An increasing number of Black people in America are dying from opioid overdose deaths, compared with their white peers, a new study has found, suggesting the need for a more pointed “antiracist public health approach” to the crisis.
The rate of opioid overdose deaths has been climbing faster for African-Americans than other groups, a study from the National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found, in findings published on Thursday.
The project examined data and death certificates from four states — Kentucky, Ohio, Massachusetts, and New York — and then broke down the racial makeup therein.
The findings run against the popular idea of the opioid crisis, often portrayed as hitting white communities particularly hard.
The reasons for the disparity, according to the study’s authors, are diverse. Because of stigmas and a lack of access to healthcare, Black people are both less likely to be prescribed opioids in the first place for their pain, and less likely to get life-saving addiction treatment once they develop difficulties with the drugs.
“If you are Black American and you have an opioid use disorder, you are much less likely to be prescribed medications for opioid use disorder,” Dr Nora Volko, head of NIDA , told NPR. “That’s discrimination.”
The study uses data from before the Covid crisis began, though preliminary data suggests drug overdoses increased overall last year.
The opioid crisis first began to spread in the 1990s, when largely white communities were prescribed an abundance of legal painkillers. As the crisis came to public attention and legal opioids became harder to come by, the main driver of deaths became heroin, which could be purchased on the street. Most recently fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, has begun driving deaths.
Fentanyl was the main driver of opioid overdose deaths for Black Americans, according to the study.
In July, President Joe Biden signed two bills related to the opioid crisis. One piece of legislation, the Dispose Unused Medications and Prescription Opioids Act (DUMP) directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to make it easier for patients to dispose of controlled substances. The other, the Major Medical Facility Authorization Act of 2021, allocates more than $2 billion to for a variety of VA medical centres, many of which help current and former soldiers with opioid abuse treatment.