Interventions Tailored to Race, Gender Could Help Decrease Drug Overdose Deaths


Methamphetamine deaths among American Indian and Native Alaskan men and women significantly increased between 1992 and 2019.

Over 106,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose in 2021, up nearly 15,000 from the previous year, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.1 Of those deaths, 80,411 involved opioids and 32,537 involved stimulants, making these 2 categories of drugs the largest contributors to the crisis by far.

Previous research has shown that race and sex differences may contribute to overdose deaths, but there is currently a lack of data on how treatment may contribute to disparities. However, a new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found race- and sex- specific interventions could help lower overdose death rates.2

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, overdose rates for Black individuals overtook those of whites for the first time,” Abenaa Jones, lead author on the study and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Penn State, said in a statement.3 “We wanted to delve into the nuances within those overdose deaths and also look at treatment admissions to gauge how treatment for substance use disorders looks among race, ethnicity and gender.”

Investigators conducted a study to evaluate race and sex differences in opioid and stimulant treatment admissions and deaths. Data from between 1992 to 2019 was gathered from the Treatment Episode Dataset-Admissions and the CDC’s online data for epidemiologic research.

The study cohort included data on 24,899,289 patients who were admitted to drug treatment during the study period, and 583,408 people who died from either opioid or stimulant-related deaths. Substances were grouped into 6 categories—cocaine, opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine and opioids, cocaine and methamphetamines, and opioids and methamphetamines—and the data was then examined by race and sex.

Investigators found that treatment admissions and deaths related to cocaine use were highest among non-Hispanic Black individuals. Non-Hispanic Black men in particular experienced larger increases in cocaine-only admissions than men of other racial groups. It was also found that men had higher opioid and stimulant treatment admissions and overdose deaths than women.

Additionally, researchers found that methamphetamine deaths among American Indian and Native Alaskan men and women significantly increased during the study period.

“We know there are different patterns of overdoses and treatment by race, ethnicity and gender, and certainly for different substances,” said Joel Segel, associate professor of health policy and administration at Penn State. “Bringing all these data together helps us see patterns—including where overdose cases and treatment are not matching — indicating there might be an important lack of treatment that needs to be addressed.”

1. Drug Overdose Death Rates. News Release. NIDA. Accessed June 29, 2023.
2. Jones AA, Shearer RD, Segel JE, et al. Opioid and stimulant attributed treatment admissions and fatal overdoses: Using National Surveillance data to examine the intersection of race, sex, and polysubstance use, 1992–2020. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2023;249:109946. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2023.109946
3. Tutella F. Race- and gender-specific interventions may lower drug overdose death rates. News Release. Penn State. June 23, 2023. Accessed June 29, 2023.
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