The opioid crisis, once thought to be a scourge confined to whites, is taking hold among African Americans in the Cincinnati area, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Last year, one in five of 347 overdose-death victims counted by the Hamilton County health department was African American. In 2014, only one in eight of the county’s 248 fatal overdoses was of a black person. The main culprit: Cocaine mixed with fentanyl. Drug sellers have been dropping the potent synthetic opiate into cocaine and other drugs to boost the euphoria and, likely, create more demand for the more addictive mix. Their goal is to maximize profit. “We are witnessing a positive change, or reduction, in death rates for whites,” said Erik Stewart of the Hamilton County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.
The rate of overdose deaths among African Americans, who make up 27 percent of the county’s population, is now running even with the rate among the white population, which makes up 68 percent of county residents. The shift is evident in a recent National Vital Statistics report. Black people had the largest annual percentage increase in drug-overdose deaths from 2011 through 2016. Cuyahoga County medical examiner Dr. Thomas Gilson told U.S. senators at a hearing in 2017 that the black community was being targeted by drug traffickers as a new market for opioids. Last year, Cuyahoga County saw a drop in the opioid-related overdose deaths of all populations. Gilson said last week that deaths among black residents were still “10 times higher than it was in 2014” and remains a serious concern. In Ohio, the black community has been much more likely to use cocaine than heroin, officials said. Now that cocaine is cut with fentanyl, they’re more likely to overdose.