Racial gap grows large in Ohio’s overdose epidemic 

Overdose death among Black Ohioans continues to soar while overdose death among White residents has moderated somewhat.

The Ohio Department of Health mortality data report that 499 confirmed overdose deaths among Black residents as of September 27, 2021. One year ago at the same time, 427 overdose deaths had been confirmed among Black Ohioans. The change equals a 16.9% increase in overdose deaths among Black resident so far in 2021 vs. 2020.

The increase is especially worrisome because last year set a record for overdose deaths among for Black residents: 850 for the full year. At the current pace of overdose death, Harm Reduction Ohio estimates about 950 Black Ohioans will die from overdose in 2021, breaking last year’s record.

Source: Harm Reduction Ohio analysis of Ohio Department of health mortality data, Sept. 27, 2021

White Overdose Deaths

Source: Harm Reduction Ohio analysis of Ohio Department of Health mortality data, Sept. 27, 2021

Overdose death among White Ohioans has increased so far in 2021, too, although at a slower rate than among Black residents.

As of yesterday, the Ohio Department of Health reported 2,256 confirmed overdose deaths, a 4.4% increase from the 2,161 reported at the same time a year ago. The death toll of 3,331 White residents in last year was the second highest on record, exceeded only by 3,594 White Ohioans who died from overdoses in 2017.

Harm Reduction Ohio estimates the death toll for White residents is on pace to decline slightly in 2021 and finish the year at a little more than 4,000 overdose fatalities.

Only about half of all overdose deaths have been confirmed because, in addition to the year having three months to go, it takes time complete autopsies, toxicology tests and investigations to determine an official cause of death. Overdose deaths in the first four months of 2021 were significantly higher than in the first four months of 2020. However, deaths in May and June appear significantly lower than the history peaks recorded last year after the pandemic began. Ohio suffered a record 574 overdose deaths in May 2020 and 503 in June 200, the only time overdose deaths have exceeded 400 in a single month.

Overall, deaths remain consistently high, often exceeding 400 deaths per month, but are not likely to exceed 500 in a month.

Racial gap

White residents suffered the highest rate of overdose death early in the overdose epidemic. However, that shifted in 2018 as fentanyl expanded from heroin into the other drugs, especially powder and crack cocaine.

So far in 2021, Black residents account for 14.0% of Ohio’s population and 17.8% of overdose deaths. By contrast, White account for 82.8% of Ohio’s population and 80.7% of overdose deaths. Asians and Native Americans account for 3.1% of Ohio’s population and 0.6% of overdose deaths. (The race of  22 overdose victims, or 0.8%, has not been entered into the mortality data yet.)

Source: Harm Reduction Ohio analysis of Ohio Department of Health mortality data, Sept. 27, 2021

The disproportionate effect on Black Ohioans can be seen in the rate of overdose death per 100,000 residents.

In 2020, the rate of overdose for Ohio’s Black residents was 51.8 per 100,000. For White residents, the rate was 42.3 per 100,000 residents. Both are horrific numbers considering overdose deaths are preventable accidents.

Black and White Ohioans differ sharply in the drug involved in fatal overdoses.

In Ohio, fentanyl and its chemical analogs was an equal opportunity killer, involved in just under 80% of overdose deaths among both Black and White Ohioans.

However, Black residents were 2.5x more likely to die from cocaine-fentanyl than White residents while White residents died from meth-fentanyl at 3x the rate of Black residents.

Gender gap

Overdoses kill far more men than women in all races and ethnic groups. The gender gap is much larger than the racial gap. Males die of overdose at more than double the rate of women, an extraordinary difference.

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