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Economic Opportunity and the Opioid Crisis: Geographic and Economic Trends

Publication Date

This study examines relationships between indicators of economic opportunity and the prevalence of prescription opioids and substance use in the United States. We have three primary findings:

  1. The prevalence of drug overdose deaths and opioid prescriptions has risen unevenly across the county, with rural areas more heavily impacted. Specific geographic areas, such as Appalachia, parts of the West and the Midwest, and New England, have seen higher prevalence than other areas.

  2. Poverty, unemployment rates and the employment-population ratio are highly correlated with the prevalence of prescription opioids and substance use measures. Communities with worse economic prospects in general have much higher rates of opioid prescriptions, opioid-related hospitalizations, and drug overdose deaths.

  3. Some high poverty regions of the country were relatively isolated from the opioid epidemic, as measured by our substance use measures, as of 2016.