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HRSA Study: Opioid Epidemic in the United States: Empirical Trends, and A Literature Review of Social Determinants and Epidemiological, Pain Management, and Treatment Patterns

This study, conducted by Drs. Gopal Singh, Isaac Kim, Mehrete Girmay, and their colleagues at the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), reports dramatic increases in opioid and drug overdose mortality in the United States over the past two decades. The study analyzed recent empirical trends in U.S. drug overdose mortality by key social determinants, followed by a comprehensive review of the recent literature on the magnitude of the opioid crisis facing different racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, and rural-urban segments.

The study found marked increases in drug overdose mortality among all sociodemographic groups, with adolescents and young adults experiencing steep increases in mortality between 1999 and 2017. Suicide mortality from drug overdose among teens aged 12-19 increased consistently between 2009 and 2017, particularly among teen girls. While the rise of efficient global supply chains has increased opioid prescription use and undoubtedly contributed to the opioid epidemic, there are many other important contributing factors to the epidemic, including a lack of education and economic opportunities, poor working conditions, and low social capital in disadvantaged communities.

Increases in drug overdoses and resultant mortality are not only unique to the United States, but have also been observed in other industrialized countries. Healthcare systems, community leaders, and policymakers addressing the opioid epidemic should focus on upstream structural factors including education, economic opportunity, social cohesion, racial/ethnic disadvantage, geographic isolation, and life satisfaction.

Full study PDF

Study’s supplemental material

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