This is a painful week in the United States as we again confront the systemic racism that has plagued our country since its founding. Listening to the conversation on racism taking place right now in response to the recent violent deaths of African Americans is critical, and I encourage readers to hear what Black/African Americans are saying about their experiences.
NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability. Science has told us repeatedly that systematic, widespread discrimination of Black/African-American people is diametrically opposed to these aims, and what’s more, it is unacceptable and wrong.
The long history of discrimination against racial minorities in America bears directly on NIDA’s mission to address addiction as a disease rather than a moral failing to be dealt with through punishment. Whites and Black/African Americans use drugs at similar rates, but it is overwhelmingly the latter group who are singled out for arrest and incarceration. This use of drug use and addiction as a lever to suppress people of a particular race has had devastating effects on communities of color.
We know that science itself is at its best when it is most inclusive, and humans are best when we embrace diversity. Conversations about systemic racial inequalities can be uncomfortable but are clearly needed. Entrenched, systemic, pervasive racism is perpetuated by silence, and we cannot let it continue. I look forward to working with the addiction science community – researchers, the medical community, law enforcement, advocates, policymakers, other stakeholders and the public – to eradicate discrimination and promote equality.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D.