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Communities of color are seeing a rapid increase in fentanyl deaths

Posted: 11:17 AM, Apr 23, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-23 21:22:53-04
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention not only reveal how fast fentanyl is killing Americans, but also how much it is impacting communities of color.

The report stated that fentanyl-related overdose deaths have gone up 12-fold from 2013 to 2016. In 2011, there were approximately 1,600 fentanyl deaths but the number skyrocketed to 18,000 by 2016.

While Caucasians remain most affected by fentanyl deaths in the country, African Americans and Hispanics are seeing the sharpest increase.

The black community saw the rate of deaths rise by 141 percent every year, whereas, the Hispanic community saw a rate of 118 percent annually.

NewsChannel 5 invited five different people connected by one thing: addiction. Whether they are someone offering help and services or recovering themselves, the issue affecting the black community hits strong for them.

"I was saddened by it. I realized that I have been in denial about it because I had not seen any proof or any information that confirm that there had been an increase in fentanyl deaths among African Americans, I was hoping and praying that it wasn't going to hit," said Sherrie McKinney, a drug and alcohol counselor, who was addicted to crack.

Reasons behind the increase depend on who you ask. In most cases, fentanyl is being mixed with other known and typically recreational drugs.

"The fentanyl is making its way into more of these urban areas where you have higher concentrations of African Americans," said Erika Lathon, public relations manager for Addiction Campuses. "Now that that fentanyl is getting introduced, you have people who have been lifelong heroin users in some of the big cities, and those people have been using heroin for decades almost safely or in a controlled way if you will. Fentanyl is being introduced and those people are unaware of the potency and the unpredictable nature of fentanyl."

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be 100 times more potent than morphine, and was prescribed as a painkiller for cancer patients.

McKinney feels the opioid crisis is impacting African Americans now because painkillers were not always prescribed to them early on.

"Here comes opioids which have been prescribed for decades and there was always a higher rate of white Americans using opioids. That was a blessing and a curse in sort of a way, that's why it has not hit the African American community so hard because certain cultures like to get high certain kinds of ways and pills have always been from my personal knowledge, were for white boys and white girls," added McKinney.

Seeking help for addiction is not always easy for everyone. Many say there is a stigma in the community all thanks to the crack epidemic.

Some members of the panel said treatment among African Americans was vastly different from others, and high incarceration led to disdain.

"The crack epidemic and addiction brought about a stigma of mistrust. For me I could go into a job interview and because I had a past of addiction in crack I couldn’t become employed, and people from the outside say we can’t recover and I stand before you today to say we can with the right resources and help," said Trina Frierson, president & CEO of Mending Hearts and continues recovery for 23 years.

For people like Anthony Tate of DrugFree WilCo, it is not about race. He lost his son to opioid abuse in May 2017.

"I think it's very interesting listening to what everybody says because I look at this whole epidemic as being green, I don't look at it as being black or white, it's about money," said Tate. "You have people like my son who was a great kid but it was easy to pop a pill. I wanted to raise my kids in the suburb for better opportunity, and what I ended up finding out is that they do the same thing in the suburbs that they do in the hood, they do it in a different kind of way."

Frierson added that it is all about getting the treatment. She said in the black community, getting outside help is not so popular.

"African Americans tend to try to treat ourselves because we're strong, we come from a strong background, our mothers work hard. You think about heroin people in the 70s and they detoxed themselves, they knew how to go in and take care of themselves. One of the things with black people, we tend to care for ourselves because we think we can't afford for treatment that's needed, there's stigma and barriers," said Frierson.

The group of people is adamant that help is available. It starts with getting to know each other and breaking down barriers.

"It starts with communication and communicating to our community in ways in which they may understand," added Alton Hood, treatment specialist for Addiction Campuses who is still in recovery. "We have to be progressive in changing the narrative. We as a community, we're always out front as it pertains to athletics, entertainment, now we need to be outspoken and lead the way as it pertains to self care in our community."

To contact Sherrie McKinney of McKinney Counseling & Consulting, call 615-513-0157.

To learn more about Mending Hearts, contact Trina Frierson at 615-385-1696 or by visiting mendingheartsinc.org .

To reach Addiction Campuses call 888-614-2251 or by visiting addictioncampuses.com .

Anthony Tate of DrugFree WilCo can be reached at anthonytate@me.com.