By Brian Mann / NPR

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say fatal drug overdoses nationwide have surged roughly 20% during the pandemic, killing more than 83,000 people in 2020.

While the CDC doesn't track overdose deaths by race, a growing body of research suggests Black Americans have suffered the heaviest toll. "It wasn't until we started looking at the level of race and ethnicity that we realized Black and brown communities are being disproportionately affected," said Dr. Utsha Khatri, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

Khatri's team analyzed drug overdose data collected in Philadelphia during the pandemic. They found overdose deaths surged more than 50% among the city's Black residents. Among whites, by contrast, drug overdose fatalities remained flat and in some months even declined.

For whites and those who are financially well-off, substance use disorder is often treated as a chronic but survivable illness. That means long-term health care and life-saving medications. By contrast, people of color and poor Americans who experience addiction regularly face arrest and incarceration, while rarely gaining access to high-quality healthcare.