Researchers Find a Link Between Trump Voters and Opioid Use

The president is essentially ignoring a drug crisis that’s hurting his supporters.

Stuart Ritchie/Getty Images

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

A study published on Friday by scientists at the University of Texas and the University of Toronto points to a connection between Trump country and the nation’s opioid crisis.

The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, gathered data at the county level showing a correlation between Trump voters and the drug epidemic. “Support for the Republican candidate in the 2016 election is a marker for physical conditions, economic circumstances, and cultural forces associated with opioid use,” the authors say.

The study identified factors that contribute to high levels of opioid abuse in areas like Appalachia and the Rust Belt. These include income inequality, unemployment, poor education, and lack of access to healthcare. But the “commonly used socioeconomic indicators do not totally capture” all the forces driving the epidemic or explain why it is so concentrated in particular areas, they note.

The JAMA study relied on Medicare prescription data from nearly 4 million Americans across most counties in the country. The researchers looked at how many people in each county were given opioid prescriptions lasting 90 days or longer, and checked those numbers against vote counts from the 2016 election. In nearly 700 counties with opioid prescription rates that were significantly higher than the average county rate, according to the study, voters backed Trump at a 21 percent higher rate than in counties with significantly lower rates of opioid use.

The Centers for Disease Control has reported that in 2016 at least 42,000 people died of opioid overdoses in the US (which may be a low estimate). About 40 percent of these deaths involved prescriptions.

Keith Humphreys, a public health and drug policy expert at Stanford, says that the results support the theory that Trump did well in what researcher Kathleen Frydl has referred to as the “Oxy Electorate,” a portion of the population that Humphreys says “is stricken not only with opioid overprescribing, but also heavy drinking, social isolation, and declining job prospects.”

Trump has taken little substantive action to address the nation’s opioid epidemic. In fact, his administration’s efforts to undermine Obamacare have the potential to seriously harm this afflicted part of his base.

“The question I am left with,” Humphreys says, “is how can the government help addicted people who live in places where the dominant politics center on hatred of the government.”

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate