Zika virus

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National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD)

In the face of recent racially driven conversations approaching this Black History month, February 7th, 2016 will mark the 17th observance of the National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) in the United States. In 1999, NBHAAD was created to raise national awareness of the impact of HIV in the Black community in the United States, and to mobilize efforts around the world to eradicate the virus. In a recent study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that, although Black Americans represent 12% of the U.S. Population, they account for 44% of new HIV infections and an estimated 44% of people living with HIV. Even more alarming, the rate of infection within the Black community is nearly eight times that of whites and more than twice that of Latinos. Based on these numbers, we must normalize discussions on race, and effectively bend the curve of new HIV infections. Such drastic differences enforce a need for NBHAAD’s Pillars: to Educate, Test, Involve, and Treat.

In 2014 NBHAAD National Coordinator LaMont “Montee” Evans shared, “Regardless of where we stand on sexual orientation, religious beliefs/values, age, income, education or otherwise, Black Life is worth saving and working for the betterment of our survival has to become our paramount objective and goal. It is time for us to end AIDS in Black communities by making sure those living with HIV or AIDS take care of themselves. We stand on some strong shoulders that intended for us to survive.” Two years later this sentiment remains the same.

It is sobering to know that HIV was the 5th and 7th leading cause of death for Black men and women, respectively, ages 25-44 in 2010 – higher than any other racial/ethnic group. Your race should not be the determining factor for your risk of HIV infection. NMAC’s Leading with Race initiative aims to significantly reduce new infections that are disproportionately affecting communities of color. NMAC is committed to staying the course of fighting for racial justice and health equity by partnering with NBHAAD’s national coordinating organizations and stakeholders within government and the private sector. Through all of this, we unapologetically continue to share the dream that together we will forge our own future and end HIV once and for all.

Racially Coded Language Hurts Everyone Who Struggles With Addiction

I’ve learned in my four years in the drug policy reform field that if you wait long enough, the same ill-informed and racist drug war propaganda will be rehashed over and over again. As I read the New York Times this weekend, drug war propaganda leaped off the page in the article “Addicted in Staten Island.” The article read, in part: “across the country, one of the most significant social shifts of the 21st century has been the migration of drug use from centers of urban poverty to places that are suburban, white and middle- or marginally middle-class.”

Not only is this not true, the racially coded language is detrimental to all those that struggle with addiction.

Drug use and addiction occur in communities of all color; in fact, data constantly show that drug use and drug selling are fairly consistent across racial lines. The real difference is in the way society treats different communities dealing with addiction.

In fact, sociologist Troy Duster laid out these facts over 40 years ago in his 1970 book, Legislation and Morality: Drugs, Crime, and Law. His esteemed colleagues, Harry Levine and Craig Reinarman wrote in their 2004 biography, Troy Duster: A Biography in History, “[Duster] showed that when the demographics of opiate addiction shifted, so did its definition and the law.

More specifically, “when addicts were predominantly white, middle class…addiction was a health problem dealt with privately by physicians. But when addiction spread among more “disreputable” groups like poor young men, it was redefined as a crime problem dealt with publicly by imprisonment.”

Recent media attention to opioids as a problems facing white, suburban communities has led to a national discussion of harm reduction, treatment and public health approaches versus the mass incarceration approach that was the response to drug crises coded as Black or Latino.  It’s time we stop letting racism drive drug policy and build upon science, reality and compassion for our fellow person. We know what works—Good Samaritan laws, naloxone, reality based drug education, and safer injection facilities. If we want to save lives and build healthier communities, we must reject the prohibition frame work and stop using race, class, sexuality, and subjective morality to dictate how we respond to overdose and other health issues.

For his part in drug policy reform, Troy Duster was ahead of his time in 1970. He understood the roles race and class played in the War on Drugs in 1970 even before President Richard Nixon declared the War in 1971. His trailblazing book laid the foundation for the future works of Clarence Lusane, Michelle Alexander, and Dr. Carl Hart.

Mr. Duster’s work helps us recognize the pervasive ways racism is the bedrock of the War on Drugs.  If we can see it better we can fight it better. It is a powerful feeling to know that the road we travel today was paved by Mr. Troy Duster, and it assures me that I am right where I need to be – working to end the war on drugs.