Recovery advocate Devin Reaves spoke to Solutions Journalism: Covering Addiction today about how race has impacted the public’s perception of addiction. He also emphasized the need for social justice to remove the barriers that prevent underprivileged communities from receiving treatment.

Reaves, who has been in long-term recovery for 10 years, is a member of the Philadelphia Opioid Task Force, a founding board member of Young People in Recovery, and the founder of Brotherly Love House, a recovery house in Philadelphia.


Devin Reaves: “No solution that does not involve social justice is even worth discussing”

by Meghan Costa

Now that white adolescents are featured on magazine covers using heroin and other drugs, people everywhere are finally beginning to acknowledge the heroin epidemic. Opiate use has been a huge problem in American cities for decades, but only now have people started to care about it, since heroin use has spread to the suburbs. Headlines with these photographs often read “The New Face of Addiction,” as if white people have never been drug users in the past.

“The new face of addiction essentially means the old face does not matter,” Devin Reaves said. Reaves introduced himself to the class as a person in long term recovery. He attended an upper-middle class high school in New Jersey and entered recovery in 2007. Today, he is a member of the Philadelphia Opiate task force  , a founding board member of Young People in Recovery and the founder of Brotherly Love House, a recovery living facility in Philadelphia.

Reaves explained to our class that Michigan recently implemented new laws surrounding heroin use. These laws are very similar to the cocaine and crack laws the government strictly enforced throughout the 1980s. The new heroin laws provide immunity for people under 22 caught with oxycodone or opiate pills, but they do not grant immunity to people under 22 caught with heroin, which is cheaper than prescription pain medications. Because black Americans are at a disadvantage due to systematic racism, it is more likely that they will have the cheaper bag of heroin than the expensive bottle of pills.

“I want to change systems,” Reaves said. “No solution that does not involve social justice is even worth discussing.”

Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Opioid task force is not long-standing and will only exist for three months. Reaves said that recommendations can made during these three months, but there is not necessarily enough time for action. Reaves has many recommendations, but there was one in particular that stood out to me: we need to pay less for rehabs and more for lower levels of care.

Just as the rehab system failed Scott McClane from day 1, left Richard homeless, and let down Daniel Orens and his family, the system has also failed several of Reaves’ friends. It has also failed several of mine. If we start paying more for lower levels of care, perhaps more lives will be saved, and less relapses will occur. Too often patients leave treatment with no transitional support, and too often these patients relapse, overdose or die.