Black overdose deaths surpass white deaths for 1st time in 20 years: 4 study findings

The overdose mortality rate among Black Americans in 2020 was higher than that of white Americans for the first time since 1999, according to a March 2 research letter published in JAMA Psychiatry

"Although the overdose crisis has often been represented as a 'white problem,' that has never been further from the truth," said Joseph Friedman, study author and MD-PhD candidate at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles. Mr. Friedman told NPR a big factor leading to higher overdose deaths among Black people is the increasing ubiquity of fentanyl in the illicit drug supply. 

Federal researchers in November reported more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses in the 12-month period that ended in April 2021. This marked the first time the nation's overdose deaths topped 100,000 in a year. 

Mr. Friedman and study co-author Helena Hansen, MD, PhD, a psychiatrist-anthropologist at UCLA, used CDC data on drug deaths from the last 20 years to calculate overdose deaths per 100,000 population by race and ethnicity. 

Four findings: 

1. Overdose death rates rose from 24.7 per 100,000 among Black Americans in 2019 to 36.8 in 2020, 16 percent higher than the rate for white Americans. 

2. The percentage increase in overdose deaths from 2019-2020 among Black Americans was nearly 49 percent, the largest percentage increase among the populations studied. This figure was 26 percent among white Americans. 

3. American Indian or Alaskan Native individuals saw the highest overdose mortality rate in 2020 at 41.4 per 100,000. 

4. Overdose death rates among Hispanic individuals in 2020 were lowest among the groups assessed at 17.3 per 100,000, though this group also saw a significant increase in overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020 at 40 percent. 

To view the full study, click here.

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