Closing of local automotive assembly plants may lead to increases in deaths from opioid overdose, according to a study led by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Massachusetts General Hospital. The findings highlight fading economic opportunity as a driving factor in the ongoing national opioid epidemic, and build on previous research that links declining participation in the labor force to increased opioid use in the U.S. The findings are published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Major economic events, such as plant closures, can affect a person’s view of how their life might be in the future. These changes can have a profound effect on a person’s mental well-being, and could consequently influence the risk of substance use,” says lead author Atheendar Venkataramani, an assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy. “Our findings confirm the general intuition that declining economic opportunity may have played a significant role in driving the opioid crisis.”
The study examined the number of opioid-related deaths over a 17-year period (1999-2016) in 112 manufacturing counties near major automotive manufacturing plants. Using a variety of data sources, the research team built a database of all automotive assembly plants in operation as of 1999, noting each plant’s location and date of closing, where applicable. They then identified counties located within commuting zones that contained one or more of the plants that closed.
Of the manufacturing counties examined, 29 experienced an automotive assembly plant closure during the study period. Results showed that five years after the plants closed, opioid overdose mortality rates among adults ages 16 to 65 in those counties were 85 percent higher than anticipated compared to counties where plants remained open.
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