Focus on racial equity.
States and localities should direct significant funds to communities affected by years of discriminatory policies and now experiencing substantial increases in overdoses.
Although minority communities experience substance use disorders at similar rates as other racial groups, in recent years the rate of opioid overdose deaths has been increasing more rapidly in Black populations than in white ones. Additionally, historically racist policies and practices have led to a differential impact of the epidemic. In particular, minorities are more likely to face criminal justice involvement for their drug use. Black individuals represent just 5% of people who use drugs, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those in state prison for drug offenses. Minority groups are also more likely to face barriers in accessing high-quality treatment and recovery support services.
These disparities have contributed to ongoing discrimination as well as racial gaps in socioeconomic status, educational attainment, and employment. Without a focus on racial equity when allocating settlement funds, localities run the risk of continuing a cycle of inequity.
How can jurisdictions adopt this principle?
Invest in communities affected by discriminatory policies.
Historical patterns of discrimination will take sustained focus to overcome. Jurisdictions should fund programs in minority communities that will tackle root causes of health disparities and eliminate policies with a discriminatory effect.
Support diversion from arrest and incarceration.
- Elevate and expand diversion programs with strong case management and link participants to community-based services such as housing, employment, and other recovery support services.
- Fund community-based harm reduction programs that provide support options and referrals to promote health and understanding for people who use drugs
- Increase equitable access to treatments for opioid use disorder including medications for opioid use disorder.
Fund anti-stigma campaigns.
Stigma against people who use drugs is pervasive and frames drug use as a moral failure. This stigmatization may contribute to the use of discriminatory punitive approaches to address the epidemic, particularly among racial minority communities, as opposed to more effective ones grounded in public health. In order to address this, jurisdictions should use funds to support campaigns based in evidence that reduce stigma.
Involve community members in solutions.
Staff, and a track record of hiring from the surrounding neighborhood. Programs with a diverse workforce of staff, supervisors, and peers are more likely to provide relatable and effective services.