Drug overdose deaths in the United States rose sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching record levels in 2021. But the burden on different racial and ethnic groups has shifted, according to a study by federal researchers published Tuesday in Open JAMA Network.
For people ages 15 to 34, whites had the highest rate of overdose deaths in 2018. But between 2018 and 2021, rates rose faster among other racial and ethnic groups. By 2021, American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest rate of overdose deaths in this age group.
For those ages 35 to 64, American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest rate of overdose deaths in 2018. But by 2021, rates among black men had surpassed those of American Indian men.
In 2021, overdose death rates among black men ages 35 to 64 were higher than any other demographic group. Fentanyl-related deaths nearly tripled for this group between 2018 and 2021.
For this study, federal researchers analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System. They compared semi-annual drug overdose deaths between the months of March and August for 2018, 2020 and 2021.
The study’s findings “underscore the urgency of expanding prevention, treatment, and harm reduction interventions tailored to specific populations, especially American Indian/Alaska Native and Black populations, given long-standing structural racism and inequalities in access to these services,” the researchers wrote.
“The findings also suggest an urgent need for education about the dangers of methamphetamine and fentanyl. Reducing disparities in overdose mortality 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 US exceeded 100,000 for the first year, according to the CDC, and increased another 15% in 2021.
Drug overdose deaths continue to rise, CDC says latest provisional data showing that more than 109,000 people died from drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending March 2022.
The most recent data marks a 44% jump from before the covid pandemic: around 76,000 deaths were reported in the 12-month period ending March 2020.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were involved in more than two-thirds of overdose deaths in the year ending March 2022. Synthetic opioid-related deaths increased by a staggering 80% in the past two years, according to CDC data show.
Relative to the state population, overdose death rates were by far the highest in West Virginia, with 83 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents. Seven states had fewer than 20 deaths per 100,000 people: Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, New York, Texas, North Dakota and Montana.