New Data Reveals Opioid Overdose Concentrated in Impoverished Areas

For a while it looked as though opioid overdose was an equally menacing substance use issue for all; a threat to every American, regardless of their race, culture or economic status and one that infiltrated affluent suburbs, jobless rural locales and already-desperate cities alike. New data from Researchers at Syracuse University suggests that this urgent and pervasive public health crisis that killed over 55,000 Americans in 2016 alone, may be another example of the wealth gap that often goes along with substance abuse and addiction. These findings may help decide where federal money should be allocated in the effort to prevent further opioid overdose.

Opioid Overdose as an Economics Issue

Of the over half a million Americans who have succumbed to opioid overdose in the past ten years, most lived in poor areas with limited to no economic or employment opportunity. The study authors are concerned that the national narrative of opioid addiction as a drug threat that “does not discriminate” may leave particularly impacted populations more vulnerable to being left out of the conversation when resources start getting distributed. Regions in which deaths were highest included clusters in Appalachia, Oklahoma, parts of the Southwest, and northern California. The lowest death rates were seen in parts of the Northeast, the Black Belt in Alabama and Mississippi, Texas, and the Great Plains.

Keeping an Eye on Our Own Backyard

While Texas may have had comparatively low opioid overdose mortality rates, these abstractions are of little comfort to the increasingly large contingent in the state that’s fallen victim to the problem, both directly and indirectly. Opioid addiction in Austin and the rest of the lone star state has increased considerably over the past five years and the number of overdose casualties is simply frontloaded over a more recent period. Additionally, drugs like methamphetamine pose a consistent threat to the lower-income portions of Texas. Understanding these geographic disparities helps paint a more accurate picture of who the opioid crisis is affecting most.