It’s no secret that Ohio has been deeply affected by the opioid epidemic. And in many cases, opioid overdoses proved fatal. But in recent years, it seemed that the problem was improving. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the 2017 rate of 4,293 opioid overdose deaths fell to 3,237 deaths in 2016. However, evidence indicates that this improvement may not extend to black Ohioans.
While the unintentional drug overdose death rates for white non-Hispanics in 2019 was 37.8 deaths per 100,000 population, this number increased to 42.9 deaths among black non-Hispanics in Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Health. In fact, black men face the highest risk for unintentional drug overdose in Ohio. Why is that, and what can we do as a community to help protect all Ohioans from the opioid epidemic?
Today we’re going to look at the roots of both racial disparities in overdose rates and opioid overdoses in general. Because in order to make sure that everyone can achieve addiction recovery, we have to start by recognizing how opioid overdoses happen.
Why Are Opioid Overdoses a Big Problem in Ohio?
In 2018, the accidental overdose death rate was the lowest it had been since 2015. But overdose death rates increased by seven percent in 2019, and that uptick was largely due to fentanyl and its analogs.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, meaning it is produced in a lab. This makes it much stronger than plant-derived opioids, like heroin, and fentanyl may even be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. As a result, overdosing on fentanyl is an extremely common problem for Ohioans. In fact, in 2019, fentanyl was involved in 76.2% of unintentional drug overdose deaths in Ohio.
Part of the reason for this high overdose rate is that people may not realize they’re taking fentanyl. Because it’s synthetic and easy to produce, fentanyl is often sold in place of other opioids or used as an additive to different types of drugs. This makes fentanyl doubly dangerous, because people often don’t realize that they’re taking it. In this way, it becomes almost impossible to take a less dangerous dose, and the risk for accidental opioid overdose increases dramatically.
Thus, part of the reason why black men face higher incidence of accidental overdose deaths is that they may not realize they’re taking opioids. This is illustrated by the fact that fentanyl was involved in 77% of Ohio cocaine overdoses in 2019. But if people aren’t even aware that they’re taking opioids, how can we lower the overdose rates?
Lowering Overdose Rates Among Black Ohioans
Part of the reason why black Ohioans face increased risk of accidental overdose death is that they have lessened access to information about and treatment for addiction issues. For example, racist stereotypes that drug addiction is “normal” among black communities can lead to individuals feeling like addiction recovery isn’t for them. So when a person notices an addiction issue forming, they may feel like they don’t have any real way to get help.
And among black Ohioans who know about addiction treatment, there may be some distrust toward the medical field. This is understandable, given historical context—as one infamous example, researchers in the 1932 Tuskegee observed hundreds of black men infected with syphilis, but didn’t tell them that they were sick with or provide treatment. So it’s reasonable that some black individuals would feel undervalued by the medical system, which in turn can make them less likely to seek addiction recovery care.
Much of the work to solve these issues has come from the black community in Ohio. Black community leaders like Reverend Frederick LaMarr in Columbus, Ohio are working to provide naloxone and information on addiction recovery resources.
For our part, we want to make it clear that everyone can expect respectful, safe addiction recovery services at Georgetown Behavioral Hospital, and nobody should feel like they have to live with an addiction. Brown County has some of the highest opioid overdose death rates and suicide rates in Ohio, so it’s important that everyone knows that they can get help for addiction and mental health issues, right here in their local community.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a drug addiction, it’s time to get help. With fentanyl out there, there is no way of knowing what’s in a drug that you buy off the street. The only way to stay safe from a drug overdose is to get professional addiction treatment, and you can start that process right now. Call our friendly admissions specialists at 937-483-4933 or ask your questions online. If you’re suffering from addiction near Cincinnati, Ohio, then we want to help.