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THE CRACK EPIDEMIC
The crack epidemic in the United States was a surge of crack cocaine use in major cities across the United States between the early 1980s and the early 1990s. This resulted in a number of social consequences, such as increasing crime and violence in American inner city neighborhoods, as well as a resulting backlash in the form of tough on crime policies.
In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for the possession or trafficking of crack when compared to penalties for trafficking of powder cocaine, which had been widely criticized as discriminatory against minorities, mostly blacks, who were more likely to use crack than powder cocaine.
The name "crack" first appeared in the New York Times on November 17, 1985. Within a year more than a thousand press stories had been released about the drug. In the early 1980s, the majority of cocaine being shipped to the United States was landing in Miami, and originated in the Bahamas and Dominican Republic. Soon there was a huge glut of cocaine powder in these islands, which caused the price to drop by as much as 80 percent. Faced with dropping prices for their illegal product, drug dealers made a decision to convert the powder to "crack", a solid smokeable form of cocaine, that could be sold in smaller quantities, to more people. It was cheap, simple to produce, ready to use, and highly profitable for dealers to develop. As early as 1981, reports of cracks were appearing in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, Miami, Houston, and in the Caribbean.
Some scholars have cited the crack "epidemic" as an example of a moral panic, noting that the explosion in use and trafficking of the drug actually occurred after the media coverage of the drug as an "epidemic".
Between 1984 and 1989, the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 17 more than doubled, and the homicide rate for black males aged 18 to 24 increased nearly as much. During this period, the black community also experienced a 20–100% increase in fetal death rates, low birth-weight babies, weapons arrests, and the number of children in foster care. The United States remains the largest overall consumer of narcotics in the world as of 2014.
A 2018 study found that the crack epidemic had long-run consequences for crime, contributing to the doubling of the murder rate of young black males soon after the start of the epidemic, and that the murder rate was still 70 percent higher 17 years after crack's arrival. The paper estimated that eight percent of the murders in 2000 are due to the long-run effects of the emergence of crack markets, and that the elevated murder rates for young black males can explain a significant part of the gap in life expectancy between black and white males.
The reasons for these increases in crime were mostly because distribution for the drug to the end-user occurred mainly in low-income inner city neighborhoods. This gave many inner-city residents the opportunity to move up the "economic ladder" in a drug market that allowed dealers to charge a low minimum price.
Crack cocaine use and distribution became popular in cities that were in a state of social and economic chaos such as Los Angeles and Atlanta. "As a result of the low-skill levels and minimal initial resource outlay required to sell crack, systemic violence flourished as a growing army of young, enthusiastic inner-city crack sellers attempt to defend their economic investment." Once the drug became embedded in the particular communities, the economic environment that was best suited for its survival caused further social disintegration within that city.
In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed laws that created a 100 to 1 sentencing disparity for the possession or trafficking of crack when compared to penalties for trafficking of powder cocaine, which had been widely criticized as discriminatory against minorities, mostly African-Americans, who were more likely to use crack than powder cocaine. This 100:1 ratio had been required under federal law since 1986. Persons convicted in federal court of possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine received a minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years in federal prison. On the other hand, possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine carries the same sentence. In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act cut the sentencing disparity to 18:1.
In the year 2000, the number of incarcerated African Americans had become 26 times the amount it had been in 1983.
In 2012, 88% of imprisonments from crack cocaine were African American. Further, the data shows the discrepancy between lengths of sentences of crack cocaine and heroin. The majority of crack imprisonments are placed in the 10–20 year range, while the imprisonments related to heroin use or possession range from 5–10 years which has led many to question and analyze the role race plays in this disparity.
The United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General rejected claims that there was a "systematic effort by the CIA to protect the drug trafficking activities of the Contras". The DOJ/OIG reported: "We found that Blandon and Meneses were plainly major drug traffickers who enriched themselves at the expense of countless drug users and the communities in which these drug users lived, just like other drug dealers of their magnitude. They also contributed some money to the Contra cause. But we did not find that their activities were the cause of the crack epidemic in Los Angeles, much less in the United States as a whole, or that they were a significant source of support for the Contras."
THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC:
Opioids are a diverse class of moderately strong painkillers, including oxycodone (commonly sold under the trade names OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco) and a very strong painkiller, fentanyl, which is synthesized to resemble other opiates such as opium-derived morphine and heroin. The potency and availability of these substances, despite their high risk of addiction and overdose, have made them popular both as medical treatments and as recreational drugs. Due to their sedative effects on the part of the brain which regulates breathing, the respiratory center of the medulla oblongata, opioids in high doses present the potential for respiratory depression and may cause respiratory failure and death.
The epidemic has been described as a "uniquely American problem". The structure of the US healthcare system, in which people not qualifying for government programs are required to obtain private insurance, favors prescribing drugs over more expensive therapies. According to Professor J