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Golden’s ‘Ghetto Drug’ remark on opioids sparks outrage

Comment Labeled ‘Classist,’ ‘Racist’ and ‘Shameful’

January 26, 2018 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A statement made by state Sen. Marty Golden to the Brooklyn Eagle earlier this month on opioids has sparked outrage among his constituents and others across the city. Eagle file photo by John Alexander

A statement made by state Sen. Marty Golden (R-Bay Ridge-Southwest Brooklyn) to the Brooklyn Eagle earlier this month recently went viral after Newsweek, the New York Post and the Daily News reported on the remark.

The comment has since sparked outrage among Golden’s constituents and others across the city.

In a wide-ranging interview on Golden’s priorities for his current legislative term, the senator discussed several topics, including banning trucks on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, lowering tolls on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and New York’s rising rate of opioid addiction.

“It’s not a ghetto drug. It’s happening to doctors’ kids,” Golden said of opioids. “They cut heroin from fentanyl. The kid is addicted by the second or third hit of heroin.”

The comment was made on Jan. 11 at Golden’s Bay Ridge office and was published in an Eagle article on Tuesday.

The remark has since been labeled “classist,” “racist” and “shameful” by Brooklynites and professionals in the drug and alcohol field.

Sheila Vakharia, a Bay Ridge resident and assistant professor of social work at Long Island University Brooklyn with expertise in substance use, treatment and addiction, said Golden’s comments were “classist,” “racially coded,” “alienating” and “divisive.”

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“Using a word like ‘ghetto’ is code for poor and black,” Vakharia told the Eagle. “Using a term like ‘doctors’ kids’ is code for middle class and white.

“He used that language to somehow make it seem like addiction has become a white issue, however, decades of epidemiological data suggests that black and white people have been using drugs at comparable rates.”

She added, “Elected officials are supposed to represent the community and statements like this paint a picture of Bay Ridge as a community that is only just now thinking about opioid addiction.”

The rate of overdoses for whites in New York City has been higher than that of blacks since at least 2013, according to the New York City Department of Health (DOH).

DOH’s website shows that overdose rates have actually increased among all neighborhood types in recent years, which suggests that all socio-economic classes are increasingly impacted by overdoses.

In Brooklyn, overdoses have increased since 2013 with 297 deaths in 2016, according to DOH.

In addition, whites have been dying of heroin-related overdoses at roughly twice the rate of black people since at least 2013, reports DOH.

“Sen. Golden’s racist comments reinforce the ugly lie that wealthy whites are deserving of compassion and treatment, and poor black and brown addicts deserve nothing but jail time,” said Dom Leon-Davis, communications associate for the New York Working Families Party.

“This undermines the real damage that the war on drugs has done to communities of color over the past 50 years. We deserve leaders who will treat every community with dignity,” he said.

Opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, more than any other year on record, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Forty percent of all those fatalities involved a prescription opioid. 

“To anyone who was offended by my choice of words regarding the heroin and opioid crisis facing our state, I sincerely apologize,” Golden said on Friday afternoon. 

“While my words were not articulated clearly or properly, the point I was trying to make was that this crisis is affecting virtually every community throughout New York State, where it is tearing apart families and leaving devastated mothers and fathers to mourn the loss of their beautiful and innocent children,” he continued. 

Golden spokesman John Quaglione cited the senator’s membership in the bipartisan New York State Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction.

He also said Golden has fought to create Good Samaritan protections, such as creating I-STOP, enhancing insurance coverage to combat addiction and expanding access to Naloxone, a medication made to rapidly reverse narcotic overdoses.

In the Jan. 11 Eagle interview, Golden also articulated the need for New York to add more rehab facilities.

Policy Manager at the New York branch of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) Dionna King said Golden’s remark is representative of a disparity between how white and black opioid users are treated.

“The current rhetoric surrounding the opioid overdose crisis is radically different from the tough on crime political posturing that led to policies that drove mass incarceration in New York state and throughout the United States,” King told the Eagle. “Golden’s comments reveal the racism and hypocrisy inherent in the differential response to the opioid crisis.

“The political response to opioid overdose crisis makes it clear that when it comes to substance use and addiction, there are groups believed to be worthy of care and others who do not get the benefit of empathy.”

DPA works to advance legislation that ends the criminalization and stigmatization of drug users. DPA uses “compassionate” and evidence-based approaches to aid drug users.

King said that if “similar empathy” had been shown in previous drug crises, then neighborhoods would not have been devastated by over-policing, mass incarceration and drug fatalities.

Following Quaglione’s response, Ross Barkan, a political journalist and a Democrat seeking to run against Golden in November, said Golden’s language was “racist and shameful.”  

“When the crack cocaine epidemic impacted communities of color in the 1980s and 1990s, people like Marty Golden called for law and order instead of compassion,” Barkan told the Eagle. “They called for prisons instead of treatment.”

He added, “[Golden] has demonstrated, once again, he is not fit to represent this diverse district.”

Andrew Gounardes, another Democrat running for Golden’s seat, compared the senator’s statement to remarks made by President Donald Trump.

“I am appalled by Marty Golden’s shameful, insulting, degrading and wildly inaccurate comments regarding the opioid epidemic,” Gounardes said. “His language was offensive and divisive, using the same racist and classist rhetoric as Donald Trump and the other politicians who use these crises as a talking point to denigrate rather than use their power and positions to help.

“He should relinquish his role on the Senate’s Opioid Addiction task force.”

In December, Golden received criticism after a cyclist claimed the senator impersonated a NYPD officer.  

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.  

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