Why Was 2020 a Bad Year For The Opioid Crisis?


  • Once an issue associated with rural, white Americans, the opioid epidemic has encapsulated African Americans as well because of the COVID-19 crisis. 
  • In a city like St. Louis, where there has been a high increase in drug-related deaths, there was a similar rise in deaths among black people: 33%.  
  • The Black Lives Matter movement has advocated to bring the epidemic’s problems on African Americans into light, especially after supporters of Derek Chauvin (the police officer who murdered George Floyd) blamed his death on the fentanyl in his blood rather than the brutality shown by Chauvin.

2020 was a crazy year for the world. COVID-19 has affected many aspects of American society: in the world of commerce, education, and just everyday life. However, another issue within America was heightened by COVID-19: the opioid epidemic. The American addiction crisis worsened all over the country and unfortunately, African-American people were affected the most. The country’s epidemic had long been seen as a “rural white affliction” (Galofaro). However, the epidemic has shifted to a African-American-centric crisis, and with that shift, there have been fatal repercussions. Due to the widespread nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has taken a bigger prominence on the streets. The city of St. Louis saw an increase in drug related deaths. Deaths among African-American people in the city increased by a staggering 33% within a single year.. Communities suffered as more people overdosed while at the same time many were sent to prison rather than given treatment.

A protest held in response to the murder of George Floyd (Vanity Fair/Charlotte Klein)

Another blow to the African-American community occurred during May 2020 when George Floyd was killed by a police officer who suffocated him by kneeling on his throat. What’s worse is that defenders of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed Floyd (and was recently sentenced to 22.5 years in prison) blamed Floyd’s death not on the brutality imposed by Chauvin, but on the fentanyl found in his system at the time of his death. This event was the main catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement that followed after. The combination of the pandemic and the movement unveiled bigger issues in the lifestyle of African-Americans. This namely includes unfair treatment of different races within our healthcare system.

Buprenorphine is a drug taken to reduce overdose deaths (ACEP Med/Waller MD)

Access to medical care and regulated medicine of African-Americans has not been fair throughout history. African-American people have been found to be 4 times less likely to receive a medicine known as buprenorphine, a substance known to help reduce overdose deaths, than white people and have instead been given methadone. Although buprenorphine and methadone fight the same issue, buprenorphine is a pharmacy drug which people can access on their own time while methadone is a drug widely used in opioid programs and regimens of this drug are much less flexible than the former. Over the past few years, the mix of drugs in circulation has grown rapidly and overdoses have been caused by a wide variation of drugs. The CDC estimates more than 92,000 Americans have died of overdoses in a 12-month span that ended last November. The COVID-19 pandemic, while slowly improving, worsened the epidemic of drugs in our country  and action must be taken, or else the CDC’s numbers will rise.


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