Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

Repeating the Mistakes of the Past by Megan Nalamachu

I’m pleased to present a blog written by Megan Nalamachu who is a bright, articulate high school student.

Her father, Dr. Srinivas Nalamachu, is a treasured colleague and friend. He proudly sent me his daughter’s well-researched work, because he believed I’d be interested in it. He was correct. Megan did a wonderful job rendering a powerful piece that, in my opinion, is well worth sharing.

My usual disclaimer applies. Megan’s article reflects her own views. They are not necessarily my own, nor do they represent medical advice.

Megan Nalamachu, it’s a privilege for me to publish your work. Thank you for your contribution.

Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

By Megan Nalamachu

Historical Bias Against Minority Members

Gun Ah Ling owned an opium den in Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1880, the police arrested two people there: the proprietor and an opium smoker, Albert Rorden. The consequences they faced appeared to be influenced by their ethnicity. Gun Ah Ling, who was Chinese, was fined fifty dollars. By contrast, Albert Rorden, a Caucasian American, had to pay only ten dollars.

Judicial bias against minority members who run afoul of drug laws in the latter half of the nineteenth century continues. It even extends to patients who use opioids, and to doctors who prescribe them, appropriately.

As long as drugs are perceived to be someone else’s problem, we might as well throw the book at them. Demonize them. Accuse them of having a moral failing or lack of willpower. Stigmatize them. Lock them up.

After all, they are others. They are outsiders. Their pain shouldn’t concern us.

Why Racism Is the Wrong Response

Today, as the opioid epidemic spreads across the country and evolves into mostly an illicit drug crisis, politicians fight for building a wall around Mexico in the futile hope that drug dealers will be unable to find alternative routes to the United States. Unfortunately, building such a wall would do little to stem drug smuggling, because ninety-five percent of drugs are brought into the United States from Mexico by ships.

The United States’ response to the opioid crisis is not new. Racism has long played a role in determining how we deal with people who break drug laws.

In the 1980s, the use of crack-cocaine spread through urban areas. In response, the Federal government passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 that mandated a stiffer sentence for people who used crack than for those who abused powdered cocaine. Crack was used primarily by people of inner-city African Americans and Latinos, whereas cocaine was a vice of the white population.

Instead of increasing funding for rehabilitation and treatment, Congress opted to arrest drug addicts and expand the prison system in order to protect the American public from crack-cocaine. The harshest penalties would be meted out to those who were least able to fight the charges.

Now, policymakers use the current opioid and heroin epidemic to advocate for a harsher immigration policy on the premise that drug dealers come from Mexico corrupt the innocent population of America. This xenophobic attitude creates a negative perception of Mexican Americans and Latino Americans.

How Harsher Penalties Will Cause Harm

While the War on Drugs will be punitive toward minorities, it will do nothing to stem the demand for opioids or illicit drugs. It will do nothing to mitigate the pain of people with a legitimate need for treatment, and it will do nothing to stop people with the disease of addiction from turning to the streets to find the illicit drugs they require.

In fact, blaming minorities will worsen the situation in every possible way. The efforts of legislators to use the criminal justice system to impose harsher penalties on drug users will serve as a barrier for those with addiction who might otherwise seek treatment. Also, making it increasingly difficult for people in pain to have access to the prescription medication they need will drive the need for illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. That will add to the number of overdoses and increase profits for drug dealers.

The current political agenda to villainize minority groups will exacerbate, rather than solve, the drug crisis. Furthermore, it will continue a shameful legacy that has hurt so many inner-city communities just a few decades ago. Inflicting similar harm on members of minority groups will be no more beneficial to us now than it was then. It will also raise the question of why the United States fails to learn from history. How many times must we keep on making the same mistakes before we are motivated to respond more wisely?

About Megan Nalamachu

Megan Nalamachu

Megan Nalamachu is a senior at Barstow High School in Kansas City, MO and will be graduating this May. She is accepted in multiple universities including Ivy Leagues and is currently in the process of making a final decision.

She has received a Congressional Gold Medal for her leadership and community service. During her senior year, she received a research grant to study the teenage perception on opiates, and she presented the results from her research at a national pain conference.

She is passionate about health care delivery and access issues, and wants to pursue a career in health care policy.


  1. DENISE R MOLOHON on April 16, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    A brilliantly thought out and well researched article. A bright and shining star for our future in healthcare policy! Excellent work Megan! Thank you for sharing your voice and your advocacy.

  2. Anne Fuqua on April 17, 2018 at 1:59 pm

    What a bright young lady Meghan is! Okay, I officially feel old now they I’m saying things like this:-) . In all seriousness, this high school student has a degree of insight that many adults will never obtain. I know her parents are so proud!

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