U.S. News reported a new study from JAMA Network Open found disparities among races in the rate of opioid deaths. We used to refer to the opioid crisis as a ‘white problem’ (like the crack epidemic was a ‘Black problem’ in the 80s). But, the tides have changed as new studies find rates in opioid deaths have begun skyrocketing in the Black community.
U.S. News reported that since 2013, Black men have had higher death rates among adults around the ages of 55 and older. They also reported the opioid fatality rate among Black men was four times higher than the average adult population. In the early 2000s, white people had the highest opioid death rate, according the U.S. News. However, a New York Times report found (unsurprisingly) that Black people were at risk of opioid addiction because they were more likely to receive prescribed pain medication than white people. See it now?
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, extended the conversation about disparities in treatment to disparities in healthcare. “If you are Black American and you have an opioid use disorder, you are much less likely to be prescribed medications for opioid use disorder,” Volkow told NPR. She also told them physicians usually don’t screen for opioid disorders which puts research at a disadvantage from having accurate data to get a scope of the issue.
From U.S. News:
A separate study published in 2020 in the journal Addiction found the growth in opioid-related overdose deaths among African Americans was significantly outpacing the rate among whites. And additional research published in September found that across four states – Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio – the opioid overdose death rate for Black adults increased by 38% from 2018 to 2019, while there was no change overall among other racial/ethnic groups.
Associate professor Maryann Mason at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine told U.S. News the rising opioid overdoses among Black people could be what the CDC considered the ‘third’ wave of the opioid epidemic.
Mason also noted Black patients are less likely to have health insurance as well as white patients being the majority of those who receive medications to treat opioid use disorder.
From U.S. News
“All of these things sort of coalesce to put Black people at a continued disadvantage,” Mason says.
In terms of the rise in opioid overdose deaths among all older adults, Mason says health care providers may be less likely to screen older individuals for substance use disorder because sometimes the symptoms of aging can be conflated with those associated with opioid use disorder.
She says 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,” Mason says.
It’s not a surprise that racial disparities in the healthcare industry have ultimately led to Black people being handed prescription drugs at a disproportionate rate. Not only do doctors need to listen better to their patients in order to treat them, but they also need to consider that their patients may already have an opioid disorder before worsening the issue.