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Soaring Overdose Rates within the Pandemic Reflected Widening Racial Disparities

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The pandemic’s devastating impact on drug overdose deaths in the US hit people of color the toughest, with rates amongst young Black people rising probably the most sharply, in keeping with a federal report that was released on Tuesday and that analyzed overdose data by race, age and income.

Overall, overdose deaths jumped 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Deaths amongst Black people rose 44 percent, about twice the rise in deaths amongst white people (22 percent) or Hispanic people (21 percent). Deaths amongst American Indians and Alaska Natives increased 39 percent.

Measured as a portion of the population, in 2020, deaths amongst Black people were higher than in some other racial or ethnic group — 39 per 100,000, compared with 31 for white people, 36 for American Indian and Alaska Native people and 21 for Hispanic people.

“The disproportionate increase in overdose death rates amongst Blacks and American Indian and Alaska Native people may partly be because of health inequities, like unequal access to substance use treatment and treatment biases,” said Dr. Debra Houry, acting principal deputy director of the C.D.C.

The racial breakouts were based on data from Washington, D.C., and 25 states that had accomplished analyses. The study included data from some states where overdose death rates rose, resembling Georgia, Kentucky and Maine, but not from others with high rates, like Florida, Latest York and Michigan. C.D.C. researchers said that, nonetheless, the trends they saw on this data mirrored statistical racial breakouts across the country.

Nationwide, overdose deaths have continued to rise since 2020, although the speed has slowed somewhat.

The impact on different races became much more striking when age was factored in. In 2020, the death rate from overdoses in men 65 and older was nearly seven times greater for Black men than for white men. In Black people ages 15 to 24, the overdose death rate rose 86 percent from 2019 to 2020.

Authors of the study said the deaths were driven largely by illicitly produced fentanyl, with some triggered by the mixture of other drugs with the opioids, resembling methamphetamine and cocaine.

The pandemic exacerbated the spiral, the authors said. With people young and old isolated from social services, peers, family and treatment centers, to say nothing of a drop in income for a lot of, drugs became a distraction and a solace.

The outcomes showed in harsh relief the racial divide with respect to access to treatment for substance abuse. Although the info showed that treatment was sparse amongst all those that died, the portion of people that had received treatment for substance abuse was smallest amongst Black people (8.3 percent), or about half that of white individuals who had sought treatment and later died.

Income inequality also deepened that chasm, the report said.

Perhaps surprisingly, the report said that overdose death rates generally were higher in counties with more treatment services and mental health care providers. Again, the impact varied in keeping with race. Amongst American Indian and Alaska Native people and Black people, for instance, the speed in 2020 in counties with no less than one opioid treatment program was greater than twice that in counties that lacked such services.

Amongst counties with comparatively more treatment options than others, overdose death rates from 2019 to 2020 increased 49 percent amongst Black people, compared with 19 percent amongst white people.

“Simply because there’s the supply of services doesn’t mean that those services are literally accessible,” said Mbabazi Kariisa, the lead writer of the report and a health scientist with the Division of Overdose Prevention on the C.D.C. She noted that limited transportation and insurance options may very well be problematic. As well as, she said, fear of being stigmatized and a pervasive mistrust of the health care system may be significant aspects.

The report also noted that in counties that were geographically large, a treatment center could be situated in a dense population center, which might make access difficult for those in far-flung areas. But it surely is difficult to pinpoint a causal relationship between the presence of a clinic and death rates: A county with high rates of drug abuse and overdose deaths might simply be more prone to have a clinic.

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