People who voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election were 18 percent more likely to use opioid drugs, new research has found.
The opioid epidemic was a hot topic of debate for candidates on both sides of the aisle and has remained a major public health issue ever since.
Families of all political affiliations, races, socioeconomic classes, and regions have been affected, or in many cases destroyed, by opioid use in America.
The University of Texas researchers found that votes for Trump and long-term opioid use were concentrated in low-income areas where chronic pain and mental health problems are common and often poorly cared for.
Chronic opioid use (highest concentrations in brown) was associated with an 18 percent swing in voting toward Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, which carried counties in the upper Midwest and Appalachia, new University of Texas research finds.
During the 2016 presidential election, Trump received a disproportionate number of votes (highest concentration in brown) from areas in Appalachia and the Midwest where opioid use was high.
When they looked at US maps showing where opioids were most commonly prescribed, and specifically where the largest percentage of Americans voted for Trump in 2016, the study’s authors were struck by the similarities.
For them, it raised questions that fall into the emerging field of research on the relationship between environment and health.
For better or worse, the 2016 result was widely hailed as a surprise, and the causes of the opioid epidemic have been similarly mystifying, say the University of Texas study authors.
In recent years, more and more scientists have looked at how less tangible elements of our environment – such as stress – affect health and act as psychological pollutants.
On the other hand, researchers have asked how our health might change our environment, including in this case our political landscape.
So when researchers saw an overlap in the two maps — opioids and votes for Trump — they tried to understand what, if any, relationship the two might have.
They estimated that opioid prescribing explained 18 percent of this shift.
Opioids have disproportionately affected white, lower-income Americans in areas of the US such as Appalachia and the upper Midwest.
Historically, those demographics have also tended to vote for the Republican candidate, but even after the University of Texas researchers controlled for those factors, the 18 percent shift remained.
This indicated some kind of change, and Dr. James Rosenquist, who wrote a commentary on the new study, says the rise of opioids was one of those changes.
“By all accounts, 2016 was a very unique election. In particular, you’re seeing big shifts in the voter population—particularly in the white working class, and the question is what’s driving that shift,” says Dr. Rosenquist, a health data analyst at Harvard University.
“Public health crises can make big changes.”
Dr. Rosenquist compares the 2016 election and the 2008 housing crisis in terms of the political, economic and health economic factors of each era.
“The housing crisis has been directly linked to an increase in antidepressant prescriptions for nearly older adults,” says his previous research.
In this case, the housing crisis affected health, which may have further affected voting behavior in the 2012 election.
Similarly, he believes the opioid crisis was “imposed from the outside” by drug companies pushing their blockbuster drugs and doctors profiting from overprescribing.
And he is not alone. Several states and cities have filed lawsuits against the manufacturer of Oxycontin.
Dr. Rosenquist suspects that the “stochastic shock” of increasing opioids may have shifted the priorities of certain constituencies to continue affording a prescription or other means of obtaining opioids.
Such trends may partly explain why in 88 percent of counties more people voted for Trump — who promised Americans more jobs — than for Mitt Romney in previous presidential elections.
This shift compared to past elections shows experts that in most counties, people who did not necessarily vote for the Republican Party voted for Trump.
Dr Rosenquist says: “It changes the way they think about risk and reward and it causes shifts and instability, and in these situations you see things that are kind of unexpected in this relationship between people and their environment,” such as the 2016 result . Presidential election.
Voters who behaved in this unexpected way shared poor health scores and “a lack of upward mobility, even when the health and economic status of individual respondents was good,” the study authors wrote.
The correlation between these behaviors, opioid prescribing, and the 2016 election then contains a message for policymakers on both sides of the aisle: “Trying to pass legislation for the opioid crisis is [part of] what caused the side shift, so that should be the focus,” says Dr. Rosenquist.