New studies show that the next phase of the opioid epidemic will have a larger fatal response within the Black community.
A peer-reviewed study published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found that Black Americans are now dying from drug overdoses at higher rates than white Americans. Based on drug deaths from 1999 through 2020, the research shows a surge in drug deaths that are now taking the lives of more Black people than ever before.
“Overdose rates have been growing fastest among Black communities,” Joseph Friedman, an addiction researcher at UCLA, told NPR.
“For the first time we see them overtaking the overdose rate among white individuals.”
A more toxic, illicit drug supply is credited with being the most significant factor causing the change. With Mexican drug cartels mixing the deadly substance fentanyl into many of the street drugs sold in the U.S., the Black community is feeling the brunt of the devastation.
“The illicit drug supply, the street drug supply, is becoming more and more toxic,” Friedman said.
Black people are more vulnerable to using drugs laced with fentanyl due to the community relying more on illicit drugs than their white counterparts. During the first phase of the opioid crisis, white people were dying of fatal drug overdoses at rates twice that of Black Americans when the drugs were mainly supplied through prescription pain medications.
“People who are lower down on the social hierarchy tend to be exposed to fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids at disproportionate rates,” Dr. Helena Hansen, a co-author of the report, said. “You find Black Americans are exposed to fentanyl more often than white Americans.”
The new research comes one month after a study published in the medical journal the Lancet predicted over 1.2 million more drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in the coming decade.
“As a member of the Black community and as an addiction treatment specialist … I’m terrified of that prospect, but that’s exactly what we could be facing,” Dr. Stephen Taylor with the American Society of Addiction Medicine says.
“A larger percentage of this next million [deaths] will be Black and other people of color.”
Medical researchers say the solution is to provide better healthcare and access to addiction treatment.
“All of this needs to be done with a real sense of urgency,” Taylor said.