Respect Equality

Overdose deaths spiked in 2020 among Black and Native American communities

Although white Americans accounted for the most overdose deaths in 2020, the highest increase rate is taking place among people of color.
In this Jan. 18, 2018 photo, used needles sit in a container inside the Baltimore City Health Department’s Needle Exchange Team van in Baltimore. The overdose-reversal drug is a critical tool to easing America’s coast-to-coast opioid epidemic. But not everyone on the front lines has all they need. Baltimore’s health department is rationing its supplies of naloxone because it says it can’t afford an adequate stockpile. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Story at a glance


  • A new analysis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a spike in drug overdose deaths occurring in 2020.  

  • While white Americans accounted for most of those deaths — over 26,500 — the death rates are increasing the most among Black Americans and Native Americans.  

  • A total of 91,000 people died of a drug overdose in 2020, 30 percent more than the year prior.  

Overdose deaths spiked in 2020 among Black and Native American communities, according to a new analysis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

Although white Americans accounted for the largest number of drug overdose deaths in 2020 — over 26,000 people — the rate at which Black Americans and Native Americans died increased the most. 

Deaths caused by drug overdoses jumped overall by 30 percent from 2019 to 2020, CDC data shows, with that increase being even higher among non-Hispanic Black and Native Americans.  


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In 2020, the rate of drug overdose deaths increased by 44 percent compared to the previous year among Black Americans and by 39 percent among Native Alaskan or Native Americans, the analysis states. 

White Americans experienced a 22 percent increase in drug overdose deaths in 2020.  

Black men younger than 65 overdosed at a rate nearly seven times that of non-Hispanic white men – 52.6 per 100,000 people.  

The greatest rate increase in drug overdose deaths occurred among young Black Americans between the ages of 15 and 24, which went up by 86 percent in 2020.  

There was already an increasing trend in overdose deaths in the United States before 2020. But the onset of the pandemic – and the ensuing lockdowns and financial woes – coincides with a sharp spike in overdose deaths that year.  

Data show that the disparities are worsening in part due to income inequality. The analysis looked at overdose deaths in 25 states and Washington D.C., and found that there were greater racial disparities in overdose deaths in counties with more income inequality  

“The increase in overdose deaths and widening disparities are alarming,” said CDC Acting Principal Deputy Director Debra Houry. “Overdose deaths are preventable, and we must redouble our efforts to make overdose prevention a priority.” 

The report also shed light on some aspects of the nation’s drug treatment efforts. Opioid overdose deaths were the highest in areas with more opioid treatment programs compared to places with less available treatment.  

This difference was the most apparent among Black Americans, 34 percent versus 17 percent, and Native American and Alaskan Natives, 33 percent versus 16 percent.  

“The known differences in access, barriers to care, and healthcare mistrust could play a role in exacerbating inequities even when treatment is available in the community,” the CDC said in a statement.  

Among those who had died from an overdose, substance abuse was common, but few ever received substance abuse treatment, according to the analysis.  

Only one out of every 12 Black people and one out every 10 Alaska Native or Native American person who overdosed in 2020 ever received treatment.  


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