President Donald Trump supporters and opioid painkillers seem to have a connection, suggests a new study from the University of Texas. Researchers analyzing areas with the highest rate of opioid prescriptions found a large percentage of Americans who voted for Trump in 2016 also lived in the same region.
In past studies, researchers have related certain indicators like income, education, and employment status to opioid use. Stunningly, this study suggests that support for Donald Trump is yet another marker for higher rates of opioid use.
According to a Daily Mail report, opioid use is generally higher among white, lower-income Americans living in the Midwest and Appalachia regions of the U.S. Often Americans who typically support Republicans are among this demographic. Even after adjusting for this, researchers still found an 18 percent higher rate of opioid users voting for Trump.
However, the study only suggests a correlation between opioid rates and Trump support. Any real connection to higher painkiller use and Trump’s victory is probably not real.
Lead author Dr. James Goodwin said the study happened to link opioid use and areas of the country where people were feeling marginalized or “left out.” This group often votes for candidates, like Trump, who make bring promises of change.
“It’s about more than just prescriptions,” said Katharine Neill Harris, a drug policy expert who was not involved in the study, per a Dallas News report. “This is a very complex relationship, and representative of a deeper problem… of problems we are not addressing as a society.”
The rise in the use of opioids may be one factor that affected the study’s outcome. With doctors increasing prescriptions and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies, more people use painkillers. With Trump’s promise of overhauling America’s healthcare system, Dr. Rosenquist, with Harvard University Health, speculates voters hoped prescription painkillers would become more affordable should he take the Oval Office.
The U.S. is currently facing an opioid addiction crisis. Statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate 11.5 million Americans abuse prescription opioids. In 2016, over 2 million people were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder. Many state officials have filed lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies, claiming bold marketing tactics have directly led to the surge in painkiller overdose deaths.
The recent opioid study from the University of Texas, published in JAMA Network Open, examined legal pain relievers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine. Statistics involving illegal substances such as heroin were not included.