By Sharetta McLaughlin
- Overdose rates increased by 44% for Black Americans, and those rates are only going up
- The opioid crisis costs the U.S. economy $92B in lost productivity
The opioid crisis in America has become an increasing concern over the last 10 years. Now, the CDC found that for the first time in two decades, more Black Americans are dying from opioid overdoses than their white counterparts. Young Black people between the ages of 15 and 24 saw an 86% increase in opioid death rate in 2020.
Why This Matters: Last year, CVS and Walgreens announced agreements to pay about $5 billion each to settle lawsuits nationwide over the toll of opioids. This crisis has cost the U.S. economy $92 billion in lost productivity, $35 billion in healthcare costs, and $14.8 billion in criminal justice costs. Additionally, Walgreens is compensating New Mexico with $500M for its role in the opioid crisis. Specifically, deaths caused by opiods in the Black community have increased by 44%.
There have been waves of the opioid crisis since the 1970’s. Heroin and other drugs were pumped into the black community in an attempt to quell the Black Power era. In the 80s, crack was flooded into the ghettos to fuel the war on drugs which happened to coincide with the eruption of hip hop. Fast forward to the 2000s and now, many pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy chains are now paying the price through huge monetary settlements for their role in the opioid crisis.
During the pandemic, there was a drop in the usage of prescription opioids which seems to only affect new users and not those who have been previously prescribed opioids. There has been a rapid infiltration of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl into the Black community. It is also believed that due to the unequal access to treatment, the opioid epidemic has proliferated in the Black community.
Black Americans have a mistrust of the healthcare and judicial systems, with good cause. Campaigns, such as “The War on Drugs”, have caused Black Americans to be persecuted for being not only the dealer, but the user. Also, the extensive history of experimentation and misuse of Black bodies in healthcare have caused the Black community to be wary of anyone trying to “help us get better or ahead”.
With this in mind, Black Americans are more reluctant to seek medical treatment fearing that they will be criminalized or mistreated if they do so. Race plays a role in who receives medication and treatment for addiction. Helena Hansen, a professor of psychiatry and anthropology stated that “…they (Black and brown people) do not have the same access to the lifesaving interventions involving treatments, harm reductions, that the white communities have now taken advantage of.”
What’s Next: Deaths from opioid overdoses are highest in areas with the least amount of access to mental health and recovery treatment centers for Black Americans. This means that the stigma associated with seeking treatment related to opioid abuse needs to be reduced. Along with community based programs that targets highlighting the dangers of opioid abuse and resources for doing harm, a difference can be made. Everyone must be involved, if not, the opioid death toll in the Black community may get worse.
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