POLITICS
06/24/2018 03:32 am ET Updated Jun 24, 2018

Regions With Highest Opioid Use Strongly Backed Trump In 2016, Study Finds

Trump won about 60 percent of the vote in these areas, far exceeding his overall count.

A new study has reported that in those parts of the nation with the highest rates of chronic opioid prescription, Donald Trump won overwhelming support in the 2016 presidential election

In 693 counties with “significantly higher” than average rates of opioid prescriptions, Trump won about 60 percent of the vote, according to the study published Friday in the medical journal JAMA Network Open

In 638 counties with “significantly lower” than average opioid prescription rates, Trump won only about 39 percent of the vote, according to the study.

In the election’s overall popular vote, Trump won about 46 percent compared with 48 percent Clinton. Trump claimed the presidency by winning the electoral college vote, 306-232.  

The areas with the high rates of opioid use are largely concentrated in the Southern and Appalachian communities with high unemployment rates and lower median incomes. Some analysts have termed voters in such regions the “oxy electorate.”

The study examined voting maps and three-month prescriptions to people enrolled in Medicare Part D in 2015. Rates of opioid prescriptions tend to correlate with illegal use of the drug in the same area, according to lead researcher Dr. James Goodwin of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

“When we look at the two maps, there was a clear overlap between counties that had high opioid use... and the vote for Donald Trump,” Goodwin told National Public Radio.

Trump support might be explained simply by demographics: the same rural, economically depressed populations most severely affected by opioid use also happened to be the same communities where Trump gained strong support.

Communities facing grueling addiction problems may be the most likely to seek a dramatic change, according to Goodwin. 

A county “dissolving because of opioids... can lead to a sense of despair,” Goodwin told NPR. “You want something different. You want radical change.”

Some critics warned that researchers might be overreaching. But Goodwin said the study is not implying that the Trump vote “caused opioids or that opioids caused the Trump vote” — or that opioid addicts were voting for Trump.

“If you’re stoned out on opioids, you’re probably not voting,” Goodwin told The Dallas Morning News. But an examination of the association among opioid use, socioeconomic factors and politics may offer clues to the opioid addiction epidemic, according to the study.

“Support for the Republican candidate in the 2016 election is a marker for physical conditions, economic circumstances, and cultural forces associated with opioid use,” the study concluded. “The commonly used socioeconomic indicators do not totally capture all of those forces.”

Katharine Neill Harris, a drug policy fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute who was not involved in the study, told the Morning News that Trump “tapped into something in that segment of voters” who live in areas with high opioid use.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the study found that 60 percent of counties with higher than average rates of opioid prescriptions supported Trump, compared with 39 percent of counties with lower than average rates. What the study reported was that in those counties with significantly higher rates of opioid prescriptions than the nation’s average, Trump won about 60 percent of the vote, and that in those counties where such rates are significantly lower, he won about 39 percent of the vote.

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