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Opioid Crisis: The Urban/Rural Divide

Between 2010 and 2016, opioid-related overdose deaths tripled in Ohio. (christinacorsco/Twenty20)
Between 2010 and 2016, opioid-related overdose deaths tripled in Ohio. (christinacorsco/Twenty20)
March 1, 2019

COLUMBUS, Ohio – While the opioid crisis has touched Ohioans from all walks of life, some of the risk factors may not be random.

In an attempt to better understand how the opioid epidemic has unfolded across the country, Syracuse University Associate Professor of Sociology Shannon Monnat examined the drug mortality rates of non-Hispanic whites.

She says contrary to common belief, drug mortality rates are higher in urban areas than rural counties. However, there is wide variation.

"It is the case that some rural places in the U.S. have the very highest overdose mortality rates, but some rural places have the very lowest,” says Monnat. “So, it's really kind of a tale of two rural Americas."

Monnat explains higher rates of drug deaths were concentrated either in economically distressed mining communities, or those dependent on service-sector jobs.

"In addition to opioid supply measures, economic distress measures really matter in explaining why some places have higher overdose rates than others,” says Monnat.

Between 2010 and 2016, opioid-related overdose deaths tripled in Ohio.

Monnat says intergenerational poverty, hard manual labor, as well as the loss of manufacturing and mining industries have contributed to higher rates of opioid abuse in some rural communities.

"For a lot of people, those institutions of work and the family have unraveled over the past 30 years, and it's left some people with little meaning in their lives,” says Monnat. “And drugs are one way to escape that emotional pain or a way to escape or the reality of a lack of connection or a purpose in life."

Monnat contends these economic and social factors must be taken into account when considering solutions.

"And intervention efforts have to be specifically targeted to certain regions, labor markets, and populations,” says Monnat. “Otherwise, those efforts are not going to be effective."

She adds that future research into health-related measures and civic engagement could help determine if some communities are at greater risk as well.

Reporting by Ohio News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest, and funded in part by The George Gund Foundation.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH