LEXINGTON, Ky. — New research from the University of Kentucky suggests the Black community is dealing with a rise in drug overdose deaths. Researchers say deadly overdoses more than doubled between 2016 and 2020. According to Public Health Reports, the Black overdose mortality rate increased by nearly 117% — from 21.2 deaths for every 100,000 people in 2016 to 46.0 per 100,000 in 2020.
A release from the university states the team of researchers who are part of UK’s HEALing Communities Study evaluated changes in drug overdose mortality for various racial and ethnic groups. The study shows about 80% of drug overdose deaths among all racial and ethnic groups in Kentucky involved opioids.
“Historically, opioid overdose death rates have been disproportionately higher among white individuals, but the new study shows that the rates for both white and Black individuals in Kentucky are now nearly the same,” said study co-author Svetla Slavova, Ph.D., associate professor in the UK College of Public Health.
UK researcher Dana Quesinberry told WCPO the findings were so dramatic from 2019 to 2020 that the university felt compelled to share the results with the public in hopes of intervention.
“The illicit stimulant supply, the drug supply has been, I don’t like to use the word contaminated, but contaminated with fentanyl," Quesinberry said. "We have people who are opioid-naive, in that they don’t regularly use opioids, being exposed to a very powerful fentanyl and that has increased mortality."
Quesinberry suggested providers focus their outreach efforts on the Black community. She also suggested those in need of help check out resources through Find Help Now KY.
Brandon Elliott, a territory outreach director for addiction treatment provider Brightview Health, said making sure underserved communities are given access to treatment is what Brightview is constantly working on.
“There is some gaps that need to be filled and companies like Brightview and healing communities are folks that are trying to bridge those gaps and connect those dots for some of the underserved markets,” he said.
In recent years, Brightview opened 16 locations across Kentucky. A spokesperson for the provider says two more will open in the commonwealth by the end of the year.