By Scott Blair

In 2020, overdose death rates increased by 44% for Black people compared to 2019 in the US. 

Comparatively, overdose death rates for white people rose 22%. Both are historic highs for each group. Due to COVID-19, several obstacles have also sprang up which added to the increase in overdoses; obstacles such as:

  • Access to Prevention Tools
  • Harm Reduction
  • Treatment
  • Recovery Services, Support & Resources

There’s also been a recent increase in deaths due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (IMFs).

Key findings from the CDC, show overdose death rates among Black males 65 and older were almost seven times more than 65 and older white males. The largest rate increase of disparity was in 15-24-year-old Black people. Overdose death rates increased by 86% compared to other races and age groups during the same year.

The CDC also found that substance use or abuse was common, but treatment was not. Plus, opioid overdose rates were higher in areas that offered more treatment options. The CDC found that known differences in access, barriers to care, and healthcare mistrust could play a role in exacerbating inequities even when treatment is available in the community.

Also, in counties with more income inequality, there were more disparities in overdoses and deaths. Black people were hit hardest by this scenario; the rate was two times higher due to more income inequality compared to counties with less income inequality.

CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H, said, “The increase in overdose deaths and widening disparities are alarming.” Dr. Houry said, “Overdose deaths are preventable, and we must redouble our efforts to make overdose prevention a priority. We will continue to support and work collaboratively with communities like we do with CDC’s Overdose Data to Action (OD2A). Providing tailored tools and resources to combat overdose and address underlying risk factors will ultimately help reduce health disparities and save lives.”

In 2021, the CDC found a 15% increase in overdose deaths. There was a total of 107,622 estimated overdose deaths compared to 93,655 in 2020. Opioid overdose deaths went from 70,029 in 2020 to 80,816 in 2021.

Steps are being taken to tackle the overdose crisis we are in.

Solutions to the Overdose Crisis 

The CDC offers four ways to address the ongoing overdose crisis:

Improve opioid prescribing

Improving how opioids are prescribed to make sure clients receive safer, and more effective care while preventing misuse of opioids. 

Reduce exposure to opioids

Limiting a patient’s exposure with prescription opioids in situations where the risks of the drug outweigh the benefits. 

Prevent misuse

Preventing misuse can be done in a number of ways: drug monitoring programs, quality improvement programs, improved awareness around the risks that come with opioids, academic detailing and formulary management strategies (which manage the cost and use of clinical drugs).

Treat opioid use disorder

This involves expanding access to evidence based treatments and Medication Assisted Therapy (MAT), which combines the use of medication to tackle the patients needs with behavioral therapy and counseling. 

Recognizing Opioid Overdose

These are the signs someone may be experiencing an overdose:

  • Passing out/falling asleep
  • Shallow, slow breathing
  • Small Pupils
  • Choking/gurgling noises
  • Pale, cold or blue skin
  • Limp body

If you or someone you know struggles with substance use disorder, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at 1-800-662-HELP