Structural racism in this country is a public health emergency that intersects squarely with the opioid epidemic and our work in addiction medicine. While people of all races use substances at equal rates, Black Americans suffer disproportionately from the impact of the opioid epidemic, suffering greater overdose deaths, disproportionate arrests and incarceration for drug offenses, and more limited access to treatment than white Americans.
We recognize that substance use disorder is a medical condition that requires treatment, rather than being grounds for arrest, incarceration, violence, or murder. Unfortunately, medication for addiction treatment (MAT) delivery occurs through health care systems embedded with institutionalized racism, if it occurs at all. People who use drugs contend with the stigma of substance use within healthcare and the community at large, which is often regarded as a moral failing weaponized against people of color to justify worse health outcomes or mistreatment.
As has happened too many times before, substance use–or implied substance use–was publicly stated on George Floyd’s preliminary autopsy report. Substance use should never be used to justify or minimize harms of police brutality and institutionally sanctioned violence. Racism, both personal and structural, is the cause of George Floyd’s murder.
Driving structural change to improve low barrier access to evidence-based, respectful, and responsive medical care for all people who use drugs is at the heart of the CA Bridge mission. Yet, we can do more. Our team reflects both collectively and individually on the values of our work while asking ourselves what we can do better.
We must redouble our efforts to reach historically excluded and marginalized populations who use drugs to increase access to the best available care.
We will reinvigorate our community partnerships to improve police attitudes towards people who use drugs and work with prisons to offer MAT to people getting released.
We will continue our work to de-stigmatize substance use, in the broad context of health equity and the ongoing legacy of racism.
As a program, we stand with the communities we serve in outrage and grief, in demanding swift justice and meaningful change. We invite you to join us in this work.