Ohio State University Study Reveals Employment Reduces Drug Overdoses For Black People

An Ohio State University study made a connection between unemployment and an increased drug-related death rate for Black workers, which demonstrates that as jobs were made available for Black workers, opioid drug overdoses among Black people went down, suggesting a correlation between the two. 

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health indicates that focusing on keeping Black Americans employed could potentially lower the rate of drug use, which, in turn, would prevent drug-related deaths. 

Sehun Oh, an assistant professor of social work at Ohio State University, told the outlet in a statement, “The basic underlying framework I’m using to approach this issue is seeing the drug epidemic as a disease of despair and examining how local labor market situations might have affected this at-risk population,” said Oh said. “Others may be more focused on supply factors, but I believe economic context is critical to understanding the demand side of the story.”

Oh, and a co-author of the study, Miguel Cano, an associate professor of social work at Arizona State University, said in the study that disconnection from the workforce creates a number of problems for the unemployed. “Research shows that disconnection from the workforce creates collective frustration and hopelessness, family disintegration and community violence and crime, increasing drug use as a refuge from psychological distress.”

As the study lays out, “the drug mortality increases among Black Americans were highest in the Midwest and Northeast counties, especially those with a lower median household income. Economic restructuring (that led to fewer livable-wage jobs in the areas) and increasing presence of heroin and synthetic opioids are considered major drivers of drug mortality in these regions.”

According to the study, just one more job per 100 Black workers would result in 0.29 fewer drug overdoses per 100,000 drug overdoses nationwide. This association, the study notes, is more robust in areas where there have been more fentanyl overdoses. The study also argued that its findings are consistent with previous scholarship that establishes a positive relationship between employment and decreased drug mortality. 

In a section discussing the study’s public health implications, the authors recommend “geographically targeted interventions” intended to create more economic prosperity for low-income areas of the Black community. They believe this will reduce the impact of the opioid epidemic on Black people. The study states, “Such efforts may include improving employment opportunities for the Black workforce through job creation and workforce development.” 

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