Factory closings linked to 85% spike in U.S. opioid overdoses, says study

Researchers examined data on overdoses in 112 counties throughout industrial areas of the U.S. south and Midwest from 1999 to 2016.

Rick Docksai | Apr 26, 2020

Loss of automobile-manufacturing jobs has been deadly for Americans at risk of opioid addiction, according to a new study. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, linked car plant closures to an 85% increase in fatal opioid overdoses in recent years.

Researchers examined data on overdoses in 112 counties throughout industrial areas of the U.S. south and Midwest from 1999 to 2016. During this time span, plant closures affected 29 counties; no plant closures occurred in the other 83. Within five years of any plant closure, the affected county's overdose rate surged to 8.6 deaths per 100,000 people--or 85%--on average.

The biggest increases were among white men ages 18-34, followed by white men in the 35-65 age bracket, according to the study. It cited the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau as its main sources of data.

"These findings highlight the potential importance of eroding economic opportunity as a factor in the US opioid overdose crisis," the authors wrote.

Study co-author Atheendar Venkataramani, assistant professor in the health policy division of the Perelman School of Medicine, told reporters that he and colleagues had been interested for some years in the impact of economic security on personal health. He said that a plant closure can severely alter a person's outlook on the future, which in turn may cause his or her mental well-being to suffer and put the person at a greater risk of substance abuse.

Venkaratamani recommends that health-care providers and public health agencies work on more targeted screenings for substance abuse and deploying rapid treatment solutions. He also advised public officials at the local, state, and national levels to pursue policies for helping areas affected by economic or social change to become more resilient.