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Lower farm income, natural disasters may fuel opioid crisis, says study

Lower farm income, natural disasters may fuel opioid crisis, says study

Prescription drugs are normally suggested by a physician only to a patient who needs it for recovery. However, some of these drugs are often abused due to their typical properties, such as sedative effect and stimulation. Though there has always been a trend of misusing these drugs, the recent years have witnessed an upsurge in the number of individuals abusing such medications, particularly opioids. For them, the reasons are many – stress, trauma, environment, etc. The dangerous trend has been leading to severe outcomes, including premature death and suicide.

While over-prescription by medical experts is one of the known factors leading to drug abuse, a new research by Penn State has revealed that other influencers, like declining farm income, weather extremities and natural disasters, also contribute towards an increase in the use and abuse of drugs, causing death of thousands of citizens and costing the country billions of dollars.

Opioid overdose and socioeconomic factors

The study was conducted to evaluate how some socioeconomic variables and opioid-related drug overdoses were related, as it was a topic that was not readily discussed in public. To analyze the relationship between natural disasters and an increase in opioid overdoses, researchers used data available on FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) of the past few years. This was primarily to determine the effect that the weather related events (hurricanes, droughts and floods) had on opioid deaths.

Stephan Goetz, professor of agricultural and regional economics, Penn State and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, said that if the warnings by climatologists were accurate, a changing climate could lead to more extreme weather conditions, thus affecting opioid overdoses and deaths. Goetz had worked with Meri Davlasheridze, an assistant professor in marine sciences, Texas A&M at Galveston.

Income was the other factor that determined or influenced the number of opioid abusers. While portraying that opioid-related deaths were increasing in the rural counties, the researchers stated that if an individual’s net income per farm reduced by $10,000, it led to an increase of 10 percent in opioid overdoses. This implied that the national average of 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people increased to 11.2 deaths per 100,000 people.

“Our results confirm that economic factors, including income especially and unemployment, as well as population density — or rurality — are important. As we are controlling for economic factors, population density appears to play an independent role in accounting for the disparate death rates,” Goetz said.

Opioid overdoses leading to heavy cost

While presenting their findings at a recent meeting of the Allied Social Sciences Association (ASSA) in Philadelphia, the researchers said that the opioid-related drug overdoses cost approximately $432 billion in 2015 to the country.

Goetz referred to the opioid crisis as an issue much larger than the costs associated with the weather-related disasters of 2017, which slashed across social, economic and political lines. However, the researchers found some rays of hope in the study that pointed toward a possible decline in the number of overdose in the younger generation which was the highest among those belonging to the age group of 45-64 years.

Self-employed people also showed lower overdose rates. Goetz said that self-employed people, or entrepreneurs were thought of as people who would be more stressed and who might be looking for an escape from those pressures, but that did not appear to be the case in opioid use.

Mentioning the opioid related deaths in rural areas, researchers theorized that one of the reasons why the numbers may be high in these areas was the lack of facilities for mental health. Plus, it was still a stigma attached to seeking help in those facilities. The researchers suggest that these issues must be taken seriously and addressed through educational and other programs.

Recovery is possible

If there is someone you know who is addicted to opioids or any other form of drugs, the Colorado Detox Helpline can assist you in connecting with one of the best detox treatment centers in Colorado. Call our 24/7 helpline (866) 730-5807 or chat online to know about the most comprehensive treatments in Colorado.

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