Natural Disasters

Researchers find links between economic conditions and overdose rates

The current opioid crisis has hit rural communities all across the country, and new research from Penn State is shedding light into some of the factors behind this deadly trend.

As reported by WHYY.org, as incomes drop and unemployment rises, communities tend to suffer higher rates of opioid-related deaths.

The death rates were also higher in rural areas, they reported, and the study found that declining farm incomes were associated with an increase in overdose deaths.

Stephan Goetz, a professor of agricultural and regional economics at Penn State University, noted that several forces are in play in rural areas.

“If you don’t have a treatment facility, there may be more stigma or lack of awareness of the problem,” Goetz said. “So, people will be less likely to seek out help from friends or others in the community.”

Surprisingly, the data found that communities with a history of floods, hurricanes, and other calamities resulting in the declaration of a national disaster also suffer higher opioid death rates. The more natural disasters communities endured over time, the higher their rates of opioid overdose tended to be.

“What this seems to tell us is there’s a lingering effect of a disaster,” Goetz said.

Importantly, Goetz noted that the economy is likely impacted by fatal overdoses — and the loss of workers that results — as well as the other way around. Goetz’s research has also found that young adults ages 15 – 24 are at particularly high risk for overdose.

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To read more about how researchers are trying to map the economics behind the current opioid crisis, please visit WHYY.org.

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