Devin Reaves visited our class last Thursday to discuss a wide range of topics including the impact of race on the experiences of minorities struggling with addiction and the importance of social justice and equity within the realm of addiction and recovery advocacy.

As a black man in long term recovery, as well as a product of the crack epidemic of the 80s and a member of the Opioid task force, Reaves is able to use his personal experience to contrast previous historical drug issues with modern problems. Having experienced the crack epidemic first hand, Reaves can clearly recall the devastation it inflicted on the black community. Entire communities were destroyed. During this time period, black people were frequently portrayed by the media as being the source of the drug problem, which ultimately resulted in increased incarceration and decades of failed drug policy. However, now that we are faced with the opioid epidemic and “white kids are dying in the suburbs,” as Reaves puts it, the media is painting a picture that is radically different from before. It has gone from utter disregard to a desperate attention of sorts. This shift in narrative and apparent new found concern for properly fixing the drug problem in America, shows the extent to which systemic racism has influenced the way people perceive this issue.

This discriminatory attitude towards addiction, according to Reaves, is precisely why a lot of the drug policy that’s been enforced for so long has failed. It is also correlated with the failures of our prison system. Though prison is intended to rehabilitate convicts along with isolating and punishing them, most prisons have little to no rehabilitation programs, which Reaves is in support of. Reaves also passionately supports education on how to properly use drugs and supports national investments in Narcan and other overdose preventing technologies. He believes that this will lead to fewer overdoses and therefore fewer deaths.