Drug overdose deaths in the United States increased sharply throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, reaching record levels 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 ages 15 to 34, White people had the highest rate of overdose deaths in 2018. But between 2018 and 2021, rates increased faster among other racial and ethnic groups. By 2021, American Indian and Alaska Native people had the highest rate of overdose deaths in this age group.
For those ages 35 to 64, American Indian and Alaska Native people 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. Deaths involving fentanyl nearly tripled for this group between 2018 and 2021.
For this study, federal researchers analyzed data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System. They compared semiannual drug overdose deaths between the months of March to 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 or Alaska Native and Black populations, given long-standing structural racism and inequities in accessing these services,” the researchers wrote.
“Findings also suggest the urgent need for education on dangers of methamphetamine and fentanyl. Reducing overdose mortality disparities may include expanding access to naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and treatments for substance use disorders to disproportionately affected populations.”
In 2020, drug overdose deaths in the US topped 100,000 for the first year ever, according to the CDC, and they jumped another 15% in 2021.
Drug overdose deaths continue to rise, with the CDC’s latest provisional data showing that more than 109,000 people died of a drug overdose in the 12-month period ending March 2022.
The latest data marks a 44% jump from before the Covid pandemic – there were about 76,000 deaths 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. Deaths involving synthetic opioids increased by a staggering 80% over the past two years, CDC data shows.
Relative to state population, rates of overdose deaths were by far the highest in West Virginia, with 83 overdose deaths for every 100,000 residents. In seven states, there were fewer than 20 deaths for every 100,000 residents: Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, New York, Texas, North Dakota and Montana.