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THE OPIOID CRISIS AND THE AFRICAN AMERICAN POPULATION: AN URGENT ISSUE

(by Dwain Berry)

Note: The content below is excerpted from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, accessed May 24, 2021 from:

https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/SAMHSA_Digital_Download/PEP20-05-02-001_508%20Final.pdf

The current opioid epidemic is one of the largest drug epidemics recorded in U.S. history for all racial and ethnic groups.

With approximately 130 people dying each day due to an opioid-related overdose, this epidemic has garnered nation-wide attention, generated significant federal and state funding for prevention, treatment, and recovery and shaped the priorities of many local communities.

Attention to this epidemic has focused primarily on White suburban and rural communities. Less attention has focused on Black/African American communities which are similarly experiencing dramatic increases in opioid misuse and overdose deaths.

The rate of increase of Black/African American drug overdose deaths between 2015-2016 was 40 percent compared to the overall population increase at 21 percent.

This exceeded all other racial and ethnic population groups in the U.S.

From 2011-2016, compared to all other populations, African Americans had the highest increase in overdose death rate for opioid deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.

Three decades ago, when opioids and crack cocaine were devastating African American communities, the national response was “The War on Drugs.”

This resulted in widespread incarceration of drug users and disruption of primarily /African American families and communities.

This population was criminalized for drug-related offenses at much higher rates than White Americans and this has had lasting effects through the present day.

In 2017, though African Americans represented 12 percent of the U.S. adult population they made up a third of the sentenced prison population.

In 2012, they accounted for 38 percent of the sentenced prison population in the U.S. and 39 percent of the population incarcerated for drug-related offenses.

Today, the response to the drug epidemic is framed as an urgent public health issue. Substance use disorders (SUDs) and addiction are now viewed as a health condition, a disease that needs to be prevented and treated, and where recovery is possible with appropriate services and supports.