HHS has released a new study through the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) on opioids with this one focusing on the economic and geographic impact of the drug. The Opioid Crisis and Economic Opportunity: Geographic and Economic Trends

Noting the background that is now regularly repeated that opioid use has reached epidemic levels with a 200 percent increase in overdose deaths from opioids (including heroin) between 2000 and 2014, the research makes three major points:

• The prevalence of drug overdose deaths and opioid prescriptions has risen unevenly across the county, with rural areas more heavily affected. Specific geographic areas, such as Appalachia, parts of the West and the Midwest, and New England, have seen higher prevalence than other areas.

• Poverty, unemployment rates, and the employment-to-population ratio are highly correlated with the prevalence of prescription opioids and with substance use measures. On average, counties with worse economic prospects are more likely to have higher rates of opioid prescriptions, opioid-related hospitalizations, and drug overdose deaths.

• Some high-poverty regions of the country were relatively isolated from the opioid epidemic, as shown by our substance use measures, as of 2016.

An earlier ASPE study: Substance Use, the Opioid Epidemic, and the Child Welfare System: Key Findings from a Mixed Methods Study found a 10 percent increase in overdose death rates correspond to a 4.4 percent increase in the foster care entry rate and a ten percent increase in the hospitalization rate due to drug use corresponds to a 3.3 percent increase in the foster care entry rate.

This new ASPE report concludes that more research is needed to better understand how economic opportunity and substance use interact at the community level, but they also conclude that action to address the risks and consequences of the opioid epidemic in communities simultaneously facing economic challenges need not wait.