Opioid addiction and overdoses are increasingly harming Black communities. Opioids are being prescribed at a growing rate to treat pain, especially in the Black community where we have higher rates of chronic illnesses and are often under-treated by doctors. To make matters worse, it’s harder for Black patients to get the help they need from doctors, clinics, and recovery programs that can address our specific needs due to systemic racism . As a result, Black communities are dying from opioid overdoses at an alarming rate.
A brief history of the crisis
The current opioid crisis began in the early 1990s when painkillers became more widely prescribed by doctors. This led to a dramatic increase in overdoses and addiction, particularly among white communities. However, in recent years, the crisis has begun to hit Black communities hard as well. In fact, according to one study, African Americans are twice as likely to die from an opioid overdose than whites.
The role racism plays in what’s happening today
It’s no secret that racism plays a role in our society. But what many people don’t realize is that racism can have a very real and harmful impact on our health. Studies have shown that minorities are more likely to be prescribed opioids, and are more likely to suffer from pain. And while black people make up only 13 percent of the population, we account for almost half of all opioid-related deaths.
Why more people in black neighborhoods aren’t getting help
There’s no easy answer to why more people in black neighborhoods aren’t getting help for their opioid addiction. One reason may be that these communities are already underserved by the healthcare system. In addition, stigma around addiction may prevent people from seeking help. There may also be a lack of awareness about available resources. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that something needs to change. Black lives are being lost to this epidemic, and we can’t afford to wait any longer for help.
Due to a variety of factors, communities in urban areas are often already underserved by healthcare providers. This means people may not have access to treatment options like medication-assisted treatment (MAT), which uses medications like methadone or buprenorphine to help treat opioid dependency. In many places, it’s also difficult for these people to get naloxone, a lifesaving medication that can reverse an overdose. These barriers are further exacerbated by other issues that impact black communities more broadly. For example, there’s significant stigma surrounding addiction and thus fewer people may feel comfortable talking about their dependency or getting treatment for it.
How opiate misuse affects black people differently
In the United States, Black people are 2.5 times more likely to die from an opioid overdose than white people. This is despite the fact that we make up just 13% of the population.
This number is shocking by itself, but when you break it down by type of opiate it’s even more devastating. Deaths caused by heroin are five times higher in African-Americans than white people, while deaths caused by synthetic opioids (otherwise known as fentanyl) are twice as high. Both these rates have been increasing over time. If we do not improve our treatment for opioid abuse we will continue to see Black deaths increase as a result. In fact, just last month (September 2018), overdoses among black Americans increased 30% compared to September 2017 figures.
What we can do about it
Black communities are being ravaged by opioid addiction and overdoses, yet we receive little attention or help. The War on Drugs has been a failure, criminalizing addicts instead of providing them with the resources they need to recover. Our government needs to invest in rehabilitation and harm reduction programs, as well as education to prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place. We also need to end the stigma around addiction, which prevents many people from seeking help. Only then can we begin to turn the tide on this epidemic.