The Opioid Crisis in Black Communities

J Law Med Ethics. 2018 Jun;46(2):404-421. doi: 10.1177/1073110518782949.


While much of the social and political attention surrounding the nationwide opioid epidemic has focused on the dramatic increase in overdose deaths among white, middle-class, suburban and rural users, the impact of the epidemic in Black communities has largely been unrecognized. Though rates of opioid use at the national scale are higher for whites than they are for Blacks, rates of increase in opioid deaths have been rising more steeply among Blacks (43%) than whites (22%) over the last five years. Moreover, the rate of opioid overdose deaths among Blacks already exceeds that of whites in several states. The lack of discussion of Black overdose deaths in the national opioid discourse further marginalizes Black people, and is highly consistent with a history of framing the addictions of people of color as deserving of criminal punishment, rather than worthy of medical treatment. This article argues that, because racial inequalities are embedded in American popular and political cultures as well as in medicine, the federal and state governments should develop more culturally targeted programs to benefit Black communities in the opioid crisis. Such programs include the use of faith-based organizations to deliver substance use prevention and treatment services, the inclusion of racial impact assessments in the implementation of drug policy proposals, and the formal consideration of Black people's interaction with the criminal justice system in designing treatment options.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Black or African American*
  • Community Health Services / organization & administration
  • Drug Overdose / ethnology
  • Drug Overdose / mortality
  • Drug Trafficking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Humans
  • Mass Media
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / ethnology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / therapy*
  • Public Health
  • Social Marginalization
  • Synthetic Drugs / adverse effects
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Synthetic Drugs