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Black American drug overdose deaths double of white Americans, new CDC report says

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A shocking new report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the number of drug overdose deaths hit a historic high in 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic wiped out all progress made in 2019.

While deaths across all groups showed record numbers in 2020, some populations were hit harder than others. 

The agency gathered data from 25 states on their drug overdose death rates in 2020. Compared to 2019, the number of white Americans increased by 22%. American Indian and Alaska Native rates rose by 39%. Black Americans deaths increased by a whopping 44%.

News 8 spoke with Dr. Jerome Adams, the WISH-TV medical expert and a former U.S. surgeon general, who says there are several reasons why. 

“It’s not one thing,” he said. “We know in some cases it’s due to increased cases overall in populations due to stress of the pandemic and increased stress in financial pressures, etc. We also know that fentanyl is really driving this increase, the availability with and without people’s knowledge.”

Adams says it gets more complicated in the Black community. The rate increase was double that of white Americans. But why the enormous gap?

“They feel that some of the increase particularly in Black and brown communities is in populations who aren’t aware that they may be getting an opioid. For example, many white populations who are used to using heroin are at least aware of the risk of overdose and know they are injecting a narcotic where overdose is a possibility. So, if it’s fentanyl-tainted, they may be able to respond because that’s something that can happen with fentanyl.”

Adams also says people in Black communities are turning more to cocaine than heroin not knowing the drug may be tainted with fentanyl mixed in by dealers. Because it’s cocaine, this group isn’t used to being in situations with the prospect of an overdose. It’s unlikely they will be equipped with naloxone, a life-saving medication that can treat an overdose.

These drugs are nothing to play with, he adds. Awareness and education will be key in getting ahead of the overdose epidemic. Widespread availability of naloxone to members of the community will also be critical in preventing deaths.

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