Pandemic year brought on exacerbation of race, gender, and geographical disparities of drug overdoses

By: Jessica George, Class of 2024

Figure 1: fentanyl has magnified the pre-existing disparities in drug overdose deaths in the United States

The opioid epidemic has been a major public health crisis in the United States for several decades; fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has emerged as a significant contributor to the increase in drug overdose deaths in recent years. Given the prevalence and gravity of this problem, it is imperative to investigate any discrepancies that may exist between populations so as to accurately determine the appropriate solutions. Research conducted by Dr. Maria R. D’Orsogna and colleagues from the University of California at Los Angeles presented a research study that aimed to investigate the impact of fentanyl on drug overdose deaths in the United States and its association with racial, gender, and geographical disparities.

The study analyzed death rates and demographic information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database from the years 2013 to 2020. The data was then analyzed using regression models to examine the associations between class T40 drugs (which includes fentanyl), race, gender, and geographical location on drug overdose deaths. The findings of the study revealed that drug overdoses for all drugs, except heroin, increased in the pandemic year 2020. Furthermore, the study found that fentanyl use disproportionately affected certain populations, including African Americans, males, and individuals residing in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States. More specifically, Black men residing in the District of Columbia were 9.4 times more likely to die from fentanyl than white males in 2020. In regard to the discrepancies between sexes, male overdoses surpassed female overdoses in all categories in all states except for Arkansas, Idaho, and Utah. In these three states, the rates for overdoses by natural and semisynthetic drugs were higher for females than males. In regard to the discrepancies between races, the gap between Black and white individuals has been long-standing but was exacerbated with the onset of the pandemic.

The study’s findings suggest that fentanyl has magnified the pre-existing disparities in drug overdose deaths in the United States. The study also highlights the need for targeted interventions to address the fentanyl crisis and mitigate the impact of disparities in drug overdose deaths. These findings have important implications for policymakers, public health practitioners, and healthcare providers as they work to address the opioid epidemic and its devastating consequences.


  1. M.R. D’Orsogna, L. Böttcher, and T. Chou, Fentanyl-driven acceleration of racial, gender and geographical disparities in drug overdose deaths in the United States. PLOS Global Public Health 3, e0000769 (2023).
  2. Image retrieved from: 

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