The fatal overdose rate among Blacks exceeded that for whites in the first year of the pandemic, as an increasingly lethal drug supply and COVID-19’s destabilizing effects exacted a heavy toll on vulnerable communities, reports the Wall Street Journal. The spread of the potent opioid fentanyl, and a pandemic that has added hazards for drug users are contributing to new records in overdose deaths. Black communities have been hit hard. Black people may have uneven access to health care, including drug treatment, putting them at high risk.
The most recent full-year of federal data, through 2020, shows the rate of drug deaths among Blacks eclipsed the rate in the white population for the first time since 1999, say researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles. The gap in overdose rates between the Black and white populations was narrowing before the pandemic. There were more than 15,200 overdoses among Blacks in 2020, more than double the number four years earlier. The toll represents nearly 37 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 Black people that year, UCLA researchers found, trailing only the death rate in the significantly smaller American Indian or Alaska Native population. The researchers said the findings show the need to close gaps in access to treatment and harm-reduction services. They said ending routine incarceration of drug users could help prevent fatal overdoses among people after they leave prison.