There's one prominent story that may be helping Americans get beyond the myth that the opioid epidemic is limited to working-class Americans in rural communities.
In a recorded video shown at the White House Opioid Summit, former Fox News host Eric Bolling shared how he discovered that his 19-year-old son had overdosed on opioids hours after the TV personality lost his job over sexual harassment allegations.
“We never saw it coming. We never thought we would get that call,” he said. “There's one underlying issue that I think parents need to understand. And it's very, very important. I've seen it over the last few months since Eric passed — ‘not my kid’ syndrome.”
“ ‘Not my kid’ syndrome is terrible. ‘Not my kid’ syndrome is a killer, because you just don't know. It could very well be your kid,” Bolling added.
Bolling, a wealthy, college-educated media professional based in New York City, isn't part of the demographic group that often comes to mind when people think of opioid overdoses. But Bolling said the epidemic doesn't discriminate.
“Opioids are the unbiased killer of our most precious commodity, our children,” Bolling wrote, addressing this perception in a CNN op-ed. “Opioids kill athletes, straight-A students, white, Hispanic, black, rich, poor, gay, straight, girls and boys alike.”
But the truth behind the opioid crisis's broad impact has been the cause of much frustration from some communities that feel that they have been treated differently by Washington's efforts to combat drug abuse.
The Chicago Urban League released a report in November highlighting how the scope of the epidemic in black urban communities has been largely ignored. The study noted that black people make up approximately 32 percent of the population in Chicago but account for nearly half of all opioid deaths. And even in areas like Wisconsin or West Virginia, black overdose deaths outpace white deaths.
“The epidemic has largely been portrayed as a problem affecting young whites in suburban and rural areas. ... The federal government’s response to the opioid epidemic has lacked much, if any, focus on how African Americans are impacted,” the report said.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breakdown revealed that the death rate from opioids is rising most steeply among black Americans, particularly in urban areas. And according to a New York Times analysis, black people between the ages of 45 and 64 are among the most affected. A study from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute on Drug Abuse revealed that older black Americans saw the sharpest increase in overdose death rates. Some experts believe that older black men who were believed to have beaten their heroin addiction in the 1970s were now succumbing to the drug because of the potency of fentanyl.
Often lost in media coverage of how the drug is devastating rural communities is one demographic group that has been profoundly affected by the crisis: Native Americans. By 2014, Native Americans had the highest death rate from opioids, according to the CDC.
Leon Leader Charge, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge, S.D., worked in the federal government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Because he has witnessed firsthand how opioid addiction has affected youths, he previously told The Fix that President Trump's administration should prioritize prevention.
“Prevention centers save more money than treatment. And its hard for our people to complete 30-day treatment centers and then go back to the same communities. Chances of recovery are slim or lower if you don't have long-term, sober-living facilities.”
Charge told The Fix that it is difficult to keep people sober if they are in environments that do not have programs, counselors and other resources to support their sobriety.
The White House released a statement Thursday detailing its commitment to responding to the epidemic but did not detail how the administration might respond to different communities' specific issues.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams reminded Americans this week which community the epidemic really affects the most.
“In 2016, Black & African American youth 12-17 were more likely than whites to have used opioids in the past year. This data shows that we are moving in the wrong direction, & may be a precursor to even more opioid overdose fatalities in the black community in coming years,” he tweeted. “We must all be vigilant and ensure that prevention messaging is reaching our young people. Communities also need to know that effective, evidence-based treatments are available to treat opioid use disorder.”
The president has spoken about how much addiction has affected his own family’s life after watching his brother succumb to alcoholism. Americans who don't belong to the demographic groups that supported Trump most in 2016 (and continue to give him high approval ratings) are hoping he considers their families in his efforts to respond to this national crisis.