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Crack Epidemic vs. Opioid Crisis: how the country has dealt with drug epidemics then and now

November 26, 2019

The United States is in the face of a present-day drug epidemic: the addiction and abuse of opioid medications. The country experienced a widespread abuse of illegal substances in the past, when in the 1980’s the crack cocaine epidemic shook the nation. Actions taken today to combat the opioid crisis vary greatly from those of the 80s. The hope is that by referencing the approaches to the crack epidemic, the opioid epidemic can be resolved more quickly and positively. 


The crack epidemic of the 1980s was a widespread abuse, distribution, and production “crack” or a crystalized version of the already well-known drug cocaine 


Crack cocaine, unlike conventional powder cocaine, is produced as small crystals and heated to smoke. Smoking crack achieved a high much faster than its . The term crack was coined because of the crackling sound it made when smoked.  


The invention of crack cocaine led to a new mind set when selling illegal drugs. Typically, drugs were sold at expensive prices, but the new innovative method of crack distribution was to sell crack at much cheaper the price. This, accompanied with the euphoric high, made the substance favorable in low-income areas.  


Crack cocaine gives users a very pleasant, euphoric high followed by a very depressive low. This resulted in many practices of “bingeing” or repeatedly getting high after a high wears off. 


Crack cocaine users suffer very serious medical consequences if using persists over time, such as aggressive and paranoid behavior, sleep deprivation, weight loss, malnutrition, brain damage, kidney damage, liver damage, heart damage, etc. 


Truthfully, although crack users and addicts did exist, media and political influence blew the crack epidemic out of proportion. The crack epidemic was not really severe enough to say it was an epidemic, and the mass hysteria from politicians and the country fueled the fire that was the crack scare. 


Millions of Americans had tried crack in their lifetime but only a fraction became addicted. The idea of crack cocaine being immediately addictive and therefore life ruining was false. Most Americans did not develop an addiction to crack because while abusing the substance, people are not able to function in day to day life, whether going to school or jobs, paying bills, etc. Addicts were people in hopeless situations who had little to no promise of a future. A journalist who tried crack cocaine before reporting on it said that for people with no promise in their lives crack is not the worst choice. 


Media sources exaggerated the severity of addiction and violence rates is order to sell more papers and catch reader attention. Politicians that supported prohibition stretched truths and manipulated public belief with unreliable statistics in order to further their political gain. Many times, the expression “the death of a generation” was used by politicians and journalists alike to describe the emerging drug. “Crack babies” were an often-discussed talking point when arguing the steps that should be taken to solve the issue. Crack-related crime was revealed to be primarily centered around competing dealers as opposed to “crackheads”. Years later multiple media sources, such as the New York Times and Newsweek, reported their mistakes and acknowledged their false claims and exaggerations.  


In response to the seemingly out of control epidemic, lawmakers passed harsh laws on drug-related sentencing. This led to the biggest mass incarceration any modern democracy has ever seen. 


Wealthy, successful people had been exposed to crack cocaine in the 70’s, but the reaction to use of the drug varied greatly in the 80’s. When upper-class Americans went in to hospitals for exposure to the drug, the government expanded insurance to cover rehabilitation efforts. Although when crack hit the general public and the impoverished, the government passed extremely harsh laws in order to discourage the use of the substance.  


Although there is no definitive proof of racism playing a role in these governmental decisions, drug laws resulted in the largest imprisonment rate this country has ever seen as lawmakers looked to solve the problem by arresting addicts. This mass incarceration disproportionally affected people of color, who lived in impoverished neighborhoods. Drug violence increased as laws became harsher and users experienced extreme sentencing for non-violent crimes. 


 Clearly, instead of imprisoning addicts, the best approach would have been rehabilitating victims of addiction and improving our impoverished cites through better housing, schools, jobs, and economic chance. Removing the vulnerability of the poor to drugs and crime because of economic status is the best approach to resolving a drug epidemic. 


Currently the United states is facing another drug epidemic: opioid addiction.  


An opioid is a substance or medication used as a pain reliever. The epidemic started in the 1990’s when pharmaceutical companies assured the medical community that opioid medications would not become addictive for users. Afterward opioid medication started to be prescribed at higher rates. Soon it was clear these medications were highly addictive as overdose rates increased. 


Opioids are abused when users start to take more medication than is prescribed. This results in a high or intense feeling of relaxation or happiness. Over time users develop a tolerance to the dose being taken and therefore increase it, which leads to overdose. 


Sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, physical dependence, tolerance, and respiratory depression can all result from using opioids to manage pain. Long term effects include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes with goose bumps. 


Addicts tend to be young adults from eighteen to twenty-six or older. 

After the death of 42,000 Americans in 2016, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency. The approach being taken involves reducing demand and over prescription, providing education on the dangers of opioids, shutting down international and domestic drug supply chains, and helping people recover from addiction through evidencebased treatment and recovery support services. 


So far, the administration has kept well on their promise. In 2018, six-billion dollars was raised in order to help fight opioid addiction. The Safer Prescribing Plan was also implemented, which is predicted to cut opioid prescription fills by one-third in three years. More than one-billion dollars has been given to various organizations to fund education, aid and opioid abuse prevention, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Health resources and Services Administration. 


Despite the nation’s tireless effort to prohibit drugs and crack down on illegal drug trade, the situation may have gotten worse. With extremely restrictive laws, drugs dealings have become increasingly more profitable because of the difficulty of distributing the product. This has led to more gang violence and more incarceration as sentencing has become more extensive for drug misdemeanors.  


While policy is not perfect, the country has made positive strides in the right direction. Discussion around mental illness and addiction has become more normalized and countless agencies strive to rehabilitate substance abusers versus jailing them. The stigma of addiction is slowly breaking down, allowing for a bigger discussion and the prospect of reform. American society now has the opportunity to look to past mistakes and secure a better future, along with a greater understanding and compassion. 


























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