Carroll and her colleagues found that disruption to the social networks through which illicit drug sales take place may immediately increase the risk of overdose among individuals of color who use drugs.
Jennifer Carroll, assistant professor of anthropology, has co-authored a new article slated for release in the November 2019 issue of International Journal of Drug Policy that outlines the unique risks that North Carolinian communities of color face in the current opioid overdose epidemic.
The study presented in the article was led by Carroll's long-time collaborator Assistant Professor of Social Medicine Lauren Brinkley-Rubinstein from UNC-Chapel Hill and facilitated by current research partners at the North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition. The purpose of the study was to better understand and document how older individuals of color residing in urban areas — those who have likely been part of and/or lived through the "old" opioid epidemic of the 1970s and 1980s — are being affected by today's overdose crisis.
Based on an extensive qualitative investigation carried out in Durham County in 2018, the article highlights the important role that well-known, well-trusted drug sellers can play in protecting people of color who use drugs against opioid overdose. Specifically, trusted sellers have typically earned that trust through consistent, transparent, and generally successful attempts to avoid selling fentanyl-contaminated drugs. The study also found that fentanyl-contaminated heroin was more often encountered by people of color who use drugs when primary, trusted drug sellers were unavailable. In the absence of these trusted, fentanyl-free sources, drug consumers had to seek heroin or other drugs through less trusted, secondary suppliers.
This study is part of a growing scientific literature indicating that removing trusted drug suppliers (such as through arrest or other methods of law enforcement pressure and disruption) may put vulnerable people who use drugs at immediate risk of overdose.
The article, which has been released online ahead of print, can be found here.