July 12, 2021 – Craig Elazer struggled all his life with anxiety, a feeling of fear and nervousness. He was never treated for it. So, at a very young age, he started taking drugs and depended on them to calm himself. The addiction, or drug dependency, led him to homelessness and time in prison. Last September, his sister, Michelle Branch, found her 56-year-old brother dead in a poor neighborhood in north St. Louis. She looked down at his body, saying, “Society failed him. And I had a sense that he’d finally been set free.”

Branch said that her brother was a bright student but struggled to pay attention. Had his condition been treated, Branch said she believes he would be alive today. She added that back then they did not catch many types of mental illness, “… especially not in little Black kids.”

Dr. Kanika Turner is a St. Louis doctor who leads an effort to stop the crisis. She describes the increase in opioid deaths as a civil rights issue as urgent and important as any other.

She said the hardest-hit communities are the same ones being destroyed by unfair drug sentencing. Black men are more likely to be sent to prison instead of treatment, Turner said.

Last year, the death of George Floyd under a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis, Minnesota led to protests around the world. Those who defended the officer claimed that the drug fentanyl, found in his body, had caused his death. But the officer was found guilty of Floyd’s murder in a trial last April.