The rapid rise in overdoses during the pandemic reflected widening racial disparities

The pandemic’s devastating impact on drug overdose deaths in the United States has hit people of color hardest, with rates among young blacks rising most sharply, according to federal report which was released on Tuesday and analyzed overdose data by race, age and income.

Overall, overdose deaths jumped 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mortality among blacks rose 44 percent, about twice as high as whites (22 percent) or Hispanics (21 percent). Mortality among American Indians and Alaska Natives increased by 39 percent.

In 2020, the death rate for blacks as a percentage of the population was higher than for any other racial or ethnic group: 39 per 100,000 compared to 31 for whites, 36 for American Indians and Alaska Natives, and 21 for Hispanics. .

“The disproportionate increase in overdose deaths among Blacks, American Indians, and Alaska Natives may be partly due to health inequities, such as unequal access to drug addiction treatment and treatment bias,” Dr. Debra Hori, Acting Chief Associate Director of the CDC

Racial differences were based on data from Washington DC and the 25 states that completed the analysis. The study included data from several states where overdose deaths on the rise, such as Georgia, Kentucky, and Maine, but not from others with high rates, such as Florida, New York, and Michigan. However, the CDC researchers said the trends they saw in the data reflected statistical racial spikes across the country.

Across the country, overdose deaths have continued to rise since 2020, although speed has slowed down a bit..

The impact on different races is even more striking when age is taken into account. In 2020, the overdose death rate among men aged 65 and over was nearly seven times higher for black men than for white men. Among blacks aged 15 to 24, overdose deaths rose 86 percent from 2019 to 2020.

The authors of the study said the cause of death was mostly illicitly produced fentanyl, with some caused by combining other drugs with opioids such as methamphetamine and cocaine.

The pandemic has exacerbated the spiral, the authors say. As young and old people were isolated from social services, peers, families and treatment centers, not to mention falling incomes for many, drugs became a distraction and a consolation.

The results showed a dramatic improvement in the racial divide regarding access to substance abuse treatment. Although the data showed that treatment was rare among those who died, the proportion of people receiving treatment for substance abuse was the lowest among blacks (8.3 percent), or about half that of white people who sought treatment and later died. .

The report says that income inequality has also widened the gap.

Perhaps surprisingly, the report found that overdose death rates were generally higher in counties with more treatment services and mental health providers. Again, influence varied by race. For example, among American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Blacks, the 2020 rate in counties with at least one opioid treatment program was more than twice as high as in counties with no such services.

Among counties with relatively more treatment options than others, the overdose death rate increased by 49 percent among blacks from 2019 to 2020 compared to 19 percent among whites.

“Just because services are available doesn’t mean those services are actually available,” said Mbabazi Kariisa, the report’s lead author and medical scientist with the CDC’s Overdose Prevention Unit. She noted that limited transportation and insurance options could be problematic. In addition, she said, fear of stigma and a pervasive distrust of the health care system could also be significant factors.

The report also notes that in geographically large counties, the treatment center may be located in a densely populated center, making access difficult for residents in remote areas. But it’s hard to determine a causal relationship between having a clinic and mortality rates: a county with high rates of drug abuse and overdose deaths may simply be more likely to have a clinic.