Understanding regional patterns of overdose deaths related to opioids and psychostimulants

BACKGROUND: As overdose rates increase for multiple substances, policymakers need to identify geographic patterns of substance-specific deaths. In this study, we describe county-level opioid and psychostimulant overdose patterns and how they correlate with county-level social vulnerability measures.

METHODS: A cross-sectional observational study, we used nationwide 2016-2018 restricted access Centers for Disease Prevention and Control county-level mortality files for 1,024 counties. We estimated quartiles of opioid and psychostimulant overdose mortality and provided estimates of their association with county-level Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) percentile.

RESULTS: There was high opioid and psychostimulant overdose mortality in the Middle Atlantic, South Atlantic, East North Central, and Mountain regions. The Central US had the lowest opioid and psychostimulant overdose mortality rates. Counties with higher SVI scores (i.e. higher social vulnerability) were significantly more likely to experience high opioid and high psychostimulant overdose (high-high) mortality. A 10-percentile increase in SVI score was associated with a 3.1 percentage point increase in the likelihood of being a high-high county (p < 0.001) in unadjusted models and a 1.5 percentage point increase (p < 0.05) in models adjusting for region.

CONCLUSION: Our results illustrated the heterogenous geographic distribution of the growing concurrent opioid and psychostimulant overdose crisis. The substantial regional variation we identified highlights the need for local data to guide policymaking and treatment planning. The association of opioid-psychostimulant overdose mortality with social vulnerability demonstrates the critical need in impacted counties for tailored treatment that addresses the complex medical and social needs of people who use both opioids and psychostimulants.

Full citation:
Segel JE, Shearer RD, Jones AA, Khatri UG, Howell BA, Crowley DM, Sterner G, Vest N, Teixeira da Silva D, Winkelman TNA (2024).
Understanding regional patterns of overdose deaths related to opioids and psychostimulants
Substance Use and Misuse, 59 (4), 558-566. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2023.2287220. PMCID: PMC10923074.