National heroin epidemic’s effects


According to a national news report, the heroin crisis kills 23 Ohioans each week. Though it strikes all ethnicities, it affects whites disproportionately. Paul Starr, sociologist and professor at Princeton University said, “Contrary to what many Americans believe, drug overdoses are no longer concentrated among minorities; in fact, drug-related deaths are high among whites.”

The trend was in motion as far back as 1990, but didn’t surface until late 2015. In a study, economist Angus Deaton and Ann Case found the death rate of middle class whites had edged closer to that of blacks, while the death rate of the affluent whites continued to decline. Interesting was the statistic that the death rate of the Hispanic population was lower than that of the blacks.

According to the study, many of the deaths were due to suicide, alcoholism and drug overdoses. Scholars like sociologist Barbara Enrenreigh and others were alarmed. Enrenreigh tried to make sense of the suicide phenomenon. “Whites have more guns.”

Most economists agree, however, that many of the deaths were in some way related to the deindustialization that happened in the 1980s and 1990s. In other words, the job loss led to sadness and eventually to what the economists called “deaths of despair.”

The period from 1945 to 1990 best explains why heroin deaths affect whites disproportionately. In 1945, the nation’s Gross National Product was $200 million. By the time of the Kennedy assassinations, it had swelled to well over $500 million. World War II had created a strong white working class. Their standard of living was the world’s highest. They had the best of everything. To characterize the period, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said this: “The Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.”

The white working class dominated the big-money jobs. Many of those jobs had been in the family for generations. The economic advantage was theirs and the Founding Fathers intended it. There was a particular emotional attachment to those jobs. No other group could possibly understand the joy and security that the white worker felt.

At that time, blacks were only two or three generations removed from chattel slavery.

When their economic base relocated, they were devastated. To them, it was like losing a loved one. It became difficult to maintain those big homes. Depression set in.

When some people hurt, they find ways to alleviate the pain.