Drug overdose deaths soar among Black Americans amid pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified America’s opioid addiction crisis in nearly every corner of the country, many Black neighborhoods suffering most acutely, according to a report by the Associated Press.
The opioid epidemic has long been portrayed as a crisis among white Americans living in urban and suburban areas, but the demographics have been shifting for years as deaths surged among Black Americans, the AP reported.
“The pandemic hastened the trend by further flooding the streets with fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, in communities with scant resources to deal with addiction,” the report said.
In St. Louis, a city beset by addiction, poverty and one of the highest murder rates in America, deaths among Black people increased last year at three times the rate of white people, skyrocketing more than 33%. Black men in St. Louis and other cities in the state of Missouri are now four times more likely than a white person to die of an overdose.
Other cities saw a similar pattern. Doctors in Philadelphia found that in the first few months of the pandemic, overdoses increased more than 50% for Black people while decreasing for whites. In Massachusetts, health officials announced that overdose deaths among Black men soared in 2020 by nearly 70%.
Dr. Kanika Turner, a local physician leading the charge to contain the crisis, describes the soaring death rate as a civil rights issue as pressing and profound as any other. The communities now being hit hardest are those already devastated by the war on drugs that demonized Black drug users, tore families apart and hollowed out neighborhoods by sending Black men to prison instead of treatment, she said.
Even today, Black people in the United States are more likely to be in jail for drug crimes and less likely to access treatment.
Last year, George Floyd died in Minneapolis under a police officer’s knee. He had fentanyl in his system and some of the officer’s defenders tried to blame the drugs for his death. The world exploded in rage.
Pastors are now marching into the city jail to train inmates how to survive once they get outside. They host mobile treatment centers in their parking lots. They make an appeal to their congregations: Do not numb the pain of violence and racism with drugs. Don’t let the next funeral be for you.