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Black History Month: Addressing Substance Abuse and Addiction in Black Communities

February is Black History Month; a time to celebrate African American heritage and monumental contributions to society.  We celebrate African American pioneers who have made a difference and continue to focus their efforts toward improving services to facilitate people recovering from substance use.  Communities of color tend to experience greater burden of mental and substance use disorders, often due to poorer access to care and greater social and economic risk factors.  African American medical practitioners, educators, religious leaders, and prominent social figures are among numerous men and women within the black community who dedicate themselves to treating and preventing addiction.

Many of these names may be unfamiliar yet, here are just a few African Americans who have dedicated their lives toward the improvement of substance abuse recovery services.

Andrea G. Barthwell, MD, FASAM has devoted herself to a balanced career of research and practice, merging a scientific aspect into the human behavioral aspect of substance abuse and addiction. At a national level, Barthwell contributed her efforts to the Office of National Drug Control Policy as the Deputy Director for Demand Reduction. Previously the President of the American Addiction Society of Medicine, she is now a fellow status member.  

Author Paul Austin has written an autobiography of alcohol recovery titled Return of the Lost One:  My Bout with Alcoholism (2002).  Austin shares his in-depth experiences as black man suffering and recovering from alcohol abuse with hope that he can encourage other men and women to succeed throughout their recovery processes.  

Jackie McKinney, MSW specializes in family treatment particularly regarding issues that affect black women and children.  McKinney has personally experienced homelessness, trauma, addiction, and the criminal justice system.  A founding member of the National People of Color Consumer/Survivor Network, McKinney's accomplishments have earned her the Clifford W. Beers Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Voice Awards program.  McKinney's distinguished leadership has changed attitudes toward substance abuse.  

Delbert Boone consults with correctional facilities, treatment facilities, educational systems, and recovering substance users to provide quality treatment strategies and recovery plans.  Boone utilizes his own life experience, previous incarceration and recovery, to truly understand the connection between substance use and criminal behavior.  

Lula A. Beatty, PhD focuses her research toward the development of initiatives to increase participation of underrepresented scholars' involvement in drug abuse and addiction research.  Beatty is the director of the Special Populations Office, Office of the Director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  As an active civic and community leader, Beatty has achieved several awards.

H. Westley Clark, MD, JD, FASAM is an advocate of evidence based treatment practices and has been an active, modern force regarding the development of addiction treatment programs.  Clark served as the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment for sixteen-years.

If you are experiencing drug or alcohol addiction, these African Americans and many others are working behind the scenes to advocate for your needs and improve your services.  Celebrate this February and take your first step toward a healthy, new lifestyle.