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The Opioid Crisis & Black Men: A Tragic Shift


black man listening to music

A deeper look into why the overdose rates in Black men, and Black communities, are drastically increasing.

  • The rate of Black Americans dying from overdoses is increasing at a rate higher than any other group.

  • From 2019 - 2020, Black deaths have increased by 44%.

  • Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl accounted for 6 out of 10 fatal overdoses in 2020.

  • Rise of overdose deaths is due to lack of access to healthcare and medications, racial bias, location, and income inequality.

  • To make a change, healthcare resources and outreach programs need to become more accessible to these communities, while also eliminating the negative stigma surrounding substance use.

As the opioid crisis continues to take a deadly toll on communities nationwide, some demographics are seeing higher rates of fatal overdoses than others. The highest of the groups is Black men. In fact, in 2020, there were 54.1 fatal overdoses for every 100,000 Black men nationwide. This increased risk for Black men is a recent change, as in 2015 Black men were actually considered less likely than White men and other racial and ethnic groups to die of drug misuse. Since then, the death rate among Black men has more than tripled.


“In 2020, there were 54.1 fatal overdoses for every 100,000 black men nationwide.”
CDC infographic race ethnicity

From 2019 - 2020, Black deaths have increased by 44%. In comparison, deaths among White people only rose 22%. More specifically, overdose deaths among Black males 65 and older were 7 times that of White males in the same age group. The CDC confirms that no other demographic is seeing a higher rise in death than Black Americans. From 2019 - 2020, black overdose deaths have increased by 44%.


Fentanyl and Fake Pills


Many factors are contributing to the worsening opioid crisis, including the COVID-19 pandemic, but a large factor is the manufacturing and spread of illicit drugs. In 2020, 6 in 10 fatal opioid overdoses involved synthetic, or fake, opioids like fentanyl. In addition to synthetic opioids, other toxic drugs such as animal tranquilizers (Xylazine) have also been added to the mix, making drugs deadlier than ever.


“In 2020, 6 in 10 fatal opioid overdoses involved synthetic, or fake, opioids like fentanyl.”

Fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are often added to drugs without users knowing, making them even more deadly. When people become addicted to opioids and are no longer being prescribed them, they often turn to the streets or social media for their supply, increasing their chances of being exposed to potentially lethal drugs.


However, there are other factors contributing to the increase of death rates in Black men and Black communities specifically. Research shows that Black communities may not be receiving the treatment resources needed, including healthcare and life-saving medication.


Healthcare & Income Inequality


Due to location and availability, Black communities do not have as much access to substance use treatment. Many believe there is a racial bias in some providers that might stop them from offering treatment or prescribing medication to Black men and other community members. Location also plays a part, as some providers do not service majority Black communities.


One medication commonly prescribed to people with substance use disorders, called buprenorphine, can help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms of drugs. While this medication is very common, research shows that it is not readily available to all Black communities. In fact, from 2012- 2015, there was no increase in buprenorphine being prescribed in Black communities, while White patients were 35% more likely to be prescribed it.

“Racial and ethnic minorities groups are the least likely to receive treatment and support for substance use.”

Overall, racial and ethnic minority groups are the least likely to receive treatment and support for substance use. Studies show that out of Black Americans who had fatally overdosed, only 1 in 12 showed signs of previous treatment.


Income inequality also has an impact on Black communities. Areas with a larger income inequality saw the highest rise of overdose deaths. It can lead to poor housing, unreliable transportation, and lack of health care, making it hard for some to receive treatment.


“Income Inequality can lead to poor housing, unreliable transportation, and lack of health care, making it hard for some to receive substance use treatment.”

Inspiring Change


To help these communities, healthcare and resources need to become more accessible to them. Outreach programs need to educate on the dangers of opioids, fentanyl, and illicit pills to increase awareness.


  • Increase access to healthcare and eliminate bias. Make sure treatment is available to everyone with a substance use disorder

  • Raise awareness around illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fake pills

  • Eliminate the stigma surrounding treatment, recovery, and harm reduction

  • Make sure all communities have access to Naloxone and other life-saving means such as fentanyl test strips, and education on how to use it.

Resources

Here are some websites that have a variety of mental health resources specifically for the black community.

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