Drug overdose deaths rose significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, but more so among Blacks and American Indian and Alaska Native people.
The results 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 note.
The study was published online Sept. 20 in JAMA Network Open.
'Urgent Need' for Education
From February 2020 to August 2021, drug overdose deaths in the US rose 37% and these deaths were largely due to synthetic opioids other than methadone — primarily fentanyl or analogs — and methamphetamine.
Yet, data are lacking regarding racial and ethnic disparities in overdose death rates.
To investigate, Beth Han, MD, PhD, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and colleagues analyzed federal drug overdose death data for individuals aged 15-34 and 35-64 from March 2018 to August 2021.
Among individuals aged 15-34, from March 2018 to August 2021, overdose death rates involving any drug, fentanyl, and methamphetamine with or without fentanyl, increased overall.
For the 6 months from March to August 2021, non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native men had the highest rates overall involving any drug, fentanyl, and methamphetamine without fentanyl, with rates of 42.0, 30.2, and 6.0 per 100,000, respectively.
The highest rates (per 100,000) of drug overdose deaths involving methamphetamine with fentanyl were for American Indian or Alaska Native men (9.2) and women (8.0) and non-Hispanic White men (6.7).
Among people aged 35-64, from March to August 2021, overall drug overdose rates (per 100,000) were highest among non-Hispanic Black men (61.2) and American Indian or Alaska Native men (60.0), and fentanyl-involved death rates were highest among Black men (43.3).
Rates involving methamphetamine with fentanyl were highest among American Indian or Alaska Native men (12.6) and women (9.4) and White men (9.5).
Rates involving methamphetamine without fentanyl were highest among American Indian or Alaska Native men (22.9).
The researchers note the findings highlight the "urgent need" for education on dangers of methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Expanding access to naloxone, fentanyl test strips, and treatments for substance use disorders to disproportionately affected populations is also critical to help curb disparities in drug overdose deaths, they add.
Limitations of the study are that overdose deaths may be underestimated due to the use of 2021 provisional data and that racial or ethnic identification may be misclassified, especially for American Indian or Alaska Native people.
This study was sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors report no relevant disclosures.
JAMA Netw Open. Published Sept. 20, 2022. Full text.
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