"This startling figure reveals the reach of the crisis, and explains why it has been declared a national emergency. The Fed also wanted to assess how opioid addiction links to economic wellbeing—specifically, if the increase in addiction is part of what Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call deaths of despair," Eshe Nelson and Dan Kopf report for Route Fifty. Case and Deaton believe that groups facing hard times, like blue collar whites, are more susceptible to addiction-related deaths, an argument supported by the study's finding that whites and those with no college degree are more exposed to the opioid epidemic than ethnic minorities and college graduates.
The "deaths of despair" hypothesis wasn't supported by the study's findings: over half of the people surveyed think their local economy is good or excellent, though that number is slightly lower (though still over 50 percent) among people who knew someone addicted to opioids. "This implies that the roots of the opioid crisis aren’t obviously linked to economic conditions in places where the addiction rate is high," Nelson and Kopf report. "But perceptions of economic well-being shouldn’t be dismissed just because they don’t align with the data."