By Marie DeFreitas
Areas with auto plant closures saw a 85% higher opioid overdose in working-age adults. These results come from a new study published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday.
CNN spoke with Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, and the first author of the study. He said: “Relative to the trends in manufacturing counties where an automotive plant did not close, having a plant closure meant that your opioid overdose death rate was 85% higher after five years than it otherwise would have been — and that was a large number to us.”
He explained the importance of the study; not only does it show when economic opportunities collapse, but it shows how it affects people’s health.
The study began by building a database of information about automotive assembly plants in operation starting in 1999. They gathered this data from industry trade publications, automotive company websites and newspapers articles, according to CNN.
Noting the location of each plant and dates of closure, researchers examined the database at the county level. They identified 112 manufacturing counties where the percentages of employed residents working in manufacturing were the highest.
These counties were primarily in the Midwest and the South. Between 1999 and 2016, 29 of the 112 counties had auto plants that closed down. According to Forbes, they identified counties located within commuting locales that contained one or more plants that closed.
The study then evaluated opioid overdose deaths in adults aged 18-65 from 1999-2016.
The results showed that 5 years after the plants closed, opioid death rates almost skyrocketed in those counties. Adults aged 18-65 in those counties had an opiod overdoses rate that was 85% higher than expected. They compared this to counties where plants did not close.
One of the limitations of the study was that it did not show a casual relationship between these two instances. It only showed an association. More research would need to be completed to uncover the complexities of a casual relationship.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly nearly 400,000 people died from an opioid overdose from 1999 to 2017.
CNBC News brought to light an analysis released by Altarum, a health research and consulting institute. The analysis noted that during the same timeframe as the study “the economic cost of the growing opioid epidemic topped an estimated $1 trillion.”
The authors noted that several different factors may be at play in this study. These include: declining economic opportunity, reducing people’s drive to stay healthy, increase hopelessness and despair, and reduce access to health care.
“Our findings in this paper — along with our other work — suggest that the fading American dream may also affect America’s health,” Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani said via email. “Social and economic policies that help restore the American dream may have positive health consequences, according to CNBC News.