Appalachia runs from New York to northern Mississippi, and the area has a shockingly high rate of an opioid overdose. People who live in Appalachia are nearly twice as likely to experience an opioid overdose than people who do not live in Appalachia. Pain management expert Dr. Ezekiel Akande weighs in on the lifestyle factors that make the area so prone to overdose.
While many people are quick to blame poverty as a reason for the opioid crisis in Appalachia, the poverty rate is only 2% higher than in areas outside of Appalachia. Dr. Ezekiel Akande explains that while poverty can be a factor for addiction, it’s clear that there are more pieces to the puzzle than living at or below the poverty level when it comes to opioid addiction.
Dr. Ezekiel Akande states that opioids are prescribed at a much higher rate in Appalachia than in other areas. It’s hard to say whether this is due to doctors who over-prescribe, or due to patients who go the extra mile to get an opioid prescription. Dr. Ezekiel Akande believes that figuring out the root of this problem is a key first step in helping the people of Appalachia through the opioid epidemic.
While education may be a factor, it doesn’t weigh as heavily as the high rate of opioid prescriptions in the area, according to Dr. Ezekiel Akande. About 23% of people who live in Appalachia have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 31% of people who do not live in Appalachia. This difference is significant, as people with a higher level of education are less likely to become addicted to opioids. Dr. Ezekiel Akande mentions that education on prescription drug addiction needs to be started early so that people of all educational levels understand the dangers of prescription drug misuse.
A lack of growth in the labor force may also be a piece of the puzzle when it comes to opioid addiction and overdose in Appalachia, according to Ezekiel Akande. While areas outside of Appalachia have achieved a labor force growth rate of 13% from 2000–2017, counties within Appalachia have only experienced an average growth rate of 3%. Dr. Ezekiel Akande states that this means that people who are in poverty may be staying there for longer periods of time than people who do not live in Appalachia. A continued life of poverty (rather than going through a temporary hard time) may make someone more likely to begin misusing opioids, according to Ezekiel Akande.