Black and African Americans have been facing an unreal amount of discrimination, oppression, and violence since the beginning of colonial America. Centuries of systemic racism have led to socio-economic, education, and health disparities. The way in which addiction affects black and African American communities is just one of many issues.

February is Black History month, and although racial disparities are present all year round, there is no better time than now to dive into the effects of addiction on Black communities in America.

The Opioid Crisis Among Black Populations

The Opioid Crisis originated as a predominantly Caucasian issue, affecting white people at much higher rates. However, factors such as healthcare inequities have caused a shift in the populations experiencing the highest rates of opioid overdoses. Black communities across the country are seeing rates of opioid overdose deaths rise at rates much greater than their white counterparts. Between 2013 and 2017, white populations still saw the highest synthetic opioid mortality rates, but it was black populations that experienced the greatest change in rate. While the U.S. population has seen drastic increases in synthetic opioid overdoses across the board, the rates for white non-Hispanic people rose 9x over and for non-Hispanic black people, the rate increased 18x. There is a clear surge in rates of opioid addiction among black communities far greater than their Hispanic or white counterparts.

The rise in opioid overdose deaths among black people is particularly extreme in one U.S. city: Chicago. The Illinois Department of Public Health published numbers that shocked us and might shock you as well. Although Illinois’ population is only 15% black, approximately 25% of all opioid-related deaths in the state are among black individuals. In Chicago specifically, there is a larger black population (32%), but the opioid deaths are proportionally higher (48.4%). 2016 data from the CDC showed death rates among black people 4x higher than the national average.

So why are we seeing these disparities? Well, let’s take a look at a few of the factors that can be identified.

A Lack of Evidence & Research

An article on the APA website on Addition in the American-American Community stated that there are “limited studies are available on racial differences on polydrug use among youth”. In reality, there are historically limited studies on minority populations such as the African American community. Where the greatest research gap lies is in treating addiction and other health issues among these minority groups. 

Access to Healthcare

An Internal Medicine Journal published an article that touches on another factor that may contribute to addiction-related issues among black communities: access to healthcare. The article states that “[the] majority of the Blacks with opioid addiction come from the low-income families and rarely receive treatment, unlike the Caucasians who share these characteristics but end up enrolled to private insurances.” While opioids, alcohol, and other substances may not be more addictive to people of a certain race, a lack of access to treatment could certainly explain why death and other complications of drug abuse are rising faster among black populations.

More Risk Factors

Simply being born as a black person in America means being subjected to racism on multiple levels. This means that black people in America are predisposed to certain risk factors for health issues, such as addiction and complications of addiction, that others are not. This includes increased stress levels, rates of depression, and rates of mental health disorders. Lack of access to healthcare and equal education can also increase risky behaviors and decrease the likelihood of getting treatment. 

Final Thoughts

What we have discussed in this article is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addiction and disparities among black populations. Eliminating these disparities will not happen overnight, but it will never happen unless there are steps taken to move forward. Cities such as Chicago need to work to expand access to addiction treatment among all communities and educate their populations on the risks of substance abuse, particularly synthetic opioids.