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Opioid Overdose Deaths Have Increased Among Black Americans, Study Reveals

A new study published on Thursday reveals a stark increase in opioid overdose deaths among Black Americans.

The study, conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, surveyed data in Kentucky, Ohio, Massachusetts and New York, revealing opioid deaths increased by 38% in the Black community from 2018 to 2019, NPR reported. Furthermore, the study showed that opioid-related deaths 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 in heroin.

At the beginning of the opioid crisis, Black Americans had a lower percentage than white people, 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’ 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 reported. 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. Doctors say 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 reported. The actor shared his struggle with opioid addiction.

Despite initial investigative reports, Williams’ cause of death has not been confirmed.

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