It's Not Just White People: Heroin Overdose Deaths Have Tripled Among African-Americans

Data refutes the myth that the opioid epidemic is largely a problem among whites.

WASHINGTON -- There are very few places in the United States not affected by the opioid epidemic. Across the country, there have been spikes in overdose deaths and treatment facilities overwhelmed with demand. Although whites have been most acutely affected, the epidemic is also hitting the African-American community hard.

Frontline reports that among African-Americans, heroin overdose death rates increased by more than 200 percent between 2010 and 2014. Among Hispanic and Latino residents, fatal overdose deaths have increased during that time period by 137 percent. Native American opioid deaths jumped 236 percent, while death rates among whites have increased by 267 percent.

But African-Americans, as a result of structural racism, may not be transitioning to heroin from prescription painkillers, Frontline reported:

The heroin epidemic in the African-American community is distinct for another reason, in that they’re less likely to come to the drug through opioids. Multiple studies have shown that doctors are less likely to prescribe opioid painkillers to blacks than whites, even young children, for the same ailments.

Even when they do get a prescription, blacks in low-income neighborhoods can struggle to find a pharmacy that has the opioids on hand to fill it. “There’s a well-known phenomenon that there’s less opioids available in segregated minority communities,” said Dr. Compton of the NIH. “You can’t find them in the pharmacies. There’s less medical access.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported similar data in late 2014, noting “death rates increased significantly for both sexes, all age groups, all census regions, and all racial/ethnic groups other than American Indians/Alaska Natives.”

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