Opioids and Trump voters

New study links heroin problem areas with Trump bastions

 (Flickr/Kansas State University)

(Flickr/Kansas State University)

By Ted Cox

A new online study by a prominent medical association finds a link between areas troubled by opioid abuse and hotbeds of support for President Trump.

The study "Association of Chronic Opioid Use With Presidential Voting Patterns in U.S. Counties in 2016" was released Friday in an online publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Using Medicare data, it found that "counties with the highest rates (of opioid use) were predominately concentrated in the South and Appalachian areas, as well as Michigan and some western states." These were also found to be areas where Trump tended to fare well in the 2016 election, particularly counties that flipped in Pennsylvania and Ohio from previously voting for President Barack Obama.

The study noted that the causes of opioid abuse are complex, and that it was not suggesting that one causes the other in either direction, but that there's a notable "association" between one and the other.

For instance, a county where economic prospects were bleak, and where people were prone to opioid abuse, might also have been more prone than normal to unconventional political solutions as well. Desperate communities might reflect that desperation in multiple ways.

"This study is not siding with one political party or another," said Dr. Frederick Rivara, editor-in-chief of JAMA Network Open. "It is examining the correlation of vote for one party in November 2016 and one marker for the various factors that have been associated with the rise in opioid use in the U.S."

It displayed a map showing opioid use through Medicare above a map showing 2016 presidential election results, both by county.

The study noted that areas in the Great Plains and the Deep South were more likely to be "discordant" with its findings, and indeed in Illinois darkened areas for opioid use were not identical with darkened areas showing high Trump vote totals.

Even so, there are noteworthy connections.

According to a "State of Illinois Comprehensive Opioid Data Report" issued by the Department of Public Health in December, Marion and Jefferson counties were at the highest level in the state for emergency visits due to opioid analgesics or heroin overdoses combined for 2016.

According to county election results in the 2016 presidential race, Trump did not get 40 percent of the vote statewide, but amassed 70 percent of the vote in both Marion and Jefferson.

Again, however, there's no hard and fast correlation, as neighboring Wayne County had fewer than 10 cases of emergency overdose treatment, yet was considered the statewide Trump bastion, as he garnered 84 percent of the vote there.

Nonetheless, of the 11 Illinois counties that went to Hillary Clinton in 2016, none registered at the highest level for emergency overdose treatment. Of the 12 counties with more than 7.6 emergency overdose visits per 10,000 in population, all went to Trump.