Summary: It is no secret that socially deprived people are more likely to abuse drugs. However, the study shows a massive difference between drug overdose-related deaths among the rich and poor. Poor people are almost six times more likely to die of drug and alcohol abuse. These findings are worrisome, as drug use has risen during a pandemic. Further, researchers think reducing social inequality is vital to prevent these deaths. Although people of different backgrounds abuse drugs, poor people are more likely to die from a drug overdose. Data analysis from England shows that this risk is almost six times higher in poor people when compared to rich people.
Their findings are relevant and worrisome. Moreover, the same data shows that the number of deaths is mounting at an incredible pace. For example, in England, deaths due to substance use disorder have risen five times in just a decade, that is, between 2010 to 2020. Of course, a similar kind of trend is seen in the US and many other nations. Thus, these findings have global relevance. Further, it is worth noticing that these findings are from the pre-covid era. Studies in all EU nations, the UK, and the US show that drug use rose considerably during the pandemic. It means that drug addiction and drug overdose-related deaths will only climb at an even faster pace. It is a health emergency in developed nations and many parts of the world.
It is also essential to note that these findings matter due to rising social disparity. Pandemics have especially hit the poorest people in society. Thus, it means that drug use is also more likely to increase in more impoverished people compared to rich people. Be it in the US or in the UK, opioids remain the leading cause of drug dependency-related deaths. In the UK, street drugs like heroin are more likely to cause deaths. However, in recent years, the trend is also changing in the US, where prescription drugs remain the leading cause of overdose-related deaths. In the US, street drug overdose-related deaths are rising as prescription opioids are becoming less accessible.
This UK study shows that there is a very clear and visible relationship between the economic status of people, regions, and drug overdose-related deaths. Thus, for example, people living in the most deprived areas of England are several times more likely to die of a drug overdose. It means that healthcare efforts and addiction treatment must also focus on specific geo-locations where people are more likely to abuse and overdose on drugs. Some efforts are already being made in the US. However, many researchers have shown that in any given state, most drug overdose-related deaths occur in a few counties in the states. Hence, one of the good ideas to reduce these deaths is to create risk maps, and concentrate drug overdose-related death prevention measures in those areas, rather equally in all counties. Coming up with such risk maps is not complex, and both the financial data and data regarding drug overdose-related deaths are readily available.
There is a need to understand that, for many, drug use is just a reaction to changing the environment. They often start using drugs to overcome stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Many of these issues are made worse by joblessness and rising homelessness. Additionally, it is also worth understanding that the choice of drugs by economically deprived people differs. They are more likely to use drugs that pose a greater health risk. Additionally, they are also more likely to combine multiple drugs, thus increasing the risk of a drug overdose.
Experts say that some small changes in policies are not going to help. Most of these small changes may make it harder to get drugs and reduce drug-related crime a bit. However, the impact of most such measures is small and often temporary. Addressing these economic disparities is essential to lower the risk of drug overdose-related deaths. Therefore, if we need to overcome this issue, we need to have a broader outlook. Opioids addiction treatment will require a 360 degree approach to tackle issues at societal level. Telemedicine Addiction Treatment is one such approach that can address the issue of drug abuse economically while maintaining the comfort and privacy of a person.
By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA