Drug overdose death rate highest among American Indian people and middle-aged black men, study finds


For people ages 15 to 34, whites had the highest overdose death rate in 2018. But between 2018 and 2021, rates rose faster among other races and ethnicities. By 2021, American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest overdose death rates in that age group.

For ages 35 to 64, American Indians and Alaska Natives had the highest overdose death rates in 2018. But by 2021, rates among black men surpassed those among American Indian men.

In 2021, overdose death rates among black men ages 35 to 64 were higher than any other demographic group. Fentanyl-related deaths nearly tripled for this group between 2018 and 2021.

For this study, federal researchers analyzed data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System. They compared drug overdose deaths from March to August 2018, 2020 and 2021.

The study’s findings “underscore the need to expand prevention, treatment, and harm reduction interventions tailored to specific populations, particularly American Indian or Alaska Native and Black populations, due to long-standing structural racism and disparities in access to these services,” the researchers wrote.

“The findings also suggest that education about the dangers of methamphetamine and fentanyl is urgently needed. Reducing overdose death disparities may include expanding access to naloxone, fentanyl testing strips, and substance use disorder treatment for disproportionately affected populations.”

In 2020, drug overdose deaths in the US topped 100,000 in the first year, according to the CDC, and are expected to rise another 15% in 2021.

Drug overdose deaths continue to rise, with the CDC’s latest interim data showing that more than 109,000 people died of a drug overdose in the 12 months ending in March 2022.

The latest figures mark a 44% jump from before the Covid pandemic: around 76,000 deaths were reported in the 12 months ending in March 2020.

Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were involved in more than two-thirds of overdose deaths in the year ending March 2022. Deaths from synthetic opioids increased by a staggering 80% in the past two years, CDC data shows.

Relative to the state’s population, overdose death rates were the highest in West Virginia, with 83 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents. Seven states had fewer than 20 deaths per 100,000 residents: Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, New York, Texas, North Dakota and Montana.