Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A Map of Opioid Prescriptions per Capita

Fascinating map from 538. (It's a big image, so click if you want more detail.) Notice two things: first, the opiate belt in southern Appalachia, that zone of increasing  immiseration. Second, all the major cities show up as low-prescription zones, from Boston to Miami to Los Angeles to Seattle. I wonder is that is because this really is a rural/exurban crisis, or if heroin is just more readily available in big cities.


G. Verloren said...

"A Map of Opioid Prescriptions per Capita" is inaccurate and misleading. The source specifically states that this does not show the number of prescriptions, but rather the effective average dosage per capita.

In a nutshell, it's how much of such medication is dispensed in a given county, as measured by per capita.

Note that this doesn't account for where the people actually using said medication live, just where the drugs are dispensed. Also, the map is going to be skewed in rural and low population areas, because in such places there are counties that don't have any dispensaries at all, and a single county may provide medication to an entire region of other counties that dispense nothing. (The source mentions these problems directly.)

Really, this is a complicated and vague map to parse, since it tries to assign an "average dosage" to each and every person. But that produces some very weird distortions if you stop to think about it.

A region where many people receive low dosages of prescription opioids can have the exact same overall rating as a region where only a minority take prescription opioids at all, but their individual dosages are much higher.

Using only this map, it's basically impossible to tell the difference between a blue collar community that has a large number of manual laborers who get routine prescription medication to treat their chronic aches and pains, and a sleepy suburban community with a small number of strung out addicts getting high out of their gourds.

pootrsox said...

Definitely accurate observation, G.

On the second map in the cited article, *my* rural county of VA shows a lot more prescriptions written than the surrounding 4 counties.

Reason is simple: the regional hospital is in my town, and lots of MDs are located in the general vicinity of the hospital. There *are* no physicians in most of the other areas.