Factory Closures Linked to Surge in Opioid Overdose Rates, ‘Deaths of Despair’
Jan. 8, 2020 (EIRNS)— A Dec. 30, 2019 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) underscores what this news service has long asserted, that economic decline, joblessness, despair and pessimism among working-age Americans, who see no productive jobs or hope for the future, have contributed to the growth of the opioid epidemic. The study by Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania established that factory closures were associated with an 85% surge in opioid overdose mortality rates among working-age adults five years later, compared with what would have been expected if these factories had remained open. The research team looked at opioid-related deaths from 1999 to 2016 in 112 manufacturing counties near major automotive assembly plants.
“We found that automotive assembly plant closures—which led to dramatic reductions in economic opportunities in manufacturing for individuals living in those areas—were strongly associated with poor health outcomes, specifically higher opioid overdose death rates,” Dr. Venkataramani reported, according to Reuters. The study team emphasized that drug overdoses are increasingly seen as “deaths of despair.”
At the start of the study, 2.7% of adults aged 18 to 65 lived in these counties. During the study period, 3.4% of opioid deaths nationwide occurred in these counties, including 29 counties that experienced plant closures and 83 that did not. At the beginning of the study period, opioid overdose death rates were similar in all of these manufacturing counties at roughly 1 per 100,000 population. But in areas where plants closed, there were 8.6 more deaths for every 100,000 people five years later compared with counties where factories remained open.
The hardest hit population were young white male adults, followed by young white women.
According to Michael Barnett, an assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “when an automotive plant closes, thousands of people may lose jobs that provide economic opportunity, community and stability.... This study definitely provides strong support for the idea that economic conditions and unemployment may have played a role in catalyzing the opioid crisis, particularly in the states with many closures, like Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee. It reinforces that health is not just biology and genetics - the economy, poverty, and social factors are crucial as well.”