NPR report claims opioid epidemic surging in Black communities
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 3/8/2018, 10:35 a.m.
NPR (National Public Radio) is reporting today that the death rate for opioid overdoses is rising most steeply among African Americans. The current drug addiction crisis began in rural America, but it's quickly spreading to urban areas and into the African-American population in cities across the country, says a report by Marisa Penaloza on NPR. “It's a frightening time,” says Dr. Edwin Chapman, who specializes in drug addiction in Washington, D.C., “because the urban African-American community is dying now at a faster rate than the epidemic in the suburbs and rural areas.” Chapman is on the front line of the opioid epidemic crippling his community in the Northeast section of the nation’s capitol. He heads the Medical Home Development Group, a clinic specializing in addiction medicine. The clinic is on a busy street, and even on the second floor you can hear blaring ambulances whiz by — Chapman says often they stop right outside his building. “Sometimes we'll have a cluster of folks outside selling drugs,” he says. “We've had overdoses right outside, right under the building, right next door to the building.” According to the Office of the Medical Examiner in Washington, D.C., overall opioid overdose deaths among Black men between the ages of 40 and 69 increased 245 percent from 2014 to 2017. Nationally, the drug death rate is also rising most steeply among African-Americans. Among Blacks in urban counties, deaths rose by 41 percent in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, African-American communities are in the midst of a drug epidemic and the culprit is fentanyl, says Dr. Melissa Clarke, who works with Chapman at Medical Home. “African-Americans are falling victim to fentanyl and carfentanyl because they are so much more potent than heroin,” she says. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is often laced in heroin and other street drugs, Clarke says. “People who've even been lifelong heroin users are dying because they don't understand how to titrate those doses,” she says. “We feel like we have a fire underneath us — people are dying every day,” she adds. The so-called epidemic started in white suburban and rural areas where people are overdosing mostly with prescription medicine like Percocet and OxyContin, the NPR report says. Chapman says that African-American patients have historically been less likely to be prescribed pain narcotics. “The theory is that African-Americans tolerate pain better. That's a myth,” Chapman points out.