Posted on January 30, 2022

Recent Surge in U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Has Hit Black Men the Hardest

John Gramlich, Pew Research Center, January 19, 2022

Nearly 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020, marking a 30% increase from the year before, a 75% increase over five years and by far the highest annual total on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Preliminary figures suggest that the 2021 death toll from overdoses may be even higher.

While overdose death rates have increased in every major demographic group in recent years, no group has seen a bigger increase than Black men. As a result, Black men have overtaken White men and are now on par with American Indian or Alaska Native men as the demographic groups most likely to die from overdoses.

There were 54.1 fatal drug overdoses for every 100,000 Black men in the United States in 2020. That was similar to the rate among American Indian or Alaska Native men (52.1 deaths per 100,000 people) and well above the rates among White men (44.2 per 100,000) and Hispanic men (27.3 per 100,000). The overdose death rate among men was lowest among Asians or Pacific Islanders (8.5 per 100,000).

As recently as 2015, Black men were considerably less likely than both White men and American Indian or Alaska Native men to die from drug overdoses. Since then, the death rate among Black men has more than tripled – rising 213% – while rates among men in every other major racial or ethnic group have increased at a slower pace. The death rate among White men, for example, rose 69% between 2015 and 2020.

As has long been the case, women in the U.S. are less likely than men to die from drug overdoses. But death rates have risen sharply among women, too, especially Black women. The overdose fatality rate among Black women rose 144% between 2015 and 2020, far outpacing the percentage increases among women in every other racial or ethnic group during the same period.


Even as overdose deaths have soared, public concern about drug addiction in the U.S. has ticked down, according to Pew Research Center surveys. In early 2018, 42% of U.S. adults said drug addiction was a major problem in their community, but that percentage declined to 35% in October 2021. Around four-in-ten Black (42%) and Hispanic adults (41%) said in the 2021 survey that drug addiction was a major problem in their community, compared with smaller shares of White (34%) and Asian adults (20%).