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Is Your County an Opioid Overdose 'Hotspot'?
  • Steven Reinberg
  • Posted June 28, 2019

Is Your County an Opioid Overdose 'Hotspot'?

America's opioid epidemic has claimed thousands of lives, but certain counties in the South and Midwest are paying the highest price more often, researchers say.

For the study, researchers looked at more than 3,000 counties nationwide and found the risk of dying from an opioid overdose was twice as high in 412 counties. These places also had fewer doctors who could provide medications to treat opioid addiction.

The risk was highest in counties in North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Georgia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Florida.

By pinpointing where the risk of overdose death is highest, the researchers hope public officials will work to boost the number of doctors able to give lifesaving medications.

"We hope policymakers can use this information to funnel additional money and resources to specific counties within their states," said lead author Rebecca Haffajee. She is an assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, in Ann Arbor.

"We need more strategies to augment and increase the primary care provider workforce in those high-risk counties, people who are willing and able to provide opioid use disorder treatments," she added.

In the counties Haffajee's team studied, they found that:

  • In 13%, people had both a high risk of dying from an opioid overdose and limited treatment opportunities.
  • In 24%, people were at high risk of dying from an opioid overdose.
  • In 46% of the counties, no providers of medications to fight addiction were available, and that rose to 71% in the most rural counties.

Haffajee also found that fewer overdose deaths occurred in counties where people were younger, employed and had access to doctors.

"In rural areas, the opioid crisis is often still a prescription opioid issue [such as OxyContin]. But in metropolitan counties, highly potent illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids are more prevalent and are killing people," she explained in a university news release.

"Understanding these differences at the sub-state level and coming up with strategies that target specific county needs can allow us to more efficiently channel the limited amount of resources we have to combat this crisis," Haffajee said.

The report was published online June 28 in JAMA Network Open.

More information

For more on the opioid epidemic, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCE: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, news release, June 28, 2019
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