Let’s end the disparity
Joseph Kertis, Guest Writer
Systemic racism is a term that has been used more within the last year than most of us can recall in our lifetimes, and that’s because things are changing. Along with the COVID-19 pandemic came many major headlines in 2020, including a major shift in how Americans address racism. The killing of George Floyd ignited a social movement to spotlight and end the racism that has existed in this country for centuries.
While pointing it out is a necessary aspect of the evolution, changing how America operates at its core is of the utmost importance in finally remedying the problem. Systemic racism is a deeply embedded, cultural phenomenon. This means that the system operates in a fundamentally skewed manner that disadvantages minorities. This is often so ingrained that those committing acts of racism are often unaware that what they’re doing is racist. These learned behaviors can be unlearned, but first we must be made aware of them so we know what to change.
An often-overlooked area of systemic racism is the field of substance abuse treatment. Racial minorities have been portrayed as having worse rates of addiction than whites when this is untrue. When compared to whites, racial minorities have virtually the same rates of substance use disorder, but where the disparity exists is in the realm of treatment.
Minorities have far less access to treatment services than whites. We find that treatment services are lacking in areas where minority populations mainly reside. And where they exist, many minorities lack the financial ability or insurance coverage to attend them.
It’s not as though treatment centers are openly racist or even racist at all. Systemic racism works by disadvantaging minorities so that they cannot pull themselves up to a place of stability and influence. Things never change because minorities are suppressed and kept from attaining positions of power where they can affect the change needed to remedy these issues.
And, it plays out over decades in the degradation of communities and families, furthering the cycle. The more disadvantaged and hopeless people become, the more likely they are to need the same services they’ve been deprived of.
Regardless of political identification, these facts are inarguable. Change is needed, and thankfully, it seems to be on the horizon. President Joe Biden recently signed executive orders on racial equity, a first step in the battle. And while these may not immediately remedy the situation, it sets the tone for the changes that are planned.
Part of these changes must include greater access to substance abuse treatment for minorities.
More treatment services are needed in low-income areas that are affordable or free. This may require legislative actions to force insurance providers’ hand and improve benefits for substance abuse treatment services in affordable policies. After all, the affluent shouldn’t be the only ones able to improve the conditions of their life. It should be those who need it the most.
Editor’s note: Joseph Kertis is an experienced health care expert turned journalist and is a featured author of the health care website ECDOL.