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Drug Overdose Deaths Increased in 2020, Except for Heroin

And, gap in overdose fatalities between Black and White individuals continues to widen

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 23, 2023 (HealthDay News) — U.S. drug overdose deaths from all drug categories except heroin increased significantly in 2020, as did racial disparities in U.S. drug overdose fatalities, according to a study published March 22 in PLOS Global Public Health.

Maria R. D’Orsogna, Ph.D., from the University of California at Los Angeles, and colleagues examined trends in drug overdose deaths by race, gender, and geography in the United States using data from the National Vital Statistics System (2013 to 2020). Four major drug types were examined: psychostimulants with addiction potential (e.g., methamphetamines), heroin, natural and semisynthetic opioids (e.g., prescription pain killers), and synthetic opioids (e.g., fentanyl).

The researchers found statistically significant increases in overdose deaths in 2020 from all drug categories except heroin, surpassing predictions based on 2013 to 2019 trends. For fentanyl and psychostimulants, crude rates for Black individuals of both genders surpassed those for White individuals in 2018, with the gap widening through 2020. Geographically, the largest 2020 mortality was seen for Black males in the District of Columbia, with a record 134 overdose deaths per 100,000 due to fentanyl, yielding a fatality rate 9.4 times higher than for White males. Overall, overdose rates for males exceeded those for females, with the exception of Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas, where female overdose death rates from natural and semisynthetic opioids were higher than those of males.

“Drug prevention, mitigation and no-harm strategies should include racial, geographical and gender-specific efforts, to better identify and serve at-risk groups,” the authors write.

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