The increase in opioid deaths in the Black community is especially striking when compared to the trend for white people. While overdose deaths among whites occurred at more than twice the rate as Blacks as recently as 2015, the rates are now close (17.1 for Black people, 19 for white) and they have been decreasing for whites since 2017, while rising steeply for Blacks. Overall, nearly 5,000 more Black people died of an opioid overdose in 2019—7,500 in total— than they had in 2015.

Michael K. Williams’s struggle with addiction

Williams was candid about his addiction, describing how he spent his earning from The Wire on drugs. “I was playing with fire,” Williams told in 2012. “It was just a matter of time before I got caught and my business ended up on the cover of a tabloid or I went to jail or, worse, I ended up dead. When I look back on it now, I don’t know how I didn’t end up in a body bag.”

While we don’t know the details about William’s death, and what, if anything, caused a relapse, Covid-19—and the isolation and distress it caused—led many who struggle with addiction to begin using drugs again, reversing much of the progress that had been made in reducing the opioid epidemic. Data for the full year isn’t yet available, but in the first nine months of 2020, the rates of opioid deaths climbed to the highest levels ever. The biggest increase has been among Black and Native Americans, who now had the highest death rates in the first nine months of 2020, several points above white victims.

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