The present phase of the overdose epidemic is characterized by fentanyl-contaminated heroin, particularly in the eastern United States (U.S.). However, there is little research examining how changes in drug potency are affecting urban, racial minority individuals who have been affected by both the "old" epidemic of the 1940s through 1980s, as well as the "new" present day epidemic. A focus on the drug using experiences of racial minorities is needed to avoid perpetuating discriminatory responses to drug use in communities of color, which have characterized past U.S. policies. This qualitative study was conducted from March through June 2018 to examine recent experiences of urban, individuals of color who inject drugs to assess the impact of the current overdose epidemic on this understudied population. Interviews were conducted with 25 people who reported current injection drug use. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using a general inductive approach to identify major themes. Fifteen of 25 participants reported experiencing a non-fatal overdose in the past two years; eight suspected their overdose was fentanyl-related. Likewise, 15 had ever witnessed someone else overdose at least once. Overdoses that required multiple doses of naloxone were also reported. Participants employed several methods to attempt to detect the presence of fentanyl in their drugs, with varying degrees of success. Carrying naloxone and utilizing trusted drug sellers (often those who also use) were strategies used to minimize risk of overdose. Contaminated heroin and increased risk for overdose was often encountered when trusted sources were unavailable. This population is suffering from high rates of recent overdose. Removal of trusted drug sources from a community may inadvertently increase overdose risk. Ensuring access to harm reduction resources (naloxone, drug testing strips) will remain important for addressing ever-increasing rates of overdose among all populations affected.
Urban, individuals of color are impacted by fentanyl-contaminated heroin
Rhodes, B., Costenbader, B., Wilson, L., Hershow, R., Carroll, J., Zule, W., Golin, C., & Brinkley-Rubinstein, L. (2019). Urban, individuals of color are impacted by fentanyl-contaminated heroin. International Journal of Drug Policy, 73, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugpo.2019.07.008