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Native American, Alaska Native overdose deaths grew by nearly 40% amid pandemic

Fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during an investigation in an undated image.
U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah via AP
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U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah
Fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during an investigation in an undated image.

The rates of drug overdose deaths among Black, American Indian and Alaska Native people have increased significantly in the U.S. That’s according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2020, drug-related deaths among Native Americans and Alaska Natives increased nearly 40% over the previous year. Women in those groups between 25 and 44 years of age had overdose fatality rates two times those of White women. The highest increase was among Black populations and the numbers also rose among Whites and Hispanics.

The CDC’s Vital Signs report examines data from 25 states and the District of Columbia. It found the COVID-19 pandemic caused a disruption in access to drug abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery services, which likely contributed to the increase, along with income inequality. Overdose deaths are being driven by the synthetic opioid fentanyl and other illicitly manufactured analogs of the drug.

The CDC calls the increase “alarming” and is urging more access to care. The agency also wants more awareness of illegally manufactured fentanyl and expanded availability of overdose reversal drugs like naloxone in communities that’ve been disproportionately impacted by opioid abuse.

Ryan joined KNAU's newsroom as executive producer in 2013. He covers a broad range of stories from local, state and tribal politics to education, economy, energy and public lands issues, and frequently interviews internationally known and regional musicians. Ryan is an Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Public Media Journalists Association Award winner, and a frequent contributor to NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered and national newscast.