CDC study reveals overdose death rates surged among minorities in 2020

Illicitly manufactured fentanyl led to a significant rise in overdose deaths for Black, American Indian and Alaska Native people during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC study analyzed data from 25 states and the District of Columbia and found that in 2020, overdose death rates increased 44% for Black people, and 39% for American Indians and Alaska Natives compared to 2019.

Overdose death rates for white people also rose 22%, which the CDC called a “historic high.”

The health agency attributed the surge in overdose deaths to illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.

“Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, disruption in access to prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services has likely contributed to this growth in overdose deaths,” the CDC said in a news release.

The study also found that in 2020, the overdose death rate among Black men over age 65 was almost seven times that of white men in the same age group, and that Black people between the ages of 15 and 24 experienced a staggering 86% rate increase in overdose deaths, the largest increase among any other age and race groups between 2019 and 2020.

Additionally, the overdose death rates for American Indian and Alaska Native women between the ages of 25 and 44 was nearly double that of white women for the same age group.

The report also analyzed drug overdose death rates by treatment access and income inequality, which showed the disparities between different population groups. For instance, only one in 10 American Indian, Alaska Native and Hispanic people received substance use treatment. The rate was even lower for Black people, where only one in 12 received treatment, the study revealed.

In 2020, opioid overdose rates were higher in areas with higher availability of opioid treatment programs, compared to areas with lower treatment availability, particularly among Black, American Indian and Alaska Native people, indicating that availability of treatment services does not necessarily equate to improved access to care.

“The known differences in access, barriers to care, and healthcare mistrust could play a role in exacerbating inequities even when treatment is available in the community,” the study found.

According to the study, in counties where there was higher rates of income inequality, there were greater disparities in overdose deaths, particularly among Black people. In counties with the lowest income inequality, overdose death rates were highest among American Indian and Alaska Native people.

“The increase in overdose deaths and widening disparities are alarming,” said Dr. Debra Houry, CDC acting principal deputy director in a statement. “Overdose deaths are preventable, and we must redouble our efforts to make overdose prevention a priority. Providing tailored tools and resources to combat overdose and address underlying risk factors will ultimately help reduce health disparities and save lives.”

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