Automotive assembly plant closures are associated with a greater number of opioid-related deaths, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Major economic events, such as plant closures, can affect a person’s view of how their life might be in the future,” said the study’s lead author, Atheendar Venkataramani, professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “These changes can have a profound effect on a person’s mental well-being, and could consequently influence the risk of substance use.”

Venkataramani and colleagues at Perelman and Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the number of opioid-related deaths between 1999 and 2016 from 112 counties near automotive manufacturing plants. Of the 112 counties, 29 were affected by automotive assembly plant closures during the study period. Researchers found that the counties with the most recent closures had about 85 percent more opioid-related deaths among individuals aged 16 to 65, compared to counties where the plants remained open.

The largest increase in opioid deaths following plant closures were among non-Hispanic white men between the ages of 18 and 34.

“There is an urgent need to rapidly lower the threshold for accessing evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders, for example, at the level of state Medicaid policy and private payor utilization management,” added co-lead author of the study Alexander Tsai, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Hundreds of states, counties and cities across the country have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, drug distributors and pharmacies for creating and fueling a national opioid epidemic that claims the lives of an estimated 130 people daily and saddles communities with millions of dollars in economic damages.

Lawyers in Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section are looking at cases of serious injuries and illness – including addiction and overdose – related to opioid use and abuse. They are also looking at cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) in babies born to mothers addicted to opioids. For more information, contact Melissa Prickett or Liz Eiland.

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