Opioid Overdose Deaths Have Increased Among Black Americans, Study Reveals
Researchers saw an increase for overdose deaths during the pandemic, which particularly impacted the Black community.
September 10, 2021 at 6:54 pm
A new study published on Thursday reveals a stark increase in opioid overdose deaths among Black Americans.
The study, conducted in partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, surveyed data in Kentucky, Ohio, Massachusetts and New York, and revealed that the rate of opioid deaths increased by 38% in the Black community from 2018 to 2019, NPR reports. Furthermore, the study showed that opioid-related death rates for other racial groups did not increase.
Overdose deaths among Black Americans have been primarily due to the use of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid typically laced with heroin.
At the beginning of the opioid crisis, Black Americans accounted for a lower percentage than white Americans, and that number remained steady up until 2013. During that time, researchers saw that overdose deaths began increasing in the Black community.
Dr. Edwin Chapman, internal medicine and addiction medicine specialist targeting the Black community in Washington, D.C., said the new study shows the crisis's severe impact and racial disparity.
"It points out the fact that we have to do something different, a more intensive intervention in the African American community," he said.
The authors of the study said an "antiracist public health approach" is needed to tackle the rising numbers.
During the pandemic, drug-related overdose deaths increased disproportionately in the Black community, Market Watch reports. Researchers said those numbers increased as the mounting effects of the pandemic, particularly on the Black community, revealed themselves.
While the study was conducted prior to the pandemic, according to NPR, overall drug overdoes in 2020 increased. Specifically, in Washington, D.C., the pandemic exacerbated overdose deaths.
Prior to the recent increase in opioid overdose deaths in the Black community, white Americans were more likely to be prescribed opioid painkillers in the '90s. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, told NPR that this "reflects on stigmatization against Black people that even if they have pain, physicians are not going to be as receptive to prescribing them opioids."
Other physicians have cited the lack of urgency to tackle the crisis in inner-city communities.
"It wasn't really until we saw a drug crisis affecting white communities that we started to see the resources from Congress," Dr. Andrew Kolodny, medical director for opioid policy research at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management, said.
Kolodny added that opiate addiction is "preventable and treatable," saying that the crisis needs a more direct public health response similar to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We need data we can act on. And that's not here," he said.
Since the passing of actor Michael K. Williams, police have said they are investigating his death as a possible opioid overdose, Quartz reports. The actor shared his struggle with opioid addiction.
Despite initial investigative reports, Williams' cause of death has not been confirmed.