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When you think of an opioid overdose victim, you are likely to assume it is a white man from the mid-west, because that’s what we see on television and documentaries about drugs in America. But the truth is the opioid epidemic doesn’t see race and older Black men are losing their lives at an alarming rate.

A recent study suggests that Black men 55 and older are causing the recent spike in overdose deaths among men older men.

According to the study published in JAMA, opioid overdose deaths among older adults in the U.S. have increased fastest among Black men. Researches found from that 1999 to 2019, nearly 80,000 U.S. residents 55 or older died due to an opioid overdose. Nearly 80% of those deaths occurred among those between the ages of 55 and 64 and more than 58% occurred among men.

By 2019 the average death rate among adults 55 years of age and older was 10.7 per 100,000 deaths per 100,000 population. But for Black men that rate was four times higher at 40 deaths per 100,000 population.

These eye-opening figures suggest that the U.S. drug epidemic is changing demographics and the Black community needs to be aware of this shift.

A 2021 study published in the AJPH found that opioid-related overdose deaths among Blacks were significantly outpacing rates among whites. The study looked at data from Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio and found that opioid overdose death rates for Black adults increased by 38%, while there was no overall change among other racial groups.

Maryann Mason, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, believes the popularity of fentanyl could be a factor in the rise of overdose deaths among older Black adults. She also cited the lack of sufficient healthcare services and proper treatment in Black communities as another reason for the death rate spikes.

All of these things sort of coalesce to put Black people at a continued disadvantage,” said Mason. “Clinicians need to increase screening for opioid use disorder among older populations.

“We have to start seeing older people as whole people who may have these issues.”

Even though whites are still dying at a higher rate than Blacks from opioid overdoses, that gap is closing fast. If we don’t start paying attention to this growing problem it will consume our community just like crack did in the 80s.


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