MSNBC Host Suggests Focus on Opioid Crisis is Racist

Talking to NBC News Medical Correspondent Dr. John Torres on Friday about the Trump administration promising aggressive action on the nationwide opioid crisis, MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin worried that the focus on the deadly drug abuse epidemic was based on race:

And, again, this is truly a national tragedy. But, you know, two decades ago in this country, you had lots of folks who look like me who were dying in D.C. and Chicago and L.A. in greater numbers than what we’re seeing right now as a result of the crack cocaine epidemic that plagued this country. It seems as if we are treating this particular drug crisis differently than we treated that one. Why?

Somewhat taken aback by the implication, Torres replied: “And I think we are treating it differently, and I think it’s because of where it’s hitting and who it’s hitting....And the big thing you have to remember is an overdose and an overdose death is an overdose and an overdose death, regardless of what it’s from, what kind of drug.”

The doctor noted that with crack cocaine “a lot of effort was placed into trying to get that under control through legislation means, through – ” Melvin interrupted: “Law enforcement.” Torres continued: “Law enforcement, punitive action type things, and treatment. This one’s focusing more on treatment.”

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The African American host followed up: “Is that because – and I don’t want to put you on the spot, as I put you on the spot – is that because a lot of the folks who are dying as a result of opioid overdoses in this country don’t look like me?”

Torres explained:

And it could be in part because of the fact that, you know, people that die from overdoses, a lot of people look at that, and say, “Well, you know, they started that on their own, and did it themselves.” Whereas with this one they’re saying, “Well, it was a legal method they started with, and that legal method turned into this drug problem.” So it could be part of the issue.

Melvin’s racially-charged insinuation was brought to viewers by Blue Apron and GEICO.

Here is a transcript of the August 11 exchange:

1:45 PM ET

(...)

CRAIG MELVIN: Before I let you go, I want to ask you the same question I asked a couple days ago. And, again, this is truly a national tragedy. But, you know, two decades ago in this country, you had lots of folks who look like me who were dying in D.C. and Chicago and L.A. in greater numbers than what we’re seeing right now as a result of the crack cocaine epidemic that plagued this country. It seems as if we are treating this particular drug crisis differently than we treated that one. Why?

DR. JOHN TORRES: And I think we are treating it differently, and I think it’s because of where it’s hitting and who it’s hitting. Because it can hit anyone, anywhere, anytime. That one could, too. And the big thing you have to remember is an overdose and an overdose death is an overdose and an overdose death, regardless of what it’s from, what kind of drug. And so a lot of effort was placed into trying to get that under control through legislation means, through –  

MELVIN: Law enforcement.

TORRES: Law enforcement, punitive action type things, and treatment. This one’s focusing more on treatment. And so there are a lot of parallels between the two and there are a few differences.

MELVIN: Is that because – and I don’t want to put you on the spot, as I put you on the spot – is that because a lot of the folks who are dying as a result of opioid overdoses in this country don’t look like me?

TORRES: And it could be in part because of the fact that, you know, people that die from overdoses, a lot of people look at that, and say, “Well, you know, they started that on their own, and did it themselves.” Whereas with this one they’re saying, “Well, it was a legal method they started with, and that legal method turned into this drug problem.” So it could be part of the issue.

MELVIN: Dr. John Torres, answering the tough questions for us on this Friday. Thank you, sir.

TORRES: You bet.

(...)

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