Chronic opioid use is higher among Trump voters, study finds 

Chronic opioid use is higher among Trump voters, study finds

People who voted for President in the 2016 election were 18 percent more likely to use opioid drugs, new research has found. 

The opioid epidemic was hot topic of debate for candidates from either side of the aisle, and has remained a top public health concern since. 

Families of all political affiliations, races, socioeconomic classes and regions have been touched or, in many cases, destroyed, by opioid use in America. 

The University of researchers found that votes for Trump and long-term opioid use both clustered around low-income areas where chronic pain and mental health issues are common and often poorly cared for. 

When they looked at maps of the US showing where opioids were most prescribed and, separately, of where the greatest percentage of Americans voted for Trump in 2016, the study authors were struck by the similarities. 

For them, it raised questions that fall under a burgeoning field of research on the relationship of environment and health. 

For better or worse, the outcome of the 2016 was widely hailed as a surprise and, the University of Texas study authors assert, the causes of the opioid epidemic have been similarly mystifying. 

In recent years, more and more scientists have been looking at how less tangible elements of our environment – like stress – affect health, acting as sort of psychological pollutants. 

On the flip side of that, researchers have questioned how our health might change our environment, including, in this case, our political landscape. 

So when they saw the overlap on those two maps – opioids and votes for Trump – the researchers sought to understand what, if any, relationship the two might have. 

The bottom line figure was that opioid prescriptions, they estimated, explained 18 percent of this shift. 

Opioids have disproportionately affected white, lower income Americans, in regions of the US like Appalachia and the upper Midwest. 

Historically, these demographics have also tended to vote for a Republican candidate, but even after the University of Texas researchers controlled for those factors, the 18 percent shift remained. 

This suggested some kind of change, and, Dr James Rosenquist, who wrote a commentary on the new study, says that the rise of opioids was one of these changes.

‘The 2016 was by all accounts a very unique election. In particular, you see large shifts in the voting population – in particular, the white working class, and the question is what is driving this shift,‘ says Dr Rosenquist, a Harvard University health data analyst. 

‘Public health crises can drive big shifts.‘ 

Dr Rosenquist draws a comparison between the 2016 election and the 2008 housing crisis, in terms of the political, economic and health economic factors of each time. 

‘The housing crisis was directly linked to a rise in the rate of antidepressant prescriptions for near-elderly adults,‘ he says his previous research has shown.  

In that instance, the housing crisis affected health which in turn may have further influenced voting behavior in the 2012 election. 

Similarly, he suspects that the opioid crisis was ‘externally imposed‘ by pharmaceutical companies who pushed their blockbuster drugs and doctors who profited from over-prescribing. 

And he is not alone. Several states and cities have filed lawsuits against the makers of Oxycontin. 

The ‘stochastic shock‘ of rising rates of opioids, Dr Rosenquist suspects, may have changed the priorities of certain voting populations who were concerned with continuing to afford a prescription or other mean of getting opioids. 

Such trends may have in part explained why in 88 percent of counties there were more people who voted for Trump – who promised more jobs to Americans – than had voted for Mitt Romney in the previous presidential election. 

This shift from the last election indicates to experts that, in most counties, even people who did not necessarily vote along Republican party lines voted for Trump.

Dr Rosenquist says: ‘It changes how they think about risk-reward and causes shifts and instability and, in those situations, you see things that are kind of unexpected in this relationship between people and their environment,‘ such as the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election. 

The voters who behaved in this unexpected way shared in common poor health scores, and ‘lack of upward mobility, even if the health and economic status of the individual respondents were good,‘ the study authors wrote.  

The correlation between these behaviors, opioid prescriptions and the 2016 election, then, contain a message for policy-makers on either side of the aisle: ‘Trying to pass legislation for the opioid crisis is [part of] what made a party shift, so it should be a focus,‘ Dr Rosenquist says.