I recently got some interesting data over the email transom.
Here's the thing: It's largely assumed that white and black illegal drug use is about the same. And that's based on legit sources. The kind of drug people take varies by race. For instance crack is still disproportionately black. Meth and LSD still mostly white. Generally.
But those who point to the racism of the drug war, myself included, start with the assumption that illegal drug use overall is not disproportionately black. Quick random links: 1, 2, 3, and 4. I did find one opposing view (but even that only questions a 20 percent difference).
Now the link between drugs and violence is disproportionately black thanks to the prohibition and the nature of illegal drug distribution. Public drug dealing equals violence. Buying from friends and family and coworkers? Much more copacetic.
Blacks are 32 percent of those arrested for drugs, which is roughly twice what would expect to find based on the number of blacks in America.
But the nature of drug dealing (and police presence and reaction to violence rates) does explain some of the disproportionate arrest and incarceration rate. You don't get arrested for drugs unless A) police find them. And that sometimes often relates to B) people complain about it. (Street corner drug dealing in particular.)
So explain this: Why are blacks roughly one-third of those admitted to the ED (formerly known as the ER) for illicit drugs? This is rate 2.5 times greater than one would expect, based on 13 percent of Americans being black.
click to embiggen.
Leaving out when race in unknown, 60 percent of PCP patients going in to the ED are black, 50 percent of cocaine admittances, 15 percent for heroin, 28 percent marijuana, 9 percent meth, and less 1 percent for GHB and LSD. All in all it's 33 percent. The ED admissions percentage, by race, is the exact same as the percentage of those arrested for drugs.
What gives? Perhaps the hospital data is bad. But I'm more likely to suspect that surveys on illegal drugs use are bad. Are blacks are 2.5 times more likely to buy bad drugs? Are blacks are 2.5 times more likely to go to the hospital if they have a bad trip? Maybe. I don't know.
I can't figure out how to reconcile these hospital admissions data with the long-established belief that illegal drug use rates are consistent across race. Any ideas?
[Update: A lot of people have good ideas. But I think it comes down to the fact that blacks are twice as likely (per capita) to go the ED (and there are a bunch of reasons for that). That could explain away 80% of the 2.5X disparity right there. The rest could be measurement error or anything. That's close enough for me. I consider that a good honest answer to a good honest question.]