The opioid crisis has dominated headlines and political conversations as the number of overdose deaths and addicts has risen dramatically in recent years. But a new study finds that the opioid epidemic, which has affected mostly white Americans, is just one part of the growing U.S. drug crisis. The report reveals that deaths from cocaine overdoses among black people were roughly on par with heroin and prescription-opioid-caused deaths among white people.
The study was published Monday in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine and reported by CNN.
Among the study’s key findings was that cocaine-overdose deaths were almost as common among black men as prescription-opioid deaths were among white men between 2012 and 2015. Meredith Shiels, co-author of the study, also told CNN that researchers found cocaine-overdose deaths to be “slightly more common in black women than deaths from heroin overdose in white women.”
“Numerous U.S. national surveillance studies and media reports have highlighted an alarming rise in drug-poisoning deaths in recent years,” Shiels, who is also an investigator at the National Cancer Institute, said.
But, she noted, most studies have focused on opioid-related deaths, and she emphasized that death rates have increased most dramatically among white communities. The increasing rates in drug-overdose deaths among black and Latinx Americans, however, “have received less attention,” Shiels told CNN.
The new study finds an increase in overdose deaths across all ages in white and Latinx groups, but, according to CNN, “rising rates were most pronounced among older black men (50 or older) and older black women (45 or older).”
This difference manifests itself in the study’s analysis of peak ages for overdose deaths. White people between the ages of 30 and 34 had the highest rates for fatal drug overdoses. In contrast, black people between ages 50 and 59 logged the highest rates for overdose deaths.
While the reasons for the increase in cocaine use and deaths aren’t clear, the new data points to a wider drug abuse crisis gripping the U.S.
Not mentioned in the CNN report are reports of cocaine being cut with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid; the combination has proved deadly.
One report from the Cincinnati Enquirer says that the cocaine-fentanyl combination has appeared in only a few regions, listing Ohio, New York City, San Francisco and Canada. But at least one medical examiner—Cuyahoga County, Ohio’s Dr. Thomas Gilson—said that he believes drug dealers are mixing cocaine with fentanyl to increase opioid addiction within the black community. Gilson testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee in May, detailing his findings.
“Cocaine had been the only drug that victims were predominately African American,” Gilson told the subcommittee. “The covert introduction of fentanyl into the cocaine supply has caused a rapid rise in fatalities, and in 2017, the rate of African-American fentanyl-related deaths has doubled from 2016.”
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that rates of overdose deaths have risen by 5.5 percent each year between 1999 and 2015. In total, 52,404 people died in the U.S. from drug overdoses in 2015 alone. But that number is likely low.
Part of the challenge in doing these sorts of studies, CNN notes, is that national statistics on fatal overdoses are drawn from information on death certificates—which can be inaccurate or incomplete. One recent study cited by CNN found that nearly 1 in 5 drug overdose deaths in 2014 did not identify which drug or drugs were used.
Read more at CNN.