New Mapping Tool to Help Appalachian Counties Direct Resources for Opioid Crisis

NORC at the University of Chicago and its Federal and state partners developed a data-driven tool that maps socioeconomic factors underlying the opioid epidemic in hard hit Appalachian counties.

Overdose-related mortality rates (due to alcoholic liver disease, overdose and suicide) in 2015 for Appalachia’s 25-44-year-old age group were more than 70 percent higher than for the same age group in the country’s non-Appalachian areas, according to a report by NORC-University of Chicago's Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis.

NORC has partnered with the Appalachian Regional Commission and the 13 state governments in the region and recently released the Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool, to illustrate the relationship in each of the region's 420 counties between overdose deaths and socioeconomic factors, including poverty, unemployment, education and disability.

“While addressing opioid abuse is a national challenge, much of the solution lies at the local level,” said Dan Gaylin, chief executive officer of NORC.

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The purpose of the tool is to support decision-making in how to address the crisis in Appalachian counties, to look further into other factors that contribute to the region's climaxing opioid epidemic.

The Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool’s home screen displays a map of the Appalachian Region, spanning from Mississippi to New York. It compares county data with regional and national data comparing data from 2006–2010 and 2011–2015. Moving the cursor over an Appalachian county will show overdose mortality rate information.

The tool also generates fact sheets to help local governments and partnering organizations better target resources for more effective response efforts. Click a county, and then view details, to look at the trends.

Users can create data overlays to show various correlations between overdose mortality rates and socioeconomic and demographic factors:

  • Central Appalachian counties with the highest rates of overdose are often the same counties with the highest rates of people on disability.
  • Central Appalachia counties with the highest overdose rates are often the same counties with the lowest rates of educational attainment.

Michael Meit, co-director of the NORC Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis and leader of the NORC research conducted for ARC, said:

We hope it will help policymakers and community leaders develop an informed response to the challenges they face by revealing underlying, systemic factors that also need to be addressed.”

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