Thursday, January 05, 2017

Why is opioid epidemic disproportionately rural?

Why is opioid addiction so rampant in rural areas? A story by Luke Runyon of Wichita Public Radio suggests that rural areas are the perfect breeding ground for opioid addiction.
Drug-overdose death rates by county in 2014 (New York Times map)
One problem is that rural doctors have long prescribed painkillers to patients, leading to addicts being created in an environment where they have little help to cure their ailments, Runyon writes. With few local therapy options or medication-assisted treatment programs, people suffering from pain often turn to drugs. (Washington Post map: Age-adjusted opioid overdose death rates per 100,000 people in 2015)
"Some researchers think larger economic, environmental and social factors leave rural Americans at risk," Runyon writes. "University of California-Davis epidemiologist Magdalena Cerda says the epidemic is a perfect storm. After the 2008 recession, rural areas consistently lagged behind urban areas in the recovery, losing jobs and population." Jobs that are more prevalent in rural areas—manufacturing, farming and mining—often have higher injury rates, which can lead to more people using painkillers.

Another problem is that rural residents tend to know more people, interacting with twice as many people as in urban areas, Runyon writes. Kirk Dombrowski, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said these "sprawling social networks," gives "rural people more opportunities to know where to access drugs." (Read more)

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