Opioid addiction doesn’t discriminate based on sex, finances, or social status. It does, however, unfairly impact the black community in the United States.
Drug abuse is a chronic disease that changes the chemistry of the brain over the course of time. People struggling with opioid use disorders often have difficulty with compulsive behaviors. With addiction, there is potential for relapse, recurrence, and the possibility of recovery.
Addiction and substance use disorders are relatively uniform experiences. Black people in the U.S., however, often experience more barriers to treatment and much higher rates of drug-related arrests.
The Opioid Crisis and the Black Community
Drug addiction has always devastated the black community, especially the poor black inner-city population. The unfortunate reality, however, is that the opioid crisis has unfairly impacted black populations. In recent years, the overdose death rates have increased consistently among poor black communities.
There has been a decline in overdose deaths for the first time in years among the general population. However, the overdose death rates within many black communities continue to increase at dangerously rapid rates.
While the crisis began in the Caucasian community, it now affects the black community more than any other race or ethnicity. From 2016-2017, the mortality rate in non-hispanic black individuals rose 25 percent, fourteen percent higher than non-hispanic white men.
In 2016 alone, the black community’s overdose rate increased by a startling 41 percent from the year before. In some states like Virginia and Wisconsin, the overdose death rates for black people are double that of their white counterparts.
The Racial Treatment Disparity
Drug addiction has ravaged black communities across the nation for decades. However, in recent years the opioid death rates have increased at higher rates in the black community than the white community.
Only recently have drug overdose deaths by race become an issue for the black community in urban settings. The opioid crisis originated in white communities. This is the first instance in which an epidemic that originated in white communities has excessively impacted black individuals.
Although the rates of opioid abuse are higher in white American communities, overdose deaths have risen steeply in black communities. This is due to the inordinate number of barriers hindering black individuals from accessing care.
On top of being more susceptible to opioid addiction and overdose, the black community also faces challenges finding treatment. Black patients with opioid addictions all too often face systemic barriers to accessing the care they need.
Because opioid addiction unevenly impacts low-income individuals, they often have no insurance and less access to treatment opportunities. Many of their poor white communities share these characteristics. However, due to the lack of barriers, they are often enrolled in private insurances.
The Crisis of Incarceration for Black Addicts
The opioid crisis has also pushed the black community into higher rates of incarceration. Instead of giving black individuals access to treatment opportunities, they are often funnelled down the prison pipeline.
An issue with the imprisonment of addicts are the rates of return. By not getting the treatment they deserve, the system forces black addicts into the “revolving door” of jail time. This cycle separates families and exacerbates the rate of overdose deaths as a result of lack of treatment.
Although the amount of drug abuse is similar among most racial and ethnic communities, there is a racial disparity in arrests. Black people are thirteen times more likely to be arrested for buying, possessing, or using drugs. However, instead of getting them treatment, systemic barriers and underlying systemic racial prejudices contribute to mass jailing of black addicts.
Fighting for Change
The opioid crisis has left communities, especially the black community, with visible and intense impacts. Although the efforts to address the opioid crisis have increased, overdose deaths continue to climb in the black community.
It’s become clear that African American opioid addicts are dying at a higher rate than the general population. Data also shows that the opioid epidemic has left lasting damage on young, black Americans. However, the question remains— what are we going to do about it?
If we ignore the prevalence of substance use disorders in the black community, we hurt all people of color. Not addressing or acknowledging this perpetuates the idea that black and brown bodies, lives, and voices aren’t important.
Racial prejudices have been embedded into both popular and political culture in the United States. Medicine, doctors, and nurses are unfortunately no exception to this reality. In order to expand access to necessary addiction treatment, more targeted programs for the black community must be created.