There are a lot of ways to describe the recent wave of compassion for heroin addicts.
The most generous I can come up with is hypocrisy.
I thought my sympathy for people struggling with addiction knew no bounds, but I’ve found myself growing increasingly resentful of the dramatically different response between today’s white heroin addicts and the black and Latino crack addicts of 20 or 30 years ago.
And now, we’re apparently not even supposed to call heroin addicts addicts.
In June, the widely used Associated Press Stylebook declared addict should no longer be used, suggesting people instead say, “They were addicted” or, “People who are addicted.”
“In short, separate the person from the disease,” Maia Szalavitz wrote in an essay titled “The AP Learns to Talk About Addiction. Will Other Media Follow?”
As convenient as that evolution strikes me, I’m not necessarily against it. Treating addiction as a disease instead of a crime is the right thing to do. It’s always been the right thing to do.
But where were all these calls for care instead of confinement when crack was ravaging black and Latino neighborhoods? Where were the forward-thinking policies and treatments when the people with the power to call for compassion and decriminalization — lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, police officers now trained to save overdose victims, newspaper editors whose pages are now overflowing with sympathetic portraits of white heroin users, as though there aren’t heroin users of color — couldn’t relate to the addicts?
When addicts weren’t their sons and daughters or siblings and neighbors? When addicts didn’t look like them?
Then, drug users were unapologetically referred to as crack heads and crack hoes. Politicians and scientists and journalists warned of a “crack baby” epidemic that was not.
Addicts were treated like vermin, not victims, and the push was to lock up the “junkies,” not open up safe injection sites to make it easier and safer to do their drugs in neighborhoods that have already borne the brunt of the “war on drugs.”
Now, the “war” is a crisis, an epidemic that the president has recently called a national emergency.
“We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” President Trump said.
When I’ve pointed out the disparity, people have given me the #AllAddictsMatter argument. And though I agree that they should, a victim’s race is clearly a factor, whether we’re talking about victims of gun violence or terrorism or missing persons or, now, drug addiction.
If I’m wrong, prove it.
If race is not a factor and people’s calls for sympathy are truly color-blind, I have an idea: You know what the ultimate act of compassion would be for the people who are addicted to heroin?
Put those safe injection sites in the suburban neighborhoods so many of the addicts are from, away from the temptation of Philly’s cheap, potent heroin, and closer to those overflowing fountains of compassion.