The opioid epidemic has been heavily covered in the media, leading some to wonder if it is receiving so much attention because it predominantly affects white Americans. Recently, even we asked that question, looking into whether the just-as-prevalent cocaine epidemic among black Americans was cause for national alarm as well. 

Now, the plot has thickened.

It turns out that not only are black Americans being affected by cocaine, but that black people are no strangers to opioids.

According to Vox, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just released new data that show opioid-related deaths have increased steadily among black Americans since 2011.

When the CDC looked into deaths caused by opiods delivered via prescription painkillers, it was found that those deaths were mostly of white Americans.

Vox believes that this is because doctors have been found to prescribe painkillers less often to black people. The reason? Experts' research has shown that white doctors do so because they believe black people feel less pain and/or are more likely to resell prescription drugs on the street.

Looking only at opioid deaths caused by prescription painkillers are what caused people to miss the black deaths opioids are causing. 

When the CDC added deaths caused by heroin and fentanyl into the equation, the number of black deaths spiked, reaching 10 black deaths per 100,000 people in 2016. Taking the population of the U.S. as 350 million, that is 35,000 black lives taken by opioids in 2016.

It is believed that manufacturers of illegal drugs saw a business opportunity following a spike in opioid addiction stemming from prescription painkillers, and flooded the market with easy-to-obtain heroin, fentanyl and other non-methadone synthetic opioids.

This had a negative effect not just on those newly addicted to opioids, but some experts believe on black Americans who have been struggling with heroin for decades as well.

“Despite beating the odds for the past 40 to 50 years,” Andrew Kolodny, a Brandeis University opioid policy expert, told the New York Times, “They’re dying because the heroin supply has never been so dangerous — increasingly it’s got fentanyl in it or it’s just fentanyl sold as heroin.”

This hypothesis is supported by the age of those dying. The highest rates of death among black Americans addicted to opioids can be found among 55- to 64-year-olds, the very people the War on Drugs was originally meant to save.

Worryingly, however, the rate of death among younger black Americans is accelerating. And black overdose deaths were at an all-time high in the most recent year in which data are available, 2016. In 2014, black overdose deaths were at the same overall level as white overdose deaths.

And to compare to the cocaine epidemic we alluded to earlier: the cocaine overdose death rate among black people was 5.9 per 100,000 in 2016, but the opioid overdose death rate for black people was 10 per 100,000.

All in all, this new information proves that opioids are not a white problem or a black problem, but a human problem, and that communities of all colors need affordable, accessible options for treatment and recovery.