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Black and Asian Teens Have the Lowest Rates of Drug Use

If black kids are doing drugs less often than white kids, why are they being arrested so much more?


A study published today in the Archives of General Psychiatry says that black and Asian teens are less likely to use drugs and alcohol than white people their age. In a survey of more than 72,000 young people conducted by Dan Blazer, a psychiatry professor at Duke Medical Center, 39 percent of white teens and 37 percent of Latinos reported having abused substances in the past year, compared to 32 percent of blacks and 24 percent of Asians. When it came to drugs alone, 20 percent of whites, 19 percent of blacks, and 12 percent of Asians reported using.

Blazer called the relatively low rate of substance abuse among black juveniles "surprising": "The public perception is that that’s not the case," he said. Also surprised should be American police, who continue to arrest black kids for drug use at far greater rates than whites. Consider this chart from the federal Office of Juvenile Justice:


In the 1990s, the juvenile black drug arrest rate was nearly three times that of whites, and in 2008 it remained almost double. The fact is that cops bust blacks kids markedly more for a crime they commit slightly less often. This is especially unfair because petty drug offenses are how thousands of black kids per year end up in the U.S. justice system. Their criminal records then haunt many of them for the rest of their lives, ruining their employment and educational opportunities and all but forcing them to turn to more crime to stay afloat.

We've argued before that America's nonsensical drug laws leave a lot to be desired when compared with those of other Western nations. But when police don't enforce those laws evenhandedly, they go from being just nonsense to racist as well.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user roger jones

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