Friday, March 03, 2017

Study links increase in county unemployment rate to rise in opioid deaths

Opioid overdose death rates grow fastest in counties with rising unemployment rates, says a study by researchers at the University of Indiana and the University of Virginia published in The National Bureau of Economic Research. Some of the nation's poorest counties, many in Appalachia, also have some of the highest drug overdose rates. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study has state-level data on overdose deaths from 2015.

Researchers used county-level mortality data for the entire U.S. from 1999-2014, finding that when the county unemployment rate increases by one percent, the opioid death rates rises by 0.19 per every 100,000, a 3.6 percent increase. Researchers also looked at county level emergency room data from 2002-2014 from Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland and New Jersey, finding that when the county unemployment rate increases by one percent, the opioid death rate rises by .95, or seven percent.

"Because of the way the study was designed, it couldn’t measure the overall effect of national changes in the economy, like the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery," Jeff Guo reports for The Washington Post. "Instead, the research tells us that places that weathered the Great Recession more gracefully were better able to resist the opioid epidemic, while places that suffered during the Great Recession were harder hit by opioid deaths."

"This is more surprising than it seems. Alcohol use actually behaves the opposite way," Guo writes. "People tend to buy less alcohol in bad times, and more alcohol in good times. In fact, there’s a well-documented correlation between economic growth and higher death rates. When the economy is booming, people tend to behave in more risky ways, and pollution also increases. When the economy is in recession, both those risk factors abate."

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