Summary: Opioid overdose-related death is a significant problem in the US. Experts think identifying the population groups at a greater risk of opioid addiction may help counter this threat. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati analyzed the health data of Ohio state and found 12 population clusters where opioid addiction is more common. They found that white men aged 30-39 were more likely to abuse opioids, and black men aged 30-39 were at greater risk of death due to an overdose. If we want to overcome opioid addiction, we need to identify the groups at risk and then work with them. For this, there are many tools, including the availability of big data. This is precisely what researchers at the University of Cincinnati did. They used data to understand who is at risk of opioid overdose in Ohio state. And they published the findings of their study in the journal Nature.
For the study, they analyzed the Ohio Health Department records between the years 2010 to 2017. They found that white men aged 30-39 were at high risk. Moreover, this population group was at considerable risk. The risk in men was several folds higher than in women. Similarly, they found that black men of the age were also at an elevated risk. They also identified population clusters with a relatively higher risk of opioid addiction. They identified 12 hotspots in the state. These were mainly larger population groups or cities that were home to about 21% of the state’s population. These population clusters accounted for 40% of all opiate-related mortalities.
Researchers say that their findings are relevant in many ways. They can help guide policymakers. Not only that, but they also show the areas where agencies must focus on preventing opioid addiction. Using such data can help carry out focused efforts, like raising awareness of health hazards posed by opiate addiction, improving healthcare in those areas, and more. As the researchers said that prevention is better than treatment. The primary purpose of the research is to find ways of reducing the risk of opioid addiction and overdose. This data can also help scientists to understand what drives addiction in certain population groups. For example, earlier studies show that regular use of opiates reduces the production of intrinsic endorphins. Thus, a person starts feeling less excited about the daily activities and less satisfied from exercise, meeting friends, and other usual activities.
Since opiates desensitize the impact of natural endorphins, people addicted to these substances do not enjoy life as usual. Thus, they are more likely to seek pleasure in the substances. Finally, people become tolerant of opiates, and each time they need a higher dose to achieve similar results. Researchers say that to counter this epidemic, health experts, educators, doctors, and public advocates, would need to come together and work. They also noted other addiction patterns in the study, like those who had relatives addicted to opioids, were at a 10-time greater risk than others. However, researchers say there is still a need to better characterize those at a greater risk of opioid misuse.
Further, researchers noted that although it appears that legal opioid prescriptions contributed to this epidemic, there is more to the story. In recent years, law enforcement agencies have become stricter and even punished several doctors. However, these measures do not seem to help, as people turn to cheaper illicit drugs. Suboxone is one of the drugs utilized to treat opioid addiction. However, the dose prescription must be kept under check.
Many of these illicit opiates, like heroin, are often laced with a cheaper and more potent synthetic drug called fentanyl. Fentanyl is a very potent drug. However, adding it to opiates significantly increases the risk of overdose. In addition, it appears that fentanyl is easier to synthesize or source. This study has been limited to a single state. However, researchers think preparing such data for other states, or the whole nation would be even more helpful. Thus, in the near future, they want to conduct such a study for Kentucky and West Virginia. Keeping all of the things in mind, it is better to opt for systematic, opioid addiction treatment programs.
By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA