Drug overdose deaths in the United States increased from approximately 16,000 per year in 2001 to 41,000 per year in 2014. Although every US state witnessed an increase, the increases were much larger in some states than others. There was also variation as a function of race and ethnicity. Non-Hispanic Whites accounted for more than 80% of the deaths, and in some states their rates were about ten times greater per capita than Hispanic and Non-White rates. State and temporal differences provide an opportunity to evaluate explanations of what is driving drug overdose deaths. In this report, we evaluate the degree to which state level variation in opioid prescription rates and social-economic conditions explain state level variation in overdose death rates.
We used publicly available data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Opportunity Insights project.
Legally prescribed opioids, social capital and work force participation accounted for 53-69% of the between-state variation in overdose deaths in Non-Hispanic Whites. Prescriptions and the two social economic measures accounted for about the same amounts of unique variation, but shared variation among the three independent variables was the strongest predictor of overdose deaths. Panel regression results of the year-to-year changes in overdose deaths were similar. However, the pattern of correlations for Hispanics and Non-Whites was quite different. Neither opioid prescriptions nor social capital were significant predictors of overdose deaths in the between-state and between-year Hispanic and Non-White regression analyses.
Common variation in opioid prescriptions rates, social capital, and work force participation proved the strongest predictor of drug overdose deaths in Non-Hispanic Whites. We discuss reasons why the same did not hold for the Hispanic/Non-White population.