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Health, Science & Environment

Record numbers of Black and Brown people are dying of drug overdoses in Franklin County

Roger Moore, of Columbus, has struggled with drug addiction for over 30 years.
Natasha Williams
/
WOSU
Roger Moore, of Columbus, has struggled with drug addiction for over 30 years.

Historic rises in drug overdose deaths are disproportionately affecting Blacks and Native Americans. A recent survey by the CDC found fatal overdose deaths increased by 49% among Black people in 2020.

A billboard on 11th Avenue in Columbus issues a warning drugs are killing record numbers of African Americans.

Speeding cars and trains squealing in a distance are part of the background noise that has become a part of Roger Moore's life.

The 61-year-old recently hit rock bottom. He's homeless, unemployed and has been addicted to drugs for more than three decades.

“Every time I get depressed I go back to what I know and it's like I don't care about nothing else but trying to medicate my problems, “ Moore said.

That drug habit of over 30 years has taken nearly everything he holds dear.

“Were they I'm trying to get off this stuff and get back to my regular life...Because sometimes when you do things you when you are using drugs, drugs make you do things that you normally don't do. It triggers you to do something to feed your habit, “ he said.

As we talked he had been clean for six days but felt a spiral coming after a fight with his girlfriend.

As bad as his situation is he’s one of the lucky ones. A study from 2020 shows an increase in African Americans and Indigenous people dying from drug overdoses. In that year alone more than 40 percent of the almost 100 thousand people that died were Native and African Americans.

In Franklin County in 2019, 161 African Americans died due to overdose. The number rose to 249 deaths in 2020 representing a 55% increase. The number of deaths among African Americans remained roughly the same in 2021 preliminary death data at 251 deaths.

A billboard on 11th Avenue in Columbus is trying to raise awareness of opioid overdoses by Black people in Franklin County. The billboard is sponsored by Franklin County Public Health.
Natasha Williams
/
WOSU
A billboard on 11th Avenue in Columbus is trying to raise awareness of opioid overdoses by Black people in Franklin County. The billboard is sponsored by Franklin County Public Health.

The opioid crisis in large part did not affect Black and Brown communities, but more drugs and products are now containing opioids, said Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts, who is behind the billboard campaign.

“And now what we have realized is, you know, the drug industry, the illicit drug industry has gotten to be more sophisticated in the sense that now they are putting opiate products in non-opiate drugs. So, marijuana might be laced with an opiate. Cocaine might be laced with an opiate. Those are two drugs that are traditionally used by black and brown communities, “ she said.

The result is that more Black and Brown people who thought they were safe from opioids have fallen victim. Roberts said in addition to the billboards, they're also using radio ads and walk-in clinics as well as offering fentanyl test strips, Narcan and education.

Back near 11th Avenue, Roger Moore continues to fight his cocaine habit. He knows if he doesn't, he could join the ranks of Black people who've died of an overdose.

“I’m sorry I got caught up in it because I never been like this I was raised in a good family,” he said.

Regret aside, Moore is still hopeful he can get clean and enjoy the life he once knew: a home, job and family free of drugs and all the problems that come with them.

Williams joined the WOSU newsroom from the WLKY-TV in Louisville, KY, where she was a reporter. Natasha is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and has more than 20 years of television news and radio experience. Contact Natasha at natasha.williams@wosu.org.