Black Americans’ overdose death rates increased more quickly than those for any other racial or ethnic group in 2020, a new study has found, confirming fears that the COVID-19 pandemic only deepened an already-alarming demographic shift in drug-related fatalities.

Philadelphia mirrored the trend in 2020, when deadly overdoses soared by 29% among Black Philadelphians from the year before, even as they decreased by 10% among white Philadelphians. Across all groups, the death rate from drugs — mostly the opioid fentanyl — increased by 9%.

The national study, by researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles, looked at data from the CDC and the National Center for Health Statistics, cataloging death rates per 100,000 people by race and ethnicity between 1999 and 2020.

They found that, nationally, from 2019 to 2020, death rates among Black Americans increased by nearly 50%, reaching a rate 16.3% higher than that among white Americans. The latest figures essentially reverse a yearslong gap in overdose deaths, bringing the 2020 death rate among Black Americans higher than that for white Americans for the first time since 1999, reviewers noted.

Though Black overdose death rates increased more quickly in 2020, American Indian and Alaska Native communities saw the highest death rate of any race or ethnicity. Overdose rates in American Indian communities generally aligned with those in white communities in previous years, but in 2020 they outstripped the overdose rate among whites by 30.8%.


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