overdose death rates skyrocket for older Black adults in U.S. amid pandemic violence

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – A recent study led by researchers at Penn State University has revealed alarming trends in overdose death rates in the United States between 2012 and 2021. The study, which analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Census Bureau, focused on investigating the demographic characteristics of over half a million individuals who died from overdose during the period.

The research highlighted a significant shift in the overdose narrative, particularly among older Black adults. While historically the opioid overdose crisis was predominantly affecting young, white, rural communities, the study found that older Black individuals are now experiencing a disproportionate increase in overdose deaths. This change in trend has led to Black individuals now dying of overdose at a higher rate than white individuals in the U.S.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the overdose crisis, with overdose death rates spiking nationwide, especially among Black individuals. States like Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota showed stark racial disparities, with Black individuals over the age of 55 being around five times more likely to die from a drug overdose than their white counterparts. This demographic shift underscores the urgent need for tailored interventions and resources to address substance use disparities within these communities.

One of the most concerning findings of the study was the rise in fatal drug overdoses among older Black adults in regions across the Northeast, Midwest, and West. The researchers emphasized the importance of immediate and focused action to address this crisis. Suggestions included increasing access to naloxone, also known as NARCAN, to older Black adults, as well as providing free distribution of fentanyl test strips as preventive measures to save lives and combat the escalating overdose rates.

While the research did not pinpoint the specific reasons behind the increase in overdose deaths among older Black adults, the researchers identified multiple factors contributing to this concerning trend. The call for greater awareness, understanding, and interventions to reverse the overdose crisis was emphasized as a crucial step in saving lives and addressing the pressing public health issue affecting communities nationwide.