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The Impact of COVID-19 on the Opioid Crisis for African Americans


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While the nation is focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, the opioid epidemic ranges on. COVID-19 has upended our perception of normality. In addition to having to rapidly adapt to our newfound reality, the social isolation, lack of access to healthcare and domestic abuse have created a perfect storm for the resurgence of the opioid crisis. Cities such as Baltimore, St. Louis, and Chicago, all predominantly African American communities, have seen a significant increase in opioid-related hospitalizations.


Yet this should not be a surprise. Police brutality, COVID-19, and opioid-related deaths follow the same beaten path. Systemic racism targets the same population with no hesitation. African Americans born to a certain postal-code in comparison to their white counterparts have higher rates of poverty, less effective access to healthcare, and more lifestyle-related health conditions. If there was no disparity between white America and black America, the first 100 COVID-19 related deaths in Chicago would not all be African American. The pandemic illuminates the ingrained racial inequalities across the United States.


The opioid crisis feeds on those who are anxious, alone, and depressed. The stress of a completely virtual work environment or, worse, having no job at all at the cusp of an economic recession, compounded by the mandatory self-quarantine cultivates the breeding ground for the next opioid epidemic. But this time, it won’t be just opioids; a new generation of synthetic additives alongside fentanyl have been introduced into the market. Just alone in Cook County, Illinois, there has been an increase of fentanyl-related deaths from 74% to 81% in the last year. 


So what can be done? The persistent disparity amongst white and minority populations is inching into the limelight with recent protests, but this call to action must be followed by concrete efforts by those in government. Yet with some distinguished government officials dismissing the importance of addressing systemic racism, it is up to the next generation, whether it be the next president or the youth, to put words into action.


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