A few months ago, medical journal Annals Journal of Medicine conducted a study which reported an increase of opioid overdose deaths among whites with a cocaine overdose death increase among black and Latinx users. Reports of the opioid epidemic have been focused on white sufferers, but now the opioid crisis is making its way to black and urban communities, according to NPR.
The Office of the Medical Examiner in Washington, D.C. has reported that overall opioid overdose deaths among black men between the ages of 40 and 69 increased a whopping 245 percent from 2014 to 2017. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the drug death rate is rising fastest among African Americans in urban areas, with a 41 percent increase in 2016.
"It's a frightening time," said Dr. Edwin Chapman, who heads the Medical Home Development Group, "Because the urban African American community is dying now at a faster rate than the epidemic in the suburbs and rural areas."
"Sometimes we'll have a cluster of folks outside selling drugs," he added. "We've had overdoses right outside, right under the building, right next door to the building."
Dr. Melissa Clarke also works with Chapman at the Medical Home Development Group, and said the culprit behind the rise among African American deaths is fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid often laced in heroin and other street drugs.
"People who've even been lifelong heroin users are dying because they don't understand how to titrate those doses," Clarke said of people who take fentanyl-laced opioids.
Chapman, who is black, said there was a racist reason that black Americans were initially less affected by the epidemic. "The theory is that African-Americans tolerate pain better. That's a myth," Chapman said. With fentanyl in street drugs, access is no longer an issue.
In order to help those addicted to opioids, Chapman prescribes Suboxone (a medication that regulates patient's cravings), and works to treat addiction as a mental disorder rather than as a moral failing.
"Had I known about the Suboxone before the methadone, I would have tried it first," said Larry Bing, a 64-year-old black man who credits the drug and Chapman with helping him to get clean.
Chapman has partnered with institutions such as Howard University and the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute in order to create awareness and decrease the stigma around the drug epidemic.
"Seventy-eight percent of the overdoses in [Washington D.C.] are African Americans," noted Chapman. "It's just that the population has been totally ignored. They are invisible."