Since 1990, drug overdose deaths have increased by 500 percent.
A new study suggests unemployment might be one of the factors behind that dramatic rise. The paper, published by NBER last week, finds that:
As the unemployment rate increases by one percentage point in a given county,
- the opioid-death-rate rises by 3.6 percent, and
- emergency room visits rise by 7 percent.
Rather than more people getting injured when jobs are scarce, the authors suspect that the increased use of painkillers is a “physical manifestation of mental-health problems that have long been known to rise during periods of economic decline.”
Depression and pain are twin agonies, in other words: Not only does depression make people more sensitive to pain, they note, opioids have been shown to help relieve depressive symptoms.
This isn’t the only study that has linked joblessness with painkiller use. In another recent paper, the Princeton University labor economist Alan Krueger found that nearly half of “prime age” men who aren’t in the labor force take pain medication daily.
Perhaps their pain is the reason they aren’t in the labor force.
Articles usually forget or ignore that people take opioids for a reason. The opioid dose in NOT an independent variable. For pain patients, opioid dose correlates closely with pain level.
And past studies have found that the unemployed are more likely to use illegal drugs than full-time workers.
These studies lend support to the idea that many opioid overdoses are “deaths of despair,” as the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call them—deaths brought on by joblessness, hopelessness, and both physical and emotional pain.
Europeans also suffered joblessness during the recession, but they aren’t overdosing at American levels.
#Our country is being raped by pure unrestrained corporate capitalism. Metrics are only measured by potential profit and social concerns are actively ignored.
Most European countries have stronger social-safety nets, which might soften the trauma of unemployment, as well as socialized health-care systems, in which prescription records tend to be centralized.
In a recent Brookings paper, Case and Deaton are careful to note that pure financial strain doesn’t explain the full “despair deaths” picture. Rather, overdoses, suicides, and alcohol abuse are all driven by what they call “cumulative distress,” or the overall “failure of life to turn out as expected.”
I certainly feel this “cumulative distress”:
First, I was in pain all the time while trying to work in a demanding high-tech job, squirming constantly to find a comfortable position, losing concentration when jabs of pain knifed into me, trying to focus through the haze of a crippling headache, leaving me exhausted from the constant struggle to deal with my pain.
Then, my levels of pain and fatigue grew so extreme I could no longer work. I spent 3 years and thousands of dollars (not pain for by insurance) chasing down any hope of a medical resolution, only to discover that a genetic flaw is the cause of my pain (Ehelrs-Danlos Syndrome).
Then my depression worsened dramatically as I adjusted to being seen as “useless” in the culture of our society. I was in a state of constant despair until I found the inner strength to make peace with my lot in life.
Now I have to live on less than 2% of my previous income and wonder how I will survive on it. (Thank goodness I always saved as much as I could.)