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Opioid crisis harms minorities more than whites, so why aren't they included in the conversation?

Posted at 1:55 PM, Jul 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-01 14:12:57-04

CINCINNATI -- If you pictured the face of the opioid crisis, you'd probably think of someone who's white and from the suburbs.

But that preconception hides a fact many people have ignored: Addiction doesn't discriminate. And in some cases, opioids have harmed minorities at a higher rate than whites.

Faith and community leaders gathered Saturday at New Prospect Baptist Church in Roselawn to shed more light on that disconnect -- and to talk about what can be done to fix it.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Finding hope in the opioid crisis

"There is a growing number of overdoses and overdose deaths in the African-American community," said the Rev. Damon Lynch III. "We want to get ahead of this before it becomes a full-blown crisis."

Officials say black communities are already in the midst of such a crisis.

The U.S. surgeon general tweeted in February that African Americans aged 12 to 17 were more likely than their white peers to have used opioids. And a study from the Chicago Urban League found the African-American overdose death rate is higher than that of the general population in areas throughout the country.

For example, in 2015, West Virginia had 36.2 opioid overdose deaths per 100,000 white people; the rate jumped to 55.5 opioid overdose deaths among black people.

"The issue here is not that white people aren’t dying -- they are, and in record numbers," the report said. "The issue is that African Americans, who in some places are dying at rates exceeding any other racial group, are excluded from the conversation."

African Americans are not the only minority group seemingly excluded from discussions about the opioid crisis: Native Americans also have been harmed. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid-related deaths increased by more than 200 percent among all American populations between 1999-2015. However, Native Americans saw an increase in opioid related deaths by more than 500 percent in the same period.

"There's a misconception that [opioids] only impact one geographical area," said Tom Synan, the Newtown police chief and co-chair of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition. "Addiction knows no boundaries and neither should we."

Synan said punishment can't be the only solution to addiction; more treatment programs are needed, he said.

Lynch echoed the call for treatment, but he also said there's not enough treatment available. Besides treatment, he said education is an important tool to help fight the crisis.

"At some point, all of us will be touched by this," Lynch said. "It's better to be informed and empowered than be touched by it and not have any idea of what to do.