The opioid epidemic has been a story rumbling around mainstream media. A recent study from medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine has brought some attention to a drug issue in our own community, via CNN. According to the study, cocaine-related overdoses has increased among non-Hispanic black people in a way that is on par with the opioid drug crisis.

There has been a 5.5% drug overdose death rate increase every year between 1999 and 2015. While most of that increase is due to opioid-related deaths among whites, there is an interesting aspect that needs to be looked into more deeply. The study noted that cocaine was the largest contributor to deaths among black men and women.

"In the most recent years studied, 2012 to 2015, cocaine overdose deaths were almost as common in black men as prescription opioid deaths in white men and slightly more common in black women than deaths from heroin overdose in white women," noted Shiels.

The largest recent increase in overdose deaths among black and Hispanic people was due to heroin. Shiels noted there were also black and Hispanic death rate increases due to natural or semisynthetic opioids (such as morphine and oxycodone), benzodiazepines (such as Valium and Xanax), synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) and psychostimulants.

The journal correctly notes that these death increases have received less attention.

"Numerous US national surveillance studies and media reports have highlighted an alarming rise in drug poisoning deaths in recent years," said the study's co-author Meredith Shiels, who also serves as an investigator at the National Cancer Institute. Shiels noted that the studies tend to mostly focus on opioid-related deaths, such as prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl. Further, the studies highlight the fact that death rates are "rising most rapidly among white Americans." 

While it is apparent that opioid abuse can be attributed to price and availability, it's unclear why the cocaine usage increase is occurring. Still, the existence of the increase "does underscore that we not only have an opioid crisis but a more general drug abuse crisis," said David Thomas, a co-author of the study and a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Overall, roughly 20% of death certificates listing unintentional overdose as the cause doesn't note the specific drug that caused it.