; whether it be the person with the addiction talking about how they made it to recovery, or a family talking about how the loss of their loved one motivates them to help others, it can be a huge help. But when all the stories you see feature people who don’t look like you, or haven’t had to deal with the circumstances you have it makes it more difficult to not only relate, but to get the message across. There are cultural and class differences that make it very difficult for certain communities to deal with addiction. Their stories should be told in a way that acknowledges those differences, but does not demonize them in order to present a more balanced view of addiction.
Addiction affects so many different people and we just want to see that fairly represented in the media coverage. There are so many more people dealing with and being devastated by the heroin epidemic in this country other than young white kids in the suburbs, so why not acknowledge that and show it?
Nadine Herring is the owner of Virtually Nadine, a virtual assistant company that provides online administrative support and social media management to small businesses and social entrepreneurs. I specialize in working with these businesses to help them deal with the time consuming administrative process of running an organization.