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The Impact of Drugs on Harlem Residents Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 25th, 2019


Harlem is a low income area that has experienced high rates of drug abuse. This has led to many other problems such as violence, high mortality and prostitution. The drug businesses provide easy access to money enticing young men to get involved in the trade.

It is a profitable business that is characterized by unhealthy competition through street gangs and the mafia. There are also other ills such as paternal abandonment and crime which compounded with unemployment have made several organizations carry out intervention strategies in the area.

The effects of drug abuse in Harlem

There are high levels of drug use in impoverished neighbourhoods such as Harlem. The use of injectable drugs increases the risk of infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C (Tortu et al, 318). A research study was conducted on the use of injectable drugs by women in East Harlem.

This is an area that is characterized by poor employment levels, low education levels and high mortality rates. The majority of the residents are Puerto Ricans and African Americans. Women form the bulk of the population and most of the time they are the heads of their families. The men abandon their families since they are not able to provide for them.

The East Harlem community has the highest rates of HIV infections through intravenous transmission. It is noted that 28% of the infections occur in women. Research has shown that women are at a higher risk of infection due to socioeconomic, sociocultural and gender inequality factors.

There are also high levels of syringe sharing among intimate partners. Most of the women share the instruments with their male partners. The decision whether to share a syringe or not is based on event-specific factors. The individuals lack the resolve to protect themselves. There have been efforts by different organizations to reduce syringe sharing levels through education and other harm reduction strategies.

Drug use has also been linked to violence. There have been several longitudinal studies conducted on the youth in Harlem to find out the effects of drugs in their lives after a particular period of time. A research study was conducted between 1965 and 1967 on heroin addicts in Spanish Harlem (Preble and Casey, 5).

The researchers found that there were certain personal and social factors that predisposed certain individuals into being heroin addicts. They followed up the 78 participants fifteen years later to find out what had happened to them. They found out that 28 of them had died. Of those who had died, 40% had died in homicide related deaths (Goldstein, 143).

The high drugs use in Harlem also leads to excess mortality through HIV and violence or homicide deaths.

A research study conducted in 1980 comparing mortality rates in Bangladesh and Harlem showed that African American men had less chances of survival to 65 years of age than their counterparts in Bangladesh. The women performed better than the women in Bangladesh simply because of the social conditions that made it hard for girls under the age of 5 to survive in Bangladesh. It was noted that 87% of the deaths that occurred between1979-1981 in Harlem had been of individuals who were younger than 65 years (Colin and Freeman, 175).

By the year 1990 the situation had deteriorated even more. It was noted that Harlem had the lowest rates of survival for 15 year old residents. An analysis of the causes of death showed that the main five causes of death in Harlem were drugs, crime, heart diseases, cirrhosis and neoplasm. 40% of the deaths were drug-related. Crime, cirrhosis and drugs were the major causes of excess mortality (Watkins and Fullilove, 37).

The grim statistics prompted the government to investigate the causes of excess mortality in the area. The Harlem Household Survey published its findings on the excess mortality rates. The results showed that there were high levels of lifetime substance abuse and crime compared to other populations. 14% of the people were involved in crack cocaine use. 49% of the men and 21% of the women had witnessed someone being injured or violently killed.

A research study was conducted in Central Harlem to find out the statistics of preventable deaths caused by cigarette smoking. The results showed that 84% of the premature deaths among women arose out of cigarette related conditions such as cancers of the lung, trachea and bronchus.

The premature deaths occurred when the individuals were between 35 and 64 years. The rate is quite high compared to 76% in the New York women and 78% in women across the country. In men, 52% of the premature deaths were related to ischemic heart disease which is attributed to smoking. The rate was also quite high compared to 38% in New York men and 46% in men across the country(Northridge, Morabia and Basset, 255).

Rampant drug use in women has been linked with prostitution. In a research study conducted on 346 drug-addicted women 176 of them admitted they had traded sex for money or drugs. This translates to 51% of the sample population.

These were women who are heavily addicted and lacked the finances to fuel their addictions. They turned to prostitution in order to get money for the drugs. The mental health of the women is also affected by the combination of drug use and prostitution. The researchers found that these women were also suffering from psychological distress.

Their tests were positive for mental conditions such as depression, anxiety and paranoia compared to prostitutes who did not take drugs. 68% of drug-addicted women sampled in a research study were found to test positive for post-traumatic stress disorder. The sex traders were also not adopting safer sex behaviour due to the combination of mental health and drug dependencies(El-Bassel et al, 65).

The drug consumption assists the women to overcome their feelings of aversion against their degrading chosen profession. It is a cycle of drugs and prostitution that many women are unable to break out of. A woman will become a prostitute to finance a drug dependency. At the same time the prostitute will consume more drugs in order to numb her thoughts concerning the profession she has chosen.

Drug abuse is also related to violence against women. The violence is also related to the men’s search for identity or masculinity. The men have personal anxieties in the face of high unemployment. They wonder about their ability to provide for their own families.

These men in Harlem face systematic barriers through ethnic discrimination and ideological marginalization. The men do not know how to deal with the changes that have taken place in the society. The expansion of the global market has expanded women’s rights. The roles of the men can no longer be based on the patriarchal society and the way they saw their fathers handle their homes.

The tension translates into drugs, crime and violence against women. At the end of the day these men lash out against the women through a predatory street culture where they rape the women, beat them and even abandon their families (Bourgois, 414). The jobs that are available in the market are menial. They feel that the underworld market provides jobs that pay substantially. Furthermore in the black market they are not subject to abusive racist behaviour.

In the underground world people understand the language of violence. Violence is utilized for maintaining credibility. The drug dealers do not want their clients to stop paying their debts. They want to instil fear so that they are not ripped off by their suppliers or customers. It is interesting that some violent acts in the eyes of outsiders are interpreted as rapport-building, public relations or advertising in the eyes of the drug dealers.


The complexity of the factors that affect the growth and development of a sustainable environment in Harlem requires a multi-dimensional approach to solve the problems. The problems are all interrelated creating a cycle or web such that the residents feel trapped.

The solutions should deal with all the inter-related factors so that they are long-lasting. The genesis of these problems can be traced to unemployment. A recovering addict who faces high financial pressure is bound to relapse. The people need to be economically empowered to enable the community to curb these other vices.

Works Cited

Bourgois, Philippe. “In Search of Masculinity, Violence, Respect and Sexuality among Puerto Rican Crack Dealers in East Harlem” British Journal of Criminology, 36.3(1996): 412-427. Print.

El-Bassel, Nabila, Robert Schilling, Kathleen Irwin, SairusFaruque, Louisa Gilbert, Jennifer Von Bargen, Yolanda Serrano and Brian Edlin. “Sex trading and psychological distress among women recruited from the streets of Harlem” American Journal of Public Health, 87.1(1997), 66-70. Print.

Goldstein, Paul. “The Drugs/Violence Nexus: A Tripartite Conceptual Framework” Journal of Drug Issues, 39(1985): 143-174. Print.

Preble, Edward and John Casey. “Taking Care of Business: The Heroin Users Life on the Street” International Journal of the Addictions, 4(1969):1-24. Print.

McCord Colin and Harold Freeman. “Excess mortality in Harlem” New England Journal of Medicine, 322(1990):173-177. Print.

Northridge, Mary, Alfredo, Morabia and Mary Basset. “Contribution of Smoking to Excess Mortality in Harlem’’ American Journal of Epidemiology, 147.3(1998): 250-258. Print.

Watkins, Beverly and Mindy Fullilove. “Crack Cocaine and Health” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society, 1.1(1999): 37-48. Print.

Tortu, Stephanie, James McMahon, Rahul Hamid and Allan Neaigus. “Women’s Drug Injection Practices in East Harlem: An Event Analysis in a High-Risk Community” Aids and Behaviour, 7.3(2003): 317-328. Print.

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