While white people are more likely to use drugs like opiates, the numbers are quickly changing. A recent student from 2021 revealed a growing racial disparity in opioid overdose death rates. Overdose deaths among Black people are growing faster than among other groups across the country. A study conducted in partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health found that the rate of opioid deaths among Black people increased by 38 percent from 2018 to 2019, while rates for other racial and ethnic groups stayed the same. As a result, the study called for equity in addiction treatment and prevention in Black communities. Dr. Jordan’s work currently consists of treating Black and Latinx people with substance use disorders, specifically people whose drug use is causing dysfunction and an inability to function in their lives. She also examines if their change in behavior or wanting to use substances is a result of an underlying medical reason, and then treats their addiction with medication.
“We have medication for addiction treatment for all different types of substances, not just opioids. But Euphoria is focused on opioids, which is another thing that I think is very shortsighted about this,” Dr. Jordan says. “The show, I think they get a lot of things right. But something that is clearly overlooked is that Rue has never been offered any medications for opioid use disorder, which we know can decrease mortality, death rates, by over 80 percent. So I’m waiting for them to talk about this. And why aren’t they? It’s a really great platform to introduce to people that medications can help.” In the 2020 movie Four Good Days, based on Eli Saslow’s 2016 Washington Post article “How’s Amanda? A Story of Truth, Lies and an American Addiction,” the main character Molly (Mila Kunis) is offered Naltrexone. The drug is administered to patients in recovery on a monthly basis to eliminate the highs of opioids and to take away their cravings. Dr. Jordan feels like this is something Euphoria, and other movies about addiction like Beautiful Boy and Ben Is Back, could focus on more. “Although I think they do a very good job of normalizing the experience of substance use and how eradicating it is and how difficult it is to stop and how it can cause pain in so many families, we continue to see that story over and over again. Why don’t we look at some of the nuances in terms of the treatment?” Dr. Jordan adds. “The only treatment I saw growing up was Intervention where I thought that you had to bring in your family on A&E and cry and have people hit rock bottom, which is not true. You can support people. You can still allow them to live with you, still support them while they’re going through recovery. And the most important is to get them to a place where they feel safe, where they can be treated and where they can form a therapeutic alliance. So really inserting some of that real-world hope of people getting well is important.”
The addiction doctor also believes that Euphoria could do a better job at showing that there are other teenagers that go to their school that are not exposed to drugs at all. There are also viewers who might not relate to the chaotic characters, especially Rue, but any judgment of them is coming from a privileged place. This is happening to real teenagers all over the world, whether that was your experience or not. But the main characters on Euphoria are in a bubble and they don’t actually represent the entire school. Characters like Lexi Howard (Maude Apatow) and Ethan Daley (Austin Abrams) represent other kids outside of that vacuum who don’t self-harm and don’t use drugs like the others. Maddy Perez (Alexa Demie) and Cassie Howard (Sydney Sweeney) used drugs in Season 1, Episode 4, but they also didn’t become dependent on them. The characters who are addicted to drugs are just a small portion of the high school’s students. “What Euphoria would have you thinking is this is what all the teenagers are doing and that’s not true. We know that Rue’s experience is the minority, not the majority of adolescents. So that’s important,” Dr. Jordan said. “I would like to move away from the same old get high, party, cut all these things, but toward treatment, recovery. What are some things that are working? What are some awesome programs out there for kids?”