“In 2013, more Americans died from overdoses than car crashes” – Hilary Clinton in 2015 on the growing need to address the epidemic of drug overdose.
- Opiate- and opioid-type drugs have been associated with a rising proportion of overdose deaths – from over 38% in 2004 to just under 52% in 2013 in the United States.
- The initial rise in mortality was due to an in crease in prescription opioid (PO) abuse, but more recent data shows that heroin use has risen in popularity partly due to the attempts to control prescription drug misuse.
- In 2008, heroin represented approximately 30% of overdose deaths. By 2014, heroin accounted for 61%, making it the most prevalent substance associated with overdose deaths.
- Recent research has considered how the shifting dynamics of the U.S. illicit drug market have heightened overdose risk in places newly supplied with cheaper, more potent Colombian heroin.
- Small cities across the Monongahela River Valley have lost ‘‘90 percent of everything’’ – residents, jobs, and businesses – over the past three decades
- According to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner (ACME), fatal overdoses nearly tripled from 2000 to 2014, from 109 to 307.
- Case-level mortality data from Allegheny County shows an obvious spatial association between deadly overdose and poverty, with the highest fatality rates clustered in the region’s deindustrialized communities and Pittsburgh’s inner-city neighbourhoods.
Risk environments =‘‘spaces – whether social or physical – in which a variety of factors interact to increase the chances of harm occurring’’ (Rhodes, 2009).
In a survey, participants described their own most recent overdose event and/or the last overdose they had personally witnessed. They were also asked to speculate upon the roots of the local overdose epidemic, while suggesting possible remedies.
- Participants viewed overdose and addiction as part of life in a poor city.
- Participants lacked access to prevention education and free naloxone (for treating overdoses) from the county needle exchange program due to transportation barriers.
- Several participants sold heroin in order to support their own drug use and many feared the criminal consequences of a buyer having a fatal overdose.
The authors suggest that the road into drug use is shaped by a deindustrialized context. Lack of opportunity, social support, and hope are met by the expanding illicit drug market, which offers both employment and recreation. Due to this, policy makers should be aware of the underlying factors and future overdose interventions should take into account that drug-related risks are complex and multifaceted when designing accessible programs for low/no-income individuals.
McLean, K. (2015). ‘‘There’s nothing here’’: Deindustrialization as risk environment for overdose. International Journal of Drug Policy. Vol. 29. Pp. 19-26.
Rhodes, T. (2009). Risk environments and drug harms: A social science for harm reduction approach. International Journal of Drug Policy. 20: 193–201.