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Treatment considering race and gender could lower drug overdose deaths, according to Penn State researchers

A man holds a sample of the opioid antidote Narcan during a training session at a New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene office in March.
Kena Betancur
AFP/Getty Images
Drug treatment services that consider race and gender could reduce drug overdose deaths, according to recent research led by a Penn State professor.

Drug overdose deaths continue to climb in the United States because of contamination from synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Recent research led by a Penn State professor finds minority communities are being affected the most.

“Around 2020, the overdose death rates among black individuals surpassed white individuals for the first time since we’ve been collecting this sort of information,” said Abenaa Jones, the Ann Atherton Early Career Professor in Health and Human Development and assistant professor of human development and family studies. Jones was lead author on the paper.

Jones said minorities are less likely to go to places that support syringe service programs that also provide life-saving opioid reversal drugs.

“Because of fear of harassment from police, a lot of times, carrying drug paraphernalia is a charge, but we know that certain groups are more disproportionately targeted,” Jones said.

Jones said community organizations can hand out opioid reversal drugs, like Narcan, to help bring down overdose deaths. She also said diverse specialists at treatment centers, more accessible transportation, and help with childcare would break down barriers for treatment.

Women that need treatment for opioid use disorders may have to turn their kids over to the state, foster care or kinship care.

“Sometimes you may not get your children back when there's a lot of hassle to that. A woman may not just want to do that because they don't want to lose their children,” Jones said.

Another Penn State researcher that contributed to this paper, Joel Segel, said fentanyl test strips are another important tool in bringing down overdose death rates.

“If you've got populations that may not even realize that the substances they're using are half fentanyl, and we know that fentanyl is a major contributor to a lot of overdoses, particularly the fatal overdoses,” Segel said.

Help is available for those facing substance abuse and addiction. The Pennsylvania Addiction Hotline is free and anonymous. Call 866-210-1303 anytime to be connected with a specialist. United Way of PA has collaborated with 988. You can dial 988 or text your zip code to 898211 to be connected with a specialist.

Sydney Roach is a reporter and host for WPSU with a passion for radio and community stories.