In the United States, drug overdose deaths have risen sharply throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, reaching record highs in 2021. But the burden on different racial and ethnic groups has changed, according to a study by federal researchers published Tuesday in JAMA Network Open.
For people aged 15 to 34, white people had the highest rate of overdose deaths in 2018. But between 2018 and 2021, rates rose faster among other racial and ethnic groups. In 2021, Native Americans and Alaska Natives had the highest rate of overdose deaths in this age group.
For people ages 35 to 64, Native Americans and Alaska Natives had the highest rate of overdose deaths in 2018. But by 2021, rates among black men had surpassed those of Native American men.
In 2021, overdose death rates among black men between the ages of 35 and 64 were higher than any other demographic group. Deaths involving fentanyl nearly tripled for this group between 2018 and 2021.
For this study, federal researchers analyzed data from the National Vital Statistics System of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They compared semi-annual drug overdose deaths between March and August for 2018, 2020 and 2021.
The study findings “underscore the urgency of expanding prevention, treatment, and harm reduction interventions tailored to specific populations, particularly Native American or Alaska Native and Black populations, given the racism long-standing structural and inequities in access to these services,” the researchers wrote.
“The findings also suggest the urgent need for education about the dangers of methamphetamine and fentanyl. Reducing overdose mortality disparities may include expanding access to naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and substance use disorder treatments to disproportionately affected populations.
In 2020, drug overdose deaths in the United States exceeded 100,000 for the first year, according to the CDC, and they jumped another 15% in 2021.
Drug overdose deaths continue to rise, with the CDC’s latest interim data showing more than 109,000 people died of drug overdoses in the 12 months ending March 2022.
The latest data marks a 44% jump from before the Covid pandemic – there were around 76,000 deaths reported in the 12 months to March 2020.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were implicated in more than two-thirds of overdose deaths in the year ending March 2022. Deaths involving synthetic opioids have increased by 80% over the past two years , according to CDC data.
Relative to the state’s population, overdose death rates were by far the highest in West Virginia, with 83 overdose deaths per 100,000 population. Seven states had fewer than 20 deaths per 100,000 people: Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, New York, Texas, North Dakota and Montana.