"A Nation Dying" - Opioid Deaths Linked To Auto Plant Closures, Study Says

A new study has found the link between automobile manufacturing plant closures and a community's struggle with opioid overdose deaths. 

The study, published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, titled "Association Between Automotive Assembly Plant Closures and Opioid Overdose Mortality in the United States," shows how US adults are more likely to die from opioid overdoses if they live near a manufacturing plant that closed in the last five years.

"Our findings illustrate the importance of declining economic opportunity as an underlying factor associated with the opioid overdose crisis," researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania wrote in the study.

Researchers examined opioid death rates in 112 manufacturing counties across the US that had at least one manufacturing plant close since 1999. A majority of the counties were in the South and Midwest regions of the country.

From 1999 to 2016, plant closures affected 29 counties. Those counties saw 85% higher opioid overdose deaths than counties without closures. 

Researchers noted that white working-age men were mostly affected.

"The current opioid overdose crisis may be associated in part with the same structural changes to the US economy that have been responsible for worsening overall mortality among less-educated adults since the 1980s," researchers said.

As we've noted before, the opioid crisis in the last several decades has unfolded in three waves: The first wave of prescription pills started right before the Dot Com bust and ended around the 2008 financial crisis. The second wave began in 2009 and was associated with a significant increase in heroin-related deaths. The third wave started in 2015, which involved the proliferation of synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl. Each wave saw a greater number of overdose deaths. In total, more than 400,000 people died from 1999 to 2017. 

The link between auto plant closures and the rise in opioid-related deaths suggests the nation is dying.