Death rates by opioid overdose tied to regional disparities in treatment capacity

Too often in the national opioid epidemic, the resources have seemed ample where the need is slim—and vice versa. The hunch has been confirmed by a study conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

James Langabeer, PhD, and colleagues used geospatial and statistical analyses to compute ratios at state and county levels between population densities, treatment programs for opioid addiction and deaths by opioid overdose.

They found there were 40,274 opioid deaths in 2016 and 12,572 treatment programs across the contiguous 48 states—a ratio of one program for every 3.2 deaths.

Drilling down into regional data, they found the widest margins between program providers and opioid deaths were located in Ohio, the District of Columbia and West Virginia.

Those three areas had an average of one treatment program for every 8.5 deaths.

Maine had the most treatment programs per population, at 13.2 centers per 100,000 residents. Texas had the fewest, with only 1.4 programs per 100,000 people.

West Virginia ranked highest in opioid deaths per population. The Mountain State had a disturbing 39.09 deaths per 100,000 residents.

“Assessing the overlay between treatment capacity and need demonstrated that regional imbalances exist,” Langabeer et al. concluded. “These data can aid in strategic planning to correct the mismatch and potentially reduce mortality in the most challenged geographic regions.”

In coverage of the study by the institution’s news division, Langabeer said his team is now working to uncover the most statistically significant determinants behind their geospatial analysis.

“Now that we know where the biggest problems lie,” he told UTHealth News, “we can dig deeper to see if there are any economic, social, or health-related factors behind the trends.”