Saturday, April 20, 2024

Racial Bias Might Have Spared Communities of Color from Opioid Epidemic

Research shows that doctors are far less likely to prescribe prescription opioids to their black and Latino patients, making them less vulnerable to develop an addiction to those drugs, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, the co-director of opioid policy research at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University.

“It would seem that if the patient is black, the doctor is more concerned about the patient becoming addicted, or maybe they’re more concerns about the patient selling their pills, or maybe they are less concerned about pain in that population,” Dr. Kolodny shared on NPR last week.

In the 1970s, black and Latino communities faced an unprecedented rise in heroin use and overdoses. Similarly, the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s mostly affected minorities. However, the response from public officials during these crises was to criminalize drug use and enforce mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

“What…we got from policymakers was a message that we could potentially arrest our way out of the problem,” Kolodny said. For Kolodny and others, the race of those affected explains the difference in response.

In 2015, drug overdose was the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with 33,091 people perishing from prescription pain relievers and heroin overdoses. Of those deaths, 27,056—or about 82 percent—were white. Last month, President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency.”