This study examines relationships between indicators of economic opportunity and the prevalence of prescription opioids and substance use in the United States. Overall, areas with lower economic opportunity are disproportionately affected by the opioid crisis. However, the extent of that relationship varies regionally.
(1) The prevalence of drug overdose deaths and opioid prescriptions has risen unevenly across the county, with rural areas more heavily affected. 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-to-population ratio are highly correlated with the prevalence of prescription opioids and with substance use measures. On average, counties with worse economic prospects are more likely to have 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 shown by our substance use measures, as of 2016. (Author abstract)