Opioid overdoses followed auto plant closures, study says

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DAYTON, Ohio – Opioid overdoses deaths spiked across the U.S. where automotive plants closed – including the former GM assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio – a new study found.

The study published in JAMA Internal Medicine highlights the role declining economic opportunity in the U.S. and cities like Dayton had on the opioid overdose crisis.

The local GM plant had employed 1,000 when it closed Dec. 2008, and at its peak employed more than 4,000 people. The manufacturing jobs provided middle to upper middle class wages and had a broader economic impact of supporting related industries.

“When people lose their job, you see increase amounts of anxiety and depression. They are not only disorders that affect the mind, they are physical disorders that affect the body and make your body ache and makes your body physically tired,” said Jodi Long, associate director for Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services.

The study is also published while thousands of communities are suing opioid makers and distributors, accusing them of fueling the public health crisis by flooding communities with the powerful painkillers.

The study, whose lead author was Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani of the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania, stated that the researchers’ findings “should not be interpreted in such a way as to diminish the role of opioid supply, either from physician prescriptions or from illicitly made and supplied synthetic substances, in the US opioid overdose crisis.”

Instead, researchers wrote that their findings suggest that successful approaches to address the opioid overdose crisis will likely involve complementary interventions to reduce the prescription and illicit opioid supply as well as interventions to diagnose and treat substance use disorders in regions of the country hardest hit by structural economic change.

Amy Bush Stevens, vice president or prevention and public health policy, Health Policy Institute of Ohio, said to understand the opioid crisis you have to look at both supply and demand issues, from prescription supply issues, to the amount of fentanyl and carfentanil, to regional economic factors. The loss of manufacturing jobs with self-sufficient wages was one of those many factors.

“In Ohio, we had a perfect storm of factors,” she said.Along the same lines, Stevens said there are also ways communities can buffer against the fall out of economic hardship and help people earn a self-sufficient wage, such as raising the income cap on child care assistance, boosting career and tech education programs, and expanding the earned income tax credit.

“That can help prevent addiction and also support those who are struggling through recovery,” Stevens said.

Jonas Thom, CareSource vice president of behavioral health, said the findings reinforce what’s known about the correlation between social and economic conditions and addiction. When communities are under stress, people react to that and when people have less resources to address their mental health concerns, addiction often worsens at the population level.

The Dayton-based insurer, which covers over half of Ohio Medicaid managed care plans, recently expanded to also manage those members mental health and addiction coverage. Thom said that economic connection to health is why they try to also address issues that aren’t health specific, such as giving members access to a life coach to work on health barriers like unemployment.

“It’s a pretty well known and established correlation. We know we’re responsible to try to find innovative ways to improve health and wellness,” Thom said.


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