Fentanyl and COVID-19 Pandemic Reshaped Racial Profile of Overdose Deaths in U.S.

For as long as statistics about opioid overdose deaths have been collected in the United States, white individuals have been much more likely to die than Black individuals of the same age. With the rapidly increasing rate of fentanyl overdoses in the late 2010s, that trend began to reverse — by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, more Black Americans began to die of opioid overdoses and from drug overdoses of any kind, according to researchers at Penn State.

New research from the Penn State College of Health and Human Development examined racial and regional differences in overdose fatalities from 2012-21, capturing the periods preceding and during the COVID-19 pandemic. In most of the nation, the researchers found that younger Black individuals died of overdose at lower rates than their white counterparts, but older Black individuals — especially men in Midwestern cities — became several times more likely to die of drug overdose than their white counterparts as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged.

The study was published in The American Journal on Addictions.

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