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Monnat study using census data to understand differences in drug mortality published in AJPH

Jul 2, 2019

Using Census Data to Understand County-Level Differences in Overall Drug Mortality and Opioid-Related Mortality by Opioid Type

Shannon M. Monnat, David J. Peters, Mark T. Berg & and Andrew Hochstetler

American Journal of Public Health, July 2019

Shannon Monnat

Shannon Monnat

The authors examine associations of county-level demographic, socioeconomic, and labor market characteristics on overall drug mortality rates and specific classes of opioid mortality. They used National Vital Statistics System mortality data (2002–2004 and 2014–2016) and county-level US Census data. They examined associations between several census variables and drug deaths for 2014 to 2016. They then identified specific classes of counties characterized by different levels and rates of growth in mortality from specific opioid types between 2002 to 2004 and 2014 to 2016. The authors ran multivariate and multivariable regression models to predict probabilities of membership in each “opioid mortality class” on the basis of county-level census measures.

Results find drug mortality rates overall are higher in counties characterized by more economic disadvantage, more blue-collar and service employment, and higher opioid-prescribing rates. High rates of prescription opioid overdoses and overdoses involving both prescription and synthetic opioids cluster in more economically disadvantaged counties with larger concentrations of service industry workers. High heroin and “syndemic” opioid mortality counties (high rates across all major opioid types) are more urban, have larger concentrations of professional workers, and are less economically disadvantaged. Syndemic opioid counties also have greater concentrations of blue-collar workers.

To conclude, Census data are essential tools for understanding the importance of place-level characteristics on opioid mortality. National opioid policy strategies cannot be assumed universally applicable. In addition to national policies to combat the opioid and larger drug crises, emphasis should be on developing locally and regionally tailored interventions, with attention to place-based structural economic and social characteristics.