Editorial: Opioid Crisis in the Black Community

Chicago, a city of many ethnic groups, lifestyles, and socio-economics; One can travel through the city and see a representation of this nation’s best, or one can see the perils of its worst. Meaning the areas we overlook to achieve the American dream, the least of which the bible reminds us not to forget about, as we are blessed. 

Unconscious bias is a phrase that most of us have become familiar with unconscious bias! What comes to mind? Race? An underbelly ideology ingrained in our consciousness that life never charged us with addressing. Maybe, until now. 2020 has been a year of uncovering. The scabs are removed, the wounds are open, and the ills of our society need healing. 

Opioid Overdose. Why do we not believe it? When we hear these issues, we say those are “white problems,” as if they do not affect black families. In an interview facilitated by Statewide Unintentional Drug Overdose Reporting System with Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar said, by the end of July, there will be almost 1000 overdose deaths, about 63 percent are black people. 

She also indicated that most of those deaths are caused by illicit fentanyl. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl.

 The Opioid Crisis in Black Communities, The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics says, “for some individuals, as dependency grows on these pain medications, this evolves into the use of heroin, a cheaper and more readily accessible illicit opioid. Another pathway is initiated by using illicit drugs, i.e., heroin and cocaine, which has a history in low-income Black/African American communities dating back to the drug epidemics of the 1960s and 1970s. What is particularly dangerous now is that these street drugs are increasingly laced with fentanyl and fentanyl analogs leading to more opioid-related overdose deaths.”

The Race Disparities 

As mentioned in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics report, the opioid addiction crisis topic cannot be mentioned, however, without acknowledging that this country has handled this crisis differently than the crack cocaine crisis. That crisis came with penalties to the users and an extensive incarceration rate for the dealers, also known as the War on Drugs, affecting Black people mostly. The opioid crisis came with government funding for treatment, adjusted treatments to fit the crisis, and no initial penalty for overprescribing within medicine. These facts do not mean that black people have not been affected by opioid addiction when, in fact, they have. 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), The Opioid Crisis and The Black/African American Population: AN URGENT ISSUE says, Synthetic opioids are affecting opioid death rates among non-Hispanic Blacks more severely than other populations, and according to Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report — Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2013–2017, deaths increased across all urbanization levels from 2016 to 2017, and Black people make-up a significant number of the population for most if not all urban communities. Prior to COVID-19, in February the overdose deaths had already passed the number of deaths in February 2019. Many public health experts and community organizations are saying that the increase will be substantial when the consequences of a national pandemic are included in the data, and we are seeing some of that in Dr. Arunkumar remarks on what the medical examiners office is seeing during the pandemic.

Nevertheless, in early discoveries of the opioid crisis, it was said that rural communities were most affected. However, it did not take long for this problem to reach urban communities. Nevertheless, urban communities did not get treatment resources as rural areas. That’s slowly changing, but things have changed drastically, primarily because of the issue that follows the pandemic.

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