A person interested in studying Public Health or Healthcare Management or medical degree may wonder, “How does the opioid epidemic differ throughout the U.S.?” The opioid epidemic has been going on or more than 10 years, but most parts of the country have seen little in the way of relief. Understanding the epidemiology of the opioid epidemic allows a person to work on strategies for lessening its effects.
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Racial Disparities in the American Opioid Epidemic
White people are disproportionately affected by the opioid epidemic. However, studies on healthcare disparities have found that doctors are less likely to take pain complaints of minorities seriously. Minorities receive fewer prescriptions for pain pills compared to whites, leading to more opioid addictions in whites.
Socioeconomic Differences in the Opioid Epidemic
Income plays a huge role in the opioid epidemic in the United States. Multiple studies have found that a lower income level greatly increases a person’s risk of opioid addiction and death. Opioid addiction often begins with an injury or accident that causes a person to be put on disability or lose their job. The pain pills the person receives eventually run out, causing the person to turn to other sources of pain relief. Heroin, fentanyl and carfentanyl are more powerful than oxycodone, hydrocodone or tramadol, and they are less expensive and easier to get on the street. Once a person has an opioid addiction, low income and a lack of health insurance makes it more difficult to get into a treatment program.
Geographic Differences in the Opioid Epidemic
Researchers identified geographic differences in the opioid epidemic. Specifically, they looked at zip code data in different counties in New York and found that zip codes with a lower home value had higher rates of opioid abuse and death. In another study, the National Institute on Drug Abuse published maps indicating the states with the highest death rates from opioid overdoses. Their maps showed that states including Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky in the Appalachian region and Maine, Maryland, Vermont and Massachusetts in the Northeast had the highest death rates in the United States, at more than 27.9 per 100,000 people. The places with the highest death rates per 100,000 people from opioid overdose include West Virginia, with 49.6 deaths; Ohio, with 39.2 deaths; Washington, D.C., with 34.7; Maryland, with 32.2 deaths; Maine, with 29.9 deaths; Massachusetts, with 28.2 deaths; and Kentucky, with 27.9 deaths.
Age and Gender Differences in the Opioid Epidemic
Statistical studies conducted by researchers at Stony Brook University and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine show that there are age and gender differences in the opioid epidemic. The average age of opioid death is 44 years in wealthier socioeconomic areas and 41 years in poorer socioeconomic areas. Men are more likely to die from opioid overdoses compared to women, with 58 to 60 percent of deaths occurring in men, depending on the location.
Knowing how the opioid epidemic differs throughout the United States gives individuals a plan for partnering and taking action. Agencies of the different levels of government and nonprofit organizations also need to know more about the opioid epidemic in order to devise strategies for managing it and decreasing its pervasiveness. Being able to answer, “How does the opioid epidemic differ throughout the U.S.?” is an essential first step in reducing the epidemic’s strength, severity and reach.