Fri. Jul 1st, 2022

Battling drug addiction on the streets

By Malik Ahmed

In 1966 as a youth activist in Harlem, New York, I became aware of and committed to join the battle against drug addiction and distribution. Becoming dedicated to this battle was both personal and immediate.

Many of my childhood friends and idols – the real cool ones and some of the real smart ones – began using drugs. Over a short period of time, their addiction grew and they became hooked. Many of them lost out on life’s limited opportunities. They ended up dropping out of high school, became unemployable, hung out on nefarious street corners, were incarcerated, or died from a drug overdose.

A number of other youth were recruited into drug-selling – or “hustling,” as they called it. Most of these new young hustlers became horrible statistics of the prison-industrial complex and, upon release, they were stigmatized, unable to get government assistance, maintain a family or find work. Consequently, they recycled in and out of prison, returned to the mean streets to live among the winos and derelicts, and often met untimely deaths.

Now, 52 years later, a new wave of drug abuse is looming. No longer confined to the burned-out hovels and streets of the forgotten inner-city urban ghetto areas, the drug epidemic has crisscrossed the entire country. It is devastating the so-called pristine safe havens of lily-white suburban cities, towns and hamlets. Its vicious tentacles of destruction have even reached into small farming and rural areas. School teachers, business owners, moms and dads, and high school teenagers who are academically bright, socially active and athletically gifted are overdosing and dying in record numbers.

We are told the main culprit in this new drug wave is opioid abuse. These drugs are being distributed by a criminal empire consisting of medical doctors who are over-prescribing a variety of legal opioids to their patients and pharmacists who are more than willing to fill these orders. Patients who are seeking relief of chronic pain are getting hooked instead of getting relief, and opioids are also being sold on the street.

There is an increased effort underway to tackle this new threat. However, it is mostly being directed in the white community. Government on all levels is funding anti-drug initiatives in suburban and rural towns, and police departments have equipped themselves with the anti-overdose drug Naloxone or Narcan, which can prevent overdose deaths. A broad-based media campaign is underway to expose the damaging effects of drug addiction. Clinics are being set up to distribute clean needles, syringes and other paraphernalia to safeguard the health and welfare of chronic drug users.

This same sense of emergency, concern, safety, and action isn’t being carried out in the African-American community. In our communities, most people are unaware that a major drug addiction crisis is on the horizon, if not already in full-bloom. In our neighborhoods, heroin distribution and addiction are once again ravishing our people. This heroin is three to four times more potent and also cheaper than in the 1960s. It is often mixed with the synthetic drug Fentanyl, which medical authorities say is 50 times more potent than heroin.

On our streets, heroin is not the only drug of choice. There is still an abundance of crack cocaine and pain-killer opioids: oxycodone, Percocet, and morphine. In our neighborhoods, we also have an over-supply of liquor stores and bars that help to feed the drug crisis and destabilize families.

In North St. Louis, the drug crisis is spawning a whole new generation of players – teenage prostitutes, vicious drug gangs, carjackers, burglars, and home invaders. Neighborhood gun violence is taking on a new level of devastation when bullets fly in residential blocks. Casualties are piling up. Victims are mostly young teenagers (mainly males, but increasingly females), young mothers and fathers, and even innocent children and babies.

To the best of our ability, Better Family Life is answering this urgent call to action. Our Community Outreach department is committed 24/7 to helping to eliminate this latest threat to our community. We have brought together progressive pastors of neighborhood churches, along with public and community-based agencies and concerned citizens to battle the spread of drug addiction and distribution. We are targeting neighborhoods and public areas where the problem is most acute and visible.

To be successful, we need more pastors, volunteers and concerned citizens to join this battle. We need more public and private resources. We need police departments working more empathetically to build bridges of understanding and cooperation with victims of drug addiction and working more effectively with community groups.

We also need the corporate community to step up and provide financial and technical resources to those organizations that are on the front lines. We want them to provide appropriate job training and placement opportunities to those in the community who are seeking employment and skill-based development as a pathway to career employment and sustainable futures.

Malik Ahmed is CEO of Better Family Life, Inc.

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