We often speak of the impact substance abuse and addiction has on the community and families, but do we really realize what that truly means? Do we understand that while we spout of statistics and rant about how bad the drug and alcohol problem is that people are living each day with the consequences of this silent epidemic? Beyond those impacted by addiction, there are those touched by the violence which often comes hand in hand with the illegal drug trade.
One journalist for the Guardian took the time to speak with those people living with the consequences of drugs in underprivileged communities.
Chris Arnade opens his exposè with a poignant truth too many of us don’t want to recognize:
“Dropped in any new town in the US, I know where to buy heroin, crack or marijuana in a few minutes: near the McDonald’s in the poorest section of town.
That isn’t to say drugs don’t cut across all economic strata, that addiction can’t affix itself to almost anyone, anywhere. It can. But the larger reality is poorer neighborhoods are far more affected by addiction; the use of and trade in illegal drugs is higher, more open and visible, and treated as a crime not a tragedy.”
He goes on to address the truth about the stigmas people living in these areas often face; the next time you speed through a certain neighborhood or turn your nose up about how you would never live there, think about what you’re really saying. Your flippant judgement based on a neighborhood’s appearance or making assumptions about the people who must live in “those areas” are doing more damage than you think.
Early in the report Arnade makes that clear:
“This isn’t a statement about the character of the people who live there, but about the character of the neighborhood they live in: the lack of opportunities it offers, how aggressively and unfairly it is policed, and the failure of institutions within them. As a result illegal drugs, and the violence around them, have sadly become a “normal” part of the community. This is also not a statement about the residents: the majority do not use drugs. Yet a lot of those who do are visible and aggressive, with the accompanying violence upsetting and unfairly defining the neighborhood.”
In his exposè, Chris explores the realities of what it means to get caught in the crossfire (sometimes literally) when it comes to the trail of toxic effects caused by drugs on the eastern side of Buffalo, New York. What his work revealed is not unique to Buffalo at all- it’s a story repeating itself in “bad neighborhoods” across the country, readily ignored by the rest of the world as something that is somehow deserved; not unlike addiction itself.
As someone who grew up in an area not unlike the one you would find near the intersection Bailey and Genesee in Buffalo, I can attest that people are often too critical of the people living in disadvantaged areas. I can recall repeatedly hearing about how oppressive the ‘hood was and how so many believed drugs were the cure- either by allotting brief escapes from reality or by using drug trafficking as a means of gaining quick money to move up the ranks.
I knew people like ‘Jennifer’, whose severe substance abuse disorder pushes her to beg for money in order to relieve her cravings. I’ve seen people whose lives took the same turns as ‘Anthony’, who began down the path of substance abuse when he was just 17 and spent the next 40 in and out of jails, group homes, and homelessness. I’ve known families that grew used to members being in and out of the prison system on drug-related charges; I am a member of such a family.
Then there are the people who want nothing but a second chance- like Grady. After wasting his youth away in a Georgia prison, he told Chris Arnade he wanted to get a home in his largely vacant neighborhood but could not because his record stood in the way of his employability. He offers this profound quote, which I believe speaks for itself:
“I got some assaults on my record, but nothing that nobody didn’t have coming to them for playing the game we played. This place understands me, understands my past. Nobody gonna get up in my face or judge me for having done what I did.”
Unfortunately the reality is violence and crime in neighborhoods like this one is rarely victimless. Too often people are left mourning loved ones lost to gun violence in gang wars and drug deals gone wrong. Like Curtis Smith and man identified only as ‘T.J.’ whose families must memorialize them on the very streets that claimed their lives. The threat and anticipation of another life lost to ‘the streets’ is a constant in the back of everyone’s minds, often only quelled when their loved ones are locked away in jail.
If you don’t have a clue what that feels like, if you’ve never lived in anything but the cushion of middle or upper class America, perhaps it’s time to take a moment to try on your neighbor’s shoes. Turning a blind eye to the troubles of another only perpetuates the continued troubles of the entire country, not just the neighborhoods filled with people struggling with the consequences day in and day out.
What do you think of Chris Arnade’s piece about the social consequences of drugs in underprivileged neighborhoods? Let us know in the comments!