ASAM Releases Final of Three Public Policy Statements Addressing US’ Broader Structural Issues at the Intersection of Racism, Drug Use, and Addiction
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 9, 2023
ASAM releases recommendations to help advance racial justice and shift the nation’s response to personal substance use toward health and wellness and away from assumptions of criminality
Rockville, MD – The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) today released a “Public Policy Statement on Racial Justice Beyond Health Care: Addressing the Broader Structural Issues at the Intersection of Racism, Drug Use, and Addiction,” the final public policy statement in a three-part series on advancing racial justice in the context of addiction medicine. This third statement describes the need for a set of public health and legal reforms designed to address the structural racism and stigma that are entrenched in US drug policy and impact not only the development of addiction but access to treatment for millions of Americans with substance use disorder (SUD).
Specifically, the public policy statement released today makes clear that structural stigma, defined as the labeling, stereotyping, isolating, and removing power and status from a group of people through policies and practice, has a major impact on access to resources that can influence health and wellness. Further, by directing how housing, education, social support, employment, and healthcare opportunities are available to certain populations, structural racism and stigma are fundamental causes of health inequities that detrimentally affect marginalized people, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (“BIPOC”) who use illegal substances or live with SUD.
Structural solutions are desperately needed to begin to rectify the status quo and should be aimed at prioritizing public health, minimizing punitive measures, and restructuring a support system that forges a path to a better quality of life for all people. To that end, ASAM recommends a wide variety of steps to help reduce stigma, advance racial justice, and shift the nation’s response to personal substance use away from assumptions of criminality and toward health and wellness, including:
- eliminating criminal and onerous civil penalties for drug and drug paraphernalia possession for personal use as part of a larger set of related public health and legal reforms;
- eliminating drug conviction bans and drug testing requirements for public assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and for programs providing financial aid for education;
- ending evictions and removing housing bans based solely on nonviolent, drug-related activities;
- implementing universal health care coverage that will support equitable access to evidence-based or evidence-informed addiction care for all, regardless of ability to pay;
- ensuring that existing mental health and addiction parity laws are expanded and vigorously enforced; and
- investing in advocacy infrastructures and organizations that can advance racial justice in addiction care.
“Structural racism and stigma are embedded in our public policy and our criminal legal systems and work to the painful disadvantage of our nation’s most marginalized populations – threatening access to evidence-based addiction treatment for those with substance use disorder,” said William F. Haning, III, MD, DLFAPA, DFASAM, president of ASAM. “It’s long past time our country begins to address and eliminate the factors that perpetuate structural racism and stigma and exacerbate the nation’s addiction and overdose crisis.”
“Stigma and criminalization go hand-in-hand to reinforce stereotypes, increase poor health outcomes, and perpetuate poverty, for many BIPOC in the United States,” said Stephen M. Taylor, MD, MPH, DFAPA, DFASAM, co-chair of the working group that authored the public policy series. “Though it will not happen overnight, the policy recommendations we have laid out represent important first steps towards advancing racial justice and health equity for all people.”
Drug overdose deaths remain near record highs, underscoring the severity and urgency of the crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates more than 107,000 people died in the United States due to a drug overdose between August 2021 and August 2022. Among people aged 12 or older in 2021, 15.6% (or 43.7 million people) needed substance use treatment in the past year, according to the latest statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
About the American Society of Addiction Medicine
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), founded in 1954, is a professional medical society representing over 7,000 physicians, clinicians, and associated professionals in the field of addiction medicine. ASAM is dedicated to increasing access and improving the quality of addiction treatment, educating physicians and the public, supporting research and prevention, and promoting the appropriate role of physicians in the care of patients with addiction. For more information, visit www.ASAM.org.