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Experts warn the opioid epidemic is entering a new phase: What started with prescription painkillers like OxyContin in the early 2000s is now almost entirely dominated by the illicit traffic of fentanyl.

According to Scientific American, a million people in the U.S. have died of opioid overdoses since the 1990s. But the face—and race—of the opioid epidemic has changed in the past decade.

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Fentanyl, which is a far more deadly synthetic opioid, almost identical to heroin but 50 times more potent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Originally White and middle class, victims who are now Black and Brown are struggling with long-term opioid addictions, yet non-Whites often lack the resources to manage their illness.

Latino communities have been crippled by opioid crisis

Overdose deaths among Latinos have nearly tripled since 2011, according to a report published this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology. 

NBC News reports fatalities from overdoses have risen dramatically when fentanyl is mixed with other drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamine, which are more prevalent among Latinos than are heroin or prescription painkillers, according to study co-author Magdalena Cerdá, professor and director at the Center for Opioid Epidemiology and Policy at NYU Langone.

Between 2007 and 2019, fatal overdoses among Latinos from opioids mixed with cocaine rose 729%, and when mixed with methamphetamines, they have risen 4,600%. “There is a lot of product in all drugs at the moment, except for cannabis, which is contaminated with fentanyl,” Cerdá said. 

Black people are dangerously impacted by fentanyl

During 10 brutal years, opioid and stimulant deaths have increased 575 percent among Black Americans. In 2019 the overall drug overdose death rate among Black people exceeded that of whites for the first time: 36.8 versus 31.6 per 100,000.

And with the addition of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid that’s 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, Black men older than 55 who survived for decades with a heroin addiction are dying at rates four times greater than people of other races in that age group.

The reasons for this dramatic change come down to racial inequities. Research shows that Black people have a harder time getting into treatment programs than white people do, and Black people are less likely to be prescribed the gold standard medications for substance use therapy.

“If you are a Black person and have an opioid use disorder, you are likely to receive treatment five years later than if you’re a White person,” says Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

“Treatments are extraordinarily useful in terms of preventing overdose death so you can actually recover. Five years can make the difference between being alive or not.”

Biden’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal could address opioid crisis with $46 billion investment

The President’s FY24 budget proposal supports historic levels of investments made to address addiction and the overdose epidemic through the American Rescue Plan and the Consolidated Appropriations Act.

On March 9, The White House stated its intention to advance the Administration’s plan to beat the opioid epidemic as part of his Unity Agenda, President Biden released his FY 2024 budget request to Congress, which calls for an unprecedented investment of $46.1 billion for National Drug Control Program agencies.

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The FY24 budget request continues the Biden Administration’s trend of calling for dramatic investments to address the overdose epidemic driven by fentanyl, and represents a $5.0 billion increase from the FY22 request and a $2.3 billion increase over the FY23 enacted level.

The FY24 budget also includes an increase in funding for efforts to reduce the supply of illicit drugs like fentanyl and stop drug trafficking.

It also includes an increase in funding to support the expansion of prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and recovery support services.

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...