Because I am Black, I am more likely to be arrested or go to prison for drug use than receive treatment

Racist drug policies, coupled with systemic racism in the health care and criminal justice systems, have sowed distrust and imposed devastating consequences on Black and Brown communities.

By Montee Ball

A lot of black and brown people are upset. They’re upset about the amount of attention that white people are getting for the opioid crisis. And comparing that to the attention that we got with the crack epidemic. We got prison sentences — 10 years, 20 years — disenfranchising Black and Brown communities. But nowadays it’s, “Oh, it’s mental health.” It’s, “Let’s give them the help they need.” We didn’t receive that same treatment.

Montee’s story is based on his recorded interview with Heart of the Matter podcast host Elizabeth Vargas, and has been edited for clarity.

The Problem

White, Black and Brown Americans use drugs at similar rates, but Black and Brown people are significantly more likely to be arrested and incarcerated.

Substance use is a health care issue, not a crime, and an appropriate response should connect people to care, not jail. Yet, police have become the default first responders for issues for which they are not adequately trained or prepared. Once in jail, most individuals do not receive the treatment they need, and upon release, many cannot access affordable, quality care or other benefits and services. Police response to mental health and addiction crises has been especially damaging in Black communities and other communities of color.

The Solution

State and local governments should send trained mental health professionals instead of police to 911 calls related to mental health and addiction crises.

Take Action


Support the Mental Health Justice Act

Tell your members of Congress you support improving crisis response by having trained professionals respond to mental health and addiction crises rather than police.