Mental health concerns have become heightened during the covid-19 pandemic, and Black Americans, being disproportionately affected, are seeing an opioid addiction and overdose crisis.
Celebrities are not immune. Dealing with the pandemic plus the stress of being a Black male in America could have disastrous consequences.
Until recently, the opioid addiction epidemic overwhelmingly affected white communities. This is partly because “prejudicial ideas about Black patients’ higher threshold for pain made doctors less inclined to prescribe opioid medications for them—which in turn led to lower addiction rates,” Annalisa Merelli wrote for Quartz.
In 2015, overdose deaths for whites were more than twice the rate of Black people, accounting for 6.6 deaths per 100,000 Black people. But that rate has been decreasing for whites since 2017 while rising steeply for Black people. Now the gap has closed to 17.1 deaths per 100,000 Black people and 19 for whites as of 2019, the last year for which comprehensive data is available.
Overall, 7,500 black people died of opioid overdose in 2019 — almost 5,000 more than they had in 2015.
Psychologists and other clinicians who are dealing with an increase in opioid and stimulant abuse say many are coping with pandemic stressors by self-medicating, leading to a surge in drug overdoses.
The ongoing stress of the pandemic had led to increased demand for mental health services.
Forty-eight percent of Black adults are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than white adults (41 percent), the Kaiser Family Foundation reported. As of June 2020, 13 percent of Americans admitted to having started or increased substance use as a way of coping with stress or emotions related to covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Overdoses have spiked since the onset of the pandemic, the American Psychological Association reported. The early months of the pandemic saw an 18 percent increase nationwide in overdoses compared with those same months in 2019, according to a reporting system called ODMAP.
Mental health issues may prompt drug use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported.
Here are three celebrity Black men who passed away from drug overdoses during the pandemic.
When DMX died on April 9 from a drug overdose, many were shocked. Although the hip-hop icon had talked openly about his struggles with past sexual abuse and ongoing drug addiction, it seemed like he was enjoying sobriety and a reenergized career. But the 50-year-old artist highlighted how he and others addicted to drugs continued to struggle in secret. DMX revealed he was tricked into smoking a marijuana blunt laced with crack when he was 14.
“Since DMX’s situation has come to light, I think people have tread a bit more carefully in the sense that DMX is obviously a very beloved musical figure and a lot of us have deep sentiment attached to him and his music, but I don’t think the ways that they’re talking about it reflect a deeper and seeming respect for drug users in general,” Baltimore-based harm reduction worker Lex Wilson told R29Unbothered, as reported in Refinery. “The things they’re saying don’t reveal deeper respect for people who use substances, people who have chaotic relationships with substances, or people who experience or have experienced addiction.”
Best known for his role as Omar Little on the hit TV series “The Wire,” actor Michael K. Williams was found dead of a suspected heroin overdose in his Brooklyn penthouse on Sept. 6.
Williams, 54, was found face-down and unresponsive in the dining room of his luxury Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment with drug paraphernalia and what appeared to be heroin on the kitchen table, sources told The New York Post. Many had thought Williams, who said he beat a cocaine addiction during the third season of “The Wire,” was enjoying sobriety.
During his career, Williams was very public about his drug addiction, how he was sexually abused as an adolescent, and his mental health struggles. He recently started therapy, he told syndicated TV talk-show host Tamron Hall, after wrapping up “Lovecraft Country,” for which he was nominated for an Emmy Award.
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“I just started therapy, you know, and really taking that seriously and starting to unpack, like you said, the critic in my head and what and how that has affected my — my actions, my responses to certain situations, my relationships,” he said in a video clip posted to YouTube on Feb. 25.
“Drugs and alcohol are not the problems, they’re merely symptoms of the problem,” Williams continued. “And once those things go away, the real work begins, you know…working on all the character defects, the moral compass — the skewed moral compass.”
Williams was part of a BET tribute to the hip-hop legend DMX after his overdose.
“We need to address this epidemic in our society. I think it was DMX himself said there is NOT enough done to help those struggling with addiction in the industry,” CanonChick @chick_canon tweeted after the news of Williams’ death.
Williams performed DMX’s song “Slippin.”
“He was telling us that he was slipping. We just didn’t hear him,” Maliyka to some Meeka to others @degreed_chick tweeted about Williams’ death.
Comedian Fuquan Johnson died on Sept. 5 after a suspected fentanyl overdose.
A frequent performer in the Los Angeles comedy scene, Johnson was also a writer for the “Comedy Parlour Live” TV series. His death was the result of an apparent overdose on fentanyl-laced cocaine, Yahoo reported.
Johnson, 42, was at a house party in Venice, California, according to TMZ. Two others died of a suspected fentanyl overdose at the party — comedian EnRico Coangeli, 48, and partygoer Natalie Williamson, 33. Comedian/model Kate Quigley, the ex-girlfriend of Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker, also overdosed but was hospitalized in critical condition. She is expected “to pull through,” authorities told TMZ.
The three who died reportedly ingested cocaine laced with fentanyl, a highly potent synthetic opioid which can be between 80-to-100 times more potent than morphine, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. It is commonly added to drugs like cocaine, unbeknownst to the user, Yahoo reported.
Johnson frequently performed stand-up comedy routines at well-known local venues such as The Laugh Factory, The Comedy Union, and the HaHa Comedy Club.