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Study: Fatal cocaine overdose deaths among African Americans nearly equal to white deaths from opioids

December 9, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Study: Fatal cocaine overdose deaths among African Americans nearly equal to white deaths from opioids

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A new study published Monday reveals that African Americans die from cocaine overdoses at almost the same rate as white people die from related to opioids.

“Opioids were the most common contributor to overdose deaths in [non-Hispanic white] persons, cocaine was the largest contributor among [non-Hispanic blacks],” the authors of the study indicated in the Journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

For some period, the number of overdose deaths was almost on par. Between 2012 and 2015, for instance, the researchers discovered that for black males using cocaine, the death rate was 7.6 people per 100,000 people, while it was 7.9 whites per 100,000 for fatal prescription opioid overdoses. They obtained similar estimates for the period ranging from 2004 to 2007, and before that, the gap extends as opioid abuse had not yet reached the levels they are currently.

“These are the first data looking at cocaine death rates by race from the recent period where opioid death rates have escalated,” study author David Thomas, a health scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in an interview with Newsweek. “This is not an opioid crisis of historic proportions. There is a general drug misuse crisis.”

Drugs Involved in U.S. Overdose Deaths* – Among the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2016, the sharpest increase occurred among deaths related to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs (synthetic opioids) with over 20,000 overdose deaths. Source: CDC WONDER

However, critics suggest that death is only one example of a drug crisis. Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, said fatal overdoses for any drug are “one snapshot,” and that the opioid crisis is an “addiction epidemic.”

“Counting deaths, you’re missing a lot of the human costs, and you don’t look at the impact that it has on a family and community, but it’s the ultimate measure,” he said. “If we were doing a better job of responding to the opioid epidemic, you would be seeing deaths down.”

He added that cocaine overdoses among black men have remained relatively constant for last 15 years, while opioid deaths among whites have skyrocketed, warning that interpretations of the data should look at the outcomes of the crack-cocaine crisis of the 1980s.

“What this is telling us is that for our new epidemic, we are going to be feeling the effects of this for the rest of our lifetimes.”

The study examined death certificate data between 2000 and 2015 from the CDC and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. It groups opioid use into different categories –– one class each for heroin, synthetic opioids like fentanyl, semi-synthetic opioids, and methadone. The authors also added that their “results are probably underestimated,” because 20% of death certificates for unintentional overdoses don’t indicate the drug that led to the death.

The study’s results come in the midst of an opioid crisis that has amassed international attention ––leading President Trump to declare a public health emergency and the Justice Department to dedicate millions to prosecuting it. However, cocaine has not received the same kind of attention in recent years.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions emphasized the Justice Department’s focus on “the deadliest drug crisis in American history.” He added that he would be designating millions in grants to law enforcement, as well as requiring all U.S. Attorneys’ offices to have “opioid coordinators” to organize national law enforcement efforts.

“We will not slow down for one day or one instant,” Sessions said. “With one American dying of a drug overdose every nine minutes, enforcing our laws is more important than ever.”

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