Auto Plant Closure Linked with Higher Risk for Opioid Overdose Death, New Study Warns

When an auto plant closes in the United States it has a greater impact on people and their community then you might think.  A recent study has determined that the closure of an auto manufacturing plant appears to be linked with a  dramatic spike in opioid overdose death. 

According to University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s Dr. Atheendar Venkataramani, “Relative to the trends in manufacturing counties where an automotive plant did not close, having a plant closure meant that your opioid overdose death rate was 85 percent higher after five years than it otherwise would have been—and that was a large number to us.”

The study showed that the trend is specific to counties where assembly plants had been shut for at least five years and among a wide range of working-age adults (age 18 to 65 years).  Actually, the researchers investigated each plant closure process to identify 112 manufacturing counties where the percentage of employed residents working in the manufacturing sector ranked within the nation’s top twenty percent.  Most of these were located in the Midwest and Southern regions; and 29 of the 112 identified counties had experienced plant closures between 1999 and 2016.   

Next, the researchers compared this data against that of opioid overdose death rates across the same time frame and worker demographic. Sure enough, they found that opioid overdose death increased, countywide, in the first five years after a plant closed in that county, and then flattened out thereafter. 

The lead study author goes on to say that this study has great importance because it suggest that a collapse or loss of economic opportunity has more than just economic consequences. Indeed, the study warns that it can certainly have adverse health effects, too. 

Dr. Venkataramani adds, “Economic opportunity matters for our health and as the forces that are shifting economic opportunities for people are continuing to evolve, we have to think about how policies can both make people resilient—from a health sense—to the negative changes that might happen, and we also have to think about what types of policies on the economic side may actually give people opportunities, which may also bolster their health.”