The closure of an auto plant may do more than just depress an area’s economy. A study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine surfaces an association between such closures and a rise in opioid deaths. Specifically, in counties where assembly plants had shuttered five years prior, the opioid overdose death rate was 85% higher among working-age adults, defined as those between the ages of 18 and 65. “That was a large number to us,” lead author Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine tells CNN. “The burden of this increase in opioid overdose mortality was primarily borne by non-Hispanic white men,” the study found.
The researchers looked at 112 manufacturing counties, largely in the Midwest and South, that were home to at least one working automotive assembly plant as of 1999; by 2016, 29 of those counties had experienced a plant closure. The findings “ the potential importance of the role of declining economic opportunity in the US opioid overdose crisis,” write the researchers. Still, the New York Times zeroes in on some caveats: The counties studied are home to only 3% of America’s adults, and previous research indicates the No. 1 contributing factor in opioid deaths is “the wide-scale prescription of opioids.” Venkataramani’s take: “Economic opportunity matters for our health, and … we have to think about what types of policies on the economic side may actually give people opportunities, which may also bolster their health.” (Read more opioids stories.)