Experts Say More Black Americans Are Dying From Fentanyl Overdoses

Experts Say More Black Americans Are Dying From Fentanyl Overdoses

Experts say that as the opioid crisis looms on, fentanyl-related deaths are on the rise within Black communities.

The CDC found that Black drug users have started to surpass whites in deaths from drug overdoses in most U.S. states, People reports. An analysis saw Black drug-related deaths rise by 55% in 2020 while whites only saw an increase of 35%.

UCLA addiction researcher Joseph Friedman credits the increase to heroin in street drugs being transitioned into fentanyl, a form of heroin that is cheaper and easier to produce and transport.

“They are also more dangerous, and their market takeover has led to a huge increase in overdoses. As early as 2018, Black communities were more affected [by fentanyl] than white communities,” Friedman said.

The researcher and co-author of an American Journal of Psychiatry study that looked into the drug mortality rates by race and ethnicity also credits racial discrimination for the increase in Black drug-related deaths.

Citing racial disparities in access to healthcare, treatment centers, and poor access to addiction specialists, Friedman says the opioid crisis disproportionately impacts those from underrepresented minority backgrounds.

“I knew 11 people who passed last year, and five so far this year. They were all African Americans,” Desilynn Smith, clinical director at Gateway to Change, a behavioral health substance abuse treatment center in Milwaukee, said.

Smith touched on the importance of diversity among mental health specialists, considering the sensitivity of seeking addiction treatment.

“African American [drug use] looks different, so a therapist has to understand this,” Smith said.

“And we all want to see someone like us when we are dealing with something like addiction in the beginning until we build trust up. But every door that I go to knock on, no one looks like me.”

Smith, who lost her husband Hamid Abd-Al-Jabbar, 51, in February 2021 to a drug overdose, admitted the “shame” she felt opening up about the cause of his death.

“Shame and addiction go hand in hand with us. It’s not ok to be not ok,” she said.

In 2021, African Americans made up at least 45% of the drug fatalities in Milwaukee County.

“The numbers are astronomical,” Smith added. “It has hit home hard.”