Opioid overdose-related death rates among African-Americans is increasing relative to those of white Americans according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health .
Once a problem that affected primarily white Americans, now the opioid crisis affects largely communities in color.
Using state death certificate data across the four states of Kentucky, Ohio, Massachusetts and New York, researchers found a 38 percent increase in opioid overdose-related deaths among African-Americans between 2018 and 2019, and no increase for other ethnic groups. According to the authors, an antiracist public-health approach is necessary to address the opioid crisis. “
Adam J. Milam (Ph.D.), a Cleveland Clinic cardiothoracic anesthesiology Fellow and the author of another study on racial disparities among opioid-related deaths, 1999 to 2018,, attributes this growing disparity to structural racism, implicit bias from medical providers, as well as the inability to provide medication-assisted treatment to African-Americans suffering from substance abuse disorders. Several studies have shown that African Americans are less likely than white Americans to receive medication-assisted treatment of opioid-related substance abuse disorder.
“We know Black Americans are less well-treated for pain,” Dr. Milam said, referring to a 2020 study published in the Substance Abuse . journal. “When they were prescribed opioids, they were less likely to be prescribed naloxone,” Dr. Milam adds, which is an often life-saving drug to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose.
Dr. Milam’s research also revealed a significant misclassification in Black opioid-related deaths, from 1999 and 2013,. This meant that many deaths could not be attributed to specific opioids like methadone or prescription opioids. Dr. Milam says that it is essential to identify the source of deaths in order to develop effective prevention and intervention programs. It’s difficult to know how to stop deaths if we don’t know the source. “
How can we stop this disparity going further? Dr. Milam recommended the following: Methadone clinics, increased Suboxone (both opioid addiction treatment drugs), available in communities of color; improved pain treatment; and access to mental health resources to prevent the onset of substance abuse disorders.
Taylyn Washington-Harmon Taylyn Washington-Harmon is the Health Editor at Men’s Health, with previous bylines at Health Magazine, SELF, and STAT.
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