New research finds growing racial disparities in overdose mortality and a major shift in geographic trends of the opioid crisis

February 9, 2022

Between 2009 and 2019, overdose deaths in the United States involving opioids and stimulant drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, surged compared to deaths from stimulants alone. Fatalities linked specifically to cocaine combined with opioids rose by nearly 450%, an alarming trend fueled by the growing contamination of non-opioid drugs by fentanyl, an extremely potent synthetic opioid. By 2019, more than three-quarters of deaths involving cocaine and half of those involving methamphetamine or other stimulants also involved opioids.

In the first study of its kind, researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine and Wake Forest School of Medicine analyzed the trend of rising opioid/stimulant deaths by racial/ethnic groups and by state. The findings, published in the Feb. 8 online edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology, indicated that while overdose deaths from opioids and stimulants rose across all racial groups and across the country, opioid/stimulant deaths among African Americans increased at more than three times the rate as non-Hispanic white people – particularly in eastern states. Analysis also found a significant increase in overdose opioid and stimulant deaths among Hispanic and Asian Americans. 

The team of investigators found that between 2007 and 2019, the rate of African Americans dying from opioids and cocaine climbed by 575%, compared to 184% among white people. While mortality from methamphetamine and other stimulants (MOS) remained at lower levels in 2019 than cocaine/opioid mortality, it has increased dramatically in recent years among African Americans. MOS/opioid mortality rose 16,200 % in Blacks versus 3,200 % in white people.  

"Our results showed that opioid/stimulant mortality varies considerably from state to state, even within a single region,” said David Kline, Ph.D., assistant professor of biostatistics and data science at Wake Forest School of Medicine and joint lead author of the study. “This provides critical information to policymakers and others about the severity and evolution of the crisis in their state.”

Read the entire news release.