African Americans now outpace whites in opioid-involved overdose deaths: a comparison of temporal trends from 1999 to 2018

Debra Furr-Holden, Adam J. Milam, Ling Wang, Richard Sadler

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


AIMS: To estimate racial differences in rates of opioid-involved overdose deaths (OOD) between whites and African Americans in the United States from 1999 to 2018 to (1) identify racial variation in the temporal trends of OOD during the 20-year period and (2) compare trends in OOD rates between whites and African Americans using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) three defined OOD epidemic periods.

METHODS: Data were obtained from the CDC wide-ranging on-line data for epidemiological research, which combines OOD data from the National Vital Statistics System, and population data from the US Census Bureau. Joinpoint regression models were used to estimate age-adjusted annual percentage change (APC) in OOD by race from 1999 to 2018.

RESULTS: The temporal trends of OOD varied by race. African Americans had a persistently low rate of OOD and statistically non-significant rate of change in OOD from 1999 to 2012 (APC = 0.47; P > 0.05), with a statistically significant and rapid acceleration in OOD rates in 2012 that persisted to 2018 (APC = 26.16; P < 0.01). Whites had three statistically significant periods of acceleration in OOD rate from 1999 to 2006 (APC = 12.43; P < 0.01), 2006 to 2013 (APC = 4.34, P < 0.01) and the greatest increase from 2013 to 2016 (APC = 18.96; P < 0.01). Whites had a statistically non-significant decrease in OOD from 2016 to 2018 (P = 0.16). The trend for whites more closely aligned with the CDC-defined epidemic periods than for African Americans. During wave 1 (1999-2010), the average annual percentage change (AAPC) for African Americans was significantly lower than for whites (0.47 versus 9.42, P < 0.01); however, by wave 3 (2013-current; defined by the introduction of illicitly manufactured fentanyl), the AAPC was significantly higher in African Americans (26.16 versus 13.19, P < 0.01).

CONCLUSIONS: Despite historically lower rates of opioid misuse and opioid-involved overdose deaths among African Americans compared with whites, the growth in opioid-involved overdose deaths among African Americans now outpaces that of whites in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)677-683
Number of pages7
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Epidemiology
  • health disparities
  • health equity
  • opioid
  • policy
  • race
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Drug Overdose
  • Humans
  • African Americans
  • Fentanyl
  • Whites
  • United States/epidemiology
  • Opiate Overdose

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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