Not Just Opioids: Cocaine-Related Deaths On The Rise Among Black Americans


    The rate of cocaine-related overdose deaths among black Americans is equal to the rate of opioid-related overdose deaths among white Americans, new data shows. The study, published on Monday, December 4 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, analyzed trends in U.S. overdose deaths and found an increasing rate of deaths among black and Hispanic Americans.

    “Numerous U.S. national surveillance studies and media reports have highlighted an alarming rise in drug poisoning deaths in recent years,” said Dr. Meredith Shiels, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute and co-author of the study.

    However, Shiels said, these national surveillance studies have a heavy focus on opioid-related deaths. Cocaine-related overdose deaths have also been on the rise and, what’s more, much of increase stems from the black and Hispanic population.

    “These increases have received less attention,” said Shiels.

    The rate of overdose deaths has increased overall by 5.5% between 1999 and 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While most of the increase in stems from opioid-related deaths among whites, researchers found that overdose deaths increased between 2000 and 2015 across all ethnicities.

    Up to 591,000 people alone suffered from heroin addiction in 2015. However, the most dramatic increases came from black men over 50 and black women over 45.

    Cocaine-related deaths peaked among all ethnicities between 2004 and 2007, then again between 2012 and 2015. However, cocaine proved to be the largest contributing factor to deaths among black Americans in particular.

    “The rise in prescription opioid overdoses is clearly related to the rise in availability of prescription opioids in recent years,” said co-author and National Institute on Drug Abuse researcher David Thomas.

    Heroin has also become more easily available on the streets. Compared to the $882 value of freight moved in 2007, the price of heroin on the streets is $220 a gram.

    Not only is this cheaper in the long run compared to prescription opioids, but carfentanyl and fentanyl, two drugs that are more powerful than heroin, are also being sold on the streets as heroin. Yet the reason for the rise in cocaine-related deaths is unclear.

    Those who suffer from substance abuse often use a substance initially for stress relief. Up to 40% of American workers report that their job is extremely stressful. This stress, along with the availability of the substance and the person’s prior exposure to the substance, can influence a person’s substance abuse.

    Underlying causes for the uptick in cocaine-related deaths may be found in the data. For instance, substance-related overdose deaths have affected all ethnicities. However, the study shows that each ethnic group had different peak ages.

    The highest rate of overdose-deaths for black Americans was among those between the ages of 50 and 59. The highest rate for whites was among those between age 30 and 34.

    Whether the recent increase in overdose-related death was caused by opioids, cocaine, or other drugs is unknown due to underreported drug information on U.S. death certificates. Up to 25.4% of all death certificates related to the 36,450 overdose-related deaths in 2008 failed to identify a substance.

    However, whether the rise in deaths is related to opioids or other drugs, the study does point to an interesting conclusion. “[The rise in cocaine-related deaths] does underscore that we not only have an opioid crisis,” said Thomas to CNN, “but a more general drug abuse crisis.”