New Report Shows Disproportionate Rise in Overdose Deaths Among Black and Native American Populations

The CDC reported on July 19 that the number of drug overdose deaths rose by 44 percent among Black people and 39 percent among non-Hispanic American Indians and Alaska Natives from 2019 to 2020.
The new report also noted that in 2020, America recorded 91,799 drug overdose deaths, which is a 30 percent increase from the previous year.

“The increase in overdose deaths and widening disparities are alarming,” declared acting CDC deputy director Debra Houry, MD, in a statement.

While the biggest increases in deaths from drug overdoses occurred in Black and Native American communities, white people experienced an unprecedented 24 percent increase during this period as well.

“Overdose deaths are preventable, and we must redouble our efforts to make overdose prevention a priority. We will continue to support and work collaboratively with communities. Providing tailored tools and resources to combat overdose and address underlying risk factors will ultimately help reduce health disparities and save lives.” said Houry.

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According to researchers, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the availability of overdose-prevention treatments and programs, likely contributing to the dramatic increase in deaths. Deaths also resulted from the illicit manufacture of fentanyl and chemically similar fentanyl analogs. It is estimated that fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

According to data from 25 states and the District of Columbia submitted to the State Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System, there is a significant disparity in overdose rates by race between older Black and White males: the rate is seven times higher among Black men in this group.

Black people aged 15 to 24 experienced the biggest increase in rates (86 percent), which was significantly higher than the rate seen in comparable groups.

American Indian and Alaska Native women 25 to 44 had almost double the overdose death rates as white women in the same age group.

The lack of income equality has also been a major factor in overdose deaths. With more income inequality, overdose deaths are more disparate, particularly for Black people, whose rate is twice as high in counties with more income inequality than in counties with less income inequality.

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“Higher availability of treatment services does not mean improved access to care,” wrote the CDC.

In spite of what may seem counterintuitive, opioid overdose rates were higher in 2020 in areas with more opioid treatment programs than in areas with fewer opioid treatment programs. “The known differences in access, barriers to care, and healthcare mistrust could play a role in exacerbating inequities even when treatment is available in the community.”

The CDC recommends consulting a doctor or calling the National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP, or seeking help through the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.

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