Different age and race addicts sitting in the line.

No Demographic Is Safe from the Opioid Crisis

Our great nation is struggling with a highly lethal drug epidemic, one which causes problems and crippling issues of the very worst kind.

For years we have felt the tight grip of the addiction crisis. With 24 million-plus people in the U.S. struggling with substance abuse, it’s likely that most of us have been affected by this problem in some way or another.

If the drug crisis of the last twenty-some-odd years has taught us anything, it’s that no one is safe from a drug habit. Addiction is something that can affect any person, at any time, no matter their background, their ethnicity, their financial standing, their upbringing, their location, their age, etc.

What really drove this point home for us were the changes in the drug overdose death rates among different demographics in 2017. For years, ethnic minorities and older-age demographics stayed mostly safe from drug overdoses.

For years, white Caucasian Americans took the brunt of the loss from the opioid crisis, with the vast majority of overdose deaths every year being allotted to this group. And while white America still loses the most from opioid drug overdoses by far, other demographics are starting to get involved in the death toll, too.

The Rate of Overdose Deaths and the Overall Number of Deaths Tell Us Different Stories

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a pretty shocking research paper on 2017’s total loss of life from drug use. They published it on January 4th, 2019, and have since started working on the numbers for 2018. (It’ll be several months before preliminary findings for 2018 become available, and a good nine months to a year before the CDC publishes a similar, full report for 2018).

 “In 2017, among 70,237 drug overdose deaths, 47,600 (67.8%) involved opioids, with increases across age groups, racial/ethnic groups, county urbanization levels, and in multiple states….”

Here’s the opener: “In 2017, among 70,237 drug overdose deaths, 47,600 (67.8%) involved opioids, with increases across age groups, racial/ethnic groups, county urbanization levels, and in multiple states. From 2013 to 2017, synthetic opioids contributed to increases in drug overdose death rates in several states. From 2016 to 2017, synthetic opioid-involved overdose death rates increased 45.2%.”

Clearly, this problem is expanding, and lethally so. U.S. News featured the CDC’s research paper in their own periodical, focusing on the highlights of the CDC’s research and what this meant for the many demographics that call the United States their home.

Most prominent is the heavy toll that the opioid crisis is now taking on the African American community. Here we have the phenomenon of the rate at which minority demographics are now dying from drug use, compared to the total number of overdose deaths among all demographics.


In the black community, 5,513 black Americans died from overdoses on opioids or opioid-related causes in 2017. That number is up 26% from the 4,374 who died in 2016. True, far more whites died from opioid-involved deaths, (37,113 deaths in 2017 altogether). However, the death toll among the white community only increased by 11% from 2016—less than half the 26% rate of increase among the black community.

And the black community is not the only ethnic or minority group to experience such a surge in death rates. Opioid-related deaths among the Hispanic community increased by 11.5% in 2017.

The senior citizen age group felt a heavy blow from opioid-related deaths, too. A total of 1,724 individuals over the age of 65 lost their lives from opioid overdose deaths in 2017. That’s more than a 17% increase from 2016’s opioid death rate for this age group.

The report goes on to show us the death rates among different demographics for specific, opioid-based drugs. Here again, we see increasing harm to minority groups.

For synthetic opioids, African Americans again felt the harshest increase in overdose deaths, a whopping 61% increase in deaths from 2016 to 2017. Native Americans and Alaskan Natives experienced a similar increase, with 58.5% more deaths from synthetic opioids in 2017 than in 2016.

And it’s not just opioids that are causing more deaths among minorities. Cocaine and methamphetamine use is also causing more deaths. For cocaine and methamphetamine-related deaths among black Americans, Native Americans, and Alaskan Natives, the increase comes to about 34% more deaths in 2017 than in 2016.

What 2017 Taught Us about the Current State of Drug Addiction in America

In 2017, 70,237 people died from drug-related causes, according to the CDC. That number beat the nation’s previous highest-ever loss of life from drugs which was 63,632 in 2016.

This is very concerning. 2017 taught us a grim lesson. The problem of opioid deaths first surged forward with middle-aged white Americans. This was the opening act. The curtains came up, opioids introduced themselves on the stage, and white America was the first group in the audience to fall prey. But now the second act is commencing, and the problem is getting worse.

Deaths among white Americans are still increasing, but now the death toll among other demographics is racing to catch up. We need to address and reduce this problem before the third act starts. I do not want to know what is in store for our nation in the final act of the opioid crisis if we do not curb this problem now.

Drug Addiction Can Affect Anyone – That’s Why Everyone Needs to Get Help

Hands protecting community.

Every year, the drug problem gets worse. Every year, more people die. Yet every year, our pharmaceutical companies continue to churn out more highly addictive and habit-forming painkiller drugs.

Every year, more dealers cut lethal doses of fentanyl into heroin or painkillers to make deadly synthetic opioids.

Every year, our government continues to criminalize drug addicts and opts for criminal approaches instead of treatment.

Every year, we fail to prevent more drugs from being illegally trafficked into the nation. And every year, we fail to educate our teens and young adults enough on the risks and dangers of drug use to convince them to abstain from experimenting with such substances.

All of this has to change. We have to start taking this problem more seriously, and we have to start addressing the above points. If we don’t do so, the very fate of our health and of our nation may hang in the balance.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.