Racial/Ethnic and Age Group Differences in Opioid and Synthetic Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths Among Adults Aged ≥18 Years in Metropolitan Areas - United States, 2015-2017.MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2019 Nov 01; 68(43):967-973.MM
Among the 47,600 opioid-involved overdose deaths in the United States in 2017, 59.8% (28,466) involved synthetic opioids (1). Since 2013, synthetic opioids, particularly illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF), including fentanyl analogs, have been fueling the U.S. overdose epidemic (1,2). Although initially mixed with heroin, IMF is increasingly being found in supplies of cocaine, methamphetamine, and counterfeit prescription pills, which increases the number of populations at risk for an opioid-involved overdose (3,4). With the proliferation of IMF, opioid-involved overdose deaths have increased among minority populations including non-Hispanic blacks (blacks) and Hispanics, groups that have historically had low opioid-involved overdose death rates (5). In addition, metropolitan areas have experienced sharp increases in drug and opioid-involved overdose deaths since 2013 (6,7). This study analyzed changes in overdose death rates involving any opioid and synthetic opioids among persons aged ≥18 years during 2015-2017, by age and race/ethnicity across metropolitan areas. Nearly all racial/ethnic groups and age groups experienced increases in opioid-involved and synthetic opioid-involved overdose death rates, particularly blacks aged 45-54 years (from 19.3 to 41.9 per 100,000) and 55-64 years (from 21.8 to 42.7) in large central metro areas and non-Hispanic whites (whites) aged 25-34 years (from 36.9 to 58.3) in large fringe metro areas. Comprehensive and culturally tailored interventions are needed to address the rise in drug overdose deaths in all populations, including prevention strategies that address the risk factors for substance use across each racial/ethnic group, public health messaging to increase awareness about synthetic opioids in the drug supply, expansion of naloxone distribution for overdose reversal, and increased access to medication-assisted treatment.