Racial disparities occur in many facets of life, from living conditions to jobs, to health. When it comes to substance use disorders, treatment, and overdoses, racial disparities are also seen.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “Though rates of opioid use at the national scale are higher for whites than they are for Blacks, rates of increase in opioid deaths have been rising more steeply among Blacks (43%) than whites (22%) over the last five years.”
Nichole Dawsey, the executive director of PreventEd, adds, “Between January 2020 and the end of June, 165 individuals in the City of St. Louis lost their lives to an overdose, representing a 36% increase from the same period in 2019. But those deaths are not impacting white and Black residents proportionally. In fact, according to preliminary data released by the Missouri Institute for Mental Health, overdose death rates for the first half of 2020 among Black residents have increased by 54% while increasing among white residents by just 11%. This despite the fact that only 33% of the regional population is Black.”
Why the disparity?
There Are Many Challenges To Prevention, Treatment, & Recovery
Challenges to preventing overdoses, seeking treatment, and recovery contribute to the disparity of overdoses in Black and brown communities. In the City of St. Louis, these challenges are distinctly seen, especially among Black males.
Fear Of Legal Consequences
According to SAMHSA, the fear that seeking treatment will result in legal consequences such as incarceration, especially among Black and brown men, prevents them from seeking SUD treatment and intervention. Among women, there is the fear that seeking treatment will cause them to lose their children.
And this fear is not without merit: incarceration-first policing models and strict drug laws like the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 that enforce mandatory and severe sentencing for low-level and non-violent drug offenses disproportionally affect minority communities. Decades of these policies result in a historical mistrust of existing systems—especially justice and health care.
Unlike whites, who are channeled into treatment facilities and given access to resources, those in Black and brown communities seeking the same treatment for the same reason are more likely to be sent to jail instead. Therefore, there is often a hesitancy to call 911 in emergencies.
Lack Of Respectful & Culturally Understanding Care
Families in Black and brown communities have a historical reason to distrust existing health care systems due to prejudice and the lack of care. While misconceptions about SUDs, opioids, and overdoses exist in all communities, it is especially prevalent in Black and brown communities. These include:
- Lack of education about SUDs and overdoses among Black and brown communities
- Misconceptions that SUD is a weakness, and not a disease
- Shortage of Black & brown health care professionals that can bridge racial divides
- A lack of understanding about available treatments
- A lack of education among professionals on how to improve cultural competence when treating patients
Culturally understanding and respectful care is essential in providing care to those seeking SUD treatment from all cultural backgrounds. Professionals that are culturally competent are better able to provide respectful care to minority communities.
How You Can Help Prevent Opioid Overdoses & Advocate For Our Communities
Overdoses can happen at any time, especially if used after a period of abstinence, used alone, or mixed with alcohol or other substances. Opioid overdoses can be prevented, and addiction treatment is available.
Know How To Identify An Overdose
Knowing how to identify an opioid overdose can save a life. Symptoms of an overdose include:
- Shallow or no breathing
- Pinpoint pupils
- Blue/Gray lips or fingernails
- Cold and clammy skin
Having Narcan on hand in an emergency can help treat and reverse an opioid overdose when correctly used.
Educate Your Community & Advocate For New Laws & Policies
At PreventEd, our mission is to provide education on substance use and how policies and practices have negatively impacted people of color. We also advocate and get involved in efforts to reduce the negative impact.
Together, we can make a difference.
Make sure your voice is heard. Contacting your legislators and local officials can make a difference and lead the way in educating and advocating for our communities. Not sure where to start? PreventEd has the resources to get you started. Our professional counselors are also available to answer questions and help you through the process of intervention and recovery.